Either, neither, sometimes both
An incomplete reflection on pluralism, and shedding the binaries that hold us back
We Shake With Joy (From Mary Oliver’s Devotions (2017))
Over the last few years, as I’ve grown up, and learnt more about the world around me, I’ve also started to shed some of what has been instilled in me for so long. From society, from culture, from my community.
I’ve shed a lot of the ways I’d been told (over and over again) things had to be, and done a lot of reimagining of what could be… A world free from policing and war; A world of equality, joy, and liberation; a world where we are so much more than our worst mistakes.
Sometimes I am utterly staggered by how we limit our own imaginations, the ways we clip the wings on our own dreams and wishes – what would the world be like if we allowed ourselves the freedom to be curious? To explore?
To colour outside the lines? To move beyond lines and shapes completely?
It feels awful and strange, and almost disrespectful to the universe around us and the beauties and complexities of the hundreds of languages we speak, that we have shackled ourselves to binaries and labels over and over again: good or bad; beautiful or ugly; man or woman; straight or queer; love or hate; here or gone; sick or healthy; happy or sad.
Always this or that.
Most of my life I have found safety, freedom, self-actualization, and joy in the “in between”. Neither here, nor there, sometimes both, sometimes neither.
A clear illustration of this is: I am neither healthy, nor am I sick, exactly – not in the traditional sense. I am both.
I live with a chronic illness that affects almost every part of my life – but I am so much more than that – I am able to move and dance, and hold, and be. I am healthy in most of the ways that matter, and also sick in most of the ways that matter… that’s just who I am, and how I am.
In the same vein… When I look at something – person, place, or thing – when any of us do – we can find the beauty, but also the ugliness. Sometimes the ugliness becomes the beauty, and sometimes the beauty becomes the ugliness.
It’s the same with good and bad – there is good in all of us, there is bad in all of us – this is a fundamental belief of mine. It’s one of the reasons I continue to find myself drawn to restorative justice, transformative justice, and abolition… it’s one of the reasons I keep finding myself back to spirituality and faith, and one of the reasons I struggle so deeply with concepts of good and bad, and heaven and hell. We are the sum of all of our parts, but how do we weigh them so that we land on one side of the spectrum or the other?
As judgmental as I can be (I’m looking at you, loud eaters!) – what right do I, as an imperfect, flawed, but trying to be good human do I have to judge YOU?
One of the biggest comforts I have found in spirituality and faith is the concepts of “here”ness and “gone”ness. These are concepts I still struggle with, but ultimately, I cannot grapple with a world where people are completely gone. I can understand that they are no longer here… But In a world where people are murdered by those who are meant to protect and serve them; in a world where children grow up (or don’t grow up) under war and occupation; in a world where people get sick, get old… accepting them being gone – forever and completely - is unfathomable to me.
In a world where we can find a shirt that smells like them, weeks after they’re gone; or a memory transports us to a time when we were together – how can they be gone completely?
As someone who has lived with mental illness for years – I know that happy and sad are not always simple. You can be happy, sad, happysad, sadhappy, and any other combination of feelings. You can feel every feeling, and you can feel no feelings at all.
There is no clean and easy answer to most of life – so why are we constantly searching for one?
I’ve been thinking about gender a lot lately. – specifically how we express it, how we perform it, how we define it… how we confine it to a binary – a “this or that”, and only recently (& only sometimes) being accepting of an “other”.
I’ve also been thinking about my gender, in particular.
Which is scary to think about, let alone write somewhere someone might read it. I’m scared about a lot, but I’m especially scared about the weight of other people’s expectations.
While I know that I am a woman – and I know that to my core. I also know that sometimes I am… not. Sometimes I feel safe and comfortable and myself in the in between space – not a man, not a woman, sometimes neither, sometimes both… but what does that mean? It’s more than just gender roles, or wearing gendered or genderless clothing – but it’s something about the “what if-ness”.
What if there is more, what if I am more?
I think the hardest part of these questions is the certainty other people want. The lack of messiness. The clear gender identity (whether they are happy with it or not)… but it is just so stifling to think about a single label – and that being that.
I wish we gave people the room and the freedom to explore, and be curious, and to be unsure – to make a decision, and then unmake it, and then remake it, and recognize that they are all valid. To take people seriously when they say they are not this, or maybe they are this, but perhaps they are also this – and let them figure it out (or try to) on their own terms… Without a long, rambling read trying to justify their certainty that sounds like uncertainty.
We criticize people for being “wishy-washy”, for being messy, for daring to exist outside of our clearly stated expectorations – but why?
Why do we hold ourselves back from messy? From confusing? From questions we don’t know the answer to, but we know we have to follow the thread, just in case we find out?
How have the binaries and the labels and the “this or that”ness that we have imposed on ourselves and the people around us served to push us further and further apart?
(This piece is unfinished – i hope to revisit it one day soon!)