Committing to the politics of awareness

Guest blogger Anna Bianchi is a creative activist, writer, workshop teacher and change guide, and a grandmother with a 4-year-old grandson who is exploring female gender identity. Here Anna explores the role she has in society that only became apparent through having a gay son and a grandson exploring female gender identity.

Anna’s website:

Tutu1This is my final guest blog post for We Are Family magazine. At the beginning of 2015 I   didn’t even know it existed and I’m guessing, if my son Adam had children, I might have discovered it sooner. Adam is a gay man and I’m a heterosexual woman. I craved babies from a very young age and I’d had four of them by the time I was twenty-nine. Despite significant complications with my first two pregnancies, conception proved unproblematic. I wanted a child, I conceived a child. And while I was never blasé about it, I had very little awareness then of how favoured I was: I could count on a robust cooperative body, a willing male partner, and a cultural niche carved out for women like me. I didn’t fear disapproval for wanting a child, or condemnation for loving one; my motivations weren’t scrutinised or my sexual orientation judged. I was doing something ‘normal’ wasn’t I?

I understand now how my unconscious entitlement to motherhood was conferred on me by virtue of being heterosexual, not by any capacity to parent well. In other words, it was an unearned privilege arising out of a mainstream membership. I was reaping the benefits of being part of the ‘in’ group with very little awareness I was part of it in the first place.

In more recent times, I’ve found myself leaving another safe harbour of privilege, this time to do with cisgender status. It’s the same plot with different characters. I’ve been afforded all sorts of unearned benefits throughout my life because my anatomical sex and gender identity are aligned. It was only months ago I first discovered a word existed for gender-typical people which, of course, tells its own story. Now I’m on another towering learning curve with sharp gradient in places. (For those of you who’ve read my first blog post, you may recall the significant personal investment I have in unlearning gender again from this perspective.) It’s tricky territory in all sorts of ways as I’m discovering. There are established camps and many of the perimeters are heavily guarded. Missiles are launched across some of the divides. And the sky above me is full of concepts, language and perspectives that are unfamiliar and even threatening in places. It’s also important territory for me to stay on, at least until the terrain loses some of its strangeness and I can recognise the landmarks of my own development.

All of us have power and rank to varying degrees across different categories and strands. The groups we belong to and our personal strengths confer it on us. I was in a gathering last year and witnessed an uneducated woman in a wheelchair from the Congo silence a rumbling three hundred strong audience with her presence and dignity. She had enormous psychological and spiritual rank, irrespective of her low economic and social rank. Similarly at the same gathering, I witnessed a man with high intellectual, social and cultural rank publically undermine one of the facilitators as she struggled with the group process that was going on. One example served the common good, the other served the egos of a powerful sub-group at the event.

Rank isn’t reflected back to us when we look in a mirror but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It is, and we signal it even when we aspire not to. Rank results in subtle states of mind. Our assumptions, beliefs and attitudes give it away, our communication style evidences it, and how others respond to us reinforces it, even against our will. Rank is inevitable, it’s only when we use it unconsciously that it brings harm.

Committing to the politics of awareness then is an exercise in staying present for the long haul. No short cuts, no get-out of jail cards, no pretending I didn’t know or I didn’t see. I’ve learnt over the years that though our differences may separate us, it’s the processing of those differences that brings us together. When I’m flaying at the edge of my comfort zone I remember this. I remember I can become an ally just as surely as I can become an enemy. I can use the power and rank I have to elevate the power and rank of others. Which, in my experience, is an exceptional privilege of itself.

To read the rest of Anna's We Are Family magazine guest blog posts click here.

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