Every day I’ll be posting some small thought about art, creative processes, and community.
Longer posts, often written in collaboration with other artists, can be found here.
- You Have an Effect!
I keep a running list of post ideas: brief descriptions of possible things to write about every day.
One of the more recent ones is “Remind yourself of all the people and places impacted by your presence.” I shall now try to decipher what that means.
I’m pretty sure I was thinking about how hard I am on myself, and how even the smallest criticism from someone else can make me spiral. There will always be criticism. People will make it a priority to keep your ego in check, whether it’s because of their own insecurities or simply shock that you can afford to be so badass.
Again, if they’re not in the arena and fighting the battle alongside you, their opinions don’t matter. One thing you can focus on instead is those who adore you. Seems pretty simple, really. But when you’re facedown and overwhelmed by all the vitriol, it can be hard to remember that there are others who have been positively affected by your presence.
You have an effect on people! But don’t waste your time thinking about those who are overly critical. Think instead of those who love to be around you — in spite or because of your flaws.
- Only Enthusiasm
There are people who are very intrigued by the work you’re putting out there. Sure, there may be some who have voiced disapproval, but if they can’t engage in honest conversation about how your work confuses or somehow hurts them then they don’t deserve your focus.
Those you allow directly behind or beside you while you create should be the people who are curious and want to see you succeed. They should be actively supportive teammates who, even if they don’t quite get what you’re all about, are wholeheartedly on board. They put the effort into trying to understand where you’re coming from.
Only invite enthusiasm into your process. Don’t bother with anything else.
- Eye of the Beholder
A cliché that’s worth repeating. Beauty is, in fact, in the eye of the beholder. We each have our own interpretation of beauty and it’s never an objective truth. For me that’s liberating: I can focus on creating something that speaks to me and not worry about how others will perceive it. If I see the beauty in it then it’s beautiful.
There’s also that whole thing about universality being found in specificity. If something resonates with me, it’s likely going to resonate with someone else… As long as it’s honest. The more truthful we can be with what we’re creating the more we can connect with others.
This has been a small reminder to not give an eff about how others perceive you and your work. Focus on making what you love.
- Judging Flawed Thought Babies
I’ve been given a few scalding pieces of criticism that were clearly not fleshed out or well founded: off-the-cuff remarks meant to show evidence of my negative behaviour but on closer inspection couldn’t possibly hold water. That’s not to say I’m absolutely perfect (though I am), but people tend to shape the entire context and series of events in their heads before knowing any details of the reality I personally faced. They judge based on their own gaps of knowledge that they temporarily fill in with their biases.
I find I do the same thing to myself when starting a new creative project. I’ve been working on a plot outline for a new play and every point I write down seems ridiculous. I’m fighting the urge to judge each idea as they come out of my head. It’s tempting to visualize an ideal version of the finished product and then hold each feeble thought up to that imagined light in comparison. But that’s not fair to the process.
There can be a concept in mind for how the project might end up, sure. It’s nice to work toward something. But that visualized final concept needs to be completely flexible: able to contort itself around every new idea. We get nowhere if we are constantly gauging the effectiveness of new thoughts via a nonexistent end goal. It’s an impossible comparison: something brand new and unstable compared to something we have been sitting on for a long time… or that we’ve grown fond of and don’t want to crumble.
But it’s gotta be the other way around. Take the fledgling idea and see how your original intentions for the project might shape around it. Noticing the creases and the overlapping pieces will help you identify gaps in your goals, and that information can help spawn even more new ideas.
I think for me what’s most important at the beginning is to churn out as many little ideas as possible. If I’m comparing these tiny, flawed thought babies to some idealized future that doesn’t yet exist then I’m bound to disappoint myself. But the less judgment I pass on new ideas the more likely something’s going to come along that will surprise me, and possibly even reshape everything in deeply unsettling and exciting ways.
- What… Am I Doing?
A question I ask myself frequently. The point of this project is what again?
As much as I’m drawn to writing these posts (almost) every day, it’s easy to lose track of its purpose. decentre will hopefully grow into something a bit bigger than me postulating on a bunch of seemingly random topics. While I enjoy reading my own thoughts written on a screen, and I appreciate that some of them resonate with you fine folks, there’s surprisingly a larger goal in my head somewhere. decentre will be a community of dissenters, creating art that questions the status quo. But in the meantime I feel I need to get some content out there. Some basic ideas that could underpin the larger mechanism down the road.
Plus it’s just good to practice writing every day. Nothing wrong with that.
But it can be incredibly disheartening when we lose sight of what we’re working toward. I’m a big proponent of honesty and speaking your heart, so honestly, I lack motivation some days. Because there’s no one telling me what this thing could become I have to keep convincing myself of its potential power. I have a suspicion that, whatever decentre becomes, these writings will benefit some other creative projects of mine… plays yet to be written, a novel… who knows.
Despite its hazy future I continue the ritual of (almost) daily writing. Though I can’t quite put my finger on where this will land (if at all), I enjoy writing about theatre/creativity/empathy every day. So thank you for reading and wading this muck with me.
- Something to Say?
One of the many things I ask myself with this daily writing project is whether or not I have something to say. That’s a repeated adage in the art making world, I find: “Figure out what you have to say before you share your story.”
Blah blah blah.
I’m not about to spend hours staring out my window trying to think of the important, life-altering message I wish to convey to my audience. I’m going to start working and see what comes out.
I suppose we all have ~something to say~. But I’m tired of the pressure to make sure whatever we want to create won’t be a waste of space. We won’t get anything done if we’re constantly bogged down by the idea that whatever we make has to be deeply profound right from the start. It doesn’t.
Create whatever is gnawing at you, whatever’s on your mind, and the more you work at it the more likely a little kernel of universal truth will come out.
- Now More Than Ever
Theatre has survived much worse. And if it were more aligned with the amazing technologies developed in the last 20-30 years, it could be even more popular right now.
Theatre can be digital. Its liveness can be replicated through livestreams, its artist/audience relationship brought to a new level of intimacy.
This moment, I believe, is presenting interesting opportunities for community healing through theatre. Let’s take advantage of those and work to shape our theatre to our current time.
- Why Theatre Rocks and Facebook Sucks
I’m always skeptical of any piece of art that posits some sort of fundamental truth.
Theatre is effective in its complexity. It presents contradictory characters with various perspectives and experiences. It’s a playground of multiple ideologies, demonstrating possible conflicts and inviting audiences to empathize with different points of view. That in itself is a truthful process because it reflects the challenges of reality.
We know that social media and the giant corporations behind them suck at this. We are manipulated into thinking the world is black and white: there are our opinions and the opinions of others. But these companies, like Google, Facebook, Apple, etc., are presenting each of us with different ideas and convincing us they are the only answers. Advertisers, the money source for these large companies, want us to interact with the internet in particular ways so they can rack up more clicks for their products. Each individual is put in front of a separate set of “truths” without seeing the flip side of the coin.
It’s important to question any simple statement or situation that claims to be the “only way”. Life is always more complex than what’s presented on the internet, and the real truth is buried somewhere in that complicated muck. Make art that takes us through some mess to get to some clarity.
- Choosing Distractions Wisely
We are surrounded by many tempting distractions. And I personally think it’s impossible to get rid of all of them. But we can choose wisely.
Try not to apply more pressure to eliminate important methods of escape. We all need to disconnect from our work sometimes in order to experience the full breadth of life. There are habits and shiny objects that don’t need to go away completely. Just try to define your healthiest limit to their exposure.
- Stubborn Routines
Stick to your routine even (especially?) when it pisses people off.
I’m drawn to what Glennon Doyle writes in Untamed: “Every time you’re given a choice between disappointing someone else and disappointing yourself, your duty is to disappoint that someone else. Your job, throughout your entire life, is to disappoint as many people as it takes to avoid disappointing yourself.”
People will get mad no matter what you do. If you have a few minutes carved out of every day to sit, contemplate, and write (or not write, depending on the success of the contemplation), that means that allotted time is your own and belongs to no one else. But a friend or a loved one might think you’re being selfish or lazy, wasting precious bonding time on something trivial. Screw ‘em.
As artists, we have routines that may not make sense to those who don’t prioritize creativity in their day-to-day. If our brains are firing between the hours of 2 and 3 AM, then we are sitting at our desks working. Then we’re sleeping through our brunch plans (if brunch ever exists again) and the people we’re leaving in the lurch can suck it up.
- Li’l Impacts
Today I’m reminding myself that small decisions can make substantial impacts.
When I think about my career and what I want to be doing with my life, it often comes down to helping people and affecting change. I’d like to leave this world with some sort of legacy that was made possible by my creativity and hard work.
But that legacy can take shape in small steps. Creative decisions permeate our day to day. We rub up against obstacles that require some innovative thinking, and that problem-solving helps both us and the people around us. The more we focus on making large impacts through groundbreaking creativity, the more overwhelmed we become and the more unaware we are of the little things that mean a lot.
Small steps are OK too. Looking back on the past 24 hours, can you think of the seemingly minute decisions that made your life or the lives of others more meaningful?
- It’s All Connected, Maaan
When deep in the process of making, everything carries weight.
It can be easy to get caught up in the net of our own overthinking and not see the forest for the trees. But when our hearts and minds remain open, we can be inspired by everything around us. Everything our senses can detect is up for consideration. The work may benefit from how that chair across the room casts a shadow. A song blasting from a passing car may be exactly what you need to hear.
We have to practice opening up. It does no one any good to keep your head down all the time. Attentive listening to the world around us can inspire us to take a leap and fill our work with more authentic beauty.
- Strength Required
Art is rejuvenating. Every day of this pandemic we seek solace in books, television, digital theatre… we are depending on art to ground us.
But sometimes it takes strength to lean in and listen to all of what the work is trying to say. Art is often political. It’s often chock-full of raw emotions. And sometimes, even in the midst of a lot of confusion and mental exhaustion, that is exactly what we need.
Catharsis can be an incredibly useful tool. Witnessing others experiencing the full extent of emotions we’ve been keeping locked inside allows us to come to terms with our own experiences. This is true not only for the darker side of the human condition but for feelings like joy as well. Some folks have a really hard time facing authentic emotions in general.
But sometimes embracing the full effect of a piece of art requires us to gather enough strength. A prerequisite of the transformative power of art is a certain amount of internal stability.
If you are able, go into the consumption of art with an open mind and heart. The effect will be even more powerful and satisfying as a result.
- Subtle Revolt
I’m drawn to the theatre because of its socio-political power. It creates change through empathy. You sit in a room with people who may or may not share similar views and experience a story together. You’re immersing yourselves in artifice and imagining, as a group, what the world would be like if this fiction were a reality. That process can be transformative.
I’m drawn to art, and creating in general, for the same reason. As someone who’s often shamed or even exiled for expressing myself, challenging the status quo has been a key component of my work and life. But there are many instances when I feel I can’t be as vocal as I’d like. Silencing is a common strategy, particularly from those convinced their minds are open and they know what’s best for me. Sometimes I find myself pigeonholed into not speaking my mind in an effort to soothe the fragile minds of the more privileged.
But frig that.
If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, know that there are outlets. Perhaps it’s more subtle, but taking a pen to a private journal is helpful if it strengthens your own psyche. There are ways to tackle the status quo, and while you search for them you can build up your own energy. Fortify yourself before taking on the world.
- The Art of Pleasing
Try to remind yourself that you’re not in the business of creating art to please other people. That can simply be a happy accidental outcome. For the most part you’re going to move through the world and reflect on it in ways that cut deep. I know that in theatre, for example, authenticity is key. No matter their style or approach, theatre artists are always searching for some sort of “truth”. And the truth can often hurt.
If you’re tiptoeing around, trying to say the right things to make people happy, then you’re not leaning fully into your own creativity. Find what you want to say, say it, and the people who matter will appreciate it for what it truly is.
- OK Moving On
Stuff happens. We’re confronted by obstacles we were avoiding. We experience heartbreak unexpectedly. People show their true colours. And it’s important to feel every single one of those dreaded feelings in order to gain perspective on our emotions.
There are some who would say “then just move past it. It’s done. Grow up.” I’m not one of those people. Sometimes we experience things so impactful that they stick with us… That’s OK. Any added pressure to simply “get over” something dreadful doesn’t work all that well.
What does work, I’ve found, is a focus on self-empowerment.
“I am worth more than the energy I’m wasting on this.” “I’m allowing this to suck up my time, and my time is immensely valuable.” These shifts in the old adage to “move on” are rather slight, but important. Ultimately yes, you are moving beyond the hurt and pain, but you are accepting the fact that the hurt and pain may still linger.
Down the road there may come a time when you have to address it again head on. But if the focus is on your own self-worth and abilities to overcome, then you’ll be ready and willing to face it.
- Different Outlets
I loved this the New York Times “Offstage” discussion with Broadway actors this Thursday. Jessie Mueller reminded us that we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves for not being “as creative” as we might be typically. Odds are you are being creative. You’re just expressing that creativity through different outlets.
What have your creative outlets been at this time? Are you exploring areas you’ve typically ignored?
- Form of Focus
How do you feel when you’re in a deep focus? What does that look like for you?
I often catch people engrossed in their work and feel a ping of jealousy. It seems that others have a knack for concentration, whereas I am constantly shifting from one distraction to another. Focus and productivity look different for each of us, I suppose. I’ve just come to realize that, for me, a walk around the house every ten minutes or so is necessary. It’s almost like my brain gets a bit overwhelmed by all the thinkin’ it’s doin’. Or it’s simply in need of a broader kind of thinking, and more oxygen, in order to better process smaller details.
Don’t beat yourself up for your own special form of focus. We get things done in the amount of time it takes us to get things done.
- Boring to Beautiful
As an artist I perceive a pressure to make profound “Aha” discoveries. If we are so intuitive and informed about the nature of human existence, if we have answers for so many of life’s questions, then our realizations about how we interact with each other and how we perceive ourselves must be revelatory.
But I often find the greatest steps forward in a process are almost imperceptible.
The process of healing after a traumatic event, for example, can sometimes only be seen retroactively. After going through a weird situation there are insidious thoughts that arise in my brain, but now I’m able to accept them and move on more quickly. I can tell myself “Yeah, that’s how it is, but I don’t have to react to it as strongly.” That’s not all that exciting, but it’s the truth.
These truths about being human and moving forward through life are seemingly mundane. Part of the role of the artist is to grasp the rather boring aspects of our realities, hold it tight in their palm for a while in a state of reflection and creation, then open it to reveal something beautiful.
- Losing Interest
No matter what your opinion is on the subject there is some great theatre online. Google it. It’s impressive.
But despite all the wonderful digital theatre I could be engaging with, I have absolutely no interest. This time is making me apathetic. I’m not inspired to engage with the art that’s informed most of my life.
I was worried about that for a bit. I thought maybe I was being lazy. But that’s really not the case. I’m actually taking a much-needed break from theatre creation and consumption… For years my mind and schedule have been flooded with it, and now I have the opportunity to breathe and reflect on the other parts of my life. Surprisingly I have things to do and people to talk to outside of that world.
We don’t need to be constantly preoccupied by our chosen profession and passions. Our lives contain much more than just that. Don’t beat yourself up if you feel like you’re not doing enough right now.
- Crumbling Infrastructure
In our quest to peel back the layers of our social world, artists experience immense pushback.
People get rattled when they see someone express something they’ve repressed in themselves. Raw emotions can be particularly prevalent when watching theatre: an art form that reflects the intimate ways we interact with each other. It shows both internal processes as well as the external social order. Characters can speak to us as if speaking in their own heads, and that, coupled with how they behave in their environment, reveals profound truths about human nature.
In that way, theatre is political.
My previous post mentioned Sonya Renee Taylor’s interview on Brené Brown’s podcast “Unlocking Us”, and I’d like to bring in another element of that conversation. Taylor uses the image of a ladder to talk about systemic structures in society: deep-rooted expectations placed on and perpetuated by each of us. Systemic structures are always presenting obstacles that prevent us from radical self-love, in which we understand our innate divinity. We are all worthy of love but we are told in many different ways how we are not.
The structures in place that dictate what is “wrong” and what is “right”, what is worthy and what is not, are completely imaginary… Fabricated by those in power and continued by those who wish to climb to the top. But we each have this ladder inside of us and are constantly gauging our place on its rungs.
What happens when we recognize that the ladder is fictional? That our constant comparisons to others are perpetuating harmful hierarchies? What if we simply refused to follow the rules of this imaginary structure embedded in each of us?
The ladder disappears, and the systemic structures crumble.
That’s the true beauty of theatre. It can reveal where we are all placing ourselves in comparison to others and how futile that practice really is. It can show us where we “use” that ladder in our daily lives then take it away, causing revelations on how we wield power.
People become mentally untethered when they see that despite their best intentions, their actions are tied to something nonexistent. They cling to the belief that hierarchy is innate and that love is conditional. Discoveries of the truth can happen in the theatre and it can happen when the marginalized speak up: when they draw attention to the theatrical performances in our day-to-day. Gay people, for example, constantly have to place themselves on a lower rung than straight people. Any attempt to defy the ladder and refute its existence is blasphemous to the social order.
When queer folks recognize that the ladder people have been building their lives around for years actually doesn’t exist, they face immense backlash. Heaven forbid they upset a straight person: someone considered higher up on the ladder. When that structure’s taken away, people who find comfort in standing above others for so long begin falling, with nothing left to hold onto. Thus a queer person calling out the system that fails them sparks fear in everyone else who is just now realizing their social standing is actually a performance that perpetuates harm.
Continue calling out the ladders. It may cause chaos but it gets us closer to the truth: we are each innately worthy of deep and complicated love. Comparison to others simply builds self-worth upon an imaginary scaffolding that is bound to crumble.
- The Inertia of Acceptance
Sonya Renee Taylor’s recent interview with Brené Brown has given me a lot to think about.
One point of discussion that stands out is the understanding of the phrase “I accept you” as inert. It doesn’t really do anything. Acceptance is like, meh. Almost insignificant. Isn’t it much better to be loved? Doesn’t love lead to real action and change?
I know I’ve been in environments where I feel accepted. People smile and nod and do all the things they’re supposed to do in order to remain civil. But there can still be an underlying tension preventing a true sense of belonging. A lack of understanding or a biased assumption pushing back against a full-hearted embrace of all of our differences. A clear hesitation to know me at a deeper level. A fear of what may be found.
Acceptance can act as a shield to protect us from true vulnerability. Let’s say you’re in a situation with others whom you don’t fully understand. The social expectation is to have good manners and not make a fuss. You accept them even though you can’t relate to them. But the moment something rubs you the wrong way you run away in fear because you never bothered to try to understand. Acceptance can make us complacent and prevent us from getting to know someone on a more intimate level: a level that’s more conducive to love.
We can love others even if they’re different from us. In fact, love can be stronger because of differences. But the socially accepted norm of doing the bare minimum and simply “accepting” people gets in the way of more complicated, nuanced relationships. And in my experience, even questioning or confronting the legitimacy of simplified “acceptance” can stir a lot of trouble. People get uncomfortable when they’re faced with their own biases and reluctance to give in to love.
Artists are inquisitive people. One would hope that we may be more inclined to get more curious and move past the first layer of acceptance, venturing into the more interesting and fulfilling layer of understanding and love.
Hear that? That’s the sound of your heart and mind thanking you for taking a breather.
You would think that during a pandemic I would feel fine with spending days doing absolutely nothing. I definitely do not. I tend to get antsy and a bit hard on myself, thinking I should be using this time “wisely” and be productive in ways I never had been before.
But I have to remind myself that I am actually active and engaged. I work, for example, and I’m reading, and spending time with family, etc. You can look at reading as work, especially if you’re an artist or writer. Social time (within your bubbles, of course) is also productive as it is so healthy for you and for the others.
And outside of those moments, when I’m feeling that things are too “quiet”, I need to remember that quiet time is needed too. Recharge. Enjoy the fall weather. Settle in to the quiet.
- What If…
Think big, friends. Use this time. How can we reimagine the world? How can we grow from here? Complete the sentence with ideas so large they seem impossible. There are journeys not yet taken. Sights yet to be seen. Problems to be solved. Imagine the big picture… then proceed.
- Embrace the Flop
In clown training, a general rule of thumb is to “embrace the flop”, which in a nutshell means accept the inevitable failure. I’m reminding myself to his strategy lately, trying to let a certain darkness find its proper place.
When your mind is consumed by a inescapable cloud of worry or sadness it can be a bit tricky to find any sort of motivation to create. But perhaps the time suck isn’t actually the negative event, but the real estate you dedicate to it. It may get to a point where you think “This thing isn’t going away. So where shall I put it in order to continue doing my best?”
I’m always a proponent for facing problems head on and doing everything in one’s power to resolve it. But often these problems that can plague us are not entirely within our power to fix. Other people exist, unfortunately, and if we are willing to communicate and they are not, then we may get stuck with the issue for some time. I’m trying to figure out how to approach those specific problems in my own life… and what I’ve come up with so far is to simply accept it and move it out of my way.
Embrace the flop. Live with it for a bit. And when there is adequate effort from all parties, launch that sucker out the window.
- Fake It
For as long as I can remember I’ve turned my nose up at anything that involves losing authenticity. “Fake it till you make it,” to me, has meant “don’t be yourself.” I would hear that and defy it as much as possible, turning up the volume on my opinions and fighting the status quo.
Do you feel there is validity in faking it? At least in some rare cases?
As an artist I dig deep into the human condition, always getting curious about truthful experiences and reflecting my findings back to audiences. The reflection process can be a transformative process, leading to important realizations and real change. Hence my resistance to anything “fake”. I want to remain open to those glimpses of the genuine by being authentic myself.
There can, however, be times when we fake things on the outside and feel our truths on the inside. Sometimes it’s simply not worth our energy to reveal everything all at once. Some people can’t be trusted with our purest selves, and we therefore shouldn’t feel obliged to show it to them. Everyone deserves kindness and respect. Everyone is owed clarity and empathy. But not everyone needs to bear witness to all of the beauty contained within.
Even as I type this I wonder if it’s true… But perhaps it’s good advice for artists to learn when to get fully honest. It could be the case that if we are always seeking authenticity we may wear ourselves thin. Artists are so often searching for truth, and that quest can be reflected in how we carry ourselves. But it’s easy to get exhausted when we’re met with folks or situations who can’t embrace our honesty and all the exquisiteness that comes with it.
So I’m going to try fine tuning my instinct to be open and vulnerable to all the elements. Some people just deserve the basics, not the full, beautiful package.
- Out With the Old
We rummaged through the tall old maple trees, tapping the dead until they fell to the ground. It’s always nice to get a haircut when you’re over 160 years old and haven’t had one in recent memory.
Trimming away the useless, heavy branches makes room for a breath of fresh air.
- Lean Into Awkwardness
Progress can’t happen without vulnerability. I believe that we have to get messy with hard conversations in order to affect positive change and improve our relationships. Hard conversations require vulnerability, and vulnerability comes with discomfort.
Figuring ourselves out and talking to others with different perspectives from our own can get really awkward. But the reward is great. Even in private processes of writing or creating we’ll rub up against ideas or obstacles that run counter to our current beliefs. It’s important to embrace the awkwardness and work with the thing in front of you. Avoiding it does nothing.
Some people will never want to have awkward conversations. In which case they’re not the right person for you. I love what Michelle Obama talks about in one of her recent podcast episodes. She compares finding the right partner to picking a teammate in basketball: you don’t want someone who will just dribble the ball and not take any shots. You want someone who is strong and will make you strong in return.
Strength is shown when we engage in situations that make us feel awkward.
I think it’s safe to look at my last couple of weeks as a failure.
These “daily doses” are meant to be written every day, of course, and I definitely dropped the ball. I know life happens and I can’t do everything, but there were definitely mornings when I knew I had the time. All I had to do was sit and write something, and I chose not to.
I have ideas for this project’s future and I am actively working toward making them work. But it will grow in directions I don’t currently expect, and that’s incredibly exciting for me. The potential is thrilling. In order for it to shape into something, though, I have to work on it. And that work has to be consistent.
But if I were to always be hard on myself for falling short on what I set out to do, I wouldn’t get anywhere. I’d easily spiral into self-doubt and find my work or lack thereof demoralizing. If I’m always thinking “This isn’t good enough,” and comparing what I’ve done to an ideal that’s not currently possible to reach, then I’m on the path of self-destruction.
Discipline is key. But I wonder how I can both discipline myself to get stuff done while celebrating what has been successful. I think there’s a useful feedback loop there. The good things that have come out of this project so far can be what fuels me to keep at it, and to make it even better.
- How Scapegoating Can Stunt Creativity: A Rant
One of my major, ongoing goals with this project is to help folks navigate the intersection of creative practice and queerness.
“Queerness” to me means the experience of living outside of sexual and gender identity norms. When we live outside of a norm, our mere existence is often approached with question marks. People who are smiled upon in society as “normal” have particular ways of inhabiting space, and the way we express ourselves as queer people means we take up space in an entirely different and confusing way. Since the world we know in many western, colonized cultures has been moulded over time by a continued prioritization of heteronormativity and the silencing of trans* and Two-Spirit people, us queer folk often stick out like a sore thumb.
Unfortunately, queer people being at odds with normative expectations can be a benefit for the more favoured, as well as those just slightly beneath them in the hierarchy. Those closest to the better liked and understood want to get on their good side, especially if they themselves are not totally liked and understood. If they are close to the favoured and can easily pass as a favoured one, then they will try their darnedest to fit in.
And those on the top rung know that being idolized in this way is an advantage. People love to unite over a shared distrust of those beneath us.
Scapegoating someone involves projecting your internal ills and insecurities onto them, then casting them out of your circles and forcing them into the box of “outcast”. “Look at how this person is so odd. They must be to blame for these issues. I am entirely normal, so I can’t be part of the problem!”
In my experience, queer people are an easy target for this behaviour. “Well they are a minority and they don’t quite fit in, which is too bad, but because of that they are more likely to stir trouble.” I, for one, have been treated this way, whether the people involved recognize they’re employing this strategy or not. They are not willing to get curious and unpack where they have personally been going wrong along the way, and since they’re confused by how I live my life in comparison to their own, it’s easy to place all of the blame on me.
When scapegoating happens in a creative environment it causes severe disruption. Problems naturally arise when we’re collaborating with other people. Things can often go wrong when we’re straddling the line of complete vulnerability and professionalism. But when conflict does come up, those with more power are able to wipe their hands of any ickiness and continue moving through the process. Those deemed abnormal and therefore likely to be the root of the problems remain stuck, unable to catch up.
The psychological unrest caused by such blaming or exclusion, whether it’s intentional or not, can have lasting effects and severely dampen the process for everyone.
All that to say, I hear you. If you feel that people not understanding the expression of your identity is preventing you from being yourself and contributing to a work or creative environment, you’re not alone. Things can get messy, but it’s often not entirely to do with you.