Some folks I know are posting on this critique and this follow up post criticizing Brene Brown’s work by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg. Cohen-Rottenberg details the many ways oppression undermines connection–homophobia, sexism, ableism, and more and the social forces which work to give some people more of a sense of worthiness and others less and concludes that for some people the courage to be wholehearted is not enough to create connection with others. Yes. Yes. Yes. The “others” are not always there waiting to reach out, it’s true. And there are some that will never be ready to connect with us, too stuck in their own self-reinforcing narrow world views. And unfortunately, some of those people hold a lot of power, it’s true.
Cohen-Rottenberg shares a dialogue with a former therapist who tells her that the shame from her disability is her “problem”. Well, yes, that’s true too. What I wish her therapist said, and I hope the therapist she says “got” it later said was, “The world’s dysfunctionality is not your fault. And. We’re not going to solve that dysfunction today, so how can we help you thrive despite the world’s dysfunction?”
This is both/and. As a genderqueer person I have absorbed my share of shame from this society’s messages about who I am. I began absorbing those messages at a very young age when I first realized that I did not have a place in the playground game of “house” with a mommy, daddy, and baby. It got worse as the girls began playing separately and again when puberty hit. Sorting out these messages, traumas, and shame has taken and will keep taking a long time. And, yes, no matter how open I am to connection, there are those who are not interested in connecting with me.
And. And. Every time I have peeled off another layer of shame as queer and genderqueer, I have found deeper connection with others, even others I believed I’d never connect with:
As a 19 year old genderqueer baby dyke I spent a trimester working at an outdoor education center. I had just buzzed my head and thereby gotten a good look at the world’s homophobia. My supervisor, herself a lesbian with very short hair who had been out for decades, watched me lead activities and challenged me to become vulnerable and open. I did not believe this was possible–I did not believe, primarily, that the teachers and parents were safe or could connect with me. But I tried, and though, I did not get as open as vulnerable as she wanted me to, I discovered that I could connect heart to heart with these strangers even as my hair marked me as queer.
I have learned and re-learned this lesson over and over again. The double tragedy of the shame that we learn when we live with oppression is that the shame weighs us down and disconnects us from ourselves at the same time it disconnects us from others. There may be those who will never connect with us, but there are many people who will, if we can show up wholehearted, vulnerable, and open. They may not call us the name we want to be called (at first) or use the language we’d use to describe ourselves or entirely “get it” and it’s not fair that we have peel off this burden of shame to reach out to them – but we will connect, human to human, on a wavelength deeper than analysis or vocabulary.