Descriptors aren’t Definers-and Acceptance is the Solution

I want the right to NOT classify myself.

Others want the right TO classify themselves AS THEY WISH.

I think these are NOT mutually exclusive desires.

However, it’s become evident that there is a lot of disagreement over which is “right” and which is “wrong”. I think that this “right/wrong” judgment is precisely the behavior that continues to splinter us into “opposing groups” that otherwise are on the same side.

What we each want is the right to express ourselves freely, un-oppressed and openly IN OUR OWN WAY. But, by continuously identifying a right or wrong way to do that, we segregate ourselves and splinter apart our groups into smaller and smaller sects….

I don’t want to HAVE to identify myself by my hair color, my skin color, my eye color, my gender, my sexual preference, my relationship status etc. I want the freedom to be identified as SHANNON. I am JUST ME. I am many things, but the only thing that is relevant to the public as a whole is that I am ME. Shannon is the umbrella term that defines me. If someone wants to know specifics about what the full definition of “Shannon” may be, then it should be MY RIGHT to decide how much of “Shannon” I want to define for them.

That doesn’t mean that EVERYONE should want to be identified by their name or as “just me”. Someone else might WANT to be identified by the same classifications which I do not. They should have that right just as I should have the right NOT to.

This also doesn’t mean that we should expect that none of us will use descriptive visual identifiers to describe the people we see.

What does this all mean?

There are many things which I am. Some are only pertinent in certain parts of my life; for example, my sexual preference or my religious affiliations. These things aren’t pertinent to my education in a way that my instructors need to know this information. There may be times when I choose to share the information for one purpose or another, but having that right isn’t the same as having it forced upon me.

I am anything but “in the closet” about who I am. I’m not sure I’ve ever known how to be “in the closet”. I simply want to be accepted as SHANNON.

I don’t want to be accepted BECAUSE I am bisexual, polyamorous, female, married, blue-eyed, etc. That was one reason why I colored my hair purple. Because my hair color is NOT a pertinent part of who I am. I don’t identify myself by my hair color. It was a simple way to give an example that what visual identifiers are used to describe me today, may or may not be true tomorrow. They describe but they do not define. I also don’t identify myself by my skin color. I don’t identify myself by my heritage. I don’t identify myself by my sexuality. What you see today, may not be what you see tomorrow. Please, feel free to describe me as you see me today-I don’t mind. Especially for those of us who are visual learners, this is a critical component to our comprehension of the world around us! But, don’t delude yourself into believing that those descriptors define me-because they may only be true for a moment of time. ;)

I do identify myself by my relationships. Not just my romantic relationships, but all of my relationships. These are integral parts of who I AM as a person. I will always be my parents daughter, my siblings sister, my friends friend, my children’s mother. These are part of who I am. I may take on more of these roles, but I will always be daughter, sister, friend, lover, mother and now, also grandmother!

I think it’s important for every person to have the right to choose what “labels” they want to identify themselves with and to be free to state that to others. I think it’s imperative that we are all free to say what hurts us individually and request that hurtful things not be said or done to/with us. We also need the freedom to describe the world we live in, including the people we see in it, without fear that others will assume that those descriptors are “definers”.

But, I think it’s equally important that we accept that we are all individuals with individual experiences and individual goals, dreams, desires. We are each in need of acceptance for who we are, as we are, where we are. If we are going to fight for equality of all-we need to recognize the need for each of us to accept all, not just the comfortable, but all people. Just because you feel uncomfortable with someone else’s language or behavior, doesn’t mean it is inherently wrong. Furthermore, it doesn’t change the importance of accepting them. If we strive for acceptance of all people, we must accept all people.

Acceptance without understanding, because there are some things we simply won’t ever understand. Even if we don’t understand where another person is or why they feel and act and talk the way they do; we CAN ACCEPT that they are who they are for a reason, they are living and learning and growing and changing just as we are and at the bottom of it all-what we all need most is to be accepted as we are for who we are, where we are. We need to know that with all of the failures and “warts” that make up our “SELVES”-we are still accepted. This acceptance is what allows us to open ourselves and when we open, that is when we begin to learn and grow. But, as long as we are being judged, we will remain closed and we will stagnate.

This comes into play significantly when we try to engage in deep conversation with one another, especially when we bring together people of largely different backgrounds and experiences. Because, we each have different ideas of what it is that will change the world to being a better place.

Some of us think that the world will be a better place when we all see each other without differences. Others of us think that seeing the differences and learning to accept them is the key.

None of us knows FOR CERTAIN what the right path is, we’re all just struggling to do SOMETHING, to do our part. The truth is somewhere ahead of us. But, all who are engaged in the effort to make the world a better place-even if we stand on opposite sides of defining “better”; we’re all part of the human race and as such-we deserve to be accepted. Accepted with our “faults”, because we may find that someone’s “faults” turn out to be their “gifts” and that we simply mislabeled them due to our own personal history and subsequent prejudices.

The words we use every day are symbols. They symbolize something we see in our heads. But, we don’t all see the same picture even if we use the same words.

What is the definition of LOVE? Seriously-please, consider it. What is YOUR definition of Love? Do you KNOW for certain that your definition and mine match? Could you sit in a room and functionally converse with 20 people of different lifestyles, genders, races, religious backgrounds etc. about LOVE and ever get anywhere without FIRST coming to a unified agreement about the definition of the word?

No-you could not. Your conversation might be peaceful or it might be full of tension and hurt feelings. But-regardless of how the conversation goes-it won’t be functional if there isn’t an agreement to the definition of the word-because every time someone says it-the individuals will be seeing the picture of how THEY THEMSELVES define the word. So the communication, the actual “communing” of good communication will be lost.

This is what I see happening in the discussions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, etc. We each have “triggers”, some built up over a lifetime, some over several generations, some only built up in the last couple of years! But, we all have triggers and different terms come into play and someone’s trigger is hit. Before we can manage to reach any sort of consensus, before we can even establish a sense of trust with one another, someone is already defensive and everything slowly begins to derail.

Not only do we have different understandings of how to resolve the hurts that have been suffered and different lessons we’ve learned and different expectations for ourselves and others, but we also have different understandings of what certain words and actions MEAN. We can’t have functional communication if we assume that our definitions for words and actions are “right” and someone else’s are “wrong”. We can’t have functional communication if we assume that everyone has the same definitions. We can’t have functional communication if we are defending ourselves (particularly from attacks that don’t exist or from attacks that were unintentional). If we’re going to find a middle ground to meet upon, we have to leave our past experience, our pain and suffering, at the door on our way in. We have to open ourselves to fully accepting others as they are, without defining them by our own past understanding of the world.

“Don’t punish the man in front of you for the actions of the man behind you.”

Such a deep meaning entrenched in those few words.
Take yourself a step back and consider this, what is it that makes you think the person in front of you is anything like the person behind you? The one who hurt you before? Is it some aspect of what you SEE? Is it something you HEAR? Is it a SCENT? It’s unlikely that it’s THEM as a person. It’s much more likely that you are judging them based upon some superficial aspect that they have in common with the person who hurt you-and that my friend is discrimination and prejudice. You are discriminating against them based upon some superficial aspect you see or hear. You are prejudiced against them before you bother to get to know them.

I’m an anomaly. So are you and you and you and you and you. Because, we are individuals and whilst we all have things in common-we also all have things that are “unusual” or “different” or “unique” about us too.

I spent some time discussing (with a variety of people) recently, how they see certain words being used or abused. We discussed whether they think certain words should be used or not or even how they should or shouldn’t be used. We discussed what is or isn’t promoting continued oppression and abuse on different minorities. The overwhelming reality that came through-is that not any one of those people agrees completely!

Chew on that reality for a moment. These people are ALL fighting against oppression and marginalization in their lives. Every one of these people wants to make the world a better place. But, they can’t even agree on what terms are offensive and which ones are not,  OR WHY they are or aren’t! They can’t agree on what behaviors are offensive or why. In fact, they POINTEDLY suggest opposite and contradictory solutions!

Some people want to “take back” the terms that have been used as derogatory slang terms   and reframe them in a positive light.

Some people want to annihilate the same terms in order to do away with “self-hatred”.

Others want to re-educate the world in the actual true definitions of the terms and thus          do away with the slang versions.

Who’s right? Which method will “work”? I think the truth lies somewhere in a combination of all of them. There is no universal “right” or “wrong”.

Different people, different learning styles, different experiences…. Some people need to speak of their pain, others need to be held, and others need physical release from it. We’re all suffering and we all need to change things to move on-but the manner in which we get there-is going to be DIFFERENT for each of us.

I have friends who use terms that are derogatory TO ME to identify themselves and they clearly aren’t caught in a cycle of self-hatred.

But, I have other friends who use terms that are derogatory to me to identify themselves that just as clearly ARE in a cycle of self-hatred.

Likewise, I have friends who use terms to identify themselves that I DO NOT consider derogatory-but they do and they are caught in cycles of self-hatred……

The solution for rising above the oppression and marginalization in their lives is different for each of them. Furthermore, only with intimacy and acceptance can any of us even begin to guess what those solutions are! It’s not reasonable for me to tell someone who needs to “take back” a term and reframe it for their own ownership that they are wrong. It’s not fair for me to tell someone who needs to share their knowledge of the true definition of terms that were used as slang derogatory words that they should not do so. I have to accept each individual for who they are, where they are and allow each of them to do and be what it is that they need to do and be in order to become the best version of themselves. So, if they need to annihilate the words altogether, I can support them in that effort, if they need to reclaim the words, I support them, if they need to educate others, I support them.

Bottom line-I accept them.

But, what happens when these people converge upon one another?

Here in lies the basis for why acceptance is the critical (missing) component of doing away with the oppression, discrimination, prejudice, marginalization of the world. What I need or you need is not what everyone needs and we can’t force upon others what we personally need.

I have friends who need to identify with their heritage from other countries. I have friends who need to identify with their sense of “belonging” here. I have friends who need to do both. But, none has the right to oppress the other by insisting that they identify with one or the other.

Big K won’t benefit by being told he needs to identify with his heritage as an “African American”. He knows his heritage and that is only HALF of it. Spicy Pea won’t benefit by being told she has to identify herself by her Puerto Rican heritage, she isn’t unaware of it-but it is only 1/16 of who she is. There’s 15 other parts of her that she needs the freedom to also identify with. Sour Pea won’t benefit by being told she must identify with her Irish or her Chinese heritage, these are only pieces of who she is!

Presuming that someone’s skin color or sexuality means that they MUST identify a certain way IS oppression and marginalization. That I have light skin does not tell you what my heritage is any more than having dark skin would. Having a husband doesn’t tell you what my sexuality is any more than having a wife would. Only I can identify fully what it is that identifies me and that I identify with.

Furthermore: Just because something is negative or positive for one person doesn’t mean it carries the same connotation for another individual with different experiences. Don’t presume that being identified as white or as an ally is “good”. It might be for someone, but that doesn’t mean it is for everyone. Don’t assume that being identified by YOU in any manner besides descriptively acknowledging that you see some aspect of my VISIBLE self (and recognize it to be only the tip of the iceberg) is good. If you see my light skin and assume that means I am a “white person”, we’re going to have problems. If you see my light skin and assume that you can describe me as having white skin-that’s not going to be a problem.
Is the difference evident yet? Maybe not.

For my deaf friend, the most beautiful sound is something loud with base because he can’t hear it but he can FEEL it. However, for my autistic friend the same exact sound is like fingers screeching on a chalk board, it certainly is NOT the most beautiful sound, but the worst sound!

You can’t define for the entire world what “beautiful” is because it’s very individual and subjective. This is true of MANY things, most things I would say, but some key examples of words that have very different connotations for different people, that come to mind are:

Education, religious, commitment, ginger, cracker, black, white, sexy and blonde. Each of these words has VERY negative connotations to some people and for others VERY positive connotations.

In addition, there are words that defy definition like love, beauty, and spiritual. These words have such largely disparate meanings for any given individual that it’s nearly impossible to assess what exactly any one person means by them! Yet, these words are extraordinarily prevalent in conversation.

A great example given me by someone this week was to ask ourselves (in a group setting) what it is that defines a chair. What exact criteria is it that we use to define something a chair? The possible answers are endless-and all of them are arguable. Yet, we seem to know a chair when we see one-even though; there really is no REAL way to fully define “a chair”. Every answer is actually only DESCRIPTIVE-not DEFINITITIVE.
To me, that is what a person is, we can DESCRIBE, but we can never define a person. I am not white, even though I appear to be. Not all women have breasts. Not all men have a penis. One could go on and on and on. There is no one way to describe a group of people, because they are each individuals. How one person appreciates being referred to, another loathes.

I am proud of my heritage, but I do not want to be referred to as “An Irish, German, Scottish American”. Someone else might want to be-but I do not. My ancestral history doesn’t give a good definition to who I am today. It’s not UNTRUE, nor is it UNIMPORTANT to me; but it is not a good way to define me.

There is no freedom in telling one another that we have to subscribe to a particular persons preference for identification.

My friend and I are both married to men with red-hair. One of them has a huge issue with being referred to as a red-head and will deny being a red-head. The other does not. THEIR OWN CHILDREN have mistaken them for one another…. But, the commonality of having red-hair does NOT make for a commonality in what preference they have for being identified by that characteristic. Neither of them is “wrong”. In fact, they are both right and they should be identified by the labels that they PERSONALLY choose for themselves.
At the same time, there if you were trying to find one of them in the store and you were asking me on the phone to describe them to you; I would tell you that they have a red beard-because it will be a visual cue for you to recognize them versus another person in the store. This isn’t defining their identifier, but describing something you can recognize about them visually. There is a difference and while it is subtle it is hugely important to understand and to accept that other people are going to speak of the descriptive  characteristics that they are personally aware of in order to describe us when speaking of us. But, that doesn’t mean that they are limiting us to those characteristics and it doesn’t mean that we should limit ourselves to those descriptive characteristics.

It would be silly to say “look for the guy who is a Republican”. While it may be true that they identify as such, it won’t help you recognize them in the store. But, the color of their beards would. It would be silly to tell you to look for the Chinese guy if you were searching for my boyfriend-because he doesn’t have enough descriptive Chinese traits for you to find him! But, that I don’t tell you to look for the Chinese guy doesn’t in any way eradicate the fact that he IS Chinese. It would be silly to tell you to look for the gay kid. But if I tell you to look for the guy with blue hair-that doesn’t mean I am saying that he’s  a “blue-head” nor does it mean I’m denying that HE identifies as gay.

Furthermore, if I reference someone’s blue hair, nose ring, rose tattoo or other outwardly obvious physical characteristic, that in no way means that I am denying or in any way suggesting there is less importance attributed to their outwardly invisible characteristics.

Assumptions are at the base of discrimination. When we make an assumption about another person, we’re taking away their depth. We’re taking away the individuality that makes each of us special. This is the heart of discrimination and marginalization.

There’s so much focus on how we say what we say, who can say what to whom etc. But, the heart of discrimination isn’t in the words we speak. EVEN THOUGH words are important-they are only symbols of something far more important in this battle. Words are the symbols we use to attempt to express what is going on within us. We don’t all have the same vocabulary or the same definitions for the vocabulary we do have. So, we can’t make assumptions on what each other means when we talk. We have to double check and triple check until we’re both certain of our understanding.

Even the smallest assumption, while necessary for short term decisions in the immediacy of a situation in order to protect our safety and well-being; can’t remain unverified if we wish to delete from reality discrimination and marginalization. The person whom we feel threatened by-may be the one person who can most help us and our feelings of threat may be completely misguided. We have to take the time to get to know people individually, truly get to know them, in order to begin understanding them.

As a child I was taught to embrace others for their differences and to cherish them for the variety of gifts they carried. Most especially those who were different from me carried the gifts within them that were lacking in me and together we could accomplish miraculous things that alone neither of us could.
My group of close, trusted, friends is so mixed up and convoluted a group, as to leave some people scratching their heads. Men, women, trans, gay, straight, bi, poly, mono, Republican, Democrat, and so many different ethnic backgrounds I don’t care to try and list all of them!

The one thing we have in common is that we all accept that we are different and that isn’t “ok” but it’s actually GREAT. Friends of friends are accepted as family-because if one of us claims someone as being valuable-we all accept. We understand that our differences aren’t the key to our relationships, our futures, and our equality. Our similarity, one single similarity-the choice to enmesh ourselves with everyone who is willing to be accepting of the meaningful need for each of our disparate pieces-is the key to our equality and our relationships and our futures.

For us, it doesn’t matter where we were born, or who we were born to. It doesn’t matter who picked on us as children or what school we went to. It doesn’t matter where we lived, what color our skin, what country our parents or grandparents were from. All that matters is that we accept each other and in accepting each other, we allow for a completely different and much more exceptional future than the rest of the world imagined for us individually.

Living in the past doesn’t work. We must educate ourselves about the past-and then leave the past in the past where it belongs. We can’t make a future of peace if we’re still fighting over the past of war.
When we are in pain, it’s usually because we are mentally holding tight to something in the past, whilst our body is no longer there in the past. If we let go of the past and live for today, for this moment, for building a future, then what we suffered at the hands of the man behind us is not going to be used to punish the man standing in front of us. Our pain will dissipate in the joy and connection we build with the people we accept today, the people who we find accept us.

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