Gosh, Do You Have Any Idea How Patronizing You Sound?

There’s a conversation I feel like I’m having a lot lately. It starts when I say “Hey, did you know how I feel about this? I feel this way.” And someone replies “No, you don’t know how you feel.” Usually after not reading the (admittedly long) post in which I articulated my feelings very clearly, talked about their origins, and brought up some associated issues.

And, you know, the thing that I keep wanting to ask is “gosh, do you have any idea how patronizing you sound?”

It really seems peculiar to me to see people coming into spaces which are designated for people not-them and lecturing. It’s often done in the most offensive way possible, and what’s really odd is that many of these people would probably self-identify as “allies.” They are, evidently, under the impression that if they lecture enough, we will come around to their point of view, and I guess that’s what being an ally is all about; telling the people you claim to support that they don’t really know what they feel, and that their experiences are not actually valid. Once they think the way you do, they’ll thank you, right?

I think that sometimes there are fine lines to walk. For example, there are legitimate places for questions, and for further discussion. But then, there are other places where that’s really not appropriate. Where, in fact, having people butt in with intrusive voices makes the space unsafe, and defeats the entire point.

You aren’t invited to all conversations.

That’s really the only way I can put it. All conversations are not open to everyone, and should not be. Sometimes, there are things that really do need to happen in designated spaces. If you want to read and be a passive observer, that’s great, but you shouldn’t participate. And sometimes, it’s hard to tell what kind of conversation a conversation is. Sometimes, it’s not apparent until you stick your neck out, but when someone politely asks that you pull back and you keep battering,  it doesn’t really reflect well on you.

I notice this more and more as I start to grow more confident in my own identity, and to write about increasingly complex issues. Every piece I write is a brick in a larger whole. Sure, you can pull it out and just look at the one brick, but it’s not going to provide very much information and context. You need to look at the bricks around it, the bricks that support it, the bricks that it, in turn, supports. My writing is increasingly not standalone.

But people treat it like it is. They treat every post like a fresh conversation, when I’m treating every post like an expansion and further discussion of a much larger conversation. And it’s really frustrating to be asked the same questions over and over again, to be subjected to the same troped arguments (especially when they come from people who have been following the conversation and are choosing to be obtuse). I’m not, I’ve realized, a 101 writer. My conversations, by and large, aren’t for everyone anymore.

Oh, I can try to write introductory and survey-type posts, and I’ve even written a few. But, increasingly, I’m not as interested in basic education. I’m tired of it. And I think that I have a right to be. I’ve been doing this for a while, on and off line. It’s time for fresh voices to take over with the introductory stuff and the handholding. Constantly being patronized with the same tired stuff is like having someone repeatedly come by and tear down my wall.

I don’t want to rebuild my wall over and over anymore. I want to reinforce my wall. I want to add pretty patterns with different types of bricks. I might even want to paint it, or stick ornamental spikes on the top, or something, I’m not really sure, because I never get a chance to stand back, look at my wall, and see how it looks, since every other day someone’s tearing a chunk out or smearing graffiti on it.

I can’t expect people to read everything I’ve written[1. Taking into account everything I have ever written which has been published in an easily accessible medium, we are talking about over 20,000 articles, blog posts, and so forth.]. But I think it is time for me to start asking that people engage with me on a higher level, and that they not seek out basic 101 information from me. There are resources where that’s available (including on the websites I write for), but I can’t provide it on a personal level anymore.

I just can’t. I need to operate on a basis of at least fundamental mutual understanding, like an understanding about certain themes within the feminist community, the recognition that people with disabilities are human beings, a comprehension of the fact that gender is not a binary.

Because it feels so patronizing to have the same shit thrown at me over and over. I know that the individual probably doesn’t mean to be harmful, and is genuinely trying to understand things, to puzzle them out, to engage with them. But I’m not a person to puzzle basic things out with anymore. I’ve done my time[2. And no, this doesn’t mean that I am perfect and that I have no room to grow. I still have the same obligation to continue educating myself, to continue learning and growing, and to try to do so in a way which is not intrusive and demanding. And there are communities of which I am not a member which I observe, and will always be an outsider in. I’m ok with that.]. I want to puzzle out complicated things with people who are ready to engage on that level. I want to have debates which are structured on mutual understanding.

I’m not, I can’t be, the introductory professor. For one thing, I’m not any good at it and never was. For another, it’s too grinding to keep doing. And I wish that people who want to be known as allies would think about this before intruding themselves onto communities of which they are not a member. Because so many people get so burned out by the endless stream of patronizing questions.

If every self-proclaimed ally did more reading and thinking and less talking, I think that it would be a lot easier to have some conversations.