So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

03 June, 2007

The Club That Would Have Me As A Member

I'm watching one of my religious communities have one of those gigantic, tumultuous arguments that happen occasionally, one of those things that shows up especially in transitional phases, the whole "Who are we, what do we stand for, what does it mean to be one of us, and what are those people doing to change it?" I see it when I read Christian debates about homosexuality, too, though a lot of those arguments are much deeper-entrenched in some ways; I've seen it in some of the discussions I've had with Little Light about the evolution of Islam.

The subject specifically under discussion in that community is the legitimacy of paid training: of learning the skills, practices, and mindset of the religion from someone who is paid for that service. There are a large number of reasons raised with this, such as the possibility of corruption, the question of whether other faiths do something equivalent, and then, the big one, the whole question of "Is this appropriate to our tribe?"

There is this belief that members of this religion are a family of sorts, drawn into it by some sort of resonance with its truths, and, when recognised as such by a teacher, is taught the customs of the tribe and thus brought into it as an adult. Comparisons are made to indigenous cultures who object to people who teach watered-down customs for pay to outsiders, people talk about how families are naturally run on a gift economy, and much hostility is directed to people who may not wind up being a part of "the family".

The funny thing about this argument from my perspective is that I'm on reasonably good personal terms with a fair number of these people, and they seem to accept me, more or less, as proto-one-of-them -- and my formal study has been paid exchange. And because, while I am strongly considering the possibility of pursuing initiation in this religion, I would not have done so without the opportunity to study it for two years with a teacher who not only was not expecting me to make that commitment but who was not teaching for that purpose.

But still, politically speaking, they don't want my kind in their group -- the kind of people who are willing to pay for familiarity, for the introduction, for the basic grounding before making a deeper commitment to 'the family'. And there is much talk, from all the factions in this, about how going through the initiatory commitment is a marriage to the gods, something not to be undertaken lightly -- and they object to me taking the gods out to dinner a few times and maybe a movie before considering the possibility. Too commerical, not enough love at first sight.

I find myself wary of people who talk about their group as a family, about the welcoming of People Like Us into this recognition of kinship. Not just as a matter of knowing that families are not idylls. But because so often, I've seen "People Like Us" being put forth as something that means more than it claims. There's always the hidden catch to it, the "People Like Us" are also like this, and if you don't toe that line, all that magical family-feeling that was supposed to be there just vanishes, leaving behind a suit of black wool. And if the family ever felt real, those people who are now making the nasty comments just on the edge of hearing probably know exactly how to make that loss of community feel like being flayed alive.

I first started formulating this set of thoughts as part of my experiences with science fiction fandom, which was full of rhetoric about how, y'know, we're a family for people like you, the sort of bookworm nerd who always felt a bit at loose ends in most human gatherings. We're like you, we will love and understand and cherish you.

Until you come across the underbelly and discover that some of those loving people will turn into frothing harpies if you see any merit whatsoever in Dr. Who or enjoy doing the costuming. "We love you! We will accept you!" So long as you hide this bit of you away.

I never had the "this is My Family" feeling with fandom, because I have a family -- a selection of individual people who, y'know, are familiar with my foibles and my cranky opinionated tendencies and my rough bits and still accept me for it. And these people aren't unified by some sort of allegiance to a subculture, an adjective, a political cause, or, indeed, a religion: we're just a sort of mixed-up extended family, some bits of it closer than others. So I never had to cling to fandom for that sort of social affirmation; I started building it on my own when I was about fifteen.

I know too many "We are here for people just like you" systems that wind up only being for people like me if I'm closeted or obedient, and I'm not terribly good at either of these. And then they tell me "You're one of us even if you don't think you are, because you have these traits", and I wind up wanting to dig in my heels and insist on proper consent protocols, because it's damn hard to safeword out of one of those black sheepings once they get going, once the allegiance doesn't prove to override all the peripherals, once the mutterings of traitordom start for not signing on to an ideology that wasn't advertised when one was welcomed in like the prodigal.

And with all of this, I see someone on one of my newsgroups making one of those, "How can you not call yourself a feminist?" queries, directed at someone else, but inviting everyone who doesn't have such an identification to speak up and justify our existence.



Trinity said...

"And with all of this, I see someone on one of my newsgroups making one of those, "How can you not call yourself a feminist?" queries, directed at someone else, but inviting everyone who doesn't have such an identification to speak up and justify our existence."

thank you so much for that. i hate it too.

"if you benefit from advances made through feminist activism you're a fool if you're not one!"

"any breathing woman should be a feminist! it's that simple!"

agh, fuck YOU.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

And if I talk about the experiences that are why I don't use the word, I get, "How could you blame feminism for that? That's your oversensitivity, not feminism's fault."

Or "That never happens, you're making it up." For attention, or to discredit the movement, or because I'm too crazy to be worth paying attention to.

Or "You should be a feminist anyway, because it's not really about all that stuff, it's about this stuff you do believe in." Which mostly leaves me with the impression that my actual feelings, my actual position, and my actual suffering are irrelevant; what matters is that I bring my cunt and tits and line up to be the cannon fodder for The Movement. It doesn't matter if the shock troops are miserable, the generals need those warm bodies on the field!