Who Gets To Police Language?

Who Gets To Police Language?

I was in an uncomfortable situation a few weeks ago, and every time I think about it, all of these hurt and upset feelings come up.

I was in a group chat with my partner and his friends. This group chat is predominantly white; I was one of two people of colour in it. We were having a conversation while my partner was asleep and I mentioned I disliked someone for using the word “ratchet”. And then someone, a white person, helpfully shared this definition from Urban Dictionary.

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I’m uncomfortable. I can feel the racist undertones in the erasure of black slang and culture. I can feel the white supremacist and elitist undertones of mocking the language and vernacular of a marginalized population. But I’m in a chat with people whose only connection to me is my partner, and he’s asleep and I don’t know what the consequences of my anger would have on his friendships. I don’t want to alienate him, I just don’t think it should be left unsaid.

My compromise: “Well, it’s AAVE so none of us should use it. And she is definitely way too white to be using it.

I figured it would be subtle enough. One of them is an editor so I assume they’re familiar with the terminology since it’s used in those academic circles. And if not, the acronym has been around for years and there’s enough resources a Google search away on it for it to be effective.

Boy, did it backfire.

I was scolded for using an acronym that people in the group may not understand. I explained that it stood for African American Vernacular English. Then they proceeded to call me elitist. I countered that erasing the roots of black slang was elitist (although what I wanted to say was racist). Apparently this made me seem defensive, which seemed strange to me considering how defensive they were over not knowing something. This is also two white people who consider themselves educated and intellectuals.

At this point another of my partner’s friends, the only other non-white person in the group, and points out that they could understand my meaning just by using Google and that it would have been faster to just ask or search it than to create a big fuss.

They then proceeded to say how it wasn’t the point and how I should have just answered them or explained in the first place.

Except, I already had. I had done exactly what they were yelling at me for. There wasn’t any reason for it to have been drawn out the way it was. And it was clear I was uncomfortable in the situation. I hadn’t spoken for the majority of their scolding. I waited until my partner woke up and could discuss the situation. We agreed that if I felt uncomfortable I could just leave the group quietly. I was too tired to educate, and enough time had passed that I didn’t want him to bring it up again. I wouldn’t be comfortable in that group again. It was more important for me to be out of that space than to educate. It was enough for me to see that I wasn’t going to be respected by these individuals and I wasn’t going to be heard.

There was a clear dynamic that was playing out in this group where I was the only one who didn’t have years of intimate friendships connecting me to anyone in the conversation, and there was also a dynamic that the two people of colour weren’t allowed to express opinions or disagreement.

And what bothered me most was that they probably left that conversation smug in the belief that they were more socially conscious. But really all they had done was create an uncomfortable – if not unsafe – space for a person of colour. They created a space in which they claimed moral superiority. And then they demanded that I produce the intellectual labour, since they may not be able to figure out what is reliable information on the internet and what’s not.

This is almost funny to me, considering the individual is a university-educated editor, who when I had previously asked for advice said that I wouldn’t get work in the field without a degree and basically spouted off the advice you can get from the top search results on Google. To me that says they lack the basic critical thinking skills that are essential as an editor. Especially when they were given context clues (like bringing up that a white person, or that anyone not black, shouldn’t be using AAVE) to guide them to the correct results.

So not only were they going to define what elitism is in this conversation, but they’re also not going to put in any of the work. It shouldn’t be up to me to educate in that kind of setting. And if you want to ask, go ahead and ask politely. I’ll respond in turn. I respect questions that come from genuine places of learning.

But if you have the ability to search and you have had access to postsecondary education, maybe put in the work. Think to yourself, what is my privilege in this situation? Why do I feel that I can define how oppression works? Asking someone who has had this conversation for the umpteenth time shouldn’t be your first move.

You may not think that you have racial bias – but it’s there. It shows in your actions and in the ways you justify them. You may not consciously realize it, but you’re participating in discrimination. You are silencing us. Undermining our voices. We notice when our voices are silenced in favor of white voices. And we definitely notice your condescension.

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Untangling Gender, Vulnerability, and Toxic Masculinity

Untangling Gender, Vulnerability, and Toxic Masculinity

Today I had planned to write a fun blog post about my gender. It was going to involve a photoshoot and outfit changes. I’m genderfluid, so I often find myself identifying along different parts of masculinity and femininity – often at the same time. I’ve coordinated my wardrobe, my hair, everything about how I present to allow for this constant shifting. But the more I thought about letting people in on that, the less I wanted to share.

Continue reading “Untangling Gender, Vulnerability, and Toxic Masculinity”

Depression, Disconnect and Rediscovery

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I have been going through a pretty severe bout of depression lately. I had left a job that was financially stable but emotionally draining, and I had no real plan other than to try and write through it. This was obviously a terrible plan, and so when it inevitably failed, I allowed myself to sink into depression.

Normally depression is something that I fight with every ounce of energy that I have left. I usually start an unusual amount of creative projects, armed with a different notebook for each project. I usually overcompensate with productivity, going full force on job hunting and cleaning. I usually have something to keep me keeping on.

This time, I didn’t do that. My job hunt fell by the wayside, so did my writing, my reading and just about everything else. I took on several near-decade long-running shows, and let them wash over me. Some of them I barely registered at all. I stopped seeing friends, too ashamed at my own surrender and without an office to be forced to go to, I lost a lot of human contact.

And it was oddly therapeutic. I gave up, a decision I’ve been staving off for years. I didn’t want to be anybody special; I didn’t want to fight for anything anymore. I wasn’t trying to convince anyone I was useful or productive anymore. I didn’t want to prove anything to anyone. I just let myself exist in an odd limbo state.

I’ve always been afraid to let myself give in to the depression. There was a very real risk that if I gave in, I may never get back up on my feet again. I wasn’t sure I could give up the momentum. What if once I stopped trying to prove myself to everyone else, I wouldn’t ever convince myself I was worthwhile?

But this decision to allow myself to slip into my depression wasn’t conscious. I was just too tired of fighting it. With every decision seeming more fruitless than the last, it just seemed easier to stop making decisions.

Now it’s been months and I don’t have much to show for it. A sparsely written blog, plans and lists for a business I never ended up starting, an apartment that fell into a biohazardous state. It’s a poor excuse of an existence.

But I don’t feel as tired.

Don’t get me wrong: this bout of depression has not reached its end. I’m still struggling and failing to get myself together. But there’s something validating in not pushing myself anymore. I’m starting to take things at my own pace, instead of trying to outrace everyone else. I think it’s working.

I’ve started reading again. Nothing heavy, nothing dense. I’ve started thinking about fiction again. Hell, I’ve even entertained the idea of screenwriting for a while. The signs of life are returning to me, and with it, having to relearn what that life means to me.

And this time, I’m trying to live it for me.

Review: World War Z by Max Brooks

I didn’t intend on wriworldwarz_200-s6-c101ting a review for World War Z when I started reading it. In fact, I didn’t intend on taking the book very seriously at all. World War Z was actually just an impulse purchase I had made months ago because it was in the dollar bins outside BMV. I only picked it up because I wanted to start reading again, but all of my unread books were the dense books I’d already been unconfident about reading.

I’m surprisingly happy that I did. I didn’t expect much out of a zombie novel, already disenchanted by the mass of zombie narratives already out there. What was most interesting to me was that it had a global perspective, and I wanted to see how a book could be in the oral tradition. I feel like I should also mention that I also realized that it came out in 2006. I’m not only a decade late, but I didn’t even realize it.

I always enjoy new formats in books. Reading it as interview transcriptions allowed it to be easy to follow along, but was used effectively to create subtext with the interviewer’s questions. Not only that, but instead of telling the story of just one character throughout the war, it instead showed the lives and perspectives of many.

This is where World War Z became an amazing book. In most zombie narratives you have a group of able-bodied middle class and usually white Americans as they fumble along trying to survive. That’s not this book. They had characters from all over the world. Reading about Indian war heroes, and the racialization of the virus (which was nicknamed “African Rabies”, an allusion to many instances in history where African was synonymous with deadly).

And then they had Joe Muhammed. Joe Muhammed is a disabled Pakistani man. They don’t mention why he’s in the wheelchair, if it was a wound or from an injury from before. What they do mention: “Shit, if I couldn’t roll myself faster than a walking zombie, how could I have lasted this long?”

Exactly this. Everything about this. This is the first time I have read about a disabled character in the zombie apocalypse. Being disabled myself, I wanted to goddamn cheer (in fact I did stop and very enthusiastically waved this book around in my partner’s face shouting, See!) when I finally read one and it was about the benefits of having a chair.

And not only that, but later they introduce a blind man who had been visually impaired since his childhood. He recounts a time when he first started to encounter zombies. It was great, reading it from his perspective. There was a clear change language to denote the perspective. Everything he experienced was from sound and smell. And again, he says, “Losing my vision also prepared me for the act of ever-vigilant mobility. Those with sight have a tendency to take walking for granted; how else could they trip over something they’ve clearly seen?”

While there was more of a focus on the American front than I would have liked, it was such a great read. Between the tongue-in-cheek social commentary, and the diverse characters, and those moments where you’re thinking to yourself, huh I never would have even thought about that, it’s a fantastic read.

The “Adulting” Project: Navigating Between the Personal and the Professional

I used to fantasize of the glamorous writing life: working from home, eyeballs deep in books and notes, odd hours and a steady stream of whiskey and coffee. And it’s not too far off from what I’m currently living. Except, instead of writing I just keep wavering.

2016-09-22-00-20-55That’s the only way I can describe it. Like describing the way my fingers hover over my keyboard before I slam my laptop closed.

When I used to write, it used to be for myself. It used to pour out of me, like I had a tap into some kind of story well. It was every fear, every wish, every guilty pleasure. Every story was me. It wasn’t a job or a chore. It used to be a way to make sense of my own head; it was a way to live all the lives I wanted to live.

Now when I go to write all that I can do is stare at a blank page. Continue reading “The “Adulting” Project: Navigating Between the Personal and the Professional”

Staring Outside the Bubble: Reflections on the Orlando Shooting

I live in Toronto. Toronto has a bustling and queer community. Toronto is multi-cultural.

I live in a bubble.

Last night I went to sleep thinking about how I wish I went out to more queer events, that I was more a part of the community. Last night I wished I could just be gay instead of bisexual. Last night my biggest concern about my queerness was whether or not other queers could identify me.

I woke up today to realize how privileged I am. I feel safe shaving my head and checking out cute girls on the subway. I’m not afraid to go to LGBTQ+ events because I’m afraid of being outted or harassed, but because I’m worried no one will flirt with me.

With guilt, I find myself wishing I could go back to feeling that. I also find myself guilty knowing that eventually I will, because I live in this safe and happy bubble. I have a Facebook feed that is decrying islamophobia right along with homophobia. I’ve cultivated a very safe community. I’ve surrounded myself by people who will stick up for me when I can’t handle it on my own, even if they barely know me.

As I type this my heart is hurting for all the people that do not have what I have. I left my house today, and I was safe, and there are places in this country where that isn’t true. And I hate it and it hurts and I can’t change it.

I don’t mean to say Toronto isn’t perfect. It’s not the safest place on Earth, but in all my years of living in and around Toronto I’ve never been called a Paki or a terrorist for being brown. The majority of the people around me know there’s a difference between Muslim and Hindu cultures. But there are people who won’t like me, and I get dirty looks just getting on the streetcar, and there are people in my own city who are going to suffer more for this than I am.

I know as I walk down the street that I’m not being called a terrorist as I’m conforming to the whitest counter-culture trends. I don’t have to plan my day around when and where I’ll be able to pray. My grandparents all converted to Christianity so even if I wanted to display some aspect of my cultural background, it’s not going to be in religious traditions.

Today is a heavy day for me. Today I’m reminded where the anger and the rage comes from. Today I’m reminded why I need intersectionality to keep me safe. Today I remember that I live in a bubble, and it can so very easily burst.

Experiencing “The Body Politic”

On Wednesday night, I had the fortune of joining a friend to see The Body Politic, a brand new play, written by Nick Green and directed by Alisa Palmer, developed in-house at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Going into the play, I knew very little about what it would be about. I knew it had something to do with Canada’s first gay liberation newspaper and Operation Soap, a raid on four local bathhouses in 1981, which resulted in one of the largest mass arrests in Canada.

The play follows an aging gay man who has impulsively invited the hot barista from his regular coffee joint to his apartment. But once the young man arrives, he finds himself making startling connections to his time as a youthful queer, a part of a collective that launched a newspaper called The Body Politic and the legal, moral, and emotional battles that would subsequently follow.

The performances of Diane Flacks, Aldrin Bundoc, and Cole Alvis were most notable in an entire cast of fantastic actors. These characters are the catalyzing voices that really drive home the messages I imagine Green was trying express.

To enter the theatre we walked past lines of dangling telephone receivers, bobbing on those old spiral cords. Picking up the receivers, you could hear looped phone calls recreating the telephone tree that organized the rally in response to Operation Soap.

With a minimal but imaginative set, just translucent walls setting up the frame of a small apartment, pushing one room front and center. It gave a pointed perspective that the shadowy scenes going on behind the translucent walls inform the scenes happening in front.

While the play does acknowledge that The Body Politic most often only amplified the voices of white gay men, its cast only includes two characters that do not fall under this moniker. This becomes slightly more concerning when the only non-white character makes little to no reference to being non-white. While I felt this could have (and should have) been explored more, I felt that this was a single slight against an otherwise perfect score.

The Body Politic is an emotionally evocative play that touches on many important issues that rocked the gay and lesbian community during the hay day of the paper, that still affect the community to this day. It explores the intergenerational differences and similarities that divides and unites activists across the ages.