Coming out of the Woo closet: diversity in activism
I’m an activist. I’m strongly impelled to work toward the betterment of the world and its inhabitants, and I’ve drawn my line in the sand at clean air: I petition, I call, I lobby elected officials, I organize other activists to follow through on their projects to demand we stop burning coal at the dirtiest coal plant in my state, and to ensure strong protections to make sure we have clean energy and in turn clean air and water.
I’m also disabled, queer, gender fluid, and a witch, and I’m only remotely comfortable telling the people I work with — the people who rely on me to run meetings and to understand the big picture of why we’re taking the actions we’re taking — about one of them. My story of my history with asthma is a huge part of why I fight for clean air, but I don’t look disabled. No one sees the hours of preparation, the background processing of whether or not I can take a walk on the day that I’m running a meeting, or the migraines keeping me in bed for days, or the pain in my knees that has me hobbling around at home. And they definitely see me as a woman, when I feel more gender fluid or genderqueer than female. They don’t know that the secular face I present isn’t actually secular but Pagan and Polytheist, but afraid to tell anyone about those identities.
Yesterday, the organization I work with held a training about furthering their goals toward Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. I keep attending trainings on this topic, because while I fight for clean air, I see it as a small issue that’s part of the web of all the things that are keeping we the people and the planet from being whole. So I want the organization I work with to think about all matters of social justice when we do our work: racial injustice, ableism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and so on. We should not be an all-White organization protecting the environment, because the environment exists and affects All People. The horrors of polluted air disproportionately affect poor people, poor people are disproportionately people of color. I go to these trainings with this sense of the interconnectedness of the web of life, and I often leave with a sense that something is missing. The training is never fulfilling.
Yesterday, as a dear friend of mine left in the middle of the training, upset and made invisible by the conversation about “diversity” but really meaning “people of color”, I realized that I’m always holding back those parts of myself that might rock the boat. I realized that while we’re so fixated on our diversity meaning “make people of color join our movement”, we are dancing around the issue of other marginalized identities, and we cannot make our spaces truly safe and inclusive until we acknowledge all types of diversity.
And that means that I need to acknowledge these parts of my identity. So here I am, announcing, at least, to this part of my world: I understand intersectional identities, and I have intersectional identities as well. I am not the young, healthy, White woman you assume I am when you first see me, and I will do my best not to assume anything about your identities from how you look. I look forward to hearing from you, and sharing stories, and healing each other from the injustices and trauma done to us all.