language

plain donuts and the normalization of normalization

Originally posted on (in)visible

       Today at work—i work at a coffee shop—someone asked me for a donut. However, she (i read her as a she, and will own that) didn’t simply as for “a donut.” She asked for “a plain donut.” This is where the challenge ensued.

       Now, i knew exactly which donut she wanted. There wasn’t an ounce of doubt in my mind, and, for the record, i ended up being right. But i have a bone to pick with the concept of “plain/normal/regular.” Fortunately, in my line of work, there are literally hundreds of opportunities to pose challenges to this way of thinking.

       So i drug the moment out. It could have been over in a flash of money and smiles; i could have sent her on her merry way quite easily. But i chose not to. i pretended not to know what she meant. “Which one?” i asked.

       “The plain one,” she repeated herself as if the issue were one of decibel level instead of clarification.

       “i don’t know what’s ‘plain’ to you, that’s very subjective,” i began playfully. “This one is covered in powdered sugar, is it ‘plain?’ What about the frosted ones, those look pretty ‘plain’ to me. Then, of course, you’d have to choose what’s more ‘plain,’ black or white?” i framed with a wry smile.

arvan's picture

Privilege within communities working to lessen privilege

Audre Lorde once spoke at a feminist conference, noting that she was the only black lesbian there and one of only two women of color.  She was pointing at privilege and exclusion within a group formed to remedy and address privilege and exclusion.  In this address, she pointed to the language and organizational structure adopted by feminists to address patriarchy was formed by patriarchy to reinforce patriarchy.  That language and organization are the "master's tools" she speaks of and her assessment is that by using them, privilege will not be eliminated, but instead renewed and sustained.  

That metaphor has resonated with me since the very first time I heard it.  I started blogging for a number of reasons, including identifying, owning and interrupting privilege.  I have come to some conclusions which I will share in this post, namely:

- Privilege is always happening, in everyone's life and in every group.

- I can only interrupt, acknowledge and impact my own privilege.  This seems to be true for us all.  It is also true for groups.

- Denial sustains and reinforces privilege and honesty creates an opportunity to interrupt privilege.

The very instant any group or community is formed or declared, exclusion and privilege are established and instituted.  

Exclusion: some people are in that group and some are not.  

Privilege: the group has leader(s) / former(s) / administrator(s) / public & private voice(s) in some form or another who agree to their ability to declare the identity of that group.  There is also privilege in the selection of new members to the group or the expulsion of current members.

This can be problematic for any group whose stated goal is to address or lessen privilege.  This is often a group whose members and lives are often largely defined by their experiences of having been excluded by privileged persons and groups.  How such an organization or group addresses its privilege and exclusion will impact how successful they are in their efforts to impact privilege elsewhere and as a group or individuals.

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Fostering Hospitable Silences

As a person who works with survivors/victims sexual and domestic abuse, I’m quite used to getting calls from people all over the city, most times it’s when I’m at the center — I talk to them and we assess the situation, whether the caller is in immediate danger or not – generally they want someone to listen to them. Very rarely do I get requests to meet up with people — which can be dangerous for both of us — but every time I’ve met someone, it’s only to have them rushing back in a maximum of twenty minutes, for the time-window their abusers leave them, where they have some amount of unaccounted time-slot is often very less. Last week I got a call from a woman living in South Bombay, in one of the most reputed neighbourhoods and she wanted to meet me to discuss long-term solutions (which the group I work with occasionally handles as well). She called me after midnight and I was set to meet her the next day, and she wanted to change the location for she wanted to remove all possible run-ins with anyone who may report back to her family — and every place I came up with her was unacceptable for her. “Barista?” “It’s too public”, “[x] book store?” “that’s hardly the place for polite conversation”, “[x] place?” “We aren’t supposed to talk about these things there” and both of us eventually burst out laughing at how absurd this conversation — both knew what we were going to discuss and there wasn’t even a single space we could discuss those things — and then we both fell silent. We need silence now. Right? To keep peace? To keep the surface calm?

I want to talk about this silence, this polite hospitable silence — often used as a conscious or otherwise decision to mask, hide, distract or forget altogether about the rough friction, of intersecting differences, that de-stabilise us, that move together to move any ‘safe’ or ‘home’ space. This silence shows up everywhere we construct spaces to be “homelike” — in  classrooms, in actual homes, in well-loved literature texts – and we learn to nurture them. Last month a student came out to me as queer and she waited till our last “official” class was over and then did she decide to tell me — and when I asked her why did she have to wait till it got over considering we’ve talked about just about everything, she explained that she didn’t want to “upset” the rhythm of the class. Alternatively, I should have asked her why was “keeping” the rhythm so important to her, but that time I was quiet, parsing what she’d just told me. In home spaces¹, it seems the general reaction is to secure and perpetuate a sense of a border or a territory, a line we must learn to never cross. Many times, between friends, in classes, whenever the talk goes to any “taboo” topic, immediately and inadvertently my voice softens itself and then I have to remember to revert back to my general tone and loudness — and these are spaces I generally feel comfortable in, a performed home of sorts, and yet this silence is always around.

arvan's picture

Lady Vixion: Trans PMS = Gender Dysphoria

I love Lady Vixion.  I really do.  Here is a recent reflection on dysphoria, answering a question from her viewers.

142: How do you deal with gender dysphoria when it rears its ugly little head?  Give examples of how you cope personally, in a relationship, and professionally.
Topic chosen by Courtney, authored by Chris W.

Jaded's picture

Thinking In Tongues

Lately I’ve been very busy translating things — French things to English, diluting some literary Gujarati with the help of my grandma and strangely, also my thoughts from English to my native tongue(s) as this summer break she helps me read in a few tongues that have been rusting inside me since the past few years.  For a long time, English has been my go-to language and my native tongues occupy a secondary position, of horrid pidgins that mix many tongues and dialects – which are hilarious at best and painful at worst — and a language I must use with family, with people who aren’t fluent enough in English, a language that is substituted for English and even then I barrel this tongue with English words — I don’t see this as a necessarily bad thing, just illustrating how no matter how hard I try, my native tongues come to me as an after-thought. Sometimes, my grandma will ask me to read પાની and instead I read “water” in my head, and to save face say the Gujarati word out loud — but she knows anyway that it doesn’t come to me ‘naturally’. Generally we smile at each other when this happens, she asks me to try again and I instruct myself to think in my mother tongue, and it works for a while. Then in about two minutes, she asks me to read a whole sentence and I am again judging it by English syntax and grammar forms. I don’t need to learn to speak read write in these tongues, those I did as a child either in school — where the State you belonged to dictated the tongues you’d learn  – or at home where we speak our mother tongue. It’s thinking in different tongues that I am working on and so far, miserably failing.

For years, my English and the ‘talent’ to say things well have been indistinguishable from my identity as an upper-caste Hindu lady, “who will one day go to the U.S. also and write big-thick books for people to read” to borrow my cook’s words as she describes who I am and what I will do — according to her — to her neighbours. She says fondly, “Look at her English, I want my daughter also to speak like her! How fast-fast she goes, sometimes talking liddat on the phone and marking something in study books also” as her neighbours smile politely at us. I’ve gone to this neighbourhood since at least the past decade or so, I used to play with many children who now don’t speak with me at all, and if they do only in English — They say, “How you do” and I used to say, “ठीक हूँ” — and they’d get embarrassed and I’d get angry that no matter what I did ‘those people’ don’t want to speak in their native languages — it’s taken me a lot of time to see how them addressing me in English was their way of leveling ground between us and me stomping all over it and patronising them and replying in Hindi was nothing but my privilege raising its head. English still remains for us a class and a cultural marker, a certain kind of English that you speak marks you from which part of the city you come from — if you code-switch and say, “I don’t know, ask ajoba no” for instance, pegs you from North Mumbai — and the more ‘unadulterated’¹ your English is, the better education and class background you are assumed to have. It didn’t help that I am ‘convent educated’ — a phrase we treat as a synonym for ‘Good English And Decorum’ — and was taught by British and Indian nuns who’d both tell us that “Your native languages can stay at home. Here we speak English — like people“. So we’d speak at lunch in our native tongues, but even that stopped as we grew older and English was just more convenient; plus by then, speaking in English meant Serious Business².

Jaded's picture

Caught Between Colonised Consonants

These last few weeks have been rather stressful for me, so by the time I get home, I’m more than exhausted, crash on my sofa and let the TeeVee numb my LadyLobes into oblivion for a while. This is around the time my grandmother’s favourite soaps are aired and we’ve developed a routine between the two of us. I help her to get dinner going (in my limited capacities as a non-cook) and she fills me in to whatever I missed in the first 10 minutes of the show. Over these weeks, I have now become familiar with the plotlines of more than seven shows, each predictably depicting middle to upper middle class Hindu households, where the protagonist, generally a virtuous woman battling a myriad of obstacles  from abusive husbands to nose-parker neighbours, this Indian Daughter In Law suffers and endures rather vapidly, always quoting from some scripture or following orders to a T. This is TeeVee land after all, where women go to bed in saris and with their full make-up on, where the idea of a ‘diverse’ family is a multilingual Hindu family — what? have a non-sterotypical Muslim or a Christian character? Never! The TeeVee roars back — and where always, good triumphs over evil, after about every 200 episodes. Of course, when I’m watching these soaps with my grandma these quips are contained in my LadyBrain as she genuinely enjoys these shows. Plus if you saw her blushing the way she does when a Dude and a Lady on the screen brush hands, you’ll get it too.

Yesterday I noticed something interesting in one of these shows; it reminded me of my other grandmum that I lost a few years ago. One of the senior actors on the show had the exact expression as my grandmum would get when I’d start rambling too quickly in English; like many MudSquatters she too could read and write English quite well. Though she was the one who introduced me to Austen and the Brontës; when it came to sounding the syllables she fell short. The actor on-screen was making an exaggerated effort to understand her grandson as the child blathered on in the Coloniser’s tongue – with the American accent no less!—when this grandma of mine looks at me and teases me, “Isn’t this like us? You and your English books, always ranting in that language! Going so fast that no one can even understand! God knows what you must be saying in that language about us!”. While my parents and I converse in English relatively easily, for my grandma this language remains an unexplained pun, as she correctly guesses our tones but the words and their exact meaning escape her. For her not learning English remains her way to defy the Empire, while today I believe in smashing the Empire from within, using the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house and caught in the middle are people from my mum’s generation who learnt English to get jobs and status. My parents have a more intimate relationship with our Mother Tongue than I do, for English remains a means to an end for them, as for me English is one of my primary expressions; it’s alienating, frustrating and yet the only tongue I can dream in. The debate of ‘Whose English Is It Really?’ can continue forever. What interests me today how this language is used to cut, to prod, to break into and make room for new dichotomies to absorb. I’ve noticed how my tone changes when I’m speaking to my friends or students, while at home even my English shifts its tenor, it slows down. Here, my a few words from my Mother Tongue blend in, the way I leave questions open is again extremely specific for my community, the language flows more smoothly till the transition to speaking entirely in my Mother Tongue has been made. Sometimes when my Mum and I don’t want to let the maid know we’re talking about something that concerns her, we shift unanimously and almost subconsciously to English and then step right out again in a similar manner. Here, English is used to show and maintain class and to an extent caste supremacy whether we’re aware of it or not.

arvan's picture

Jay Smooth: What people mean when they say "sensitive"

Jay Smooth helps us decipher the double-speak of hate and fear mongers in his latest Giant Word episode.

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Words That are Transphobic and Why

Transphobia: A reaction of fear, loathing, and discriminatory treatment of people whose identity or gender presentation (or perceived gender or gender identity) does not “match,” in the societally accepted way, the sex they were assigned at birth. Transgendered people, intersex people, lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and other non-monosexuals are typically the target of transphobia.

Click here to download the Words That are Transphobic and Why poster. Feel free to print and display it in your office, classroom, or room to remind everyone to be more conscientious of the words we use in our everyday interactions.

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Gender Identity Project: Transgender Basics (video) and Glossary

Transgender Basics – an amazing video from The Center in New York City.


TRANS BASICS: GLOSSARY OF TERMS

Here we identify and explain differences between the separate continuums of sex, gender role, gender identity, and sexual orientation; in addition to articulating basic transgender terminology.

We want to try to use language that people consider affirming to themselves. Based on the understanding that this is actually a more accurate way to speak about people, that transgender individuals are experts on their own lives and we’re going to try to sustain language in the same level of expertise. We’re also confirming the NYC Human Rights law.

The following terminology is taken from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) as well as various Gender Identity Project materials. The original GLAAD text may be found on GLAAD’s website.

arvan's picture

Some Notes on Intersex

The Australian affiliate of Organisation Internationale des Intersexués (OII) published a great list of Intersex Terms for Journalists.  The goal is for people to understand Intersex persons better and to language conversations in respect and accuracy. 

I think the list is great for not only journalists, but for anyone in relationship with Intersex persons or with a desire to understand and respect the people we share this existence with. 

Read the list and comment with anything you would like to see added.

Disorders of Sex Development (DSD)

Intersex people find this term abhorrent and insulting, and ask that it not be used in connection with intersex. It was invented by a group of medical personnel to replace the word intersex and further medicalise and control being intersex when intersex is in fact a natural variation in human biology.

Intersex people object to the control that doctors have long exercised over our lives. Instead we wish to have them act as learned friends who practice client-centred health care in close consultation with us, and not one-size-fits-all solutions formulated under various unscientific belief systems and that do few of us any good.

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