Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The perennial problem with well meaning straight, cis people

This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.

It's like good advice....

You really didn't want.

This is a perennial problem with well meaning straight, cis people and, I rather think, privileged people over all marginalised people. Advice.

I often wonder why privileged people decide to give advice about being marginalised to marginalised people. It's kind of like watching a high school maths teacher correct Stephen Hawkings on his sums.

One of the recent crops of unsolicited advice we've been seeing is various people, especially in professional sports, encouraging their closeted GBLT teammates, colleagues et al to come out. And I sigh, I really do. We really really do not need advice on whether to come out or not, at least not from straight, cis people who really cannot understand what that means and the depth of the implications.

Lives are lost coming out. Literally. Families are lost. Friends are lost, careers are lost. And we can all say that those that matter will stand by you, and it's true, but reality is often harsher than such ideals and platitudes won't solve isolation, loneliness, betrayal – or protect you from violence and abandonment – or being fired for that matter. To say nothing of the very personal struggles that often precede coming out (and follow after it for that matter).

Don't get me wrong, coming out was one of the best things I ever did – but it was also one of the hardest things I ever did – and it still isn't easy and it never will be.

And it keeps happening. I think the latest is the president of the UFC (which is an extra load of foolishness, since this man is quite happy to throw around anti-gay slurs. So I suspect it's more an attempt at good PR than anything), but I've seen it multiple times in professional football, rugby, cricket and athletics. I've seen it for actors and politicians, musicians and businessmen, lawyers and doctors, police and firefighters and a million professions besides. The same tune “you should come out.”

Don't. Please.

Say “if you come out, I'll support you.”

Say “if you come out, I'll have your back”

Condemn prejudice.

But don't give us advice.

And it doesn't just apply to the closet. I've been “advised” on just about every aspect of being gay imaginable. How I should talk and act, what I should wear, when I should be silent, what I should laugh at, what I should accept, what I should be angered or upset by, what I should be offended by, what I should be hurt by. Advice advice advice, all well meaning, a lot of it wrong and all of it pretty unwelcome.

And I'm certain sure this isn't remotely limited to any one marginalisation.

Aside from anything else I can't really talk about unsolicited advice without also touching on those little pills (and not so little, seriously doc, do I look like a horse? Don't answer that) I have to take several times a day to keep things on an even keel at the advice of my nice-but-frustarting therapy guy. Oh the advice I get there. Setting aside the thrice weekly insistence that if I get with Jesus, turn straight, dump my husband then all my problems and issues will magically disappear; I still get quite a lot of unsolicited advice on how to cure myself (this is not, I hasten to add, the same as from good friends who have had similar experiences with mental illness and share their insights with me – that differs considerably from net strangers trying to write me a prescription pad).

Let me see, in the last month I have been advised to:

Stop taking my pills, they're what's making me ill (more common than anything else).

More vitamin C (I swear, bloody vitamin C must be the gods' own ambrosia the amount of miracles it's supposed to solve. The NHS should throw out its medicine and stack up on lemons)

Exercise

Sunshine

Freaking goji juice (yes, I have finally been found by the goji cult, Renee, I totally blame you, I thought I'd escaped them)

The thing is, I'm sure all of this advice really does come from a well intentioned place (ok, no, I suspect a lot of it doesn't, but let's live in happy fun land for a moment and pretend otherwise) but I really can't imagine it being helpful – or anything but frustrating. Trust us to know our lives, our bodies, our beings better than anyone else – because, amazingly, we do. And privileged people so often do not realise how truly ignorant they are.