Giving space to people who are often left out of the conversation
I am now six months into a year-long fellowship which has allowed me to work on a resource about marginalised intersecting identities within the sex, gender and sexuality diverse communities.
I have met and connected with a lot of people with many different experiences of identity and am constantly reminded just how connected and overlapping our oppressions and frustrations are.
I think so far, aside from reading a lot about representation and social movements, this has been the biggest reoccurring theme I keep coming back to after talking with people.
How different it is to have conversations about social change that do not exclude identities! How we all have an obligation to try harder, to always be thinking who is missing. To make sure I listen to someone’s perspective even though it might erase mine, or make me uncomfortable.
- Who is not represented and how do I include them?
- How do I not erase perspectives?
- Am I taking up too much space?
- How to uplift people who are marginalised in a way that is not tokenistic and feels safe?
- How do I make sure my work is accessible to people with different abilities and ways of communicating?
I am a pakeha queer trans masculine person with a physical disability. My impairment is not always obvious to other people but it impacts a lot on my ability to do stuff. I’m disabled but not disabled enough, able but not able enough… In-between.
So I’ve been thinking a lot about in-between kinds of people and how we fit into spaces or don’t, whether it be physically inaccessible or that you never see yourself represented. To almost always hear gender or sexuality described from a western colonising framework, not an indigenous cultural perspective. To learn about education but not ever see accessibility given consideration.
What it means to not quite fit into conversations or theories, to always be listening and thinking “yes good point but what about…” or “have you considered…?” To be the exception to the rule. To always preface your point with an apology. To feel too frustrated to bother pointing something out, then feel bad for not taking the time to try and educate… To understand that everyone is at different stages of the conversation, and be kind.
In early November I held my first advisors hui for the project. My advisors are people with a range of marginalised experiences that are different from mine. (Including culture, age, ability, gender identity, sexuality and neuro-diversity) We came together to create a vision for the project and share ideas around how to interview people in ways that are culturally sensitive, preserve anonymity if that is required and is inclusive of the different ways people experience the world. We talked about ethics; support and how I can collate the stories people share in a way that does not filter their own experiences through my own viewpoint and understanding of the world.
Recently I had the privilege of going to Bangkok for the ILGA world conference, this was my first real overseas trip and I was lucky to go with twelve other queer and gender diverse folks from Aotearoa. I felt incredibly supported but also isolated at the same time, particularly in relation to this project, it highlighted the necessity of this work however. Over the course of the five-day conference I heard the words disability or accessibility twice. Once each. Except for the times where I had conversations with people about disability and inclusiveness.
I saw how in many places they are just beginning to talk about decolonisation and indigenous frameworks and I realised how lucky I am to be doing my project with the support of organisations that hold those values at their core.
I thought a lot about the conversations happening in the panels and how they were different to the ones happening in the lift, the lunch breaks and outside in the smoking area, in the in-between spaces.
Who has access to a microphone and who doesn’t?
I thought about all the queer and trans people with disabilities I know, and how I couldn’t recall seeing anyone with a visible disability. I realised how much energy and ability it takes to be able to sit for hours and listen, for five days. I felt frustrated that my body wouldn’t let me, I worried that I was wasting an opportunity. I wondered how many other people were also struggling (with language barriers, dietary requirements, anxiety, different ability) to get through the day and still have the energy to have all the important conversations that made this experience so incredible and worthwhile.
As I move on to the next stage of this project I am excited to continue to learn and share stories with all of the people who have agreed to be involved in this project. I will keep reflecting and wonder what shifting the narrative might look like. I hope to help give space to people who are often left out of the conversation.
“Nothing about us without us.”