||[Dec. 20th, 2016|02:08 pm]
Transitioning into liminal space
The group of us (Danae, her parents, and me) were going to drive into Toronto on Saturday for dinner with her brother who lives in the city. The last time we'd had a meal together, I ended up feeling very distressed. They were discussing issues that touch on cultural diversity and media depiction of minorities in ways that I disagreed with. More than that, though, the group of them (Danae excepted) react to political correctness with a negative and dismissive attitude. I personally think the topic is very complex and accommodates numerous valid viewpoints. But their opinions seemed to me to be far from completely informed, and their attitude seemed dismissive of alternate perspectives.
So this past Saturday, I begged off from the dinner. I was feeling a little overly socialized anyway so I thought it would be nice to have time to myself to decompress. As it turned out though, Danae developed a nasty headache that evening and wasn't up to going, so we cancelled the dinner entirely and rescheduled for Monday. Danae and I spent some of Sunday on our own visiting thrift stores and driving around the city, and I was feeling much more able to manage socializing after some time with just she and I. I decided I'd go with for dinner on Monday.
Unfortunately, dinner was notably more difficult than the previous time we ate with her brother. I chatted with him briefly about winter cycling, and he and Danae and I talked about a few different computer games. Later though, the topic shifted to Islam and Muslim immigrants, who her father and brother tarred with a very wide brush. As usual, much of what they cited in favor of their viewpoints were news stories I was unfamiliar with or legislation that I'd never heard of. This put me in a position where I could not respond intelligently. It's the same reason I feel that I can't canvas for a political campaign, for example. I'm too well aware of how much there is that I don't know to feel that I can validly refute what I feel are incorrect opinions or conclusions.
As part of the discussion about Islam, they returned again to criticism of "the left" and "political correctness", saying that it's impossible to criticize Muslims without being called Islamophobic and racist. They referred to a statement made by the chancellor of Germany about multiculturalism having failed, and said that what she really meant was that it has failed with Muslims but she would not be allowed to say that in our politically correct climate. Again, I have no information about this event with which to respond. They talked about honor killings of brides and compared Muslim radicals to kamikaze pilots, saying there's no way they can be dealt with other than killing them. I tried to ignore this conversation and watch whatever was on TV over by the bar, making this one of only a handful of times I've been happy to see a television in a restaurant. I was feeling increasingly anxious and uncomfortable. I wished I could say something that they would take seriously, but I don't think I could have, and felt bad about myself for not saying something anyway.
They left that topic and moved onto one that, amazingly enough, made me even more uncomfortable: gender identity and trans* issues. They criticized a New York City law I'd never heard that imposed a $250,000 fine for mis-gendering individuals, and said that there are now 30-something officially recognized genders in New York City. Those pieces of information are, respectively, a misunderstanding and a near-total fabrication. At the time, though, I did not have enough information to respond, and I did not. They criticized people who prefer pronouns other than traditional male or female ones (which includes me, though they are unaware of that because I'm too cowardly to tell them), and then started, in their typically uninformed and assumption-laden way, to talk about how young is too young to begin hormone therapy for gender reassignment. There were so many problems with the conversation simply in terms of their understanding of the issues that it would be hard to know where to start, let-alone their attitudes about people like me and people I care about. I couldn't deal with trying not to listen anymore and asked Danae whether people would be offended if I went outside. She suggested I go to the bathroom, which I did.
I spent a while sitting, fully clothed, in a closed stall and rocking back and forth as I processed my thoughts and feelings. After some time had passed, her father came in and, on the way out after using the facilities, said that we'd be leaving soon. I waited a few minutes more. I hated that I might have made them uncomfortable. I hated that I was unable to be part of their conversation. I hated that I didn't do a better job of representing and defending myself and others. I hated that they must now know that I'd retreated due to inability to manage.
I already worry a lot about what her dad thinks of me. When his driving scared me a few years ago, I was too scared to talk to him about it myself and Danae did instead. Earlier on this trip, last week, he drove on the way to visit a butterfly sanctuary and Danae's mother has insisted on driving the rest of this visit because he was driving aggressively and she was worried about it bothering me (which it did, but I'm too nervous to say so). Her dad knows I failed at my attempt at grad school and that Danae is supporting me entirely. I just keep thinking that he must think I'm a leech.
When I came back from the bathroom at the restaurant, it was clear some discussion had taken place. That made me feel even worse; once again, her family was presented with evidence that I am unable to fight my own battles. I hadn't wanted to step in and my own uninformed perspective to theirs. I'd just wanted to leave until that conversation was done. Miriam, though, as she explained later to me, had felt that me feeling forced to leave was not an acceptable outcome. She had told the others that this was a sensitive topic for me and that the conversation was upsetting for me. When she and I talked about it last night, just the two of us in bed, I explained that that felt to me like not the best way to proceed. I don't feel that it's my place to tell people what they can or can't talk about. In fact, doing so plays into this stereotype of socially left people who demand safe spaces as an excuse to not talk about real issues. I feel that it is my own responsibility to deal with this sort of thing or not, and I do not have a right to make it a burden for other people to manage. I also think that it adds to the impression that I am too weak a person to deal with my own issues, and thus Danae must do it for me. That was added to by a conversation that Danae and I had with her mother last night, wherein her mother said that if a sensitive topic for me comes up, then I should really just let people know and ask whether we can change the topic. But I can't do that. Not with those people and under those circumstances. If I'm talking to people who I feel mutual respect with, where I know we're all trying genuinely to listen and understand each other, asking for a subject change for a while feels ok. But not where I was then, at dinner. The only thing that feels ok for me to do is to remove myself for a while.
Danae understood and apologized. I told her how much I appreciate her caring and her defensiveness toward me. I feel so lucky to have her in my life.
For today, I feel really nervous about interacting with her parents, especially her father. I'm mostly hiding in our bedroom (they make their front room into a bedroom for us while we're visiting) with the dog. I slept all morning until Danae got me up to eat. Now I'm writing. After, I'll probably play some more Factorio. I have a four-digit seven-segment display working with a time division multiplexer now that cycles through a number of values related to stored resources. I think I'm going to make a video that shows how to do it once I get home.
As for her family, I told Danae last night that my feeling is that I need to just accept that they are not people who will listen respectfully to what I have to say about certain topics. I really don't mind having deep conversations with people who disagree with me on topics that are near and dear to me. It's stimulating and valuable. Maybe we'll both learn something. But underlying those conversations must be respect and openness. Without mutual respect and a mutual desire to understand each other, I don't see much of a point to that kind of discussion. Without them, it's just an echo chamber. There was enough of that on Facebook; that's why I left. I'm not up to dealing with it in real life. It's strange to have close family who will not listen respectfully with an open mind. My parents and brothers have never failed to do so. But not everyone is like that, and it's ok for me to react accordingly.