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.
So let’s have a talk about “big society” and “community” and all that lovey dovey idea of all the local people getting together.
See, this is an in-topic in the UK because the Tories are all for the “big society”. Now this actually translates to cutting lots and lots and lots of essential services, benefits and local facilities (like parks, child care groups, libraries and homeless shelters to name a few of many) and then hoping local charities, religious groups and local communities will swoop in and do all of this for free.
Yeah, I know, I know, but they’re the Tories, what do you expect? You’ve got to pay for those rich folks’ tax cuts some how.
But let’s look at the whole sainted idea of “local community”, this force that is supposed to take over all these local services, in particular, I’m going to look at it critically. And this is almost blasphemous – criticising community? COMMUNITY? How could you! It’s COMMUNITY! It’s precious and wonderful and the source of all things shiny and beautiful – how could I criticise it?
See, I grew up in quite a close knit community. It was a semi-rural semi-suburb full of people my parents age many of whom were all raising kids my age. It was a close knit community where everyone knew everyone else’s business and everyone’s life was always the topic of discussion.
And I hated it. Because these “communities” can be toxic places for a GBLT person – or any vulnerable person who doesn’t fit the communities’ standards. Between acid tongues and packs of kids who carried school playground gossip home it was deeply unpleasant – and that was before I came out. When I did come out? Yeah, there’s a reason why I stay away from the neighbourhood I grew up in.
And we had these wonderful community organisations and services and the like. Guess who is involved in these things? The working parents? The poor? Marginalised folks? Hah, like they had the time! Like they had the resources! Like they have the energy! Like they even remotely trust these people! Like anyone ever cares what they have to say anyway! No, it’s was lots of older, richer, straight, cis, able bodied white folks who had the time to potter around, who had the money to throw at pet projects and, of course, who had the privileged to be listened to and respected.
Guess how helpful these “big society” services would be to marginalised people in these oh-so-well-meaning hands?
Even now, when I’ve deliberately gone out of my way to keep, at most, a casual nodding acquaintance with my neighbours (and chosen neighbourhood where “community” is nearly non-existent), what community there is still comes in the form of snide little notes with Bible verses pasted to my door or posted through my letter box. Homophobic notes at my home, my house, where I sleep. Or notes on my friends’ cars warning them they’ll get AIDS or their wives will get AIDS or possibly their friends – anyway, someone will apparently get AIDS. Doesn’t matter how or who, AIDS will happen, damn it!
Community means snide gossip and nosiness and assumptions; it means everyone believing they have a right to examine my life and pass judgement upon it. It means rumours that I apparently hold weekly orgies and sex parties and going out to secret liaisons in the middle of the night and coming in all hours – doubtless from a sex party/orgy/illicit liaison (someone is having waaay more fun with my life than I am) and whispered concerns and worries for the neighbourhood, the community, the tone, the children, whatever.
Community encourages the belief that these people around me have some kind of interest in my life – I don’t mean interested in my life (though they are that, nosy curtain-twitchers that they are) but they have some kind of right to know, to comment, to be part of my life and my home. The fact we’re in the same community gives validation to their surveillance, their judgement and their meddling, Because it’s community, right? And we’re all in this together, right? And how could this possibly be a bad thing?
So when I hear about “death of local communities” or “there’s no community spirit anymore” or whatever other lamentations we repeatedly hear dragged up as these little enclaves of busy-bodiness fade, I can’t say I’m overly sad. I prefer not to live under my neighbour’s surveillance, judged in the court of their prejudices or have to spend my time navigating their mazes. I would love my neighbour not to give a damn about me. I’m quite content to spend my life not knowing their name, merely nodding to them in passing.
And I certainly don’t want local power, local authority, local services being in the hands of my “community” – my petty, prejudiced unaccountable, unrepresentative community.