September 4, 2012

On Feelings, Feeling Them and Expressing Them

Oh hell yes.

Here we go!

I thought I was someone who felt my feelings. And then expressed them.

Coming out as transgender has helped me see myself in a whole new way, including the ways I do (and don't) feel my feelings and (do and don't) express them well.

Ooh! Let's talk about "expressing them well". Did you catch this expression of feelings:

Melissa Harris-Perry is an incredible person, in my opinion. She's brilliant and she's honest. She's honest with herself and with the people who sit around her table.

To many people, her response looks "unprofessional", "impolite", "emotional" or "black female rage".

As a white person, I learned that the system that defines Melissa's response is called white supremacy. It means that the culture we live in here in America decides what we do and don't get to do and say, etc. Manners, etiquette, how express ourselves---it all happens according to a code of behavior that largely white, straight people agree on. And everyone else has to learn to follow the rules.

It's relatively easy to follow those rules when you're white. And straight. And cisgendered. And middle class. And able-bodied.  I could go on. How many of those identities apply to you?

Want to know what happens when you aren't (any or all of) those identities? Some of the people with those identities judge you. And berate you. And ask you questions, with a sense of entitlement to the answers. They question you and make you question yourself. And they do things called microaggressions that cut you down, make you feel rather like a animal in a zoo and then when you have a response to their behavior, they act like you just did something horribly wrong. And label your response as either appropriate or inappropriate.

Still with me?

Good. I'm proud of you. Because somewhere in here is You. Maybe you're the person doing the judging, criticizing or attacking. Maybe you're the person being judged, criticized or attacked. Maybe you're both.

Maybe this happens in your family. Or at work. Or in your relationship.

Get in touch with what's happening in your life. What are you seeing? What is happening to you? Around you? BECAUSE of you?

How does it all make you feel? 

Because the more you understand this, the more compassion, patience and love you can practice for a.) yourself and b.) other people.

People often compliment me on how well I understand and connect with teens and younger adults--or all people, for that matter. Do you know why? Because I feel deeply the things that they are feeling, because I went through that, too. I understand, from a deep place of knowing, how scary it is. How hard it is. How awkward. How painful. My worst moments are when I lose patience with the people who aren't self-aware and then act insensitively, coming from their own place of not feeling their own feelings. We can't be kind to others when we aren't doing that for ourselves, first. It can make an awful mess.

Pay attention to what you're feeling. Give it room to breathe. Allow yourself to have that feeling. Express it. Don't apologize for it. 

People will do and say some inappropriate shit. And it may help you to express how it makes you feel. Think about the way you're delivering it, not because you have to subscribe to white surpremacist culture----("this is how it's done--according to us")----but because you want to use your expression to build and expand upon, not destroy.

Melissa Harris-Perry, thank you. Thank you for expressing yourself and giving us a concrete example of how the adults at that table (with the exception of that one woman on her immediate right), all highly educated and refined, weren't able to create a compassionate space for you to have that response--probably because they aren't letting themselves feel their own feelings about the topic you were addressing. They were having an intellectual, abstract conversation, but you actually expressed how the topic made you feel.

To continue developing my communication skills, I am going to re-read this book:

I am not sold on whether I find it helpful or just another way to conform to the "right" and "wrong" ways of expressing feelings, according to the author who is white and male. I strive for "productive" vs. "unproductive", using MPH's response as a teaching tool--but I can only take responsibility for my 50%. What words did she use? How did she phrase her thoughts and feelings? How did the people at the table respond and how much of that had nothing to do with what MHP said or how she spoke?

Is her response labeled inappropriate because she raised the volume of her voice or because the truth hurts and is hard to hear?

Express yourself and your feelings about this, or anything else, below.

1 comment:

  1. I think, despite her obvious emotional response to the issue, Michelle Harris-Perry sounded intelligent, compassionate, and articulate. Who could as for more? I find it sad that her argument may be ignored because of the emotional method she used to express it - especially since I think she has every right to be angry about the injustices she was discussing in that moment. Then again, I'm often accused of being "too emotional" about my political, social, personal concerns, so maybe it's just because I can relate to her on that level that I can see passed the majority-expectations for social interaction. Either way, thanks for bringing this up, Dillan! Always great to talk about being true to yourself and your feelings! It's made a huge difference in my life, my marriage, and my work. You rock!


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