On shame, fucking it up, and figuring it out

“We do not all have access to the most helpful words
I was afraid to write this because I didn’t want to fuck it up
Writing poems about things you don’t really know a lot about can be very problematic
But not writing poems about things you’re afraid to fuck up can also be very problematic
The world is problematic – please, fuck it up.

…This is for all of you for creating a safe space for me
to fuck it up…
Thank you.”
–Lauren Zuniga, “Confessions of an Uneducated Queer”

In my family, we did not discuss politics. Ever. And it wasn’t because my parents disagreed, or because there would be fighting or tension or words between them. It just wasn’t something that was discussed. Ever. We did not get the newspaper. We did not watch the news. My dad listened to the radio in the car, but only if he was alone or if there was only one of us in the car with him. My mother never listened to the radio. In fact, the only time I ever remember watching TV was 9/11, and the Columbine school shooting — both because my grandparents called and told us we had to turn on the news. Being homeschooled, I did not access news through school. Once I started at the community college in 10th grade, that changed a bit thanks to an English teacher with a penchant for current events and the fact that I started spending more time on the internet.

But honestly? I had no idea what was going on in the world for at least the first 15-17 years of my life. If you had put a gun to my head, I’m pretty sure I could not have named any current events at any point.

Anytime there was political conversation at larger family gatherings (mostly with grandparents), it almost always ended in tears. I learned that women don’t understand politics. Women have a hard time expressing their opinions. Women don’t know what’s happening in the world because the world is scary and hard and heavy, and the news is best avoided for all of those reasons.

And then I went to college at 17, hungry for the world and how to engage with her. I learned, and I volunteered, and I read, and I interned, and I engaged in classes and conversations, and I soaked in the knowledge like a sponge. But coming home, I learned never to share the hard or the difficult aspects of my experiences. I learned not to share any political opinions or feelings. All of my strong feelings and emotions, all of the intensity that seems to vibrate inside my being has always felt like “too much.” Too intense. Too emotional. Too much.

There is so much shame I have carried – and continue to carry – about all of this for so many years. Really, there is shame on both sides of this issue: shame that I need to learn how to be an engaged citizen now. Shame that there are so many things I do not know. Shame that it has taken me so long to get to where I am. Shame that I feel I don’t know how to be the type of person I want to be.

And also shame that I am too much. That I will get it wrong and fuck it up and not understand. Shame that I can’t understand more easily, and that maybe women really just aren’t good at understanding politics. Shame that I share hard truths that make people feel and think difficult thoughts, and that this is somehow wrong. Shame that I am breaking this code of never-talking-about-important-things. These are deep and engrained, ugly and embarrassing, and hard to shake.

Several months ago, I was having a conversation with someone in my family about why I believe Black lives matter, and the importance of engaging in anti-racism work. A few weeks ago, I told the same person that I am teaching Our Whole Lives to 4th and 5th graders, and that I believe it’s important to provide comprehensive sexuality education to young people. Their response was basically a pat on the head with the statement, “well you sure are trying hard to be a good little Unitarian Universalist, aren’t you?”

But that’s not it. I am not doing anything to try to be a good little anything.

Anything I do, I am doing because I believe it is the thing that is right. Because I believe there has been a wrong, or an injustice, and I want to stand on the right side of history. Because I had the privilege to remain completely ignorant for so long when others never do. Because I have many privileges of remaining silent and ignorant, if I were to choose them.

I am so grateful to the strong and empowered women (and men) I see around me, boldly engaging in large ways and small ways and in-between. I am grateful to the voices I hear and learn from that pull me forward.

Everything I write, I am always afraid that I have somehow messed it up – that I will offend someone, that I’ve gotten it wrong, that I haven’t said it clearly, or well, or right enough. I am afraid that I will be too strong or too emotional or too much. I always think about the Lauren Zuniga quote above, and I realize there is privilege in this fear of fucking it up. So I do it anyway, because that’s what I do: I do the things I’m afraid of.  There is no danger here.  I have years of unlearning, but there is no danger. What a privilege that is.

I’ve been scared of writing this post for a long, long time. Writing about and naming shame is hard.  Naming shame publicly is ridiculously hard.

And it’s also right. To keep doing this work of getting it wrong, and getting it right, it had to be said.  It’s part of the work.  It’s how I keep moving forward, ever bolder.

“…for all of you creating a safe space for me to fuck it up…
thank you.”

thank-you

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