090421 | LOG || Transformation hacking with speculative language strategies
#DocumentingPresence #DisruptorMechanism #FieldProtocol || VIDEO || #SpeculativeLinguisticModel #ReOrientation || #Language #Neuroplasticity #Habit #Mimesis #Perception #Evolution #Gender #Pronouns #Neopronouns #Trans #Nonbinary #LGBTQIA #Identity #Feminism #Place #Disability #Access #Education ||
Summary: An offering about perception and language in particular, and how we might begin to make profound shifts to the ways we see, perceive and ultimately know through a few specific linguistic hacks, re/orienting our relationship to gender, disability, and place — no matter how we identify or where we live. And, some thoughts on how we can implement these strategies not only as facilitators or educators, but regardless of our “role,” in our daily lives and shared spaces. We close by thinking about what it means to envision a future beyond the collapse and end we fear — how to make alternatives feel concrete, tangible and possible through the use of explicit tools and methods, like these, and move us beyond freeze and despair. [see Medium post for full written notes / transcript.]
In the wake of the Texas ruling and after my first weeks of classes and institutional meetings, I find myself thinking about a few seemingly disparate things and how they intersect in ways that can be incredibly productive for us at this time — so I hope that the breakdown, and strategies I offer here today can be useful for you. Drop me a line to let me know what you think and/or if you end up employing any of these ideas in your interactions, classroom, or in other ways!
Ok, so: something I’ve been thinking about a lot these last few weeks is the use of gender identity pronouns, and the ways we use them (or don’t) in institutional settings, like meetings, and in the classroom both online and off (specifically, but also in the world). Related to this (and I’ll explain why in a minute) is both the use of indigenous place-names as well as accessible elements such as visual descriptions. And then, the thing that perhaps seems far afield (but really isn’t) is “feminism,” but really encompasses the rights and lives of humans who are not cis-gendered men.
I’ll say here first what I said to my students this week about the reason why I introduce myself with my pronouns whenever I meet someone, and why I ask them to use them not only in introductions but also why they should make a habit of including the pronouns they use not only when introducing themselves, but also in their online screen names, without prompting: because establishing a need to ask for pronouns when you meet or see someone is about something far bigger than whomever might be trans or nonbinary in the room.
What’s really happening is that we are causing a critical shift in one of the major ways we make an assumption that you can know things about another person simply by looking at them — which is, more often than not, wrong. This is important for cis-gendered people too: when we include our pronouns, we say, I know I cannot make this assumption about others when we look at them, and therefore we know that you cannot make this assumption about us, and therefore, of course, we’d need to share this information so that we can interact with mutual understanding. This is a huge, enormous win for every single person, every single body’s claim at their own autonomy — and the discomfort it causes is seismic, because it both introduces the notion that each of us has the capacity to claim, name, and write the story of our own identity in ways we were told were unavailable to us, and it creates friction and refusal for those who wish to control or define the bodies and identities of others.
The use and introduction of new language, and repeating this enough to create new neural pathways (in the way we must anytime we are establishing new habits or patterns) is something I call the “Speculative Linguistic Model” in my set of Disruptor Mechanism Protocols — which, as I’ve mentioned before, are part of the larger “How to Human” tongue-in-cheek (but also not) series of strategies for participating in our own evolutionary rewiring, both individually and collectively.
When we introduce new language consistently enough around something we’re interacting with, participating in, or perceiving, we begin to establish a new pattern there and eventually our relationship to that thing, idea, experience, or person changes — we’ve all seen this over the last year in a variety of ways, as language like “essential worker” or “social distancing” made its way into our collective psyche and usage patterns.
As anyone holding space — even interpersonally, but especially when we are hosting events and facilitating or teaching in a classroom or other institutional or organizational setting, and or as an employer, manager, parent, or leader — we are not only setting the tone but defining the parameters within with another person or persons are meant to engage with us, with each other, and often the world. Sometimes this is a suggestion, sometimes we are “teaching” these ways of being as a way of sharing or passing on knowledge, and sometimes it comes in the form of an order or command.
Sometimes it happens in the ways we *model* behaviors, and demonstrate by personally illustrating, perhaps over and over, ways of being, speaking, and engaging with language, things, and ideas. Classrooms, workshops, and other explicit learning spaces in particular are those in which the dynamic has been agreed upon, and the facilitator or educator has been granted the role of knowledge bearer, and so when we are in that role, what we model (whether or not we have considered it explicitly) has by default a didactic nature.
Right now we are dealing with a situation in which faculty are being forced into situations of dubious ethics and potential physical danger, carrying out the fiscally driven directives of institutions who are insisting upon in person classes and other activities, as the Delta Variant of COVID rages, sending even the vaccinated to the hospital in droves. Faculty are being put in a particularly hard situation because those who are thinking about what their actions model for young people and adults know that their participation in questionable situations shows students that these things are ok, and that their position as knowledge bearers makes their actions more significant than that of a peer.
Let’s return to pronouns, and bring in the use of indigenous place-names as well as visual access descriptions and other markers: the implementation, repeat use, and ultimately modeling of the use of these on a frequently basis as a space-holder begins to assist others in the re-wiring of their neural relationship to perception in ways that have profound implications. Here, we have the opportunity to remind ourselves and others that we not only cannot make assumptions about what we see when talking about gender, but also about how we learn and what others with different bodies and brains might be experiencing. When we get in the habit of using pronouns not because we are trans or nonbinary or because there is another person who is not cis gender present, and when we get in the habit of using visual descriptions whether or not there is someone visually impaired present, we are doing absolutely vital work in re/orienting the way our brain and body and senses relate to the information we receive, and the assumptions we have been conditioned to make about being in the world and being with others.
The same goes for place names: when we make land acknowledgements, we trouble the collective forgetting around the history that produced the current maps we’re using. It is not only an essential reminder of the indigenous peoples all over the world whose relationship to the lands we now call by other names predated the brutal and bloody ways these names came to be, but also insists that we remember that these names are invented, and that the fact that we perceive these “places” — just like we perceive each other — in these ways is not “natural,” but rather the result of years of conditioning.
It’s not surprising, as I said before, that implementing these shifts gets so much pushback, or perhaps even that people who one would expect to champion them (like my colleagues, still not using pronouns in meetings nor with their students) — we are exhausted by what capital’s seemingly inevitable machines require of us, and these places where our relationship to perception begins to change erodes our relationship to participation in ways that can be painful, alarming, and add even more difficulty to the things that are already a challenge — for many of us, trauma around how we came to erase or ignore our own identities, trauma around ignored needs of the body, and trauma around the violent past of our countries, our ancestors, or even our families can come up in ways we often don’t have the tools to address, and more immediately don’t feel we have the time to address.
Which means that many people give lip service to these things, perhaps even wanting quite genuinely to honor the identity and history of others whom this more obviously appears to benefit, while not really stopping to ask how all of us benefit from this troubling and the autonomy it offers and champions. It’s scary to recognize our power and that of others, it’s scary and disorienting to realize your identity belongs to you in ways you never knew it could, and perhaps a well of anger or sadness follows this admission.
But when we look at the sorts of legislation making its way into the highest courts, from what’s happening in Texas around abortion to the water protectors fighting the pipelines (and being prosecuted for it) to bathroom bills, battles around ADA accessibility and the alarming failure of our system to support disabled people in any real, livable manner, and any number of other lawmaking we see all the ways in which our relationship to our capacity to see and know the autonomy of others, to understand the institutionally conditioned nature of our perception could make seismic change. Ultimately it’s about shifting our relationship to who controls knowledge, and decentralizing those forms of control. It is the beginning of a larger series of re/orientations around what it means to be human, in relationship to our bodies, each other, and all other things living and non on the planet, made possible by rewiring the pathways that have been conditioned by institutional ways of knowing for all our lives.
Ha! Just a little light conversation for a Saturday in September.
I hope this has been useful and maybe given you ways you can begin implementing these ideas in your own daily practice, even alone, and in spaces you share with others. What does it mean to introduce yourself with pronouns every single time you meet someone? To talk to your kids about that? To make sure you know what indigenous peoples traditionally lived where you live, what they called the land you live and work on, and/or those who lived in the places you travel? To use this language for your business, in the media you produce, in publications and other “official” record keeping? To think about how the words you use or work you make affects or can be used (or not) by other bodies? These are not only thoughts for teachers, they are thoughts for all of us, as humans, which help us move towards potential change.
I, for one, have not given up. I think there is a different future ahead, and the more we can begin to envision it, to strategize it and work through tangible, practical ways of beginning to shift — like these — the less we might despair. I see a lot of despair, a lot of giving up in the face of so many crises that perhaps seem to herald inevitable end, and I think a lot of that has to do with the challenge of seeing and imagining alternatives in anything but the most abstract of ways. So let’s make it concrete together. Let’s work through specific strategies and draw out the elements and infrastructures and ways of being and knowing and seeing that we will share in the other, the future beyond the end, so that it can feel more like a beginning lies ahead.
I love you.