Monday, 22 June 2009

Making Trouble

Like many of us I've been following the news from Iran, hoping for the best and admiring the courage of all those who've had enough and are taking a stand, despite the danger. I wonder what it feels like to reach that point and I wonder if I will reach it in my own lifetime.

I remember being transfixed by the demonstrations in Tianamen Square, twenty years ago this spring, when I was nine years old. My family generally watched the evening news every night (60 Minutes on Sundays), sometimes with dinner and sometimes afterwards. I wondered if the students would be able to force their government and their country to change, and I was genuinely shocked as well as horrified when the government instead forcibly put them down. I have memories of images of the empty square, evidence of violence in the midst blowing trash and broken dreams, but I don't know how much I'm imagining or filling in from later descriptions.

I was also shocked by my grandparents' reaction. My grandmother in particular argued fiercely that the Chinese government had done the right thing: by killing some students, it had averted a much larger conflict that would have killed many more people. Although emphatically liberal on most issues, my grandmother believes in the value of strong leaders and governments; in certain respects, from my adult perspective, her views remind me of some of the proto-Fascist intellectuals of the 1920s, before Fascism was forever discredited by Nazism and all the rest of it.

Implict in her stance was a sharp rebuke to the protesters, idealists and troublemakers who were only going to bring suffering down upon their society. My child's soul rebelled against that interpretation. I wanted to man the barricades and fight for the right, the just, and the true, come what may.

I thought that all I had to do was grow bigger and stronger, and I would do just that. I didn't realize what an effect that injunction to keep quiet and keep your head down had had on me. In spite of disagreeing about things like Tianamen, I adored my grandparents and strove to earn their respect and admiration. I was ashamed to make too much noise and to ask for too much; in my own real life, I didn't even know where the barricades were.

My increasing self-confidence and my newly unorthodox gender expression have, not surprisingly, introduced an element of distance or even strain into my relationship with my grandparents. What took me by surprise was that my graduation and new job, rather than easing that distance, seems to have increased it, even though my decision to pursue this career was very much part of an effort to live up to their values.

And yet perhaps I should not have been surprised. In embarking on this profession I am claiming authority and power. I am asserting that my own words matter, that they can contribute to knowledge and that they should be read. And I am doing so at the very moment where I emphatically make too much noise, take up too much space, demand far too much from my society at every turn. I insist on my right to exist even if it offends, and if I die for it, I insist on my right to choose to die for it.

When I saw them last month their reaction to my news was strikingly lowkey. A few polite questions, a few awkward jokes about my new job & its associated title. A long discussion about how perhaps I should have been a judge instead (a slightly more entertaining variation on the very old theme that I should have gone into finance like the pretty young women on the business TV shows). And avoidance of my new name except to make jokes about it, more or less. Even references to me as "Miss [Oldname]".

I processed all that, vented to FG about it, and thought I'd moved on. But a friend who hadn't seen me for a few weeks called me on it as soon as ze saw me, looking tired and apologetic and profoundly subdued. I realized I hadn't felt genuinely happy about the graduation & job since seeing my family. I was subdued: I had been put in my place.

I'm faced now with some dilemmas. How do I un-subdue myself? And how do I do that as I take the first steps in a career that was, originally, all about earning love and approval and now must fit into a life that seeks, if not to man the barricades all the time, at least to raise the hell that my child-self longed for?


Namaste said...

I loved reading this and have to say that I often wonder the same thing. My personal take on it is that once you face your own barricades, the rest is a wash. At the same time, there is nothing more sobering than a visit to the family. Best of luck with the new job. Highs and lows are all a part of the journey.

CAB said...

I actually can't tell you how to unsubdue yourself, but I can tell you what struck me about your post and specifically your comments about the new job/career.

Although you say that you pursued this to gain their approval you also say:
"In embarking on this profession I am claiming authority and power. I am asserting that my own words matter, that they can contribute to knowledge and that they should be read."

Maybe if you remind yourself that this is YOU claiming authority and power and that your words can have power you wll release that you may have started down this path because of your grandparents but ultimately you chose it for yourself.

Good luck. said...

Mostly I just discount the opinions/actions of those who discount me and then move on to do what makes me happy regardless of their role in it.

Though -- I've always been one to push back against other people asserting their power over me.

Becoming successful at what makes you happy is its own revenge.

(you know, if revenge was what you or after ;)

Jess said...

I've always been a rebel at heart, but it wasn't always easy. Of course a constant struggle between doing what would please *them* and doing what would please me.

This whole thing with my father (which I need to blog more about) has been kind of eating at me. I'm still having a hard time with it (since I have always sought his approval and admitting that is a fairly recent thing for me btw) but raising a bit of hell has been refreshing.

You've got one life my buddy. One. I love the hell outta that hell raiser in you.

*word verification - undis lol

Kyle said...

Dealing with your grandparents disapproval is another in a long series of steps on the journey. To unsubdue yourself, take time, remember how hard you've worked, remember the joy you feel when you are claiming your space in the manner that suits you. You have earned your place and they can't really take it away. The most they can do is try to get you to carry their baggage.

We all do that to some extent, but you can refuse to accept the burden. It's theirs, not yours. You can't force them to accept you, or express pride in your accomplishments. That's a hard thing to come to grips with, I know from experience. Ultimately, though, you are the person living in your skin, with your life and your goals and your accomplishments.

Your accomplishments are praise worthy, your journey is deserving of their respect. If you can own that, know it in your core, you can drop that weight and 'unsubdue' yourself.

Dawn on MDI said...

mmm. tough stuff there. good writing. real, from-the-guts stuff.

When I get jammed up on family stuff, there are a handful of ways I deal with it. Some work, some might not, but they help me survive.

The first thing I need to remember is that while I have grown and evolved and learned and discovered, not everyone else has. And not everyone else may like the things I have learned and discovered. Change is frightening to many people. You and I, well, we'll both probably be life-long learners, always learning and changing and growing. But not everyone can do that or would do it if they could.

Just because I sought treatment and recovery from my disease of alcoholism (a family disease) does not mean anyone else in my family will want to get honest and grow spiritually. I must take care of myself first and foremost, and do my best to offer a hand to anyone who would join me on this journey. But I cannot make them understand. I cannot make them learn. I cannot enlighten anyone.

That said, there came a time in my life when I had to cut some people out of my world because they were not good for me. Again, this is not universally advised. Your mileage may vary. But it is what I needed to do for me. Love and respect are what I require of those whom I call family. It is all I require, but it is required. I do not have time in my personal life for anyone who cannot or will not respect me as a human being. Period. Watch "The Torch Song Trilogy" with Harvey Fierstein. The scene in the limo at the cemetery with Arnold (Harvey) and his mother (Anne Bancroft) and their subsequent interactions pretty much sum it up for me.

Honesty is not an easy path. Honesty in our identity can be terrifying for us and for those around us. Tread carefully, but with assurance. Try not to burn bridges if you don't have to. Be true to yourself first. See if you can allow others to be small if that is all they can be.

And come on up for another visit. Gonna do body work on my truck soon!