Microaggressions on the Rise in Pittsburgh?

It has been three and a half weeks since Donald Trump was elected President.

I’ve noticed a difference. Or differences, small differences in the way other people engage me. Things that my other queer friends notice. Even Ledcat notices.

We live with microagressions every day. We know them like we know the backs of our hands – when to push back, when to quietly go with the flow. Things like being asked in restaurants – every single time – if we want one check or two. Every single time.

(Hint – if you feel the urge to minimize this experience, rationalize this experience or otherwise dismiss the fact that I noted this type of experience, just stop reading now. Seriously. You won’t like what comes next.)

This is more, or just different perhaps.

I’m being trolled on Twitter by Christians and general variety haters. Tagged almost daily since the election when it used to happen maybe once every several months.

I’m being trolled in my blog comment section by someone who is irritated that I won’t approve his comments so he’s now speaking directly to me via his comments.  That’s fun. He knows I read his words. He gets my exclusive attention. How sweet for him.

I’m being trolled by someone who logged onto a survey I set up about AMPLIFY and left a comment that he’s sorry that I am not dead. I have to read that comment each time I check the other responses. That’s fun.

We sat in a restaurant last night with our couple friends and their two young sons. They are white women and their sons are both black. Our table was pretty innocuous, everyone was in good spirits and no one was being loud, not even the kids. No reason for anyone to be disturbed – we weren’t disrupting anyone. Except this older white dude sitting across the aisle. He kept staring. A lot. Enough that both Ledcat and I noticed. One of our friends noticed. The kids, thankfully, did not notice. Ledcat and I exchanged a silent glance and then we stared back. I took deliberate photos of the man. I could sense Laura was ready to stand and step up to him if he so much as said a word to us. We were prepared.

He continued to stare and locked eyes with me. He looked away first. He and his companion eventually left. When the boys were distracted in the bathroom, we talked about what had happened. Was he staring because we were lesbians or because we were a family with white adults and black children? Hard to tell. We all noticed it was weird that he was dining in a Middle Eastern restaurant staffed primarily by people of Middle Eastern descent, but staring at us. It was unnerving.

Three weeks and it is happening too often.

I’ve been in this business with trolls for a long time. I’ve had lots of people post terrible comments on my blog. I’ve been stalked. I’ve had my home labeled as a venue with a nasty degrading term on multiple social media sites. I’ve had people create fake twitter accounts to harass me. Lots and lots of this sort of crap that people seem to think is perfectly typical when you have a blog. Note that being stalked is not something we should normalize as a consequence of having an opinion. My “blocked” list on Facebook is filled with other gay men and lesbians who hate, hate, hate that I talk about these things.

But this is different. This feels different. Ledcat notices which is really different. My friends noticed which is really, really different.

So we go to a Middle Eastern restaurant in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh and have some creepy white guy staring at us for over an hour. This is Ross Township, right on the outskirts of the Northside neighborhoods of Pittsburgh. Not some far-flung suburb. It is right there.

Something is different. That man showed me that I am not alone in my sense that something profound has shifted nor am I alone in my unease right here in Western Pennsylvania. I’m also uneasy because I know this region. I know how allies react when you point out things like this. I know that Pittsburgh is incredibly socially conservative and most leaders over 25 are not going to delve into that deep painful conversation about intersectional identity without a lot of cause. I know everyone is shell-shocked. I know that we will all be expected to line up like good soldiers behind the self-appointed allies in charge of LGBTQ compliance or lose our gay cards for the next four years.

I know that the sense of liberation felt by many bigots and racists to show their true selves will be met with efforts by the left to not rock the boat, to not draw attention to ourselves, to be pleasing and accommodating. I’ve had that lecture far too many times from far too many people in the local liberal elite to expect anything different now. My faith in the local Dems and progressive community to stand with us is wavering.

And that makes me afraid that I won’t get the support I need to cope with the craptastic response on all fronts. Because while I will always try to make the smart, sane choice in a given situation, I will resist. I refuse to comply with going backwards 20 years. I refuse to deny the voices of my friends, people of color, who have been describing this all along.

I refuse to sacrifice my trans friends and neighbors to preserve my own rights as a cis white lesbian. I refuse to hunker down and hope my home withstands the storm when I could shelter with my neighbors and rebuild together.

So I’m going to document the microagressions on this blog. I’m going to make sure you, dear readers, have a glimpse into how the world has shifted for a white, middle-aged, middle class, cis gender lesbian on a day-to-day level. Because it is everywhere, it always has been and I’ve usually been able to acknowledge, but move on most of the time.

But there are too many Confederate flags waving over the trucks and homes of friends of my friends. There are too many Catholic-lite folks who deny the racial divides in Pittsburgh while swigging a craft brew at their favorite food truck. There are too few women in elected office and too many kids not part of the ‘412’ culture. Too many good intentions making things worse while demanding validation for trying. It is the participation trophy demands in social justice work that are draining our resources and preventing us from lifting up the actual contributions from people of color, queer and trans folks, bisexual folks, disabled people, etc. We have too many sacred cows and not enough kleenex for the white tears of indignation and outrage.

Let me be precise here – the comments on my blog centered around a blog post highlighting the  fact that a woman who was both bisexual and a woman of color had been murdered. The incident in the restaurant could very well have been about the fact that my black nephews have white moms. This is very much in keeping with the need to center microaggression theory on the experiences of people of color in our society. The theory does expand to other minority groups, like queer people and women and disabled people, but my white privilege will protect me from the worst of it.

It won’t protect my nephews, especially when I’m not around.

And that I will always resist.

Note: we are working on a terrific #AMPLIFY tee shirt to challenge these assumption, in partnership with Commonwealth Press. We need to raise at least $500 to produce the shirts which will be sold as fundraiser at $25/shirt. You can donate to our fundraiser if you feel so moved to help us raise the original $500.

  • This. “Too many good intentions making things worse while demanding validation for trying. It is the participation trophy demands in social justice work that are draining our resources and preventing us from lifting up the actual contributions from people of color, queer and trans folks, bisexual folks, disabled people, etc. We have too many sacred cows and not enough kleenex for the white tears of indignation and outrage.”
    I hope that all of our minority groups (including mine, which has a crappy history on it) remember that we’re in this together. We have the most power when we fight for each other.

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