I think most people here agree that people in marginalized groups are authorities on their own marginalization. The marginalized person sees how others treat them differently, and knows exactly how much it hurts to be treated differently
On the other hand, I often feel like I have no idea how marginalization affects me. When I started talking about how race affects me, I found that it required research. First-hand experience wasn’t enough. This left me feeling that I’m not much of an authority at all. Compared to a white person, I simply had more motivation to look things up and retain the information I found.
Furthermore, I believe this is a common experience. That’s one of the things suggested by my research! Filipino Americans have relatively little cultural identity:*
Of the ten largest immigrant groups, Filipino Americans have the highest rate of assimilation. With exception to the cuisine; Filipino Americans have been described as the most “Americanized” of the Asian American ethnicities. However, even though Filipino Americans are the second largest group among Asian Americans, community activists have described the ethnicity as “invisible”, claiming that the group is virtually unknown to the American public, and is often not seen as significant even among its members.
Never have I identified more closely with being Filipino than when I found out that Filipino Americans rarely identify closely with being Filipino.
Understanding one’s own marginalization can also be more difficult at the intersection of multiple identities. When I’m holding hands with my boyfriend, I can generally guess why people are staring (also sometimes people say it out loud). But suppose I were visibly in a same-sex relationship and I were trans, then sometimes I might have difficulty identifying which is the source of stares.** And maybe it doesn’t even matter why, if I’m being made to feel ashamed of both being queer and trans.
Another problem with intersections is that it’s harder to find other people with shared experiences. I’m very interested in the male/ace intersection because I live in it, but there’s very little discussion of what that means. As I recently discussed, the concept of “toxic masculinity” is focused primarily on the masculinity of straight white men. This makes sense, since straight white men have a lot of cultural influence, but it doesn’t give me much of a way to understand intersectional masculinity. Perhaps personal experience isn’t enough. Maybe you need personal experience plus a community-supplied knowledge base.
Dear readers, have you ever had difficulty understanding your own marginalization?
*The main reason for the lack of Fil-Am identification is that in the Philippines they speak fluent English. Without the language barrier, immigrants have little reason to stay geographically clustered. Colonialism was also very successful in preventing Filipinos from feeling pride in their culture. From what I’ve heard, a lot of Fil-Am activism is about reclaiming that pride. Personally, I do not care for this.
**Also, the very question of multiple-causality is philosophically unsound.
Jake Harban says
Tricky question. I may belong to marginalized groups but my experience in all of them seems to have been completely non-standard.
First up, there’s the whole disabled/autism thing. (Not sure if that’s two groups or one.) Although I’ve read about lots of disabled people being marginalized and lots of autistic people being marginalized, I’ve actually experienced only a small amount of either— and most of it has been at the hands of autism and/or disability activists rather than able-bodied neurotypicals. Usually, it takes the form of non-disabled autistic people claiming to speak on my behalf declaring that autism is not disabling and that I don’t want to be cured of it, or that I’m content to be disabled and just want to be provided with the bare minimum necessary to survive in spite of my condition, or even that my plight is caused by marginalization and not disability.
I’ve never read about anyone in my state, where any marginalization they suffer because of their autism/disability is little more than a footnote compared to the crushing burden of the disease itself, but that much is to be expected— because I’m disabled, I can’t be vocal about my condition so there are probably many other people like me that I’ve never heard of because the most they’ve ever written about it is a rambly offhand comment on someone else’s fairly obscure blog.
OK, well what about being ace? Well, again, I haven’t personally experienced much marginalization for that— having to explain to incredulous people that I actually don’t like sex can be repetitive, but it’s not that big a deal and I usually deal with it by pretending one of my stranger hobbies is a human universal and acting stunned that they simply aren’t into it.
I admit I haven’t read too much ace discourse (it isn’t really something I’m into) but nearly every time I do read ace community blogs, I run into descriptions of “the broken feeling” that there’s something wrong with them for not liking sex. I find the idea completely baffling. Am I seriously the only ace person who said at age 13: “I’m not into sex yet but I’ll give it time” and at age 16: “I’m still not into sex but puberty works at different rates for different people so maybe I’m just developing later than average” and at age 19: “If it hasn’t happened yet, it probably never will. I guess sex just isn’t my thing” and never felt that this was a crisis worth flipping shit over?
And then when it comes to trans status or gender issues, I’m completely at a loss because I can’t even tell what gender I am. I think I’m agender or otherwise non-binary, but I’ve yet to see a single clear definition of what a “gender” is or what it means to be trans so I’m just not sure.
Naturally, ace discourse tends to be biased towards people who feel the need to participate–mostly people who encountered many ace-related personal challenges, and who consider it to be an important part of their identity. Some studies indicate that this is not true in general, that most asexuals do not consider it to be an important part of their identity.
Jake Harban says
Ace discourse tends to be an incomprehensible mess.
What does that even mean?
As soon as someone starts talking about “identities” or how people “identify,” my eyes start to glaze over because there is a 100% chance that what follows will be more incomprehensible word salad. The best I can figure out, an “identity” (or “important part of your identity”) is the false belief that one or more of your traits is so fundamental to who you are that the loss of it would be virtually akin to death and/or the inability to imagine not having the trait.
I take it that you are not asking me to explain anything, but instead are sharing the same complaint you leave in the comments of every post I ever write on the subject.
I thought nearly exactly those thoughts about sex at something like those ages. I actually remember the places where I had each of the contemplations that could loosely be summed up as setting those attitudes as my working theories.
I don’t know how common that is. I’ve seen quite a few “the broken feeling” accounts, but this is the first setting that seemed appropriate for an “I wasn’t that bothered” account. It could be a common experience that is under-represented.
On the other hand, I was aware that I thought in ways that were unusual and so wasn’t a particularly normal person before I was sixteen. Maybe being abnormal is deeply stressful for most non-autistic people?
(Also most trans-related educational materials seem to be written by people who think everyone knows their gender intuitively and is very invested in it. In more casual conversation, I’ve seen a lot of people say that they don’t have any intuition about their own gender.)
Jake Harban says
I’m perpetually frustrated by vague slippery definitions, therefore you take it that I don’t really want to know? That seems off.
It’s only natural that it would be under-represented; “everything was fine nothing was ruined” is not something people tend to write about at length.
Autism has nothing to do with it. I spent my entire life knowing I was unusual and trying (with varying degrees of desperation and success) to either be normal or at least appear normal.
In any case, at 16 I passed for neurotypical— my symptoms were largely in remission, and I doubt I could have convinced a shrink I had anything worse than an anxiety disorder. I didn’t get formally diagnosed as autistic until some time after autism symptoms began to reoccur and by that point I was already nearly 30.
It’s less that I don’t have any intuition about my gender and more that I don’t know what thing my “gender” is. I suspect asking my gender is a bit like asking: “Are you a steganographer?” to someone who is very good at hiding incriminating messages in seemingly-innocuous letters but who has never heard the word “steganography” before and doesn’t know it refers to that practice. They’d answer with “I don’t know” not because they are unaware of whether they practice steganography but because they don’t know what thing “steganography” is.
Unfortunately, nearly every resource I’ve ever seen about gender simply assumes you know what the word “gender” means; at most, they’ll give a meaningless self-referential definition, along the lines of: “Your gender is defined by your gender identity, which is your personal experience of gender.”
Well rather than asking me for explanations, you mostly seem to complain about them. You know, I don’t enjoy arguing with you that much, and if you appear not to like it either, there isn’t much point.
I’ve found that I haven’t faced much marginalisation for being ace. The worst I’ve had is my mum not believing me when I came out to her. However, online ace spaces feel like a bit of a minefield. It’s hard to navigate without coming across hate comments (either from actual haters or people recounting things that have been said) or people who have suffered terribly for being ace. Since none of this has been directed personally at me I sometimes wonder whether my experiences as an ace are typical or unusual.
I am very frequently confused by my marginalization/lack of marginalization, especially since most of the (admittedly few) axes of marginalization I could be considered subject to (as mixed race, ace/queer, and maaaybe atheist if it were in a different social/regional context) are all semi-invisible ones. So since I can rarely tell how people are perceiving me at any given moment, I have no idea whether their actions are linked to my race/sexuality/nonreligion etc. or not.
But like, even for the other obvious one (being female) I like…haven’t actually personally experienced most of the marginalization that women apparently (and statistically) face? So like, if I actually treated my personal experiences as my primary source of information I’d be waaaay off base.
(I also never know how much of my missing things is privilege/luck and how much is pure social obliviousness, because I have that in spades as well)
Also, stuff like marginalization is just so context dependent. Like, I never felt alienated as a mixed race asian-american kid because the other “rare” mixed race kids apparently all ended up in my elementary school – when both of your best friends are also mixed race asian-americans, it’s not being mixed race that seems abnormal. (And it’s not like my area was particular diverse, we just had an amerasian explosion apparently. I probably knew more mixed kids than I did non-white, non-mixed people). The feelings of being left out, and awkwardly straddling two worlds where you don’t really fit in, or being subject to debates about what you “count” as, and many other issues didn’t hit until I moved away for college and entered a very different context.
And like, the same thing for being queer. I know people love to trot out the “well, if you were a real queer you’d have experienced X amount of suffering”, but like…even when I spent time thinking I might be gay or bi, or having other people accidentally think I was gay/bi, and I just….never got stressed or worried about bad reactions. I never went through the family angst or the fear of coming out or abuse or whatever because I had family and peers that just treated non-straightness as perfectly fine and not even a big deal anyway, so I really need to go to outside sources to understand that that does happen and quite frequently, actually.