Inspired by a question over at an open thread at Ana Mardoll’s:
Someone wanted to know if there was an article about why it’s not anyone’s job to educate people. This is something I’ve long thought, so here’s my crack at it.
Let’s be clear. I think educating people is important. I even enjoy doing it sometimes. One of the reasons I decided to start writing more about disability issues on my blog is that my vocal readership is largely sighted, and willing to learn, and I think the lessons that stick with us the most are the ones that draw on our innate empathy. I want to convey my experiences in hopes of starting conversations about them. The fact that I might choose to often, however, doesn’t mean I always choose to do so, nor should it be expected of me. Here is why, in neatly digestable, bite-sized bullet points. I could write whole posts about each of these topics, but I’ll try and be brief.
- My experience is not universal. I’m a white, cisgendered woman with a disability. I have privileges that my friends who are POC and trans* do not. I also handle being a woman and a person with a disability in ways that work well for me, but might not work well for others. Let me give you some examples. I use a white cane. I’ve never worked a guide dog, and the chances are good that I never will. I prefer for people to say that I am “blind” rather than “visually disabled”. I read romance novels, and don’t see that as an entrensically unfeminist thing to do, even though I do acknowledge that romance novels perpetuate problematic tropes. All of these choices are personal ones, and if you think that people don’t argue vociferously about each of these topics, then I invite you to leave this blog and go hang out on the Internet for a while longer. I’ll wait.
- I don’t always have the time. At my job, we often get tour groups visiting the library, which are invariably fascinated by all the cool technology I use. I love that my boss always asks if I have the time to show off the tools I use, because sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I have another project going, or I’m on the phone talking to a patron, or I’m about to go on lunch. I should be allowed to do all these things. When I have the time to have an in-depth conversation and answer people’s questions, I’m more than happy to, but my life does not revolve around curious people. This is doubly true for the Internet, where so many other sources of information are available to you.
- I don’t always have the energy. I love this post about the spoon theory. For me, not having enough spoons has nothing to do with chronic illness. I lose spoons when I find I’m being dismissed or not listened to, or when accessibility barriers make it harder to do what I want to. Sometimes, I just don’t want to bang my head against certain walls anymore. To name and shame: I’ve given up on Netgalley as a source of books for review despite the fact that lots of book bloggers rely on them, because every website upgrade has meant loss of accessibility features, and their devs don’t seem particularly inclined to do anything to rectify the situation. I have talked to them. I have tweeted with them. For literally years. Nothing has changed. It’s not my job to continue to run around in these circles. I get nothing out of the experience but a headache, so eventually I just quit trying. It’s not just Netgalley either. This happens a lot. Every time it does, it’s disheartening, and my desire to help fix things is diminished just that little bit further. So if you’re being a troll and demanding that I explain how my disability works (or how you think it should work) and I don’t engage, it’s probably because you’re not the first to ask and I don’t have the spoons.
- There are other things I would like to do. I do have other interests besides blogging about disability issues. I like to read. I have friends I want to hang out with. I role play. I should be allowed to focus on all those other things, because that makes me a well-rounded and happier person. I would give you the same courtesy, so I expect it in return.
- We should all endeavor to educate ourselves. Recently, a dear friend came out to me as trans*. I was not the best ally for her in this process, I’m sure, but I knew that I wanted to understand her experiences. I asked her lots of questions, but in the end I also googled, and I found books. I am by no means an expert on trans* issues and never will be, but having read other people’s accounts, particularly Julia Serrano’s excellent Whipping Girl, helped me understand her a little better. One of the ways in which educating myself proved helpful was that I didn’t ask my friend about the potential future status of her penis. It was something I had wondered about, but both Serano’s book as well as the outrage over a recent interview Katie Couric did with some trans women that really brought it home to me that not only don’t I need to know this very private information about my friend, but that it is not owed me in the slightest. After all, the chances that I will ever need to know this information are infinitesimally small. By finding other ways of being told that particular line of questioning was not OK to pursue, I avoided at least one awkward conversation.
In conclusion: Most of the time I don’t mind sharing my experiences with people and offering what knowledge and insights I have to give. However, it is not anyone’s right to expect to be educated, especially not by random people you meet on the Internet. Always feel free to ask me questions, but do understand if I choose not to answer or want to engage with you about other things.