“Once feminist professors decide a male colleague is sexist and refuse to see any glimmer of positive action on his part that could be the catalyst for change, they collude in keeping oppressive systems intact.”
-bell hooks, Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope
so often i, as a queer person, feel pressured not to be patient with cis straight folks’ ignorance and internalized queerphobia. i’m told it’s not my job to be an educator to them and that people who don’t already get it aren’t worth the time or the effort. i do agree that the onus shouldn’t be on marginalized people to take charge of the personal growth of their oppressors, for physical, mental, and emotional health and safety reasons on their part, and because people with privilege have a responsibility to learn on their own how to dismantle the oppressive systems they benefit from. however, i freely make my own choice to educate folks and to guide them toward a more just mindset. it’s work that i find necessary and good, and i know that there are queer folks who can’t do what i can do in this way and i owe it to them — and to the queer kids coming up behind us — to do this work.
also, i used to be the queerphobic asshole. what kind of unhappy monster would i be now if there hadn’t been folks out there educating me and people like me? i am so grateful that there were people who could value my personhood enough to guide me toward a better version of myself when i didn’t do a good job of valuing theirs. i am indebted to them for that and will repay it by paying it forward. i hope to always be loved enough to be told when i need to shape up and to always love enough to do the same.
i do struggle with whether it is morally right to allow people who believe my identities to be wrong and corrupt to remain in my life, even though i love them and i know they love me. is letting them believe those things and face no consequences or requests to grow doing right by myself? is that treating myself as a person with immutable inherent worth equal to everyone else’s immutable inherent worth, like i believe i and all others should be treated? is it honoring that worth? does my tolerance of their failure to recognize the validity of my personhood allow them to maintain their harmful attitudes? does it reinforce those attitudes through complacency, even if complacent is not what i’m striving to be? even if i love these people and i want them in my life?
i don’t know.
i don’t know when looking for educational opportunities becomes detrimental. i don’t know where that line is. i keep living in the question hoping that i’ll be alert to that if it happens. or become alert to it if it already has.
what i do know is that i believe not only that people can change, but that people must change if we are to dismantle oppressive systems and live liberated lives. the power imbalances won’t change if only marginalized people recognize the systems and work to live outside them.
i truly believe in the beloved community. i believe in the possibility of creating a world where the equal and immutable inherent worth of every person is recognized and respected. i will always work toward that world, because it’s the one we need and deserve.