All posts edited by Madeline Ricchiuto.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Unpacking Your Own Bias

In Social Justice circles, we talk a lot about examining your own privilege and understanding your own biases, but we don't talk about HOW people are supposed to go about these things. We only tell them to do it. We don't even offer any kind of support system because unpacking your own internalized bias is the sort of process you're never really done with. There are all sorts of biases that are thrust upon us as children and take a long time to exorcise from our brains and even then, nothing really ever goes away. Essentially, society is a cult and we are all child inductees. In order to fully illustrate the messy process of understanding your own hangups, I've detailed my own attempt at self-actualization here. This is going to get personal, so, consider yourselves warned.

I recently had to explain my own childhood to my mother in terms of when I learned to hate myself because apparently my own self loathing is news to her; and that just brought up all the little things I've ever believed that were patently false but accepted as "fact."

While I can be very vocal about feminism these days, it is a label I would have absolutely despised using in regards to myself not even four years ago. I would have probably told you that I was a misogynist because I hate the idea of "women" as a group. Seriously, the amount of mental gymnastics required to deal with that sentence is absolutely absurd and I am not up to touching that one quite yet. But, I can recall myself saying things like that because at some point my tiny child brain realized that being "female" was a bad thing and so I rebelled from anything even remotely feminine. Pink? Never again. Dresses? Fuck No. Pop music? NOT ON YOUR LIFE.

This whole hatred of women thing I had going during my angsty teen years was mostly a symptom of being called a "princess" as a kid. In a way that was very much not a good thing. So I decided I was never going to be whatever a "princess" was.

Now this rebellion from all things girly eventually morphed into rage and self-hate and a frankly ridiculous streak of being a contrarian little shit. I was a goddamn nightmare to deal with for most of my life and I am constantly amazed that I still have most of my high school friends. I spent years scorning anything that could be construed as a weakness. I abhorred sentiment. I tried to push as many people away from me as possible because caring is a liability.

And even though I recognize the absolute ridiculousness of this behavior, I still don't wear dresses, the color pink, or listen to pop music. Because by the time my personality was pretty much set in stone, I'd accepted that girly = bad. And that is never going to change. Even though I do not equate femininity to negativity anymore, I still spurn those things that just screech "feminine" to me. Sure, I'll suffer through a dress for a special occasion, but other than that? Not likely. I still can't tell people I love them, because that avoidant behavior is so ingrained in me at this point it will take a lifetime to break.

As an asexual person, I've had very few sexuality hangups to deal with - I'd always thought homophobia was crutch for bigots - but the same cannot be said for my disability. I've spoken before about disability erasure and how ablism is pretty much endemic to modern society, while touching on how ablism is an unconscious bias for most of us, but I kept that discussion mostly academic.

A few years ago I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which is one of those "diagnosis by elimination" diseases that sounds fake. I took the news pretty well, because it fit my symptoms perfectly and I was happy enough to have a name for my condition. Because it IS an ongoing condition that affects my ability to function, but I am still hesitant to call it my disability. Even though that is exactly what it is. Part of me feels that my chronic, debilitating migraines should have been enough so why do I have to put up with CFS, but that part of me is still an angry teenager who scorns anything that could be viewed as a weakness. The other part of this reluctance is because I don't want to face the reality of being disabled, as if by ignoring the problem it will go away. This is maladaptive on so many levels, and likely to do nothing but cause me further trouble down the road. I know all this, but my own reluctance is a symptom of internalized attitudes about disability. Because I know that I will lose a lot of my seemingly-able-privilege by speaking out about my disability, and will likely face a lot of "but CFS isn't real!" negativity.

At the end of the day, self-actualization is harder than it sounds, because it forces you to accept the parts of yourself that are cowardly and afraid. The good thing about all this, is that knowing my own hangups means that I don't subject other people to them. I don't scorn women for being "feminine" or pretend ablism isn't real, when other people are involved. I'm still working on myself. And I am so very afraid and so very tired of feeling that way.

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