Privilege

We’re in September. Into Autumn days when the Earth is jewelled, with silk inside the chestnut shells . Into term, into teaching. As my English colleagues lament the end of Induction week, I am well into the throes of teaching, in Scotland. First year teaching is stressful. Holding their anxiety whilst managing a barrier between me and them, my stress and theirs, is tiring. They are seventeen years-old. This  is normal. Reassure them that this is normal.

Third year teaching I am finding much more fulfilling. Social justice. Social Psychology. Structural inequality over psychological deficit to explain society’s problems. We look at privilege. How to check your privilege. We use McIntosh’s checklist. Statements like, “I am never asked to speak for all the people of my group . . ”​, “I have no difficulty finding neighbourhoods where people approve of our household”.  When it comes to a number of characteristics, I am privileged. I am never asked to speak for all White folk. I will never be assumed guilty of a crime because of my race.

But another characteristic is proving more tricky. Not in this course, and not for these students, disappointed as I was that they didn’t seem to share my enthusiasm for Grace Petrie’s ‘Black Tie‘ which is one of the best songs about the absurdity of the gender binary ever. Elsewhere in the university, I am stunned when a colleague at a meeting says that they don’t know what LGBT stands for. Folds their arms and looks out of the window. Disengages. We are planning to adopt a charter to embody the the values that we hold as a team towards the LGBT staff and student community in our care, their work as trainee teachers in the wider community. I have been asked to champion this.

Meanwhile, the Union has asked me to consider becoming their Equality and Diversity Rep. At one level, this makes a lot of sense. Disability, physical and otherwise, a woman, a lesbian. At another I am petrified at the prospect of advocating for my identity. Of doing so on behalf of others. I am wondering why this role isn’t already taken. And to consider it in the face of privilege that knocked me sideways a couple of weeks ago. It’s normal  another colleague said.  Unacceptable, but normal.  And that gives me hope. My sense of happiness at finally being who I truly am, and with someone whom I truly love, gives me hope. There are people out there who see heterosexist privilege as unacceptably normal. And that means it needs to change, there is appetite for it to change. Some colleagues say that they support the charter. Even if I am not the most assertive button in the box, I am a button. I can be useful. I will be useful.

 

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Arrested Development

 Midsummer. Just gone. And I’m back in London, waiting for the coach to Taizé – to peace – to reconciliation.

Reconciliation with what? I’ve spent the last few months being busy. Super-busy. Too much so to stop and reflect. Busy with teaching  – we are under-staffed and much of my teaching is going from scratch in a revamped programme next year. With research. My students are helping me with writing and data collection and this is good and productive. And tiring. And busy with travel at weekends. With having fun and enjoying myself, my relationships, because I have learnt how to do that these last few years.

And now I must stop. Stop and wait. As ever, I have resisted looking ahead at this year’s proposals for thought and action from the prior. These are what I will stop for. Unknown challenges. 

This time, I will arrive at Taizé more exhausted than ever I have before. The missing wheel on my suitcase an apt metaphor for my faltering progress to this point. I research. I teach. I have fun and fulfilling relationships. But a year later, I have not been able to stop the medication. Every time I have tried, I have ended up teary and weak and wobbly. Quite literally on my knees. I am still not well. And I have not stopped for so long that much as I long for Taizé, I am scared of what lies ahead. 

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Home warming

The last time I wrote about Scotland, it was not home. Home then was the arms of my girlfriend, the understanding of friends, and T.C., and the reconciliation of Taizé. Scotland was other and scary and very, very North.

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Home still is these things. When I go South, to my girlfriend, to friends, or to Taizé, I feel like I am returning home. For the first few months, I was here, returning from the South coast to Scotland, was being  flung into the cold and unfamiliar and the devastatingly lonely. My colleagues referred to my previous hometown as ‘down South’. To me it was not ‘South’. (when you grow up in Devon, anything North of London is ‘up North’). It was home. In Scotland, only my cat knew how I felt.

Returning home yesterday, from the South coast, in the sun and dry and blue sky, I realised, for the first time, I was looking forward to being –  home. To returning to a job that suits me to the ground, to my peachy students, to my cat, who for all her aloofness, does miss me, and to a quirky little town, that is now familiar and where I am known. I have connections here now. 

It would be easy to dismiss this as ‘blue sky thinking’. The sun makes everything seem better. Once upon a time, I would have dismissed this feeling as just that. The  light at the end of the tunnel is the headlamp of the oncoming train. But it’s not. It’s not. The challenges of difficult colleagues and family and housing-related crises remain. I know that. 

But they are not all that there is anymore. I am looking forward to a future in Scotland where I can be wholly me around others, where my girlfriend wants to join me, where I can work a job I love. Where I am *living* rather than hiding from life. I am happy in the town where I live.

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Release

Let all that is unforgiven in you be released; let all that is unlived in you be lived, with grace.

So preached Rev. Prof. Mark Williams, just over a year ago, at the conclusion to his service that day. 

Then, I was literally and psychologically in the middle of the therapeutic community work I was doing. I was mired in self-loathing and unemployment and general overwhelm of uselessness and futility and hopelessness. My personality, God-given or otherwise, was disordered. I was fundamentally ***** up. I was never going to be forgiven. I was never going to be brave enough to live my truth. I was angry. 

A year later, I can see that I was fundamentally wrong. Not in being angry. Nor in needing to process the trauma that led to a personality disorder. But in the belief that a blessing would immediately come to fruition.

Because, a year later,  I am *living* . A lot of the things that I desperately wanted then, I now have. I have a full-time job that suits me down to the ground. I started when I saw the tapestried words on this banner. They jarred with what I am used to seeing in a church. Now, I am seeking membership of that church.  And I have a partner who allows me to be and to grow into the person God is forming me to be. I am not hiding anymore. Rather, I am affirmed by her and through her.

Forgiveness is harder.  Forgiving myself. The hardest relationship I have is with myself. Not allowing me to beat myself with internalised homophobia. Or with feelings of worthlessness if work doesn’t get done as I planned is hard work.

This week, over five years after first setting foot in it, six months after leaving the therapeutic community, I am to be discharged from the service. Cut loose. Released to the assurance that I am able to set my own boundaries and stick with them.

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I am scared I may fall. I need to trust that the God who has released me will catch me, as She has before. Will set me free again, and again, and again.

 

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Abundance

I’ve had a really good week. On Monday, I submitted a paper at the eleventh hour of it being due, to a journal. I learnt that my prayers have been accepted for the next denominational prayer handbook (the logic of prayer acceptability is fodder for a whole other post, but it made me happy). 

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On Tuesday, post-interview, my hours were increased to full-time. And I was brave, and asked for an earlier start date than was advertised, and I got it. Just like that. So I will be teaching child development and the ontology of prejudice and bullying to Psychology and to Education students. A job doesn’t get more me-ish than that. I am a Lecturer. When this was announced to the other psychology lecturers, I looked up (lesson learnt from therapeutic community) and saw their congratulations, and that felt good, too. 

I am also a researcher. I got back my ethics forms this week, with only minor revisions requested, and went through them with my research group. So my carefully laden research plans should be able to go ahead after all. And I am getting on with writing and planning, and doing my job. 

On Thursday, I returned to Brownies. And had an evening of trash fashion (think newspaper skirts) and mayhem and –

Life feels good. And weird. Uneasy. Feeling like this is unusual. Like, why am I not worrying about something. Should I not be anxious and stressed and worrying? What have I forgotten to worry about? The light at the end of the tunnel is the headlight of the oncoming train, isn’t it? 

God, help me to relax, and to enjoy the living you offer. 

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Neverending Knot

My mother got me a season ticket to the local zoo for my birthday this year. It is one of the best presents ever. I love hanging out there. Only the addition of some pachyderms would make it better. The animals just are. For whatever reason they find themselves there (the zoo has several previously maltreated creatures) they live, they breathe, they sleep, eat, (roar) and repeat. 

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Watching them helps to calm the knots of stress and anxiety I seem to be permanently tangled within. Christmas has gone.  Christmas was stress-filled. 

Awake, I am *constantly*  wondering what the next thing to go wrong will be, scared about job security, housing, relationships, my parents’ failing health. Scared I should be doing more. Fearful of the sheer amount of academic work I have to do, and how the hell I am going to juggle it with cat-care and students, when it involves travel away from home in term-time. About how long the ethics panel are taking to process my research applications. Whether the funding will become defunct if they take much longer. 

Awake, I am ever hyper-vigilant to whom I might have affronted, offended or upset, by omission or commission. The anxious thoughts circle perpetually around my mind. A never ending what if. I want to scream. I did meltdown completely a few days ago. I am scared I did not work hard enough in therapy. That wouldn’t happen anymore, if I had. I would be able to cope with life. It feels like I cannot.

I am struggling to sleep. It is a farce to say I no longer self-harm. The skin on my hands is picked and peeled back, my feet are in tatters. Eating is hard again. I am exhausted and wary of the low mood baying at my door. Trying to be gentle on myself in this state is tough. 

I’m frightened of the consequences  of being and doing wrong. 

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Identifying the Imposter

Christmas is slowly approaching in Scotland. I say slowly, because in spite of the chill air that has been around for months, time still ticks past perceptibly. Once, in my previous home, it raced by. Now,  no amount of rhythm or routine seems to encourage its passage. 

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I have finished teaching for another year. Time moves a bit quicker then, in class. And my fear of student teaching evaluations seems unfounded. Some even commented that I am a good lecturer. That I make things interactive; am friendly and approachable. And yet. This doesn’t sit right with me. I wonder why they said that. Remind myself that more students than did, didn’t bother doing an evaluation. That I had attendance at less than a third in the last few lectures.

I don’t trust positive evaluation. In my head, running through those lectures was a commentary denouncing my ignorance, my stupidity for not having prepared harder. You don’t know what you’re talking about. I had meant to say more. Froze: couldn’t remember what I was trying to say. Surely some students must have picked up on this. The ones who stopped attending. 

Why do student evaluations matter so much? In spite of years of therapy why do I base my self-worth on what a cohort of 18 yos think of me? Objectively, 18 yos are not the most discerning evaluators of my teaching. I can barely remember, defined, any one of my lectures from my first degree, even though I attended every single teaching session on offer. I remember sitting through them in a quasi-daydream, counting the slides remaining, wondering at the lecturers’ lack of fashion sense, in paper notes swapped with classmates. Playing tennis with others as they paced the theatre. At the end of the day, I didn’t know if the lecturers were clear communicators, because I hadn’t paid enough attention to work that out. Module evaluations weren’t a thing then.

Therapy would suggest that it matters because my bottom line says ‘I am rotten to the core’. Therefore, what I do needs to compensate for that. If it does not, I am at sea. It is silly to care so much about what students think of me. 

I have exciting plans for teaching next year. New ways in which I will be allowed to develop modules. I have had two revise-and resubmit returns on my academic writing in the past two weeks. I need to have more confidence in my own ability to teach and research and know what I am talking about. I need to set teaching in its place as part of what I do, not as part of who I am. I need to remember what I am. That my judgement of myself is what matters, not what others think. I am not an imposter in my life. I am the one living it. 

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