Saturday, December 29, 2007

on communities, and belonging, and authenticity, and legitimacy, and being "enough," and......

I haven't posted much.

By which I mean: I haven't posted at all. In a long time.

But I needed to post this.
I needed to post on this. About this.

I'm not sure where I'm going to go with this, but it will be what it is.

Today, I read this post over at brownfemipower (now La Chola). About ambiguity, and passing, and fitting in, and having/finding/being shut out of a home or community.

She doesn't come to any conclusions, really, and I'm not sure there are any to come to. But it's one of the most honest pieces of writing I've read in a long time.

It's here. And it's pretty essential reading.

It's all so good. But this is the small chunk of truth that I'm going to repost here:
I’m sick and tired of being ambiguous. I’m sick and tired of never being able to have a solid identity that isn’t suspect wherever the fuck I go. I’m sick of being scared and worried that if I don’t live up to some preset standards, I’m going to lose another community that I love dearly.

I’m sick of having the threat against my existence constantly hanging over my head. But goddamn it, I want to go home! I want desperately to go home–but what do I have to give up to do it? What do I have to be to do it? What do I have to deny to do it? And why why why WHY is going home about molding and shaping rather than loosening and exploring?

Sudy's comment, too, holds so much truth. And love. Which, really, is what this is all about anyway:
find home in yourself, not with others. To be a non-conforming, radical womyn of color means isolation, it does. It means being bypassed by the lines, boxes, and rules that everyone else adores. It means being an “N/A” a lot of the time. It means telling yourself that you’re TOO much and it’s the chains around people’s minds that are not enough for preventing you from simply rejoicing in the magnificent human being you are.
...We live in the space that is motivated by LOVE, not by lines. You’re the one that taught me that the only feminism I want to be led by are the hearts that trust love above all other things.

(And here is the writing following this spark, this catalyst for thoughts -- true thoughts -- of passing and community and belonging and authenticity.)

The last paper I ever wrote at Smith was about queer victims/survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Or, more specifically, about the rhetoric around queer victims/survivors of CSA.
It wasn't exactly one of those feel-good topics. And it was, by far, the hardest paper I've ever had to write. Not necessarily because the theoretical concepts were challenging - they were pretty straightforward (without being straight, of course), but because the subjects of my paper, the people I was writing about - queer victims/survivors of sexual abuse - reflected the most painful parts of myself. Because I was one of those people I was writing about, theorizing about.

The paper is still not finished.
Sure, it got handed in (a couple days late, of course). And my prof, the incredible professor who helped me through the topic by drawing on her own similar experiences of deeply personal academia, gave me an A on the final paper.
But there's a big part of the paper I never wrote. I've tried to write it since graduation, 7 months ago now, but it hasn't come together as more than a few ideas.
The part of the paper on queer survivors of CSA that remains unwritten is the section on authenticity. On what the effect of having an abusive sexual past has on your sexual identity, and how that authenticates or invalidates your identity. What that means for what communities you can belong to. What that means for what you can talk about in the spaces you inhabit.

I haven't written it because I don't know what my conclusion will be.
I haven't written it because I can't come to any conclusion about my own authenticity or lack thereof. Because I don't know what the truth about my own authenticity as a possibly not-quite-legitimate survivor or my authenticity as a possibly abuse-caused queer woman might be. If I can claim those identities authentically. If I can join those communities with my whole self.

Or, more accurately: I'm afraid to find the truth about authenticity, because I'm terrified that I'll find myself inauthentic. Not "enough."

(to loop this back around to bfp's post, this excerpt:
And as a result, every single community I belong to, every space I occupy, I’m *constantly* in danger of being kicked out of the community. People who are not “enough” of a particular thing are “suspect” no matter where they turn. They are under constant surveillance, under constant demand to prove themselves loyal–and under constant threat of being punished if they don’t live up to the required standards.

I sorta belong to a lot of communities and identities. I'm sorta a woc, but not really, 'cause it's only my skin colour, not my ethnicities. I'm sorta mixed, but not really, 'cause you have to go back soooo far to get to the "legitimate" person of colour in my ancestry. I'm sorta poor, but not really, 'cause my parents always put food on the table and I went to a good college and I have my B.A. and probably don't really need to be living below the poverty line, if I would just try my luck in a better job market than western Mass. I'm sorta smart, but my grades in college were only Bs, not As. I'm sorta a Baha'i, but not really, 'cause I sleep with women and I occasionally drink alcohol.
And, most relevant to this post and this conversation: I'm sorta queer, but not really, 'cause there's a decent chance that I love and lust after and identify myself with/by women because I can't bring myself to ever really trust men. I'm sorta a survivor of child sexual abuse, but not really, because I did a, b, and c, and didn't do x, y, and z. I'm sorta a survivor of rape, but not really, because I kinda consented at first, and so it doesn't quite count.

I'd love to have a community where I could be all of these not-quite-enough things without worrying about being ostracized or invalidated. I'd love to have a community where I wouldn't be alone in being not-quite-enough or just sorta-but-not-really.
I don't.
And I have communities. I'm just not a whole person in any of them.
I can talk about experiences of visually-based discrimination in the woc community. But I can't talk about being "just" Sicilian and European with these women. I can talk about men trying to exoticize me while they try to flirt with me (so much more common in the food service industry than I thought possible). But I can't talk about my distancing response, which is usually: "Actually, I'm not [insert legitimate poc cultural/ethnic identity here], I'm just Sicilian."
I can talk about issues of racial and gender equality/justice in the Baha'i community. But I can't talk about sleeping with women or loving women or issues of queer social justice within community (not that I'm active in any Baha'i community...and this is why).
I can talk about high feminist theory and academia with other academic-type people. But I can't talk about my actual grades at Smith when I talk to other Ivy League people.
I can talk about being one of the "poor kids" at my (mostly rich-kid) high school and college, whose family can't afford to take fancy trips or get fancy cars as birthday presents or get the kind of therapy and mental health care we all so badly needed because the insurance wouldn't cover it enough. But I can't really talk about still getting new shoes every year, new clothes every year, growing up in a nice house.

I can talk about being a big homo, make jokes about softball and flannel shirts and u-hauls and cats with other queer women. I can talk about that hot girl over there and, damn, why is she not single? But I can't talk about being unsure that my attraction to women has nothing to do with being abused and raped by men within this community.
I can talk about doing this anti-rape and anti-abuse work "for personal reasons" and I can tell incomplete stories about my experiences with other victims/survivors. But I can't tell them the whole story, about why it really was my fault (more than the typical tendency blame yourself).

I'm terrified of being found to be illegitimate. I'm terrified of my suspicions being proven right, and being kicked out of these communities for being not enough. Only sorta, but not really.

I would love to find this unconditional acceptance within myself, and I would love for that to be sufficient.
I would love for Sudy's suggestion that we all must create our own home within ourselves because we'll all always be isolated in our not-quite-enough-ness to be attainable and enough.

But thing is, I need a community. I long for a real community. I think we all do. I long for a place, not just within myself, but with others, where I can be accepted, unconditionally, in all of my not-quite-enough and sorta-but-not-really identities.
Where do I find that?
(And would creating that community have to mean creating a whole 'nother set of required standards to live up to?)