Wednesday, 29 May 2013

I Bite my Tongue

Senior Partner #1 likes me to be “discreet”  about my sexuality and in a million ways tries to poke me back into the closet as much as I can. Usually I bite my tongue

Senior Partner #2 loves having a gay lawyer and will use me for bonus novelty points whenever she thinks it will earn some prizes; she treats me as a toy. Usually I bite my tongue

I have a colleague who makes life very difficult because we have been instructed to “avoid each other” because he can’t keep a civil tongue in his head. I’ve nearly bit my tongue through on that one.

I bite my tongue because arguing with one’s bosses is something to be done sparingly and they both do things I won’t bite my tongue about, so I have to stock up my Awkward Conversation points. I bite my tongue because the firm already believes they are being tolerant by hiring me. I bite my tongue because I don’t want to be considered awkward. I bite my tongue because this is far from the best time to job hunt – and I know there’s no guarantee any other job I get will be better

One of my neighbours can’t formulate a sentence without a slur. I bite my tongue

One of my neighbours’ child needs his mouth washed out with bleach. I bite my tongue

One of my neighbours thinks they’re wonderfully sweet when they comment on how we’re almost like a “real couple”. We get some variation of the same patronising bullshit every week. I bite my tongue.

I bite my tongue because I’ve already riled up one neighbour enough to leave snide little menacing notes on my home and car (for over a year now – they’re starting to repeat themselves. I ask you, is it that hard to keep the hate fresh? At least show some originality). My car has been scratched, a lot. I don’t feel safe enough to risk alienating more neighbours.

One of my friends is married to a very noisy bigot. She won’t keep her mouth shut, they’re a really awful person. I try to avoid her – but that inevitably means I avoid my friend and when we do meet, when I complain he gets a long argument (and then complains). Inevitably, I end up biting my tongue

One of my friends has a hanger on even she knows is offensive as hell, but she’s desperate not to upset her.  Whenever her friend puts her foot in her mouth, she silently pleads with me not to say anything. I bite my tongue.

One of my acquaintances needs to do a lot of editing to their internal monologue and it keeps slipping out. But when I point out what they’ve said, they can spend in excess of 3 hours on dramatic apologies and reciting all the wonderful things they do and attitudes they have. Most of the time, I bite my tongue.

I bite my tongue because my friends are caught in awkward situations. I bite my tongue because I don’t want to drop them in it. I bite my tongue because I don’t want my social time to descend into an argument. I bite my tongue because I know I will just be embroiled in more cluelessness or bigotry I have no energy or inclination to battle through. 

I don’t spend much time with my family now because of the amount of times I have to bite my tongue. Failing to bite my tongue just raises vast numbers of relatives against me, all of whom aren’t homophobic, but… I bite my tongue and avoid them.

All marginalised people are practiced at biting our tongues. There are many many reasons why we do – because we know we’ll be the one who suffers for speaking, because we’re tired, because we’re sad, because we just don’t want to do this again. But remember:

Our silence doesn’t mean we’re ok with what you just said or did. Even if we return your smile or wave off your pathetic “no offence.”

Our silence doesn’t mean you didn’t hurt us, you didn’t make us afraid or worried.

Our silence doesn’t mean you didn’t assert your privilege, that you didn’t “put us in our place”, that you didn’t make the world a little worse for us.

Our silence doesn’t mean you didn’t trigger past traumas.

Our silence doesn’t mean you weren’t an arsehole.

Our silence doesn’t mean you can repeat your behaviour. 

Our silence doesn’t mean that it’s  “no big deal” or otherwise not important.

Our silence doesn’t mean you can tell people who do call you out on being a bigot that we agree with, accept or tolerate your bigotry.

Our silence isn’t consent and this is something privileged people really need to learn. Just because someone hasn’t called your arse out doesn’t mean your arse isn’t showing. Consider that our silence isn’t a sign that you haven’t done anything wrong but that you have put us in a painful, difficult position where we do not feel we can speak. Consider our silence not a sign that you’re not being an arsehole but that you – you as a person –  are someone we don’t feel safe enough to call out. That you –  you as a person – are someone who we don’t think will listen to us. That you are someone we have resigned ourselves to

See, if we trusted you, if we thought you could learn, if we thought you were invested in challenging your privileged, if we thought you really, truly gave a damn about marginalised issues, if we thought we could engage you without causing ourselves further pain or hurt –  then we probably wouldn’t bite our tongues. If we thought the space was safe, if we thought you would listen. If we thought we could talk to you, then we wouldn’t be biting our tongue

Our silence speaks volumes about you.

This Piece Originally Appeared on Womanist Musings