Being Dismissive of People Who Don’t March (aka More Social Justice-y than You)

There’s a thing in social justice and activist communities that has now become a call-out culture thing that really bothers me. It’s the idea that if you’re not doing “X activist thing” that somehow you are not doing enough, or you don’t care about the subject of said activist thing, or that you are somehow complicit with the oppressors if you’re not making statements about everything that comes up.

I see this over and over in many communities:

  • Some activists in seminary thought other seminarians weren’t activist enough because they didn’t march on the streets during the Occupy movement. (or BLM or other marches, etc)
  • Some people in many different communities may think that I don’t care about certain topics because I don’t blog about them, or that Circle of Cerridwen doesn’t make a specific statement, or that we don’t send money, etc etc…
  • Because I pushed Bi issues in college, I wasn’t accepted by the local queer community that was heavily lesbian and gay. Even a lesbian professor, when I came out to her, refused to talk to me afterwards because I wasn’t for the “lesbian cause.” (I’m somewhat certain, though, that she was a TERF.)

In this, there is a certain idea that the person doing the calling out is somehow is superior to you because they have at least done something and you haven’t. Usually with the person doing the calling out not bothering to ask the person they’re calling out about what they actually do. (And gods help the person if they say that they “pray.”)

I feel like a broken record when I talk about this, but I get so many people who have said to me that they can’t do public activism for a variety of reasons: disabilities, mental health issues, financial issues, stamina, time, spoons, or their talents lie in other areas. Sometimes they fear that they will lose their jobs, or work for the government, or are in a situation where they could be in danger if they do public activism. There are also people who can’t go to protests because of the fear of being arrested. They either have medical issues the an extended lock up would complicate or make worse, or they have been arrested before, or have some legal or family issue that an arrest would make worse.

What I tell people when they ask me what they can do is that you do whatever you can, because at least it’s something. If you can pray, send energy, do magick, then that counts. If you can pass along information, sign petitions, write to your congress critter, then that counts. If you can order pizza to send to people who are marching or cook for them when they come home, then that counts. If all you can do is live your life, educate yourself, and try to be an example of a caring, loving, human being who treats everyone, to the best of your ability, as human beings, too, then that counts.

Are prayers, or writing, or any of these other things enough? Of course not. This is why we have a community of people with different talents. It’s amazing that there are those who can march with those doing the protests. Or that they can travel to places, or take the time off, or feel ok with the risk of being arrested. I’m glad that they can do that work.

But, to me, it’s another form of oppression being dismissive of people who are the support: the cooks, those who pray, the writers, the information disseminators, those who educate, those who are just aware and try to be an example of what’s good. To me, it’s like feminists being dismissive of stay-at-home moms (or dads), or lesbian and gay people telling bisexuals, transgender folks, asexuals, non-binary folks, etc that they somehow don’t belong in the queer community. Just because someone can’t do ALL THE SOCIAL JUSTICE THINGS doesn’t mean they don’t care, or aren’t doing anything at all.

Blessed be the supporters: may you know that even your smallest helpful things still counts as activism.

Art, Beauty, and Permission

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This is a picture my wife took of me the other night with her new camera. To a lot of people, it’ll be just a good picture of me taken by my wife. For the two of us, however, it means a whole lot more.

After many years of not being able to do her art due to a grueling work schedule and fears about other people’s reactions to her pictures, my wife has decided to pick up her photography again. If you ask her, she’ll probably joke that it’s all my fault. In some ways, that’s the truth: I helped her decide which camera to buy and then encouraged her to buy it. To put it another way: I was a person close to her giving her permission to go and do her art.

Our society is really weird about art. We love art and revere artists (to an extent) and yet our culture actively seeks to put down artists, especially if they do things that are really different. There is a culture of treating art as if it were somehow “less useful” than other things that one could be doing. Many artists (whether they do it professionally or not, regardless of skill level) will hear things like: “That’s just luck.” or “My kid could do that!” or “Can you make any money from that?” Insinuating that the art is just some sort of hobby, and that if you’re not going to try and make money from it, then it’s not “serious” art.

In the arts, there are a lot of gatekeepers and jealousy. Both my wife an my mom are visual artists. The wife does photography (among other things), and my mom does impressionistic paintings in several mediums. Both of them have experienced through the art world (mostly through clubs and shows) an antagonistic attitude toward what they do. Sometimes it’s jealousy, either in regards to skill, time, or tools (this happens a lot with cameras, it seems). Sometimes, especially when being judged in shows or being chosen to be shown in a gallery, there’s a “gatekeeping” that happens when the judges either don’t like your art, don’t think it’s proper art, or have some sort of jealousy towards the artist for whatever reason. Add on top of this issues of gender, race, age, attractiveness of the artist, etc. This is just true for the visual art, but for all types of art. We have a lot of gatekeepers in our society who decide what is “real” art and what they consider “just a hobby.” I mean, think of Bob Ross. Now, his paintings aren’t my cup of tea and I find them kind of boring, but his paintings influenced millions of people to get into art. But there are gatekeepers in places like New York who totally pan his art and wouldn’t consider it “real” art or Bob Ross a “real” artist. Yet, Bob Ross painted nearly every day and it made him feel fulfilled. Regardless of the art, isn’t that what is thought of as a “real” artist: someone who makes art?

Is all of the art that’s created going to be good, highly skilled, or everyone’s cup of tea? Of course not. But it doesn’t meant that it isn’t art, and, in an ideal world, it shouldn’t mean that people should get jealous of another’s skill or equipment. Unfortunately, it will happen, because, as I like to say, we’re all humans doing stupid human tricks.

These stupid human tricks aren’t just limited to the reactions to artists, though. This picture is a picture of my body. My fat body. My wife titled this “Gina being classical” and really loves this picture of me. She told me that it was a beautiful picture.

I didn’t believe her…at first.

All of the old tapes, all of the crap about beauty standards, came rearing their ugly heads in my brain. The first thought I had was “wow I’m so fat!” which got the brain weasels dancing to ugly, unworthy, and all of the other crap that has been instilled in my brain over the years. I’ll admit, that when she posted it to Facebook, I was worried about what others would think of the picture. I know there are people who would see this picture of me and fat shame me (even if only in their heads), or decide that I need to be told what I can do about my health. In other words, I know there are gatekeepers of beauty, deciding who and who is not beautiful. Our culture is really horrible about bodies in general, and fat bodies in particular.

But then I kept looking at the picture, and once the brain settled down (somewhat), I saw more. I saw that this is how I am, and how the world sees me. Most importantly, I finally saw this as how my wife sees me: big, bold, complicated, and, yes, beautiful. I feel her love for me in this picture, and that she saw the beauty of my body as it is (even if I didn’t).

And, surprisingly (to me anyway), many people on Facebook agreed with my wife’s assessment. This is a beautiful picture of me. I have permission to be beautiful in this body, regardless of what others think.

Technically, both us don’t need permission from anyone else to do our art or to feel and be beautiful in our bodies, but with the way our society is, sometimes we need to get that permission from outside ourselves to feel justified in taking that power. But once the decision is made in your heart, you realize that you never needed that permission in the first place, nor do you have to justify your art, or your body, to anyone.

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