I was doing a workshop with high-school students, asking them the strategies they used to cope with being queer in the world and asking them to think through what other or better strategies might be.
One person, a butch lesbian or budding transman, talked about how they were getting razzed by a group of boys for being queer.
“Yeah, but I get more pussy than you do!” they replied to the gang, which got laughs from the other boys and undercut the attacker.
There was a young clinical social worker sitting in on the workshop.
“That’s sexist!” she announced.
“And sexy!” I countered.
I was angry.
Here was a young queer person who just felt safe enough to share a strategy that worked in claiming some space for themselves, and the response from this professional was a slap. The strategy was dismissed as being politically incorrect, sexist and to be loathed.
I needed to counter that slap to keep things open and flowing, no matter how it challenged the stuff of that clinical professional.
Sure, it might have been better for this young person to have come up with a strategy that lifted the attacks of these boys, one that didn’t reduce women to being “pussy.” But that was the heart of what I wanted to do in the workshop, finding better strategies to deal with the challenges we face as queers in the world.
I’m sure that social worker felt her own stuff come up when the word pussy was used, whatever that was. It might have been a history of being reduced to being an object, it might have been a personal distaste for the term, it might have been training to challenge what she had been taught to be sexist, or it might have been something else. I don’t know.
But I do know that she responded out of her own stuff and slapped a young person who had just shared what they considered a victory, one of few victories in a challenged life. I was moved when they later announced that they had stopped self-harming, congratulating them on that and acknowledging that was a very, very hard thing to do.
I was trying to create safe space where the students could open up and share their biggest challenges. And an immediate slap at one of them for being “sexist” when responding in kind to a bunch of attacking boys didn’t help create that space.
We need to help people raise their game, no doubt, to become more aware and centred in the choices they make, respecting others. I just don’t think we do that by slapping people whenever they push our button, even if we have been told it is not only our right but our obligation to enforce doctrine at all times.
In other words, I think that the social worker’s strategy to enlighten this student just wasn’t respectful, queer or effective enough.
I have no idea what the social worker thought when I immediately affirmed the students sharing as “sexy.” I suspect, though, I was seen as disrespectful to doctrine and all women who are reduced to being pussy.
There are many women, I know, who aren’t offended at being seen as pussy, who own their own receptive sexuality. Not every woman has to identify that way, I know. Many women reject that identification. Being pussy isn’t always a bad thing, even if it does push buttons for some people.
Still, when a professional thinks the best way to deal with a student sharing is to offer the slap of denouncing a strategy as “sexist,” rather than acknowledging the success and then working to lift the game, I just see their own stuff being played out at the cost of trying to silence someone who just wants to share.
I see them making the space a bit less safe for sharing, making it more about them.
And when the goal is to create safe and empowering space, that makes me angry.