Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Conflict Yoga

Once I understood the concept of
privilege
, a situation with my yoga class became comprehensible. My instructor, a truly nice person that I like and respect, cannot see his TAB privilege. With all my verbal skills, nothing I say penetrates.

As soon as I am dressed properly and in the yoga studio, I am expected to allow others to lead me around the room. Should I need to move and nobody comes to help, I must interrupt to stir from my spot. When new people come to class, I must tolerate my teacher using language to describe my disability that I have made clear I do not prefer. I must wait until someone brings me the props necessary to do the assigned poses. If a verbal description of a pose is unclear, I must interrupt to get clarification. Then I must do the pose and hope the instructor has enough spare attention to tell me if I'm getting it wrong. In this way, I seem less capable and competent than I truly am, but I must accept this and any ramifications it engenders.

Are you wondering why I put up with this? First, let me remind you that I actually like and respect my teacher in all ways except this one. The type of yoga I'm doing is the only kind that seems to work for me, this is the best instructor at the studio, and I am fortunate to have a neighbor who takes class there and drives me to and fro. I'm also certain I would not find it to be any better elsewhere.

Why do I think this all boils down to TAB privilege? In conversations with my instructor, he has assumed I should be accepting of my dependency and my frustration with it indicates an excess of ego. Apparently, my presence also provides an opportunity for other members of the class to learn compassion and understand what it means to be a part of a community. I should be comfortable interrupting and in fact it is my responsibility to do so. His comfort-level with terms used to describe me supersedes any preference I state.

In other words, I should accept being put in a position of greater disadvantage than I experience in my daily life. It is incumbent upon me to do more to get the same things out of class other students receive without effort. My thoughts and feelings on the subject are less valid than the instructors because he somehow knows more about being a disabled person than I do.

There are signs of progress. Due to a series of circumstances beyond my control, I missed class two weeks in a row. This happened immediately upon the heels of me trying, once again, to articulate my feelings. When he sent me an email to make sure I was alright (I told you he's nice), I made it clear I had missed class for specific reasons, but it's possible he thought otherwise. It's also possible he thought through my words and finally they penetrated.

He referred to me as "blind!" The rest of his speech to the class was a bit.... distressing, but I am focusing on the progress. It's the first sign of progress.

More and more, I encounter good people who cannot seem to understand disability no matter what words I use, events they witness, or emotionality I display. If I could write off the individual as a jerk, it would be simple. Life is not that easy. Instead I'm left torn between my fondness for someone and offense at how they treat/judge me. How do you like someone who treats you in ways you find objectionable in the extreme? How do you dislike someone who is otherwise better than the average person? If you figure it out, do let me know.

5 comments:

Steve said...

The concept of privilege in this context still bothers me. Where does it end? Do those with social skills have privileges over the awkward? Is any talented individual privileged when compared to someone lacking that talent? In the former case, one's life absolutely would be made easier. Lacking social skills makes all manner of human interaction more difficult. It seems like an equivalence, though the socially inept are not a protected class in any way shape or form.

It feels like this is a push to redefine the "baseline" as it were. The "customary" way of thinking is that everyone's normal and certain classes are inferior. By amplifying TAB privilege, cisgender privilege, straight privilege etc, it seems like the preferred way of thinking from an oppression theory standpoint is that the marginalized are the standard and everyone else has all these awesome powers they don't even realize.

This is just what it looks like from the TAB side of things.

Holden said...

I've learned some people simply don't want to acknowledge the power dynamics related to the language they use.

Jen said...

Steve,
Privilege in this context is related to marginalized groups. I think that limits it to some degree.

To me, it seems like the baseline exists somewhere between the privileged and marginalized group. One has disadvantages and the other has advantages. In "owning" privilege, the first step is to acknowledge that as a result of having/not having a specific characteristic, a person experiences advantages or disadvantages. The random characteristics are not things like actual talent or ability. Skin color, gender, sexual orientation etc are qualitatively different from talent or ability.

I freely admit there are some major gray areas surrounding the concept of privilege. Take anything to an extreme and gray shows.

You're gonna hate this week's entry. I'm just waiting for your response.

Steve said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve said...

There are exceptionally few things that I hate. I don't even hate my most recent ex-gf, even though she has attained the truly unique position of being someone I refuse to speak to ever again. Response is coming.