That’s something one of my professors in grad school would lead off with in the first class of the semester. The class was about the effect of environments on people’s ability to learn, develop, and grow. After sixteen weeks, hours of discussion, papers, and reading an entire textbook, he was right. Years later, it’s funny how much I find myself thinking the same thing as I approach my work.
So much of what I do — and what other folks who do work like mine do — is helping people rearrange the things they’ve already learned about themselves, their gender and sexuality, identity, and society. People have experienced the phenomena, they just don’t have names for them, or understand how they interlock or overlap.
It’s the difference between a personal shopper and a personal organizer. Instead of taking you to fancy stores to buy new fancy things, we spend a couple hours in your closet making sense of what you already have. Maybe you need a new pair of shoes, or a scarf to go with your favorite sweater, and I can help you with that, but for the most part I’m here to help you organize what you already have.
One of the challenges is finding ways to prevent people from recluttering everything as soon as you step away. While we’re chatting, the Platinum Rule might seem like a great idea, and everyone is all “heck yeah Imma do that.” Then two weeks later, they’re in some fight with some person and they think “that would have never pissed me off” and keep hammering away Golden-Rule style, mucking up their closet.
You can lead a fish to water, but you can’t make him eat a horse, ya know?
The other challenge is reassuring people that what they have in their closet is good enough. Gender, sexuality, identity, life — these are complicated ideas, and complicated ideas require complicated explanations utilizing complicated concepts, don’t they? Sometimes. But sometimes they don’t. And when someone already has all the tools to understand an idea but thinks they are missing something, it’s tough to convince them otherwise. And it’s tougher still to help them over the discomfort and fear of realizing how incompletely/incorrectly/disorganizedly they were viewing things their entire life up until that point. Sometimes it’s easier to to just say, “nope, not possible, don’t get it, let’s move on.”
Sometimes you bite off too much of a bitter pill to chew it, ya heard?
But the fun part of unteaching is seeing when it clicks. When a person, or group of people, realize something big, and realize that they’ve kinda known it all along. And knowing that it’s not going away. That part of their life is organized now.