As a person of mostly but not only White heritage, as an immigrant to Atlanta, and as a Capricorn, Martin Luther King, Jr. is a figure close to my heart.
One aspect of his values and philosophical views that is dear to me is the notion of a “negative peace”:
“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season…”
Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
Much of my life is lived with respect to the constant presence of lukewarm acceptance. I face it on an uncountable number of fronts; my gender identity and presentation is a prominent source of a ‘giant sucking sound‘ in my emotional and social life, but there are greater and lesser ones throughout my life experiences.
One aspect that has gained recent prominence is the notion of ‘independence’. I’ve hearing of it as relates to my journey of life, health and activity lately, and it’s becoming a rift between me and several comfortably positioned folks of privilege in my life.
My life, as it presently stands, is of mixed situation. I am healthy and pursuing the good life that is in reach. But right now, I’m unemployed, and my life is focused on working through personal health issues mentally, physically, and spiritually. This leaves me dependent, financially and otherwise, on my family, almost entirely my parents.
I am living more happily than I have for over a dozen years. I am also facing new challenges each day as I become more active and engaged – losing cherished friendships, making and deepening other ones, trying new activities that sometimes don’t go as well as hoped, and developing my ideas, pursuits, and dreams for what comes next.
And in the midst of this, unresolved trauma looms constantly, needing release and some kind of expression, in both times of solitude and rest and times of connection and social engagement.
Throughout this, the notions of independence I have learned become more and more irrelevant and hollow.
‘Independence’, in the way it is suggested to me, is not an actual option. It hasn’t been available except as a path to isolation, despair, and self-harming activities and behaviors. It depends on conceptual and emotional capacities I don’t have.
‘Independence’, as others suggest it to me, depends on some function of self-sufficiency that is wrapped up in the same problems that have tripped me up my whole life.
To encourage me to ‘independence’ without required emotional and spiritual supports and interventions is to invite me to chart a path of self-destruction, loneliness, and despair.
So why is it done?
Partly because I can do more than I expect of myself. I have more capability and self-sufficiency than I’ve come to expect of myself – nowadays.
But it’s funny how the communal experiences I’ve sought out and embraced are the greatest source of that recent growth.
It’s funny that people like to tell me that I am personally empowered to achieve something for myself, while the best things for me are group experiences.
And it’s inescapable to me that the people that encourage this have a sense of security that makes them different from me as a trans woman and as a survivor of acute personal trauma from both early age and young adulthood.
People who feel they have their ducks in a row are the most interested in encouraging me to become some wonderfully self-sufficient person in ways that I cannot be at this point.
And it starts to take on an atmosphere that they would rather see where they want me to end up than where I currently am.
In practice, the most destructive implication of their visions for me is that they want me to live in a liberal utopia.
A world where I don’t deal with discomfort and disgust from random passersby as I express my femininity in my clothing and appearance.
A world where any emotional connection with an officially recognizable healthy person almost always involves me balancing my vulnerabilities with the other person’s humanity, all while the depths of my stress and pain are unimaginably inconceivable to the ‘officially healthy’ person as a matter of general course.
A world where I don’t have to set aside time to cry and throw childish temper tantrums on a daily to hourly basis.
A world where I don’t get punished by people for affecting them in ways they can’t/don’t want to think about.
But that isn’t the world I live in. Because those things all really happen.
And it means that I must disrupt the peaceful lives and minds of folks who just so happen to not have to deal with this shit every day.
It means that, when I’m freaked out, I find more comfort and validation in spending time with a friendly stranger or homeless person than with a therapist or a spiritual counselor.
Because my life often gets unconsciously sorted into boxes that don’t serve me by people who care about me. And for me, resisting that means I disrupt their conceptual lives, as much as I am disruptive of the conceptual life of the person to whom my dress and painted nails are distressing and confusing, or the nice old lady at church who asked me ‘where I’m from’ on account of my having a non-WASP-y name.
If only there wasn’t something suspiciously self-serving about the whole exercise of someone sorting me into their boxes. Something that spoke to an instinct to sustain and preserve the moral validity of their established and secure lives…
To restate the words of Jesus of Nazareth, by way of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. – “I come not to bring negative peace, but a sword.”