I am thrilled with the Tae Kwon Do school at which I have newly (re)started training. And that makes me kind of sad.
You see, this school is not trans-savvy at all. They don't deal well with chemical sensitivities. And let's just say I'm not thrilled with the idea of a Christmas-Kwanzaa-Chanukah party idea ever, and much less so when it is in fact on the first night of Chanukah.
But most of me thinks, they're not so bad. The head instructor, Master J, has gotten my gender and/or pronoun wrong 3 times, and gotten it right 0 times. Each time he's gotten it wrong, I've corrected him, and each time he has responded with grace and humility. I said that it was "okay," that it would probably take people a while to get used to it. He acknowledged that it will take a while, and insisted that it was not okay, and promised to push himself to learn faster. Most of me thinks, "Wow! What more can you ask for?" A lot, I guess. But I don't ask for more. This is better than I had hoped it would be.
When I started grad school, I had high expectations. I assumed everyone in my social justice-oriented program would get it right all the time. Don't laugh! I had come from a community where this was possible. I could walk around with no bra on, wearing glitter in my hair, swishing my hips and smoking girly cigarettes and everyone still knew that I was a boy, because I said I was. I thought my graduate program would be at least 1/10 that welcoming and supportive. Boy was I wrong. I spent three years in the program dressing more and more "passing," acting more and more normatively masculine, smoking butch cigarettes and walking like a cowboy and they still couldn't manage to call me "he." By the end of my three years, out of four full-time faculty members, one was getting it right most of the time, one some of the time, one rarely, and one has yet to refer to my gender appropriately. By contrast, Master J seems to really have his act together.
Likewise, Master J's solution to my chemical sensitivities is not adequate, but it's a far sight better than anyone's offered me before. He reminded everyone not to wear scents, he keeps windows open and fans on, and he allows me to get out of rank order to stand close to the window where the air's fresher. These measures help a lot. They're not perfect, because some people don't realize that their body products are scented, and wear them anyway. Since Master J doesn't wheeze or get migraines from it, he doesn't notice that people are still wearing scented products. I don't complain, because other teachers/leaders/groups where I've asked for changes to accomodate chemical sensitivities have responded far less well than Master J has already. Again, my inner voice says, "What more can you ask for?" So I don't ask for more.
I'm not even gonna get into the Chanukah thing. We'll have more than enough of that conversation over the next few months.
Is it necessarily a bad thing, these lowered expectations? Should I reclaim my punk, bitchy, oppositional persona and teach myself how to ask for more? Or will I be better off accepting that happy thrill I get when something goes slightly right? Will I be better of if I'm not always putting energy into making things better? Maybe with lowered expectations, I'll make fewer enemies. Maybe with fewer enemies, I'll have more friends. Maybe some of those friends will turn into allies, and fight these fights with me so that I'm not so often doing it alone. But then, would I only get to breathe easy (literally!) when I'm with friends?
When I think "What more can you ask for?" I imagine I hear my great-grandparents' voices. It even has a Yiddish accent, in my head. It sounds like my great-grandmother Molly, who was really named Malkah but I didn't know that until recently. When I was ten I visitted Molly for the last time. She was something over 90. We don't know, because in 1929 she lied on her passport to get past immigration, and in 60-odd years no one ever managed to clarify the situation. She sort of spoke English. At ten, I could barely understand her. She said, "Do you want a banana?" This is not just a cliche, this really happened to me. She offered me tea. A section of orange. Crackers from a box. Molly grew up (if the family stories are true) as the daughter of a kosher meat wholesaler, and the granddaughter of a rabbi, in a shtetl where even so she must have eaten potatoes and cabbage at almost every meal. I imagine she thought, "A fruit with no pit that you can buy any time of year for a dime. What more can you ask for?"
Maybe she couldn't ask for more. Maybe she was actually unable to imagine more. But I'm not. Even when I choose not to ask for what I deserve, I never want to forget that more is possible. I must nurture that imagination, that vision. Without vision, oppression just feels like pain. But with the knowledge that more is possible, oppression feels unfair, and where I can recognize unfairness, I can choose how to respond.
Lowered expectations are one thing. I expect mediocrity, and sometimes I get to feel pleasantly surprised. But an atrophied imagination is not acceptable. I let myself feel content with mediocrity, because I am too tired to fight all the time. But I do not let myself imagine that a mediocre situation is fantastic. It is not fantastic. I can imagine more. I must imagine more.
2017: Reflections on Enough
2 months ago