How to Have Hard Conversations

this week is audio from my virtual presentation at the Secular Student Alliance virtual conference. I talked about how to have some of the hard conversations we’re having right now about racial justice, gender, sexuality, and other topics where we might be trying to bring someone around to a different point of view

Callie: [00:00:00] Shouts out to Jamie and Nico for becoming new patrons this week. Thank you friends. Love you lots. Heads up. There is a discussion of sexual assault in this week’s episode. Take care of yourself, friend. My name is Callie Wright and this is Queersplaining.

Now is a season for difficult conversations. The last few years have been especially, but it’s always been important. My social media feeds have been filled with people asking how to navigate hard conversations with their friends, family, and coworkers, other folks in their lives. The Secular Student Alliance took their convention online this year and they asked me if I wanted to do a virtual talk about how to have difficult conversations. This is something I do pretty often. And sometimes I do okay at it. I don’t always live up to my own ideals on it, but I wanted to offer the framework I use when having these conversations with other people. How do we bring folks around to thinking differently on an issue? So this week is my presentation from the virtual Secular Student Alliance convention on how to have difficult conversations.

So, yeah, so, like Ryan said, my name is Callie. my pronouns are they them. among a lot of things. I am a roller Derby player, champion hugger, Star Trek fanatic. And I make a podcast called Queersplaining, which is a storytelling podcast that centers the lives of queer and trans folks. And, you know, like I said, we’re here to talk about how to have different, difficult conversations.

And obviously there’s like probably days and weeks and months worth of material, but I wanted to do this and leave folks with a, with like really relevant, actionable stuff that you can take into conversations that you’re having this moment in history. But also just moving forward as you’re having difficult conversations about, lots of things in life.

And so when we say conversations, we can mean a lot of different things. And that’s one of the reasons that this topic gets so complex. Right? But for the purposes of this presentation, I’m gonna be talking specifically about the kinds of conversations we’re having right now about things like racial justice, police brutality, gender and sexuality, and, and specifically the one-on-one or small group type of conversations that we’re having with like friends, family loved ones, coworkers and people in our social circles. And what I want to do is leave you better equipped to have these sorts of conversations effectively, in ways that will actually help you advance whatever cause is at the center of them.

Now of course, racial justice is obviously the most intense one at this point. but what I’m going to teach you today, I think can be applied to pretty much any issue where you’re trying to maybe bring someone around to a different point of view. And so what I’m going to present you with is actually a framework, like a way of thinking about how you conduct these conversations and hopefully change minds, obviously getting into specifics, like really granular specifics is difficult because no two conversations are the same and no two people are the same, but I think this framework can be applied pretty broadly. And then when I’m done with my, I’ll leave some time for some Q and a, and if there’s more specific stuff, more specific stuff that you want addressed, then we can talk about that. 

And so the first thing that I want to talk about is deciding to have the conversation. And I think this is an important first question to ask because there are people who believe that literally every situation and every argument is worth debate and discourse. And I will just tell you up front, I am not one of those people. for one, there are times when shutting down a discussion is absolutely the appropriate response. Like if I’m out with my friends and someone starts saying some really awful transphobic shit to me, I don’t want my friends to approach that person and engage them in a Socratic round table discussion where they dissect their ideas and have an intellectual debate.

Right? I want my friends to help me out of that situation and to make it stop because those things can be really hurtful and even dangerous sometimes, if we don’t stop those things in their tracks. And so I’m thinking about like your racist uncle going off in the comment section of your Facebook page, for example, you need to consider what that might do to your non white friends and maybe like that particular time and place isn’t where you have that discussion, right?

Sometimes you want to prioritize, ending the hurtful or harmful situations. So that’s the first thing that I want to name. But assuming that’s not the case and there’s not like an immediately acute harm or hurt that’s being caused. You might want to try to engage in a conversation with someone about their views and hopefully help them try to see things differently or change their mind.

And I have a sort of three step process that I go through when I’m trying to figure out whether it makes sense to engage in a discussion or not. And so before I tell you how to have these conversations. I want to give you my thoughts on how to decide whether a potential conversation is even worth the effort, because I think that’s a really important question to ask, upfront.

So the first one thing that we want to consider is your positionality, right? Where do you, as a person fit into this conversation, what level of privilege do you have relative to the issue at hand is kind of what I’m getting at, to give a very current example. I think white people talking to other white people about race is critical.

Someone who has made no effort to address their implicit or explicit racism is surely going to listen to me as a white person, more than they would a person of color. Right? On the other hand, A cis person who’s trying to deny trans identity is probably not going to listen to me. So a cis person might be more effectively able to have that conversation than I could.

and it’s also generally speaking, more exhausting and damaging to you to argue these things, the closer you are to them. And that matters too. And so that’s a thing to consider. For me personally, I tend to think of my social obligation to engage in discourse rises in proportion to my privilege.

Right? So I, I do feel very obligated to engage in conversations with other white people about race. I feel far less obligated to handhold a cis person through their denial of my identity as a trans person. and this is a super difficult calculation to make, right? Like putting it in those terms can make it sound like it’s simple, but it’s not, it’s, it’s not binary.

It’s not simple. and that’s part of the reason that like, I need to be here giving this talk. Right? But I do think that is a crucial first step. And so the second question you want to answer is, do you know your shit? Right? I think it is really, really rad that a lot of people are more willing than ever to have these hard conversations.

But I saw somebody on Twitter. they, they, they said like we’re a white people are cramming for the test on race. Right now. so we’ve got centuries and centuries of bullshit around race, and, and other conversations, gender, and class and disability and all of that sort of stuff. We have centuries to unpack, and so I think it’s really, really important that we do our best to know our ship before we start engaging in these talks with other people. and I get that this is like a really urgent need right now. But if you enter into this conversation poorly equipped, it is possible that you can do more harm than good.

And that’s not to say that you have to have like a PhD level expertise on these things. cause if that was true, we’d engage in almost nothing. Right? But I do think it’s really important that you put on a lot of work to understand the issues that you’re talking about before you decide to enter into those conversations.

So like, for example, in the current moment, I would say that like, if you’re white, you want to be very equipped to explain systemic racism versus individual racist acts. Right? Because then having these talks with other white folks, I find that tends to be the biggest stumbling block I run into.

Most people will acknowledge that individual racism exists, that like, you know, people throw out racial slurs and people think less of black people or brown people. but you’ll like far fewer people in my experience understand or acknowledge that racism is structural and systemic, as opposed to just like a few people with shitty opinions.

And then, so if you’re confident you do have some baseline knowledge and understanding. the next question you want to ask is, is there a good faith? The person that you’re thinking about engaging in this discussion with are they approaching the conversation in good faith? And what this means is that someone is approaching an interaction with a genuine, want to learn and understand, or a genuine want to be heard and be understood.

So like someone dropping in the Pepe, the frog meme, a bunch and talking about triggering the SJWs, probably not someone who is arguing in good faith. And I think those people are almost always a waste of time. So like when you hear someone talking about an issue, do they seem to be asking questions with a genuine want to understand? Are they actually trying to introduce information and argument to the situation and if they are, maybe it’s worth it to try to engage.

And then of course, once you’ve decided a particular conversation is worth your time and energy, because you think you can make a difference. Then we have to talk about how you have a conversation. Right? And, just put it super bluntly. A lot of times having these conversations is about managing the other person’s emotions.

whatever someone’s position in an argument, there’s almost certain to be an emotional reason for their position. And challenging their position sometimes means challenging a core piece of their identity or a story that they’ve told themselves that’s really, really important to them as a person. and so you never want to validate someone’s racism or sexism or homophobia, right?

You don’t want to say like, Oh, it’s okay for you to feel that way. But if you’re going to have these conversations, you want to figure out how to challenge them in a way that they don’t close off from you completely. And this is a tough balance to strike. I mentioned earlier that I think it’s important to be equipped, to explain things in terms of system and structures.

And I’ll give you an example of why. So humans are storytellers, right? We organize our lives in narratives. And when you ask someone why they believe a thing, generally, they’re going to tell you a story about why they feel the way that they do. Bad experiences that they’ve had. Other people’s stories, they’ve heard, stuff like that.

And so my goal is to help the other person see why their story means something different than they think it does. The goal is to provide context for their story that helps them see things differently. And so when I say we need to see — and when I say we need to help people see things systemically, this is why people are often simply giving the most weight to their own individual stories and ignoring the larger context, otherwise known as the systems that our stories existed.

Right? So a really good example of this. In 2015, I gave a talk at the American Humanist Association conference. Right? This was right around the time of HB2, which if you’re not familiar, it was the North Carolina bathroom bill. And, so the question of trans folks in public restrooms was like really, really fresh1on people’s minds.

And it was something that I referenced in the talk that I gave and. A woman stepped up during the Q and a to ask about trans folks in bathrooms. And she told me that she was a sexual assault victim and that she was just so worried about the prospect of bathrooms becoming less safe. Right? And. So let’s run through my formula.

What’s my positionality in this conversation, I am a trans person answering trans questions and that makes me vulnerable, but I was also on stage at a convention presenting myself as someone who will answer these kinds of questions. Right? So that’s fair game. Do I have the information? Well, I’m not a survivor of sexual assault.

I did help found an organization whose mission was to create community for sexual assault survivors. So generally speaking, I know my shit on both accounts. And finally was there good faith? my read of the situation was that she was being earnest. She was very, emotional and worked up. She was teary, her voice was shaking, and I really truly believe that she wanted trans folks to be safe and affirmed. But she wanted to be safe in the bathroom too. And in her mind, these goals were in conflict with one another. Hence her asking the question. And so I moved forward and the way that I addressed her concern was I said, look, I’m not a sexual assault survivor, but like this stuff is deadly serious to me.

And I know a lot about it. And given my experience and what I know, I know that 80% of sexual assaults are committed by someone close to the victim. And I said that I wanted us both to be safe. And it turns out that those goals aren’t actually in conflict with one another. And she said a quick thank you.

And we moved on. So the next question, and she found me later and she asked me for a hug and she was crying and she was like, you know what, you’re right. Because the person who assaulted me, it was my dad. And she thanked me for bringing that fact to her attention and, laying her fears. And so she realized was that like, while her fear was rooted in something very real, it was misplaced because she was missing really important information in context.

And so what happened in this interaction? Right? So, I’ll just repeat, because I think this is the crux. Everyone has a story or set of stories they tell themselves and others about why they believe what they believe. And I think the first step in getting someone to change their views and to have a healthy, productive conversation, is to understand the story that led a person to where they are, and you don’t have to agree with it. You don’t have to like it and you certainly don’t have to validate it, but I do think it is important to understand it.

So a goal that I always have in these conversations is to activate what I call them, to give-a-shit senses and they give-a-shit senses, are empathy, sympathy, and compassion. and I just want to give quick definitions for those empathy is feeling someone else’s feelings, right? So like you’re sad and I’m sad too, because of that.

Sympathy is where you understand someone else’s feelings, but don’t necessarily feel them. And compassion is the sense that you need to take action, relieve the suffering or hardship of someone else. You don’t need all three, but I do think it’s necessary to make someone else feel one of those before you can hope to have an effective, healthy, productive conversation.

And I think the first thing that you have to do to activate those senses is that you have to proactively give that first. Right? So. This person in my previous example, volunteered the information for why she felt the way that she did. But I think it’s important to ask people that question. Why do you feel the way that you do?

And when they tell you almost certainly, they’re going to tell you a story. Like my friend from the Q and A session told me, right, they’re going to tell you this thing happened to this person. This thing happened to me. Therefore, I feel this way. And I think it’s important to try to listen and understand.

And I need to be like really, really clear again, that you can do this without validating someone’s racism, homophobia, transphobia, and so on. You can make someone feel seen and heard without telling them that it’s okay to be those things. and in fact, I think it’s really vital that you thread that needle.

You want to trust that someone has given you an honest report of their feelings and experiences and believe them when they give you those things. If they tell you about something bad that happened, you can say like, shit, I am so sorry that happened to you. That must have been terrible. I’m so sorry.

What you’re doing is you’re validating their experience without validating their conclusion, right? That is a very, very important distinction. And once you do that, hopefully someone is going to be primed to give you a little bit of empathy, sympathy, and compassion in return. Right? And this is where we’re finally ready to like actually make some movement in the conversation. 

And what you want to do is help them contextualize their story and a different way. And I think this is an important distinction to think about recontextualizing a story as opposed to changing someone’s mind. Because when we talk about changing someone’s mind, often what we’re talking about is delivering facts and information and statistics and so on, but, overwhelmingly people don’t actually form their thoughts and opinions based on statistics and information, right?

It’s about feelings. And so like giving people, statistics and information alone, isn’t going to be a thing that changes their mind. You do have to know this stuff and it is important to deliver them, but you have to do the other stuff first, right? People aren’t going to change their mind just based on the new information.

And this is because of cognitive bias. we know that like as human beings, generally, we are predisposed to believe information that confirms our biases and reject information that contradicts them. And even if we are aware of these biases, that doesn’t undermine them super well. And so what do we do with that?

Right? My solution to that is adding context. And so I’m interested. I don’t Oh, chat. Yeah, there we go. I see the chat. So, if you’re in the chat, let’s talk about context, right? In the talk — the example that I gave for the Q and a session, what was the context that I gave to that person’s story?

And I’ll just name that chat message. That’s that’s wonderful. That’s why I hesitated to share the link on Twitter. 

Ryan: [00:18:14] Yeah. Sorry about that. That was really out of control, but we got rid of him or whoever it was. 

Callie: [00:18:22] Right, right. Super wild. 

Ryan: [00:18:23] So yeah, so folks go ahead and feel free to jot your notes in the chat there in response to Callie’s question.

Callie: [00:18:33] Well, I’ll just go since, so there’s not a bunch of silence in the talk. so, so the, the context that I gave was that statistic about. 80% of sexual assaults happening, from someone who knows the victim. Right? And you might be thinking that well, like you’re talking about information and statistics, Kelly, you told me a minute ago that that wasn’t the most important thing, but it’s really important to know that this was a statistic that directly addressed a fear that she had, What if I had thrown out that statistic before I knew why she felt the way that she did, right?

What if her reasons for feeling the way that she did were completely different than that? There would have been no way that I could have known what context would be necessary if I hadn’t taken the time to understand why she was afraid in the first place. And so I took the time to understand her story.

I believed in validated her story without validating her conclusion. And then I added the proper context for her to see her story in a different light and therefore come to a different conclusion. And so in this current moment, we know that, the most common arguments that we’re running into now are things like, well, I’m okay with the protest, but I’m not okay with looting or most cops are good.

Why are they destroying their own neighborhoods, all of these things. And so what I would, what I would encourage you to take away from this is to think about the stories that people tell themselves that lead them to think of things that way and frame those questions that way. And instead of just telling people that they’re wrong and trying to change their mind, Think about ways that you can, recontextualize the stories that people are telling themselves about that.

And so with that, I’m ready for Q and A. I like, I like to do short presentations and leave lots of time for Q and a and discussion. Cause I love that. Before I do that, I do have QA rules. When I give talks. Things are a little different, I guess, since zoom and there’s not hundreds and hundreds of people.

But this is important. A question is a sentence that ends in a question Mark. And a question is about tweet length. And the question is not more of a comment than a question. And so with that, I am interested in folks’ questions. I’m going to. Stop the share and, come back to the presentation. 

Ryan: [00:21:07] Awesome. So, I have a question from, Christopher, genteel. I believe that’s how you pronounce your name. I apologize if I pronounced that wrong, I’m going to, just unmute you Christopher, and you can pose your question here. Go ahead.

Can you hear me?

Ah, maybe he doesn’t have access to a microphone. So I’ll just the question for everyone that else that may not be able to see this says, “So how would you deal with someone who believes they know everything and when you want to have a conversation with data or just thought experiments they say to you, they say that you’ve been brainwashed and are, and just use condescending snarky remarks?”

Callie: [00:21:58] Yeah. And so I think that comes back to the good faith calculation, right. people who talk like that are generally not approaching a discussion in good faith. And, to be honest, I might just check out of that conversation completely because, I, I don’t think. If someone is genuinely convinced of that, I don’t think you’re going to be able to make meaningful headway in that conversation.

so yeah, and that’s not to say that it’s impossible, right? because there are people now who are, who are skeptics, who used to be conspiracy theorists and that kind of stuff. but you’re going to have a much, much harder hill to climb. I would say like, if you feel like you need to engage in that conversation, the best way to make headway is to just continue asking questions.

Why, why do you feel that way? You know, what, what information do you have that makes you think that we’re just brainwashed, that sort of thing. and so I think that’s, and so I think that’s important is to just ask a bunch of questions, and that I would just reiterate that it is 100% okay. To check out of a conversation like that entirely.

If you feel like you’re, we feel like it’s completely fruitless.

Ryan: [00:23:05] Awesome. Thank you. another question here from Collette, let me see if I can pull up Collette’s mike.

go ahead and unmute yourself if you like Collette, and ask your question, otherwise I can read it for you. 

Collette: [00:23:22] Can you hear me. 

Callie: [00:23:23] Yeah. 

Collette: [00:23:24] Hi Callie. One question that I have, is that I’m finding, especially in this moment around the ideas of rioting the rioting, and looting that the responses I get aren’t stories so much as moral proclamations, like stealing is wrong and things like that.

So how do you handle that situation when, the response you’re getting isn’t the story, but just, you know, a moral stance on something?

Callie: [00:23:47] Yeah, totally. I think you can. I think you can recontextualize things like that as well. Right? So, when somebody says stealing is wrong, I mean, generally speaking, you probably have a point of agreement there with someone, right?

So like, yeah. I generally speaking, I think stealing is wrong. but you can, then you can sort of recontextualize that and say like, So are we going to talk about how the United States stole a bunch of land from native Americans? For example, are we going to talk about how, you know, the, the state has stolen so much, wealth that the black community has created for itself?

And, so it’s a chance to open up a, a larger conversation about the context that those things are happening in. And, and I think that. Gives you an opportunity to start with a point of agreement when someone says a moral proclamation like that, like yeah. Stealing is wrong. and, and you can even ask more questions like that.

Like you can, well, yeah. You know, I think stealing is wrong too. But you can ask other questions, like, what’s it, like, what would you do if you felt like your life was in danger or that you weren’t going to be able to feed your family? and, and that’s like privilege comes into play, right? Because you can get really frustrating answers to those questions.

Because a lot of times it’s like, well, just go out and get a job as if that’s an easy thing to do. and so that’s when I think being equipped to talk about the systemic nature of some of these things is really, really important as well.

Ryan: [00:25:19] Well in the absence of a question at the moment and feel free to keep asking your questions. And, it’s, I think this really helps put some structure and, you know, context around what Callie’s saying. So, one of the things that I sometimes struggle with is how to know when someone’s engaging in good faith. And I think sometimes it’s obvious and. And sometimes it’s not. And I wonder if you can, they give us some advice about how to detect bad faith. 

Callie: [00:25:50] Yeah, totally. When it’s, when it’s hard to tell, I think, I often go back to how much emotional energy I have to attempt the conversation. because if, if, if things go the wrong way and I’m just going to end up with frustrated, pissed off and depressed, then I might just check out and try to find something more useful to do with my time.

Like I might just err on the side of assuming that, but I think you can tease that out of someone by asking some simple questions. Right? Why do you feel that way? So like I used to, I used to work in retail and sales. Right? And one of the things that they teach you about talking to people is that you ask open ended questions and closed ended questions.

So a close ended question is a question that can be answered with a simple yes or no and that’s like a very. A very closed way to have a conversation. It’s very transactional. It’s question, answer, question, answer, question, answer. But when you ask an open ended question, like, well, why do you feel that way? Like where is this coming from? You can hopefully then start to tease a little bit more of that out if it’s not obvious. And from continuing to ask questions, you know, using the Socratic method, I guess, is, is the way to describe it. You can, I think you can generally tease that out if it’s not obvious at first.

Ryan: [00:27:13] I’m going to come back to Collette. She had a followup question. Go ahead, Collette. 

Collette: [00:27:19] Hi Callie. I actually have speaking of bad faith, our, engagements. I. I’d like to get your opinion on the value you have maybe having those conversations anyway, just in case there are a good faith readers or observers of that conversation.

Now that I’m asking the question, I’m wondering, if you think there are significant differences in how you conduct these conversations online on social media versus in person. 

Callie: [00:27:47] Yeah, totally. I think there can be value in that if you know, there, there is an audience, right? So like if you’ve got a ton of friends on Facebook and, you know, you’re arguing with like a friend or relative or something like that, and, you know, a bunch of people are going to be reading that conversation.

It, it might totally be worth it to err, on the side of continuing that conversation. Even if you think that particular person isn’t reasonable or reachable and, in that context, I would then just kind of think about. What’s being said and what it might do for the folks listening. Right? And so like if I’m having a, a conversation with someone who is like genuinely ignorant about trans issues and they’re like stumbling on to TERF arguments, I might like try to take that conversation, private to protect my trans friends from that sort of rhetoric and stuff.

Because I, I, I try to curate the spaces that I’m in to keep them mostly safe for folks like that. and so, yeah, I definitely think it can be worth it. But I do think it is also worth it to like reevaluate what’s being said and how it might affect the people reading, like as things move along. and it might make sense at some point to like, take that conversation private as opposed to continuing it in the Facebook comments.

like I’ve done that before where I thought there was someone who was like, yes, I think they’re arguing in good faith. But they’re like stumbling onto really hurtful TERFy arguments that might be really hurtful for some of my friends to read and. So at that point, like I can choose to take on that emotional baggage and take that conversation private to Facebook messages and just sort of like close the comment thread down if I think that person is reachable. And so, yeah, it’s like a constant balancing act of the, the, the harm versus the health, in that, in that situation. 

Ryan: [00:29:39] Do you, sometimes feel like you want to just have like a recording of, of a standard answer and just hit play. Like you just like, you just get the same questions over. I mean, that to me must be one of the most exhausting things. Like, do you, have you found ways to save yourself that emotional energy by, I don’t know. Answering questions once for everyone or something?

Callie: [00:30:06] I tend to not be as frustrated or hurt by those kinds of things as a lot of people are. and that’s not to like, to like moralize about that. I think I’m just kind of wired that way. and. So again, like a, you know, as long as I think someone is approaching things in good faith, it’s generally pretty easy for me to stay patient. But like that comes with a lot of other, a lot of other privileges, right? Because like, I have a wife that I can run to if I’m really upset.

And so, like, I know I have an emotional safety net that like, if things go South, like I can take those risks where other folks may not. I mean, I definitely do have a set of like, Talking points and stories that I tell and answers that I give, because I do hear those same questions somewhat often, but because of a combination of the privileges that I have access to and the way that my brain is wired, I, I find it easier to do that sort of thing than some people do.

And so that’s why I kind of choose to continually do it even sort of airing on the side of like, maybe this goes wrong. but I mean, I also. Have gotten really comfortable naming that when I’m talking to people and they ask me those sorts of questions, I’ve gotten really comfortable setting, an expectation and saying like, okay, you have to understand that when I am explaining these things to you, I’m literally like explaining and arguing in favor of my humanity to you, and that has a lot of emotional weight to it. And this is a conversation that I want to have because I think the conversation is worth it. And I think you’re worth it. But you also have to understand what this means to me.

And so your you’re going to ask for me to give you some grace, as you stumble along in this conversation and maybe ask some silly questions and maybe say some hurtful things without meaning to, and I am saying I’m cool with that. I’m okay with doing that. But. I need some of that grace from you as well.

If I get upset, if I get impatient, if I answered it through gritted teeth, if I get a little snarky, I’m going to give you some grace, but you have to give that back to me. Like there’s, it’s gotta be a two way exchange.

Ryan: [00:32:24] Yeah. I feel like, there’s so many times where. Like I’m online and especially, I’ll just use like a recent example, with, you know, the, the police violence and the uprisings that we’ve seen around the country and people with lots of opinions. Right? And social media just really, I guess in me, makes all of us feel like we want to share our opinions or need to share our opinions.

And there’s sometimes I. I struggled between just letting ignorant comments go by versus sort of the value of challenging those thoughts. And so far, we’ve sort of been talking about like having difficult conversations that are posed to you. but do you sometimes go in search of difficult conversation?

Not in search of, but when you run across them, you feel like it’s maybe my responsibility or at least in this moment, I feel like I ought to. Interject into this conversation.

Callie: [00:33:28] I do that less and less. I used to. but I have to think about like where my voice can be the most effective. Right? And so I think about like the ways that I can engage that will.

that will like make the most movement toward whatever goal I happen to have, and me being some random person jumping into the comments, section of a blog or a Facebook post. I am not someone who thinks that is an entirely worthless endeavor. Some people do. I disagree, I think it can make sense and it can be worth it.

But like in terms of probability, it’s a lot less likely for that to be the case. and so I tend not to, because I’ve tried to become more aware of like my own capacity to engage with those things in an emotionally healthy way. For me. because I know that I’m engaging in other work that makes a difference on that.

Right? And so, like, I can spend an hour arguing with someone in a Facebook comment section in hopes that, either the person that I’m talking to or the people reading that will be enlightened by what I have to say, or like I could spend that hour developing a concept for a podcast episode that like people who listen to my show, And are ready to listen to the things that I have to say. Like, I feel like that is a often a more effective way for me to use my time. And I’ve, I’ve really started to try to internalize the idea that like, I can’t do everything all of the time. 

Like I have to use my voice where I think it’s the most effective and where it’s the most emotionally healthy for me. Difficult balancing act. but I tend to be okay. Passing by those things and not deliberately seeking them out for that reason. If that makes sense. 

Ryan: [00:35:20] No, it does. It really does. another question, from Collette one second here. Okay, go ahead, Collette. 

Collette: [00:35:29] Hi. I am actually wanting to go back to the issue of positionality and the need for a privileged people to talk to other privileged people. I’m wondering if you have thoughts on balancing the need for that to happen with the need to center marginalized voices. I mean, it’s one of the things I’m struggling with right now is, you know, white people talking to other white people is important, but how do I know when I have. Sort of, crossed the line into white person, talking for black people. Do you know what I mean? 

Callie: [00:36:01] Totally. Yeah. That’s a really hard one. And what I tend to try to err on the side of is that like, I don’t generally say things about race that I haven’t heard black leaders and activists say. And even in that obviously like I’m white and my whiteness is going to like cloud and fog, everything that I do.

And so like that doesn’t, that’s not a foolproof methodology for never screwing up the conversation about race, for sure. Because when you say something, I like people are gonna have questions and then you’re going to have to start sort of like interpreting and explaining. And, and it’s like entirely possible that you’ll get that wrong.

Right? And for me, what that comes back to is just spending a lot of time doing the reading, right? Because like, we talk a lot about how, like black folks are not obligated to educate white folks on race. It’s trans people are not obligated to educate cis people about gender. But the fact is there are a lot of those folks who have chosen to do that sort of education.

Right? And so. I think, if I’m trying to be, anti-racist, it’s important for me to proactively seek out the voices who have chosen to make that their work and, internalize and understand the things that they’re saying and do my best to repeat it to other people. Because, you know, like I said, yeah, another person, another white person may not take it as seriously coming from a black voice than they would from me.

And, and, and that is a really hard thing to do. Like, I’ll just, I’ll like tell a story about a time that I screwed it up. I was out at one of the protests here in Cincinnati, and we were a giant crowd of us in front of Cincinnati city hall. And this was, after there had been like a really, really tough police crackdown, and they did things that like, to my knowledge would be considered war crimes if they happened, outside of the United States.

And, and so like, tension was really, really high and there were riot cops in front of every public building. And so we were in front of city hall, there was a group of us, and there were, the black folks who were organizing the march and they were standing in front of the march. you know, giving speeches and talking and talking about the change that they want to see what their demands were and the support that they needed, especially from white folks.

And, there was someone behind us who would just not stop screaming and yelling, insulted the cops. Right? And this person’s voice was just really, really loud. And the PA system that they had for the protest was not the greatest and it was kind of like, Drowning out the person who was speaking at the front of the march and the person who was speaking of the front of the march was black.

And so like, obviously I want that person’s voice centered and the person yelling was white. and so like to me, the obvious thing there is to turn around as a white person, tell the other person, the other white person shut the hell up like a black person who is leading this march is speaking. Like we look, if you’re here for their voice, you need to let them tell their story.

Right? And so a couple of us turned around and was like, shut the hell up and let them talk. Like we’re trying to center black voices here. but someone else came up and like told us that we were overstepping in doing that. And obviously at that point, I’m not like I’m talking eventually. Okay. So can we have a very nuanced discussion of like, why that’s overstepping, like, you need to explain yourself to me.

but like, In this person’s eyes, you had gotten that wrong. And we were overstepping as white people. and I feel like the answer like 99% of the time is to just accept that and say, yep, sorry, my bad. Wasn’t trying to overstep. I’ll I’ll chill out and I’ll let it go. and then, you know, we’d like we can try to do like the critical analysis and the thought and all of that stuff about what happened after the fact.

but for me, What I continually hear from, the black leaders and activists that I pay attention to is that like now is the time to err on the side of saying too much. And you just got to like really be ready and willing to be checked when you overstep and when you go too far, because like, as a white person talking about race, it, is inevitable that that’s going to happen and you just have to be ready to be told you’ve done that.

Ryan: [00:40:23] Yeah. I was just thinking that this work. Definitely requires the, the stomach for being wrong and being, let let know that you’ve been wrong, you know, by people who know more about something than you do. And a lot of humility involved in that. And. Certainly good practice. I had a similar experience here locally with a black leader, you know, and I was too helpy.

I was like helping what I was asked to do. And then I wouldn’t beyond what I was asked to do and did some more things because I thought that would be helpful. Yeah and I was like right? Yes, of course. So, yeah, that’s a, that’s an interesting, challenge. I think we just have to be, especially as, as. the more privileged we have in those areas of privilege to be comfortable, you know, we we’re going to make mistakes.

Well, are there any other questions?

I really appreciated your specific stories and illustrations. I think that really helps. it helps me also to hear that you know, none of this is required, you know, I suppose the more privileged we have more as required of us, but there are times when we’re exhausted from the struggle and it’s okay to let a comment and go by once in awhile, you know?

Callie: [00:41:43] Yeah. Well, I’ll just say in the chat, Kevin mentioned that someone on Facebook made a comment. One of the hardest habits to kick in critical thinking is the ability to remove the self from the proposition or position. and I very much agree with that because. So much of what happens when things go wrong is people centering themselves as opposed to centering the people who are, who should actually be at the center of the conversation.

Right? And, and it’s really, really easy to do that without realizing you’re doing it because like, Obviously like we, as humans only have our like subjective experience to go by. Right? And so, very often we are convinced that what we think is objectively true. We’re convinced that a thing is objective only true when, like we miss the idea that we’re still seeing through that through the lens of our subjective experience and, And like those, those, both of those things are important.

Right? But I think it is really important to think about the fact that like, if you’re a cis person talking about trans stuff, like you have to pull yourself out of the center of that conversation and pull your feelings out of the center of that conversation. and, and that’s really like, Where it, where it gets difficult.

Right? Cause it doesn’t feel good to get checked and corrected and told that you’re doing stuff wrong. And you know, as, as comfortable as I’ve tried to make myself be with that, it still doesn’t feel good, but it’s not about me and it’s not about my feelings and I just have to be willing to live in that discomfort a little bit.

And I think like, frankly, I think that’s a small price to pay. and, you know, w when it comes to, when it comes to engaging on these issues and like getting out front and actually making real change happen, like, You’re in a lot of these conversations, you are trading some of your comfort in order for other folks to have it.

Right? And I think that, I think that’s almost always a worthwhile trade. Obviously like you can’t give up all of like your mental health and all of that. Like. it, it’s important to think about your health and your wellbeing, because if you take yourself out of the game, then you can’t do anything.

Right? But yeah, but giving up a measure of that comfort and just understanding that that’s going to happen, it’s not going to feel good. and that that’s like a necessary and important part of the work, I think is a really, really. Good take away from that. 

I hope you found this helpful friend and thank you for listening.

If you want to help keep this thing going, please consider heading to patreon.com/queersplaining, making a per episode donation to support the show and keep me Celes and Wedge housed and fed. Any little bit helps. Thank you friend. Before I go. I want you to know that if you’re lost, you’re hurting, you’re scared.

If you feel like no one cares and no one understands, you need to know there’s a community out here that loves you cares for you knows that you’re capable of amazing things and that you are worthy of love. If you’re struggling, please, don’t be afraid to reach out. Until next time, friend, my name is Callie Wright?

And this is Queersplaining.


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