[Image description: two snails, one with a striped shell, meeting with their antennae almost touching.]
Recently I’ve been blessed with some really good conversations. Maybe it’s summer, maybe it’s being on tour and being exposed to such different kinds of people, pushing my own envelope and meeting new ideas, but I feel like every day is an adventure and every hour I’m learning something new. I’ve met more people since publishing my novel than I think I met in the ten years before that and in all this meeting and connecting, a deep lesson I keep relearning is how to really see a person in front of me.
I’ve realised that for large swathes of my life, when my brain is working in a certain way, I don’t meet actual people. I smile and shake hands and notice an hour later that all I took in were my own projections and they often look like a long list of political categories.
I’ve been trained to do it of course and it’s an inherent part of my intersectional politics – to constantly analyse power and dynamics and privilege and oppression. I’m vigilant for all the signs. I can smell a middle class background from a thousand yards. I can taste cis-privilege in the way someone opens or closes a door. Male domination patterns pollute my fevered dreams.
This hypervigilance is exhausting, but it’s mostly ok. After all it’s how I’ve learned to understand my oppressions and privileges, how I pull all the dynamics apart in order to see the interconnected, supercomplex web of power running beneath every conversation. It’s ok, but it’s also limiting. It isn’t everything and we shouldn’t kid ourselves that it is.
A wonderful new friend and I were talking about call out culture by the lake yesterday. About the compromises of living and working with other people. About what actually works and what actually doesn’t in the real pragmatic world of human beings.
Because it’s not the same to say to someone, ‘hey when you do this thing, I feel like this, please don’t’ or to say ‘You’re enacting privileged behaviour because you have power over me granted by society.’ Not that either is necessarily better, but sometimes one is more appropriate and has greater results of actually getting the thing fixed. We need both the person-to-person emotions and the abstract political concepts and we need to remember that they are not the same thing.
Yes, my many, many emotions are inherently politicised. And my politics are as deeply felt as anyone else’s. But they can also be different modes of being. And they have their limitations.
Sometimes as I mentioned, I get so lost in the political, abstract, dare I even say it, masculine, mode of seeing the world that sometimes I start to see people only in terms of the categories I project onto them. This is a cis-het person, this person looks queer. This person might be disabled, this person experiences white privilege. I articulate these things differently over time as I gain greater insight and question myself and my own positions of power and oppression, but the process is often similar. There’s dehumanisation for sure and sometimes I can no longer see the wood for the trees.
Now, this is going to sound a little hippy, even a little post-politics, but you know me better than that. Don’t panic, stick with me.
In my bodywork practice, before anything else I meet people and I meet their bodies. It’s a weird thing to say, it’s called bodywork after all, but that’s what happens. People bring their bodies to my clinic, their embodied feelings and traumas and hopes and loves. Their injuries and holding patterns and experiences and pain. And we talk about those things and during our sessions, if it feels right, we work on those things together. And for a few hours I can forget all about categories and power.
It’s still there of course. And I specifically run the kind of practise that brings people who experience body oppressions and might not feel taken care of elsewhere. I bring my class experience and my transness and my femininity and my high-sensitivity to every session otherwise most of my clients wouldn’t have got as far as booking a session. And that analysis informs the work I do and the care I put into it and the safety I try to build for the people I work with. Of course.
But there’s also a moment where that switches off. Where amid the gentle dance of Thai massage that I’ve been blessed and privileged to learn, there’s just me and this other person and our bodies are sharing space together and things are changing and healing is taking place. And sometimes that’s everything.
Politics alone isn’t always enough. We also need feelings. We need our bodies – as complicated as our relationship with them may be – and we also need our thoughts. We need big ideas and we need grounded pragmatism. We need individual solutions and we need sweeping, global changes.
We need words, absolutely. But we also need connection. Let’s face it, at this stage, we pretty much need it all.