Wholehearted and Marginalized

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.

9 responses to “Wholehearted and Marginalized

  1. Colleen @ The Family Pants

    Damn. This took me to something i didn’t realize I needed to get to. Thank you.

  2. Evin, thank you for raising this to my awareness, for your both/and.

  3. Thank you for this thoughtful and important response to our blog. We would like to share it on our facebook page with your permission. Thanks so much for being in radical dialogue about radical self love! All the best!

    Unapologetic love & light,

    TBINAA Team

  4. Pingback: Whine and be happy, health care, the shutdown, and more « uuworld.org : The Interdependent Web

  5. I signed up to Tumblr (finally) just to reply to the person you’re referencing here, Evin. As a physically disabled person who can no longer “hide” my disability as I could a few years ago, I see where she’s coming from. I think I might be able to “hear” Dr. Brown a little bit more because I’ve been dealing with the physical disability issues for so long (I actually don’t have any memories that do not include what I call my “physical tinnitus” – the pain is always there, like a ringing in one’s ears… sometimes more noticeable than others, sometimes barely noticeable at all). I think a big part of the problem is the “good girl/people pleaser” mentality that we biological females are generally socialized into and that gets STRONGLY reinforced even in fairly liberal settings All. The. Time. If I get frustrated about something and it shows, every former Psych 101 student in the area will diagnose me with a “mood disorder”. If I raise my voice loud enough to interrupt the conversation of two able-bodied people who are completely blocking my path & oblivious to my quiter/more polite attempts to avoid running them over, I’ve got “anger issues” because I’m “yelling so much”. And if I express my needs that I cannot meet myself, I’m “demanding” and “codependant”.

    And yet… I find a lot of value in Brene Brown’s work. She gives a vocabulary to the work I’ve been doing on myself (and, when they’ll let me, with those around me) for all of my adult life. Key, to me, isn’t to expect to be accepted – it is to offer acceptance of the other. It is totally normal to me to go from a 20 minute heart-to-heart conversation with a homeless mother to a 5 minute check-in with a upper income recently widowed individual, to a discussion with a teenager about shared interests, all in the span of a day (when I’m out of the house that much). The best compliment I have gotten recently was from a “stereotypical” working class mom I know from my kids’ school, when she said how much she enjoys talking to me (I had been experiencing a moment of concern that I was turning into an Ivory Tower Asshat).

    The ability to “code switch” between the different contexts is a skill that requires practice, and without that skill, my observation is that any attempt to reach out to a vunerable person will come across as not just inauthentic, but also paternalistic.

  6. gah… commenting while sleepy… I meant to say I think part of it is the “people pleaser” mentality that girls are socialized into – that if EVERYONE doesn’t like us, even if the majority do, we’re a failure and should be ashamed of ourselves for not “doing gender” right. I let go of the need to have everyone like me rather young (I was too exhausted dealing with the health issues to worry about other people’s opinions, especially anonymous and possibly imaginary ones). I feel that is a great gift my disability has bestowed upon me. I am talented and worthy of love and respect, if others don’t see that it is their loss, and my limited time & energy is better spent where it is appreciated.

    As a parent, I am teaching my children that they are always loveable and deeply loved, even at their most pesty and annoying moments. I pointed out to my 3 year old that he was in a particularly pesty mood the other day and my 6 year old piped up “but Mama still loves you, even tho you’re being pesty”. It’s sinking in, I think.

    • Exactly. There ARE huge barriers to connection (which vary by oppression!) … and … love your thoughts on girls’ socialization! So much to undo!

      • hey, you should be on leave from blog commenting at least today ;) Other updates are MUCH more important. I don’t expect prompt replies from you for the next good long while. Let me know if you guys need anything :) I’ve got some wholehearted parenting ideas/plans that I’d love to have your family involved in (probably not starting until after the 1st of the year anyway) but I don’t want to distract you right now.

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