There is a “pride”-themed group at work. That group has existed for a couple of years already. I chose to ostensibly associate with it when it started, because at the time there were just 2-3 folk thinking about it, and one more name on a list made a huge difference in legitimacy.
Still, to this day, I am unable to say I am a member. It does not provide me a sense of “community”, much less pride. I still “associate with” the structure, but I am not “in” the group. I maintain good relationships with certain members, and could probably consider some of them friends if we spent more time together, but those relationships would likely exist even if the pride group did not.
What is it that I am missing?
The stated mission is to “make work folk who are part of gender and sexuality minorities (GSM) feel more accepted”. This is achieved mostly by simply making the group visible and claiming monetary resources: “we exist with this label; the fact that nobody complains about it and the organization willingly invests into it is proof that the values we represent are accepted by the organization”.
That is the main mission, and obviously it is somewhat weak. Any organization post-2010 will accept a passive GSM-themed group. Back in the 1990s, workers hard to work extra to merely make GSM labels a topic of conversation without severe discrimination. In 2020… not so much. At least not in the cultural bubble where this particular organization is operating.
“Back in the days”, merely being a member of a GSM was a serious struggle, on its own. Two or more GSM folk could bond together and form community from that shared struggle.
Today, not so much: you’re a member of a GSM, I am a member of a GSM, and so what? Just acknowledging this fact is not a signal of shared struggle any more.
Sure, we still experience GSM-adjacent struggles, but they are different now. Our struggles have become issues of intersectionality.
For example, one of my coworkers is queer and brown skinned. I am queer and autistic. Another coworker is queer and non-binary. None of us experience struggle being queer on its own.
My first coworker experiences a particular flavor of racism tainted by homophobia and misogyny. I experience struggles around authenticity and relationships. My other coworker experiences struggles with gender-neutral accommodations. Because our age and geographical distance, we did not grow up with shared cultural struggles either. None of us share the same intersection as the others.
There is very little talk of shared pain or shared objectives; in fact, I dare say there is not even a shared language to talk about what matters to us.
Where to go from there?
A good person reminded me today that I also invest quite some time in fostering communities around issues of neurodiversity. These come with plenty of intersectionality too, including ample overlap with GSM issues.
Is that involvement not proof that I am willing and able to do some activism?
I have thought about it, and the truth of the matter is that the GSM overlap is mainly gender-related. (In fact, most of the neurodiversity world is quite orthogonal to sexuality. I might write about this separately.) Within that scope, I am decidedly unwilling to engage, for two main reasons:
- I do not have a good voice to speak about gender-adjacent issues. I will explain this more below. Moreover, the terminology is a political minefield, and I have neither the patience nor emotional acuity to navigate the linguistic nuances without causing unintended damage to myself or others.
- gender is already a legally protected class in most juridictions. There are already social and legal frameworks that one can invoke to receive support and organize accommodations. As further explained below, I prefer to spend my time focusing on those topics that do not yet have social and legal structures yet.
So yes, I do acknowledge my interest in activism and advocacy, but it hardly involves GSM topics at this time.
A tragic opportunity opened last year to utilize the force of a group to power some activism for the greater good: to start more forcefully documenting and supporting the intersectional struggle of racial minority folk who are also members of a GSM.
This is important! And I am glad that it is happening.
But then, I was asked to produce a mini-essay on a person of my choosing in that theme. That did not work. I felt a profound unease: I am not a member of a racial minority! I cannot possibly legitimately represent that voice. If anything, I would be taking the spotlight away from someone sharing that particular struggle.
I also separately fight to ensure that autism is talked about by folk who are actually autistic, and not by doctors who happen to work with autistic patients, or their parents. It would be deeply hypocritical of me to talk about racial struggles when I don’t experience these struggles myself.
To be clear, I am willing to help and stand besides coworkers who experience racial-adjacent intersectionality stuggles. But I do not wish to take their voice and their “spot” unless they explicitly ask me to. And why would they? They are better able to communicate their struggles than I am.
If anything, I could probably be inveigled to feel community from a group who could help me with personal matters:
- how to navigate flirting and dating as a queer autistic person, since all the public social codes in the queer communities are hyper-optimized to be highly implicit?
- what are the socially acceptable ways to present as queer in formal or semi-formal environments?
- how does queer culture differ across geographical locales? Are there “cultural translation” books or resources?
- what are local brands or stores I could patronize to find elegant, well-fitting and cheap garments that would both emphasize masculine traits and combine well with high heel shoes?
In my book, the precondition for queer-adjacent communities to remain relevant in the 21st century is to adapt to current questions and needs that folk have, not some nostalgic idea of struggles that other folk once had in the past.
Meanwhile, I also would like to see and perhaps participate in communities that would advocate and perhaps fight for things that do not yet receive social nor legal support.
I wish there were community initiatives to help newly arrived immigrants and asylum seekers navigate support structures, when they do not yet know how to talk about their GSM status because it is a taboo topic in their culture.
I wish there were community initiatives to help folk who have been incarcerated for many years re-socialize, and especially help them re-learn all the social rules and expectations in GSM communities that have evolved while they were “away”.
I wish there were community initiatives to help folk who transition across socio-economic classes (e.g. from poor to wealthy, from rural to urban, etc) navigate all the hidden codes and thresholds they need to overcome before they feel legitimately accepted in their new environment, and how they can count on their GSM allies to facilitate that transition.
Heck, I could even make-do with becoming a pen pal for a GSM foster teenager with social stability issues or a GSM young adult struggling with mental health; more generally any of those situations where existing social structures are failing the individual, primarily not because of their GSM status but where being a GSM folk makes the situation worse somehow.
Alas, none of this seems to fit the framework of a mainstream, part-time workplace “pride-themed” group. These activities take time, a lot of it. They are also best performed outside of the office. How willing would an office-oriented organization be to support or even enable this?