Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Wednesday Factoid: Leader

Today's Wednesday Factoid is: When in your life have you been a leader?

I've been "a leader" in quite a number of ways. I have a weird relationship with leadership. Most of the other people I know who are comfortable with leadership are people who actively want to lead--who are in fact uncomfortable if they're not in charge. I'm not really interested in being in charge. But if it falls to me, I can do it well.

In small ways I've done things like calling the shots and assigning duties in group projects in school, or taking charge in the section of the bookstore I was responsible for, revolutionizing several aspects of it and creating my own resources when the company-issued ones weren't enough. In larger ways I've taken careful stock of the amount of attention and power that have been given to my words and have approached leadership in the asexual community with careful confidence.

I am a pretty confident person in most situations. It's hard to intimidate me or make me feel like my perspective doesn't matter. It can definitely happen--especially in situations where I am explicitly not a leader, like at my day job. I'm in a support position at my day job, and literally everyone who works there is essentially the boss of me. I let them do all the leading and call all the shots. I don't have a problem with taking direction.

As an eldest child, I think I was trained from early life to be comfortable with setting an example. My sister has told me a few times that she was grateful to have someone doing everything before she did to soften the ground a little--to give her a peek at what she'd be doing next, and if I survived, she could too. I didn't know this as a child, but I guess I just kind of "knew" it, and doing everything first didn't seem scary whatsoever. It's interesting to hear from her that the same thing I was neutral or excited about was intimidating for her. 

I'm not at all uncomfortable with my biggest "leadership" role, though sometimes I guess it's . . . heavy? I feel like it just comes with the territory. Outsiders to my community will still listen to me on issues that affect us, while insiders will end up represented by what I say about "us" regardless of how many disclaimers I invoke. I aim for some mixture of commanding the so-called stage and stepping aside when I can (and when it's comfortable for the people I defer to). For instance, I believe I ended up in the place I did because I make good content and I've been consistent about providing it across a variety of media, but I have also been assisted on this journey with the magical grease of privilege. I'm white, upper middle class, not disabled, cisgender, presumably neurotypical. I fit into some categories that make the world take me more seriously, while they might use elements that don't apply to me to marginalize and mock others in my community. So sometimes I have used my stage to describe the issues more marginalized asexual people experience as they've described it to me, or (if the "stage" allows) I will hand over the mic. The media has a history of featuring almost exclusively white asexuality representatives, so one thing I've done is speak privately to ace activists of color and have received permission from several who are comfortable speaking to media to pass on their contact information so we can diversify somewhat on that particular front.

I started with asexual awareness activism primarily with the perspective that I was explaining myself to non-asexual people, but when I received so much attention from other asexual people, that became my primary highlight--I could afford to speak on their behalf when they didn't or couldn't do so, and even though it sometimes takes a lot out of me, I recognize that my privileges insulate me from what some of them would risk or lose for speaking out. The benefits to leading are mostly just that ineffable "attention" experience--if that's what you want, and sometimes it's cool, sometimes not--and of course the fact that I have a supportive network to lean on when I need help, and I had the connections I needed to get a book published (which also involves monetary compensation sometimes). The other people I've met and connected with and helped have been the best part of the leadership experience. The worst part is always feeling like anything I do or say is happening on a stage, and if I mess up then hyper-critical members of my community or communities adjacent to mine might crucify me. Sometimes they're wrong, or they do it in an ultimately non-constructive way, but most of the time I think my bigger megaphone DOES mean I should be held to a stricter standard on what I say.

Sometimes when I'm in asexual spaces I'm just kind of expected to take the reins, and it's uncomfortable if I don't, so I do it without complaining. Like, I've been an audience member or a spectator at events before where the presenters or organizers knew I was in the audience and they still kept checking in with me or asking for my input, or if we broke into groups as unorganized equals I was still expected to structure the discussion. If I'm not being actively expected to do that, I try to sit back and NOT do it to see what will happen, and maybe only jump in if I think my perspective will comfort someone or validate someone. I've said so much and I've been heard so much. I don't have a personal need to keep talking at this point.

If you look at the Ace Leadership panel I was on once, I actually talked the least. ;)


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