Militantly Polite or Politely Militant?
January 08, 2017
It became a joke, as everything usually ends up in our family. But as soon as I arrived in Cape Town, my dad broke the news: “Marianne (my aunt) and the girls (my cousins) are quite terrified of your militant politics,” I was surprised and suddenly regretted not prioritising waxing my underarm hair (Ha!) before I left Sydney but other than that, I really didn’t know what branded me particularly militant. My father was no help, despite me prodding him, he just said “I guess your Facebook posts are a bit activisty, and all that disability stuff. You know how you talk about how disabled people are just people, they aren’t inspirational and things, it’s a lot for some people to comprehend…”. That’s just factual, that’s just basic decency stuff and that’ll just become common knowledge when people talk to me for five minutes. So, I still didn’t know what my dad was on about. I like the idea of “being militant”, hell I try hard to be, but I know full well I am not, at least not about most things. I slide this way and that, seeing too many sides of a topic all at once to form a defiant opinion, especially one that I would fight bitterly to defend. I read a lot about a range of things and I have solid core values about human rights, education and freedom though, and I will argue relentlessly for people’s rights specifically for those who are constantly struggling to be heard/recognised by the mainstream (aboriginal, disabled, queer, refugee). However, that is just fundamental, logical and comes from somewhere in myself, it is a reaction to feeling disgusted at social inequity. But when it comes to everyday existence, I am a terrible activist, and to be honest, not a fabulous feminist (see: now waxed armpits). I shy away from conflict and I let too many things go, I don’t always correct people when they misgender someone, because I get tired of doing so…. I smile politely at people when they treat me like a child or dehumanise me, and don’t often speak up when people are spouting utter sexist/racist/ableist bullshit. I have been known to use words and phrases that I know have awful connotations and awful histories. When I tried to explain how I try to talk honestly about the oppressive social structures I see and feel and then explore how I am part of them too, my uncle Steve asked “so you have a Facebook persona different to how you actually are?”, I cringed at the word “persona”, I didn’t like to think of it that way, but I guess it sort of is, kind of. It’s so much easier to say what I think to an everyone/no-one sort of audience, but it’s principally about the time it takes to just articulate this stuff, this flawed, fragile, complex social and moral stuff of being human and just trying to survive somehow. Nevertheless, I still have this deep-seated anxiety that my lenient attitude towards some things and not wanting to alienate people, as well as just being borne out of my limited energy levels and poor people patience, is from all the bullshit I have internalised, and the intrinsic longing to conform. It might be, and that’s okay, well it is, and it’s not, I only can keep trying to be something better than I am.