Trigger Warning: discussion of suicide.
We are happy to welcome a guest post by a new writer, Lyra Swann from the UK (not her real name). We always welcome guest posts and we have a standing invitation - just get in touch. We can do it under real name, pseudonym, completely anonymous, whatever works for you.
You’ve probably just read the above words and nodded. After all, this is 2018. Equality and Diversity are buzzwords floating around organisations, and companies can’t get enough of the chance to look like they care and market themselves at the same time. Pride flags painted on trains; Primark T-shirts; blah blah blah.
But before we let ourselves get wrapped up in rainbow-coloured merchandise, let me tell you a story about inclusion, about acceptance, and what it *actually* means.
I’m a queer-identified feminist with strong liberal views from a non-nuclear family background. I’m self-assured and can be quite outspoken when I want to be. “Don’t fuck the patriarchy because the patriarchy can go fuck itself.” That sort of thing.
I’m also married. My partner is from a very traditional family. So traditional that the fifties are far too modern for them. They’re anti-feminist, Conservative, imperialist, global warming sceptics. Y’know, the type who think that the best thing a woman can do is to raise a family.
Now, my partner doesn’t share those beliefs. But whenever I spend time with my in-laws, I have to bite my tongue so often that I almost gag. I don’t want to be controversial, and I don’t want to start an argument. So I try and keep my head down and play the good daughter-in-law. But I cannot be myself in any way around them. I have to suppress all of my views, my sexuality and literally everything else that makes me *me*. That, my friends, is an oppressive environment.
My in-laws live a good distance away and I only see them a handful of times a year. They mean well, and they care about my partner and me. They don’t have any jurisdiction in how we live our lives. So by and large, I don’t actively think about them much. And until recently, I thought their influence on our lives was fairly limited.
But the truth is that influence spreads far further than it seems to. Although I only spent a few days a year hearing the views of my in-laws, these permeated my thinking to its core. They affected every part of our relationship. I cared about what my in-laws think of me. I wanted to please them so much that I sacrificed my own identity to do so.
I wanted to be a good wife.
“A good wife?!” What kind of fucked-over queer feminist thinking is that??!
But I wanted to be accepted by my in-laws. And to be accepted, I had to play their happy-nuclear-families game. Like a good wife, I put my partner’s needs first without even thinking about it. I organised my life around them, and felt grateful for the privilege of doing so. I was there whenever they needed me, for whatever they needed me for. And I ignored my own feelings – ignored them so well that I couldn’t even tell that they were there.
I did this right up until I almost killed myself.
Something in me snapped. I had ignored my own emotions so thoroughly and so adeptly that I ran straight into a full-on nervous breakdown. It was like walking off the edge of a cliff. I was broken, in pieces, unable to see or think anything. It hurt so much that I was in constant agonising physical pain, that slicing my wrists was a relief from the constant mental anguish.
You see, in wanting to be the image of the ‘good wife’, I was oppressing myself. In order to fit with ideals that I didn’t share, for people I rarely see. The oppressive environment that I felt inside their house actually extended right into my head. I couldn’t accept myself for who I was because that didn’t fit with who I thought I ought to be.
My partner and I tried to fit our relationship into the heteronormative mould, and it broke. We tried to play the good couple, and it broke both of us. We lost ourselves inside that ideal of man plus woman. We’re each starting out on separate journeys to discover our own identities. I’m still working on self-acceptance.
The effects of non-acceptance extend *way* beyond the arena you see it in.
Someone’s views can be oppressive even if they mean well.
Oppressive views still affect us even if we don’t agree with them.
Not all exclusion is overt. In fact, most is not.
We all need to be accepted for who we are.