All that a man is made of is thought, word and deed. First thought, then word, then deed. And some of us have thought some ugly things, or know someone who does. We all have family members who think that all homosexual men are pedophiles, or friends who are afraid to touch people living with HIV. Even I have had my own notions about people who decide to go into sex work. And those notions affect what we say and listen to, and how we act. As activists, journalists, counselors, politicians or just the average citizen.
Yesterday at the CVC/COIN workshop, we spent an enormous amount of time simply unpacking some of the beliefs we had or heard or were even were responding to with our own work. Those thoughts were about LGBT persons, persons living with HIV and sex workers. And we were astounded by what some people were thinking or had been exposed to.
Those working as activists and advocates around these issues have almost heard them all. We’ve heard that homosexuals are demon-possessed, sexually abused, and want our nation’s children. We’ve heard that those who are infected with HIV are guilty for it in their own rights, and shouldn’t be able to enter into relationships. But we never really investigate where it all truly comes from, whether simply indoctrinated bigotry or deeper, more personal factors at play on the people that said it.
And then some of it we’ve never heard before. Like a young girl living with HIV hearing from her mother “Where you ketch the cold, blow yuh nose.” Like the idea that many transgender persons are homophobic. Like stories of uninfected men having unprotected sex with their known infected partners. How do you deal with these things, and how do you expect others to deal with these ideas when they have even less information and exposure than you.
I think any activist dealing with a vulnerable community at large should take the time to look at how that entire community is seen. After hours of talking it out, challenging some assumptions, and facing some personal biases in my case, I walked away with eyes wide open. There’s still a lot to uncover, and it’s always hard to confront some of the statements that you’ve made yourself out of misinformation or closed-mindedness. But it can only benefit the work that someone does as an activist. You can ensure that you’re looking holistically at the group you fight for, and recognize how the majority sees them and responds to them because of it. And, in my case, I can check myself as someone sometimes operating so far outside of the reality of the group I represent that I myself alienate them.
So, the question is, what are you thinking?