I’m not really sure how to tell this story. I’ll start with the event that got me writing this post, but there’s a lot of backstory that explains why I even started writing, and then there are my observations of my changed thoughts and feelings about the phenomenon. It’s untidy in my mind; it doesn’t make a clean narrative.
Today’s observation: for the second time in as many days I saw a phrase on Facebook: “Ladies (and non-binary folks)”. It struck me that “non-binary” somehow has a meaning of which I’m unaware, and context suggests that whatever it means, I don’t belong in whatever category of humans it describes.
Backstory: when I was in my early twenties, I had this idea that all knowledge and all fields of endeavor should be open to all humans. I was offended by the idea of “women’s work” and “men’s knowledge,” considering such categories as oppressive as “whites only” facilities. I briefly dated a woman who, among other things, was big into herbal medicine. She had some herbal abortifacient that she was preparing for someone and I asked her about it and she told me it was none of my business, that it was women’s knowledge, and there was no good reason that I should know it. At the time, I was outraged.
More backstory: I’m a white man. I grew up in a secure economic environment. I had no trouble getting an education, nor really any long-term trouble getting a job. So, I’m a member of the privileged class, and I always have been. I have this ideal of equality that means I encounter people telling their own stories about coming from a place of less privilege and I am sympathetic, but I know that I don’t have equivalent experience and that I can’t really say anything useful about their stories.
And now, my evolved position: there are some discussions in which it is not helpful for me to contribute. While I still feel like it’s wrong to categorically exclude all men, all women, all people of <fill in the color> from any profession or access to a particular book, I also feel like it’s best to consider first whether agitating for access is even something I want. Do I have anything useful to say on the topic of black women’s experience in academia? Not really. Nor do I feel like I have any enlightenment to offer in many other situations. There are terms that I encounter that are utterly mysterious to me — “intersectional feminism”, “non-binary people” — and now instead of feeling offended at being cut off from the conversation, I feel relieved. These terms are code and they are reliable markers of stories and discussions to which I have nothing useful to contribute. Check it out! There’s a conversation where I don’t have to worry about untangling what’s going on and then trying to come up with something insightful to say! It’s not about me. That, right there, is a gift.