Intersections: All I Got

September 09, 2017 by Bill Ivey

I started a blog post back in mid June entitled “Beyond Intentions,” but time and time again I would crank out a few sentences or even a paragraph and then grind to a halt, staring at my screen with an increasing sense of despair before acknowledging I was - once again - stuck. Stabbing at my laptop’s keys (apologies to our IT team, Tod and Jason!), I would erase everything in my Google Doc and, with a mental sigh, find something, anything else to do.

According to Robert Pirsig, stuckness should be embraced as a moment when you’re at your most open to creative alternatives. And I do think that is generally true. Certainly, it has quite often been true for me. So… what made this different? Why was I so perpetually stuck, and what was I going to do about it? Especially when I was quite certain of my theme and of its deep importance.

Because we all, or at least most of us, have good intentions, and we all, or at least most of us, like to think we’re acting on those intentions to help bring them to life. And in these times when power has accrued to people whose vision of “good intentions” means deliberately targeting the civil rights of large numbers, perhaps the majority of citizens of their own countries, there’s an unquestionable need to think about what “good intentions” actually means and, I and others would argue, for those of us whose good intentions include working for true equity for the whole of humanity to be extra vigorous in our work to bring those intentions to life.

Ultimately, I think that’s what blocked me. I’m acutely aware of my many human imperfections (though, being human and all, I’m also quite certain there are some that I must be missing!), and how often I fall short of my expectations. Sure, I successfully confronted someone on an Islamophobic comment, but when the conversation then took an almost immediate misogynist turn, I just didn’t have it in me to confront for the second time in minutes. Sure, I made some decent contributions to a panel on diversity, but I also interrupted a woman of colour (in part, granted, through a neuroatypical quirk in which my mouth engages unusually slowly once I’ve decided to speak) and, if I stopped myself from talking as quickly as I could in order to defer to her, she was already looking down at her feet and shook her head “no” firmly to indicate she wasn’t picking up where I had cut her off. Moments like these eat away at me and, while I know and recognize they’re no excuse for disengaging, especially as my discomfort is far less important than the lives of the people I've failed, they do affect my mindset when I think about my social justice work, who I want to be, and who I actually am.

Being a person whose identity and appearance are, essentially, gender non-conforming further complicates my thinking. On the one hand, I completely agree that, even in the education world which is predominantly female, too many speaking and leadership opportunities go to men, especially white men, and I recognize my obligation to support diversity by stepping aside. But on the other hand, when people think of supporting diversity vis à vis gender, they usually think only of boosting women (who indeed are dramatically under-represented, especially women of colour). Gender non-conforming and non-binary people almost always remain forgotten, invisible, and thus erased. In that context, to what extent do I actually have an obligation to fight that invisibility and erasure through putting myself out there, especially as a person seen to some extent as a role model by some of the kids in my school who do identify as non-binary in one way or another?

Here’s a sudden thought. What if the questions, paradoxes, and conundrums I face could be a source of strength rather than choking off my ability to speak out? Because after all, being human is complicated, society is complicated, and sorting through the best ways to promote equity is complicated. Maybe trying to engage deeply with that complexity will ultimately make me a stronger person, perhaps even more effective in my work for equity.

One thing I know. It’s one thing to give up on writing a specific blog post, and another altogether to give up on working for universal dignity and equity for all humanity. It’s one thing to be frustrated by one’s imperfections and another altogether to refuse to grow.

So, I’ll keep growing, keep working, keep doing my imperfect best.

It’s all I got.

Written by Bill Ivey

A dedicated member of the faculty, Bill Ivey is the Middle School Dean at Stoneleigh-Burnham School. He teaches Humanities 7 and the Middle and Upper School Rock Bands. Bill is the advisor for MOCA, the middle school student government, and he coordinates and participates in the middle school service program. Among his many hats, Bill also coordinates social media for Stoneleigh-Burnham School.

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Filed Under: LGBT Support, anti-racism, Feminism, Intersections