I like to hang out with all different kinds of people. I have used the term queer to describe myself because I am comfortable with people who see themselves that way. I feel like I fit in with GLBT, Pagan, Multi-ethnic, counter culture fold. I am comfortable being myself in environments that tend to be inclusive and nonjudgmental.
I recognize what it feels like to be alone in a class and discriminated against because of it. I was bullied mercilessly in Jr. High School. I have experienced discrimination as a woman, because of my weight, and in relationship to my special needs child. I have had nasty and rude comments directed at me because of all of those things. I have also traveled enough to have experienced being the only white, only tall, only large female person in a culture where I didn’t have either the language or the cultural background to really get by. And I have been treated in such cultures as “not quite civilized.” I’ve been excluded from groups I could have contributed to simply because I didn’t have the appropriate credentials, regardless of my experience.
I also know privilege. I take advantage of doors held open and offers to carry my bags. I have been moved to the front of the line to accommodate the wheelchair. I have been accepted into business establishments because of the color of my skin and the way I carry myself, rather than being watched like a criminal. It is not infrequent for me to have extra space, because people are reluctant to squeeze in past me or next to me. I know I have an easier time with social services for my son simply because of my class and education.
I have an advantage because of my broad travels, reading, education and olive toned skin. I can pass in places many white urban Americans would be less than welcomed. People often assume that I am “one of them” and if they are not explicit in asking I do not correct them. This holds true not just in ethnicity, but also with “shop talk” in specialty careers. I have been mistaken for a nurse, a teacher, a social worker, a psychologist, an artist, a musician and before I had kids a parent. I fit in, and if I really don’t I’ll often bow out. I’m not trying to fool anyone. I just “get it.”
I appreciate being with people who “get it.” I know talking parenting is different with other parents of special needs kids. I know talking about medicine or life and death issues is different with other cancer survivors. I know that being with other women is different than being in a mixed group. Even being with a group of women “of a certain age” is different than being in a multigenerational group. Talking spirituality with other Pagans is different than talking spirituality with Christians or Jews or Muslims. Shared experience does count.
So how do we graciously allow ourselves exclusive space? When is exclusion appropriate and when is it objectionable? How do we determine exactly how exclusive we need to be?
I expect I’ll write more on this, but I’d really like to encourage you to leave comments, and to pass the word to anyone you might know who would like to get in on the discussion.