Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Understanding Comes With Initial Discomfort and Eventual Unity

In deciding what I could write about today, I acknowledge I could go in any number of directions. I could strongly express support of President Obama's health care reform guidelines while being sure to note my extreme displeasure with the lack of a public option. Or, I might chart a different course altogether and add some new wrinkle about the blame game currently raging inside the Obama Administration and the Democratic caucus as to how a supposedly sure thing all began to slip away. I could take a populist angle about how the scourge of big business and monied interests that have a concerted interest in making a profit at all cost leaves the rest of us in the poorhouse. Each of these would likely be received well and be in good company to what others have already written.

But what I've chosen to write instead about are the times that working together towards a common purpose succeeds. My decision to enter a woman-centric space gave me an understanding of what minorities often feel like when they set foot inside spaces reserved for usually white men. I would not describe what I experienced in negative terms, but I would classify the experience as uncomfortable and uncertain in the beginning. I would not seek to blame anyone, including myself for what I felt up front. Adjustment to any challenging situation requires dexterity and an open mind and I tried as best I could do keep those two life skills close at hand as I stumbled through deeply unfamiliar subjects while keeping in mind the responses of some, not all, who may have been just as uncomfortable with my being there as I was. Challenges need not be negative or unfortunate, after all.

Over the past nine months or so, I've begun to take an active role in contributing to the group discussions and controversial issues which are always in debate within young Feminist circles. Finding my footing at first, as I've noted, was difficult, since I was instantly aware upon arrival of the fact that I was in unfamiliar territory. This was predicated purely upon the fact that I am male and most of the contributors and regular readers are not. Still, my desire to learn and then to make my thoughts known superseded any reservations I might have held at the beginning. Male allies within the movement as a whole have never been plentiful and I recognized going in that I was going to have to be a bit of a trailblazer, whether I wanted to or not. A part of me, whether motivated by romance or noble purpose has always wanted to be a leader, especially in circumstances where role models or models of any kind at all are often minimal or altogether nonexistent.

Months of absorbing content and the opinions of others has led to a greater understanding on my part not of how we are different, but how we are very similar. Moreover, I recognize that all of these supposed truisms regarding gender identity and strict delineation between that which is "male" and that which is "female" has given me the ability to recognize that aside from a few undeniably biological differences, men and women are really not all that dissimilar. Even so, I can understand the skepticism many women feel about any male who claims the label "feminist" for himself. The implication is "How can you really understand?" My answer is, and will always be, "I listen and I try to draw parallels to my own very human experience".

Whether wrongly or rightly, anyone who is different within any movement or group ends up drawing some fire. I recognize that within Feminist spaces my ideas and commentary are more heavily scrutinized then they would be if I were a woman. I am also aware that anything I say in a public forum is going to seen by many as the Official Male Response™. This could make me angry, resentful, or both, but I have made a concerted effort to remove those sorts of instant responses from my canon of emotions. Anger has done nothing but make me miserable and keep me there. Indeed, if the situation was reversed, I'd probably make the same assumption myself.

That few of us are willing to brave this sort of often uncomfortable transition period of acclimation and discovery is what often keeps us separate. In an ideal world, we would have no massive barriers in place that stifle communication and dissemination of information, but this is the world in which we live. For better or for worse, we are are need of more trailblazers, more allies, more brave souls willing to clear the path for those who would follow after them. I have discovered in my own admittedly limited experience that once the hard part subsides, true growth and true unity follows, and with it comes friends, allies, and supporters beyond one's wildest dreams. Once we begin to trust and not fear each other, there is no limit to what we can accomplish. Until we do so, however, we should expect little beyond what we have now.

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