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.
Regularly now one of my oh-so-dearest neighbours has been leaving snide little homophobic notes on my door, ranging from Bible verses to random mutterings about AIDS, to condemnation for the many many orgies we’re not actually having (don’t you just hate it when people have more fun with your life than you do?) At the same time, we’ve had to shoe-horn our cars into The Home of All Junk (who knew garages were for cars?) since they’re picking up an awful lot of potentially-related and very annoying scratches and horrible things have happened to our plants in the front garden. Also, the Bible left in the rain and shredded by cats was vexing – we’re still finding little scraps of soggy, sanctimonious confetti.
It was unnerving to begin with, I took precautions – and several months later with it still happening, we’re playing snap with the nasty little things (they’ve started to repeat themselves. Which I think is just rude – if you’re going to leave nasty little hate notes on someone’s door, you could at least strive to be original! Reusing your old hate is just plain lazy).
There are places in my home city I know not to go at certain times. Or some not to go alone. I know where fool straight folk gather when they’ve had too much to drink, looking for a victim. I know a local park where the police will assume I’m cruising. I know to avoid these places.
At work, I know that at least once a week, one of three people will say something offensive. I know that, at least 4 times a week, annoying secretary will flirtingly joke about “changing me” or “what a shame it is you’re gay” or some such. I know that I need to check my email religiously or have the extra, over-scheduled work dumped on me because it’s assumed I have no family and no plans. I know I have to book holidays well in advance and fight for them in case they’re moved in favour of those who “have family and partners to be accommodated”. I know that my most senior partner still doesn’t understand why I’m pissed at him for throwing cases of gay-bashers at me and why I don’t want to be in a small room alone with such people to interview them. I know that, in some family and criminal cases, he will act like I’m a woman or use my being gay as some kind of selling point. I’ve worked out ways around these problems, things I can’t say, things I have to grit my teeth and ignore, ways I have to react and steps I have to take to avoid shouldering the firm’s grunt work.
These are just a few items on my list of things that have become normal for me. I’m not even talking microagressions like gross heteronormativity, erasure, or far too many damn people using homophobic hate speech, or even big massive things like the current marriage equality debate and everyone showing their scabby, homophobic arses over it. I’m not even talking about my annoyingly homophobic family trying to drag me back to them over the bridges they burned. I mean all the things, all the shit, every day in our lives that are specifically unacceptable yet have become normal to us. And I think every marginalised person has one of these lists – a lists of regular shit they have to endure from certain people, certain times, in certain places, they know shit will happen above and beyond the normal micro and macro aggressions. Just routine, unacceptable shit that is part of your daily life – neither the background noise of micro aggressions nor the big, unusual spikes of macro events – but routine, normal shit.
Because you get used to things. Even things you shouldn’t have to get used to. You learn to endure. You learn to tolerate. You even learn to accept. You become jaded, cynical and even numb. You learn that this is the way the world is and, ultimately, you have to live in that world.
And I think it’s another way that being marginalised affects us - the lessons we learn and the twisted sense of “normal” we internalise. Normal, for so many of us, is abuse. It’s navigating shit, it’s putting up with shit, it’s expecting shit and it’s dealing with shit all the damn time. It’s making shit normal.
Which means you shouldn’t really be surprised when you come with some story of utter repellent bigotry and, rather than shock our outrage, the marginalised group’s response is something like *shrug**sigh*. You can’t be shocked by what is normal, and being outraged by what is normal quickly becomes exhausting. And, frankly, being reminded that our “normal” is someone else’s unbelievable shit is just depressing.
But that has consequences. It does unpleasant things to our self-esteem when enduring shit is normalised. It does unpleasant things to our kids growing up in a world where such shit is normal. And it furthers the evil shit of society considers acceptable, because we are accepting it. And don’t even get me started (again) on how shit being normal means we leap around like eager puppies at the slightest kindness – which SHOULD be normal.
So even when it is normal, even when it is the way we live, even if it is the way we have to live, even if it happens all the damn time, we have to cling onto our rage in face of the waves of jaded cynicism. Because it’s easy to get tired, to be utterly worn down and just accept what is normal – even when said normal is beyond unacceptable. Even while we endure, we cannot accept the latest load of bigotry, or violence or hate speech as just “normal.” We can’t say “well it’s X people” or “look at where it is” or “same as last week” or “it’s just his way/generation/age/culture/religion/really bad coffee” and just write it off. We can’t dismiss the bigots no matter how common their bigotry and we can’t just say “haters gonna hate” and brush it off.
It is, perhaps, even more important to combat “normal” bigotry than any other kind – because as long as bigotry itself remains normal, how can we ever defeat it? Yet, yet, yet at the same time – who has the energy? Who has the time and the energy to fight this stuff every day?
I know I don’t. Is this were allies should pick up the slack without white knighting? Is this were we need the support – mental, physical and emotional, both within our communities and without - so we can change what should be changed, rather than enduring it as something we cannot? Is this where we need the safe spaces so we can go somewhere where what SHOULD be normal applies, rather than the shit that passes as normal? Is this why we need the spaces to recharge so we can make that normal universal? Is this where society has to go through a massive change so the problems stop without us having to endure them? But can that happen if we don’t challenge them daily? I don’t have the answers, I don’t think there are easy ones – or just one answer at that.
But we need a new normal. We need a new definition of normality that includes us rather than our abuse.