It’s been a wild week, with snow and black ice limiting travel and gender diversity and MLK programs expanding thought. I’ve also been following a conversation sparked by the PNW visit of an English TV garden presenter and the resulting shows he’s offered. I haven’t had a television for upwards of 30 years but the debates about the range of garden programs, whether showing formal gardens or wild ones, naturalistic or manicured, haven’t changed much in those decades. I’m warmed by the breadth and wisdom of many of the comments, especially those that strive to transcend established styles and stretch narrow definitions. As I’ve matured as a gardener and as a human being, I’ve come to grasp that both abundance and austerity have their place. Instead of clinging to dualistic, either/or patterns, I’m increasingly drawn to this-AND-that concepts.
This definitely applies to the human condition as well; gender expression, so very limited and narrow in my youth, is being revealed as a rich and expansive new world. Attending meetings and programs addressing gender and race equity encourages me to view everything I think and do through that equity-for-all lens. Participants’ comments and observations remind me to keep gender diversity, social and economic diversity, neuro-diversity, and so much more in that new lens as well. It makes me feel hopeful, amazed, expanding, fascinated, but I’ve had conversations with friends who find this idea daunting and depressing. The usual comment is something like, “How can we possibly do all that?” Um. How can we NOT?
Greeting The Future
In almost every one of these stimulating settings, I’ve been intrigued to notice that I’m one of the oldest participants, if not the oldest, and often by a significant margin. At yesterday’s MLK event at the Bainbridge Island Art Museum, there were kids of all ages and colors swirling through a crowd of young adults, working on art projects and discussing social justice, listening to poetry and several kinds of music, talking about intersectionality with an obvious grasp of the complexities. The only conclusion I can draw is that if 8 and 10 year olds can converse intelligently about so many topics that my generation finds uncomfortable and unmentionable, then maybe we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
One of my favorite counselors used to say that all the action is at the edge of our comfort zone. As a Jungian, he enjoyed pushing beyond the usual polite observations to ask pointed questions about what was most difficult to discuss. He did it so gently and quietly that I found myself answering carefully and thoughtfully instead of refusing. As he listened so intently, I found myself listening too, hearing myself as I rarely used to. That was many years ago, but I’ve learned to value his observation more deeply over time. The edge, the place of discomfort, is indeed where the important realizations arise and the real changes happen.
Losing Shame, Never Shameless
The good news, for me anyway, is that such deep digging isn’t truly uncomfortable anymore, largely because I seem to have outgrown the reflexive shame that used to accompany almost all those early realizations. Years ago, I remember being in a circle of cancer patients and their support people, each telling a brief snippet of their story as we introduced ourselves. When it was my turn, I said “Shame is my cancer.” I could tell some people found that remark flippant or inappropriate but I saw a few faces change in recognition and fellow feeling. For most of my life, shame ate away my confidence, my pleasure, and my strength. Only at midlife did I begin to gain the tools that allowed me to recognize that shame is a popular and effective tool for controlling others. Really grasping that let me reevaluate the internalized voices that kept childhood shame alive and in charge of me.
Outgrowing shame takes a lot of work. I’m reminded of that as I watch my daughter struggle with her body shame, her social shame, even her own internalized transphobia. She’s smart and wise and willing to work hard on such issues but she can’t manage the work on her own. Fortunately she has good support at her clinic, from her primary care doctor to her counselor, including all the support staff. All that helps, but nobody else can do her work or truly lighten the load. Listening to teens talk about being bullied at school, sometimes several times a day, usually at least a few times each week, I’m struck as much by their courage as by their evident pain. Being a teenager is tough at best. Being a black or brown teen in in a largely white community is many times worse. Being a gender diverse teen is sometimes framed as being trendy or cool but for the kids themselves, it’s a hard, hurtful road, even with the best parental support possible.
Despite all that, these kids are so bold and brave, so totally refusing to accept the stigma of shame that society tries to dump on them. Their toolboxes are filling a lot faster than mine could, partly because these days, many schools have diversity support groups of various kinds. Any kid with computer access can find more support online, which can be a lifeline for those with unaccepting families and communities. And parents as well can find support and guidance on line if not locally. The more access we have to wider views and less restrictive ideas, the more we can expand into fuller, richer humanity. My hope, bolstered by exposure to many remarkable young people, is that acceptance of diversity blossoms into genuine social inclusion.
I used to scorn the idea that an online community had real power and presence, but these days, I know that they can be as important as family and “real life” friends. I am very grateful for the generous sharing of information, skills and ideas I find from my online community of parents of gender diver kids of all ages. I am equally grateful for inclusion in the worldwide network of horthead gardeners and growers. I love expanding my plant knowledge by hearing about the experience of others. I enjoy the banter and back-and-forth that often accompanies significant conversations that advance understanding throughout the community. I appreciate you, my online friends who often enrich me with your comments and thoughts in return. May the coming year bring us all to better understanding and greater acceptance of the value of diversity, which Nature so clearly dotes on!