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.
At some point among various
members of various activist movements, choice became the last word,
the finishing line, the end of any argument.
And you can see why. For so many marginalised people for so much of
history the very concept of agency has been alien. Choosing a way to
live, choosing what you do with their lives, choosing just about anything
has been constantly denied both overtly and covertly. Choice was –
and in many ways, still is a luxury that too many marginalised people
can’t afford. Either there are people directly controlling what marginalised
people can or cannot do, severe and even violent consequences to marginalised
people exercising those choices. Even without overt prohibition, there
are more hurdles and road blocks – discrimination, prejudice, sometimes
even legally, that denies you access to what you want to do or just
makes it that much harder or simply a system that is set up to benefit
people that just aren’t you
Marginalised people also come under a lot
of policing as well. Shame from the privileged society that expects
marginalised people to fit various roles or harsh judgement when we
do not reach often impossible standards. Shame from within the community
for not being the model minority and “making us look bad.” Shame
from within the community for not fitting some ideal of what we should
be, not liking what we should like, not fighting how we should fight.
Shame from within that we fear we may be “doing it wrong”, fear
that we’re being too stereotypical or fear that we’re being (horror
of horrors!) “assimilationist!”
So, it’s no surprise that agency is vital,
that choice is vital, that being able to live our own lives is vital
to the point of becoming an untouchable icon to many.
But that doesn’t make choices the last word.
And it certainly doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t examine the reasons
behind choices, the forces that affect choices and, ultimately, what
those choices mean and how much “agency” is truly represented
by these choices.
To take it to one of its bluntest, harshest
extremes – a gay kid brought up in a homophobic household who
kills themselves because they can’t stand to live with themselves
is making a choice.
No way am I taking that choice as the last
word, or dismissing criticism of this choice as simple an expression
of his agency. The kid has been attacked by homophobia all his life,
filled with shame and self-hatred and toxic bigotry and we must look
at his tragic “choice” through that lens
This is an extreme, but the same applies to
so many of our choices. How often do we write post after post about how media
representations hurt marginalised people, how erasure
hurts marginalised people, how hate speech is toxic to marginalised
people, how casual dehumanising speech hurts marginalised people and
erodes their self-worth? How many studies do we have to see about the
damage of casual dehumanisation and the pushing of internalised
prejudice? And then we suddenly decide that all of
that no longer applies to our decision making.
Of course it does! When we live in a society and culture that constantly
devalues and dehumanises us, how can it not damage us? When we’re
constantly told how wrong and inferior we are, how can that not affect
how we view ourselves? When we’re told of all the things we can’t
do, can’t be, can’t have, shouldn’t One of the things we most
desperately fight to do as marginalised people is counter this endless
default bombardment of inferiority – after all, for GBLT people
that’s the whole POINT of Pride!
Choice does not exist in a vacuum; our choices
are influenced by the same forces that seek to destroy us – that
equally seek to have us destroy ourselves. For every voice telling us
“I won’t let you do that”, there’s another voice implanted inside
saying “I can’t do that.” For everyone telling us they’re better
than us, there’s a little internal voice saying “I’m beneath them.”
For everyone saying “no, you can’t have that, that’s just for
me!” there’s an internal voice saying “I don’t deserve that.”
On a personal level, one of my main struggles
of coming out and accepting being gay is fighting
to unlearn what I have been taught – about who and
what I am, about who and what I should be, what is and isn’t possible
and about my own worth as a person. I know I’m not the only person
fighting this battle – I suspect the majority of us, on some level,
are doing the same. I know internalised hatred has affected my choices,
has affected my relationships, has affected my life. Frankly, I look
back and think I was a bloody fool and I rage over those lost and broken
years. I know first hand what self-hatred can do your choices and your
While we need to always remember the precious
nature of choice, we also cannot allow choice to become the unquestioned,
mindlessly accepted last word. We have to examine the reasons for these
choices. We have to see the forces that poison our choices, our minds
and our lives and call them out. We have to recognise when societal
and cultural bigotry has taught us to destroy ourselves, to become agents
in our own oppression.
Because if we don’t speak up about it, we
won’t have agency – we will continue to have the terrible choices
that the privileged have already made for us.