Friday, January 25, 2019

Thoughts On Privilege

Thoughts on Privilege
Michelle Paquette

The “white privilege” phrase touches on fragility in some folks, so I have been dodging it a bit to engage others in conversations on culture and privilege.  The underlying issue has a broader impact than just race, unfortunately.  Cultural racial biases are just one of the more obvious symptoms.

Western European Colonialism has a long history of what we now see as a fairly offensive behavior, starting with the sending of expeditions to take ‘new’ lands from the peoples and civilizations that had long lived there.  Well established and thriving cultures which had practices different from those that the Western European theocracy thought proper were ‘corrected’, and the ‘savages’ were taught proper Western European values, from religious practices to cultural imperatives.  Concepts such as indentured servitude and slavery were introduced or if present, modified, putting the Western European colonizers at the top of the social structure and the indigenous people at the bottom. The culture was such that this was seen as beneficial to the indigenous peoples, that the “little brown people” (a phrase from the literature of the time!) were somehow being “saved” by these practices.

Many of the assumptions and practices of this culture persist to this day, granting greater privilege to the descendants of those Western Europeans, and still putting the descendants of the slaves, the servants and the indigenous peoples lower on the pecking order.

When we talk of privilege, we are not speaking of a magical superpower, or something that makes one feel special.  The privilege we have is something we have swam in our whole life, and just as a fish does not see the water, we do not see our privilege, until we can compare it with the privilege another has.

When I walk down the street, I tend to be a bit nervous, apprehensive.  I worry about some strange man straight-arming me.  I know there are shops I am not permitted in.  This is my level of privilege.

I also can look at others.  Men who walk down the street, a big stride, arms swinging wide.  They can enter shops that I cannot.  I am expected to step out of their path, and if I fail to do so, they will walk straight up to me, stop just short of me, and blink as if startled that I am in their way.  They may say ‘Excuse me’, before they step past.  They have more privilege than I do.

They do not realize that they have this privilege, of course.  They are swimming in it.

The work we are engaged in involves looking within, recognizing the privilege each of us holds, and recognizing when we exert that privilege in ways that may cause harm to another.  My goal is to help bring about a world in which all enjoy privilege consistent with the worth and dignity of every human being.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

How Can I Learn If You Won’t Teach Me?

How Can I Learn If You Won’t Teach Me?
Michelle Paquette

In recent conversations, I was exposed yet again to persons of privilege indicating that it was the responsibility of marginalized persons to teach them.  While marginalized persons may have the knowledge or experience that a person of privilege wants to gain, it really is not their responsibility to serve as tutor.  Learning is the responsibility of the person of privilege, and transferring that responsibility to the marginalized persons is an act of privilege.

Now, a marginalized person may very well understand their experience and the issues that they face.  They are engaged with these issues on a daily basis, and yearn for the time when persons of privilege will listen and take in their experience.  That ask by a person of privilege tugs at their yearning, their hope that others will listen, learn, and improve the social environment.  That ask can produce a sense of gratitude, that some privileged person actually values them in some way.

That ask also serves to reinforce the hierarchy between persons of privilege and the marginalized person, however.  Rather than use the hundreds or thousands of resources available on the subject available to the privileged person, whether via the internet, the book store, the library, or professional training and classes, the marginalized person is expected to perform on demand.  That, after all, is their place as an inferior, to accede to one’s demands as a person of privilege.

By insisting that they can only learn if the marginalized person right then and there sacrifices further hours of time going over the ground that they have covered so often in the past, the person of privilege can successfully make the marginalized person question themselves, and the value that sharing their knowledge and experience brings to the table.  With repetition, this experience may succeed in driving the marginalized person away altogether.  

With this transfer of responsibility for education to the marginalized person, the person of privilege communicates that they would very much like to learn, but if the marginalized person fails to respond and educate on demand they are responsible for holding the person of privilege back, preventing them from becoming properly compassionate, understanding, and better connected.  It becomes not the fault of the person of privilege, but blame is dropped squarely on the marginalized person for failing to grant them the boon of education.

This demand, then, becomes another act of privilege, reminding the marginalized person of their lesser privilege, putting them in their place yet again.

Now, as a marginalized person I do care about these issues, and am willing to educate others.  My willingness does not make the education of others my responsibility, however.  Persons who would like me to provide them with information, education, or knowledge need to make a little effort, and show up at a time and place where I am prepared and willing to do this work for them.

It is not my responsibility to educate others.  It is their responsibility to learn, to do the work, engage in even the most basic efforts.  Buy the book, read the article, listen to the recording, watch the video.  Show up for the class.  It is not my responsibility to digest the material and spoon-feed it to others on demand.  

Even marginalized persons have other demands on their lives, other obligations beyond being at the beck and call of privileged persons.  Even marginalized persons have work to do, classes to attend, family to care for.  Privilege does not grant a greater priority on the time of a marginalized person than their own needs demand.

Persons of privilege are not entitled to monopolize the time and energy of marginalized persons merely to sate their own curiosity.  There are other resources available, at very modest effort.  Google it, for goodness sakes!  Read a book.  There are plenty of resources with the information desired already distilled into bits easily swallowed.

If a marginalized person should point out that some behavior is offensive, recognize that they are not taking on the obligation to correct that behavior.  That is the task and responsibility of the offender, to gracefully accept the indication, and do the work to verify and correct that behavior as needed.

If a marginalized person sets aside time to educate others, as a class nor presentation for example, any person of privilege with interest should make the effort to attend.  The marginalized person is offering a gift.  Never assume that the marginalized person will be willing to repeat their class or presentation one-on-one with a person of privilege who failed to attend.  That, once again, is merely an exercise in privilege and serves to put the marginalized person in their place as a person of lesser privilege.

My conversations with people of privilege often feel like I am repeatedly pounding my head against a brick wall.  Oh, sure, if I do it long enough, perhaps I will leave a mark, but it certainly is not comfortable.  And honestly, there are times when I would like to take a break, just enjoy a nice cup of coffee and perhaps some chocolate cake, without having to slam my head into the wall again.

There is no need to remind me that if I only cared about my issues, I should be willing to step up and slam my head into that wall again, surely a small price to pay for a better world!  Unless,of course, the real goal is to slam me down yet again, in the hope that I will go away and stop making the privileged feel slightly uncomfortable.

Are persons of privilege willing to step up, and take responsibility for their own education?

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Rite of Passage: The Mammogram at Kaiser...

It’s a rite of passage. 

I am sitting in a medical building on a Saturday morning awaiting my first mammogram.   I’m all nerves and “what-ifs”.   We shall see.

Here we go. 


Four images, vertical and at 45 degrees. A fairly hard pinch after considerable tugging by the tech. But, it’s done. 

I wasn’t lectured on not doing this earlier. I wasn’t misgendered. Nobody even mentioned my trans origins. I was just another woman.   That was nice, actually. 

Good images, according to the tech. Now they go to the radiologist. 


Kaiser just called.

The radiologist wants me at their mammography center over in Martinez, for further imaging and possible ultrasound on my left breast.

I’m hoping that my issue is just dense tissue.  The left side is less developed.  Let’s face it, Tanner Stage 2-3 mammaries on a 65 year old is sort of odd.

Tuesday night...  The Kaiser automated reminder system reminded me I have an appointment tomorrow.  Yeah.  I’m aware of it.  It takes me a while to finally get to sleep.

Wednesday morning, already?  I didn’t sleep all that well.  It’s 5:30AM, and I was planning on getting up a little after 6.  Ah, well.  Might as well get up now.  

I start my oatmeal to simmering, then take a quick shower and get dressed.  No deodorant or powders, per the Kaiser message’s instructions.  I brew my coffee, just one cup for now, and collect my oatmeal.  Breakfast...

I catch up on my mail and messages, and peek at the news while eating.  No new disasters out in the world to distract me, so I finish up and get my stuff together.  Out to the car, and off to Martinez...

I arrive at the Kaiser campus and park.  Yes, campus, with a hospital, and a number of outbuildings.  I want the Hacienda building.  There are signs and maps, and I eventually find the building.  They even have good signage inside the buildings.  I follow the arrows with the pink ribbon markers to the Mammography Clinic, and queue up, about 20 minutes early.

Pay the copay.  Collect one gown, and head to the Female Patient Lounge.  Yes, that is the sign by the door!  There is a waiting room with seats and sofas of the Kaiser sort, and a set of dressing rooms in back.  I’m shown to one, and swap top and bra for the usual breezy exam gown, bag my own clothing, and head to the waiting room.

After a few minutes a tech finds me, and brings me to an imaging room, where once again I face the Hologic boob smasher.   Three images are taken.

The first image this time is horizontal.  The second is another 45 degree shot, at right angles to the one done last Saturday.  The third is another 45 degree shot, with a special extra-squeezy plate loaded in the machine.


Ok, the images look good, so they go off to the radiologist, and I go back to the waiting room.

After about 20 minutes, which I occupy with getting a cup of coffee and doing a little reading, another person summons me to the door, and then takes me aside and starts whispering to me.  Uh oh....

Calm... calm... listen to the words. OK, there is a little problem (Hey!  Blood pressure spikes!).  The radiologist wants to follow up with an ultrasound.  (Oh, that sort of problem.)  They can make an ‘appointment’ for an immediate scan and followup with the radiologist, but there will be an additional copay.  (Oh, is THAT all?)

So, I go to the admitting desk in the clinic, pay the ticket, and head back to the waiting room.  The appointment is in 15 minutes.  No big deal.

The ultrasound tech finds me, and escorts me to the Ultrasound Room.  I get to pop the top, and lie on my back, one arm behind my head.  Gel and probe time.

Goddess be praised!  They actually warmed the gel and probe!  I lie back and think of England.  Why can’t they make a decent steak?  And what’s with Manchester United, anyway?

The tech says she has good images, and they are off to the radiologist, who will be there in a few minutes.  I get to rest on the table, with a warmed, soft towel over my breasts.  (I am starting to think women were involved in equipping and procedural planning for this facility.)

Another young woman knocks and enters.  This is my radiologist!  She decides to look at a few spots, so I get a little more warm gel applied, and spend a few minutes holding still.   Mmmmm... Hmmmm...  OK.  No problems.

I have a little dense tissue that made imaging tricky, and since they had no baseline in the Kaiser records, they wanted to be very sure about whether or not there was a problem.  Next time should be much easier as they will be able to check for changes against the baseline.

So, clean checkup, just the common dense breast tissue.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

‘The Time Is Always Right To Do What Is Right'

‘The Time Is Always Right To Do What Is Right'
 - Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We are exactly where we were 50 years ago.  “Don’t ask.  Don’t tell.  Try your best to pass as a straight heterosexual cisgender person.”  We are told to wait, that it is not our time.

We led the protests and were in the front line at Cooper Do-nuts in 1959, at Compton’s Cafeteria in 1966, at Stonewall in 1969.  We were told to wait, it is not our time.  The gay community pushed back, seeing transgender people as “not liberated” for seeking to secure access to competent and respectful legal and medical services, while the gay liberation movement sought to free their community from being seen as a medical or psychological problem.

We are exactly where we were a dozen years ago.  The federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, ENDA, was to eliminate all employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.  PFLAG and other groups lobbied for transgender inclusion in ENDA, and the primary lobbyist for ENDA, the Human Rights Campaign, included transgender folks in their action.  In September 2007 Congressman Barney Frank polled and determined that transgender inclusivity would cause ENDA to fail, and split the bill into one for sexual orientation and one for gender identity.  HRC endorsed the “sexual orientation only” version of the bill, once more telling the transgender community to wait, that it is not our time.

I have protested the lack of inclusion of transgender persons in modern programs to educate others on treatment and respect for marginalized persons.  I have been told to wait, that it is not our time yet.

I was a transgender person in the US Navy, not out, but a dedicated and patriotic person there to serve my country and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign AND domestic.  Transgender people have served with honor, for decades.  We proudly and patriotically volunteered to serve in our nations armed forces, and we feel this assault doubly on our identity, on who we are.  Our brothers, our sisters, our family and allies have been targeted.  We know the price of freedom, and this test of our freedom and resolve cannot be allowed to stand.  Being transgender but not out made life considerably harder.

Yet, we are told to wait, that it is not our time yet.

“I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely rational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this 'hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.”
 - Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail”

“Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

“I fought for you.  Will you fight for me?”

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Call to Worship for January 13, 2019

Call to Worship for January 13, 2019, at Mt. Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church


Change. It’s something that we do all our lives. I’ve come to believe there are two different sorts of change. There is change that we engage in for self-improvement, to try and make ourselves or the world around us all better. Then there is the sort of change that doesn’t really help ourselves, but changes us to meet the expectations of others.

When I was a little girl I sometimes would do or say things that made others uncomfortable with me. The sort of friends that I had, the things I liked to play with, the other girls who were my friends, even the way I moved bothered other people.  Others wanted to change me, make me into something that I simply wasn’t.

You see, as a little girl I happened to have some male anatomy.  This sort of mismatch makes me what is now called a transgender person.

Eventually, pressure from my parents, my peers, and our religious leaders forced me to change.  They wanted me to be a boy, a young man, something that was far outside of what I could be.  I learned instead how to hide myself, and pretend to be a young man, suppressing parts of my expression and emotional life, exaggerating other bits, to become an unpleasant, emotionally distant, and angry person.  These changes were good enough, and I was declared to be a proper young man, cured.

This was that bad sort of change, changing myself into something I wasn’t.  It let me live, sort of.  I was in fear of slipping, of being discovered hiding behind that persona.  It turns out that over time, living in hiding, failing to live as ones authentic self, will corrode one’s soul.

After a half century, I cracked, then shattered.  That finally let the light in.

I’ve spent the past three years going through another change.  This was a change I wanted and needed to do.  It was change for myself, to improve myself and truly cure what had ailed me, a good sort of change.

I picked up the pieces.  I discarded the bits that didn’t fit, and rediscovered my emotionally complete self.  I let my core personality out to grow, and flourish.   I kept other, useful bits from that old persona.  I’m a woman who is not afraid to use this (shows tool), or work with this (shows equations).  I filled in the cracks with gold.

With this change, I feel that I have done something positive for myself.  I feel vastly better for this.

When we are faced with a need to change ourselves, we have to ask ourselves why.  Do we need to change to fulfill someone else’s needs or wants?  Or is this change something that we need to do, for ourselves?  Would we be changing to be accepted by others, or by ourselves? 

The First Principle: The inherent worth and dignity of every person.

That’s truly a wonderful thing.

We don’t have to change for others here to see our inherent worth and dignity as we gather today to worship together.
Thank you