I haven’t been writing too much about L&D and the world of work lately. In fact, the writing bug has kind of gone away from me. I’m far more concerned at the moment about how there are many people in society who are struggling in dealing with their own emotions and thoughts about people with difference.
This isn’t just restricted to the outcome from the Brexit vote. More and more I’m seeing that people with difference are being targeted and ostracised for no other factor than they are different.
What is becoming starkly aware to me is that there are privileges associated to however we identify ourselves, and often those privileges are taken for granted and we do not fully appreciate the impact of those privileges.
If you’re reading this because of the title of the blog, here’s why the title matters. I’m warning you now, this is quite likely to be uncomfortable reading – particularly if you’re a someone who has never considered they needed to think about these things in this way before.
With the exception of being Indian, I’m about as ‘normal’ as normal gets, and I’ve come to understand that there’s a lot of bias and unspoken prejudice that I have which can impact on others and I may not even realise it.
Cisgender means I identify as the gender with which my biology determines. In my case, that means I’m male because my biology is male, and I self-identify as being male.
If you’re gay or lesbian, you’re still quite possibly cisgender in that you identify as the same gender as your biology suggests – male or female.
Some people don’t identify as cisgender. That is they don’t agree that because their biology may suggest they are a gender, that they actually are. That’s what is called transgender. Also some may not identify as any gender, and that’s called genderqueer or gender fluid.
Binary in the context of sexuality means I’m either masculine or feminine. I am masculine, I am male, I am a man.
Some people don’t identify as either male or female. That’s called non-binary. That means they don’t have a need to identify as either male or female and they can have any sexual orientation. This is markedly different from being gay or bisexual. It also means they do not identify with pronouns like ‘Mr’, ‘Miss’, ‘he’ or ‘she’ they are likely to prefer ‘Mx’ or ‘they’.
I’m Indian. Although, to be exact I’m a British-born Indian. My heritage is from India. I identify with much of what it is to be Indian in terms of my culture and religion. Being British-born means I have a range of opportunities open to me that I may not normally have available to me. The education system, the healthcare system, my employment and so much more have helped me become a fully committed citizen to Britain, our values and or way of life.
There is a population of people who do not understand how to appreciate the impact of living in a predominantly white country. I’m not talking about the racists or bigots in society. I’m talking about normalised conversations. Ethnic minority families have to have conversations at home with their families and friends about how to integrate well when they’re out and about. When they go for job interviews they have to explain how to dress like a white person, and talk in the Queen’s English, because that’s the norm. When they go to the restaurant, they have to understand how to eat in conservative ways, conforming to social etiquette, and how to be respectful to others around them. When they go to the beach, they do so in an effort to expose their children to normal experiences that white people don’t think twice about but for an ethnic minority may be incredibly uncomfortable. It means when I go to a conference or networking event, I have to be on my best English behaviour because anything out of that norm is met with confusion and misunderstanding.
I’m male. That means I already have privileges available to me, and all I’ve done is just be of one gender. I can raise my voice when with friends and be dismissed as ‘just being a guy’. I can make a sexist remark to women and be dismissed as ‘just what men do’. I can act with prejudice and stereotypes and be explained as ‘such a typical guy thing to do’. I’m probably going to be accepted for a senior job role because I’m a man. I’m probably going to receive a higher salary because I’m a man.
Why does any of this matter?
Because it’s not about treating people as equal. That conversation is now old, redundant and ineffectual. We have strived to treat people as equals, and all we’ve effectively done is teach people how not to offend others. We haven’t helped people understand how to appreciate difference, how to enquire about it genuinely and how to not just accept difference but deeply value it.
Instead we get caught up in conversations like:
” But which toilet will a transgender person use?”
“Does that mean they’re attracted to me or not?”
“But, how do I pronounce Mx?”
“Do they still have their genitalia or new bits?”
“Will we offend by either inviting that person out or not?”
We get caught up in conversations that are less about valuing the person and the difference they have and more concerned about triviality that does not help the individual feel valued.
Or the other end of that conversation tends to be “why does it matter, why can’t we all just be people?”. The sad truth is that we don’t really value each other as people as it stands, so these labels do matter.
Labels matter because people need an identity that they can claim as their own. Our identity is a fundamental part of accepting our place in life. Without that, we can’t be a fully functioning person. For people with difference to that of the society they live in, can and does cause a range of personal decisions and life choices and can and does effect physical as well as mental health.
For most people, they won’t ever worry about things like this. Labels like these will be seen as divisive, and for the racists and bigots as ways to attack those with difference.
My hope is that we can start to understand how these labels can help others find their identity and in doing so help them find ways that they can be their full selves and their best selves in society.
This blog post is to share my own thoughts on the topics I’ve raised. They will be shared by some, and others will find it too hard to discuss well. I respectfully ask that if you find the above difficult and personally challenging that you don’t resort to abuse or attack.