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What pronouns taught me about belonging

Posted on August 31st, 2020 by

A blog post by Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.


Last week, the JMM staff, and some members of our volunteer corps and board of trustees participated in an LGBTQ inclusion training through Keshet. It was a lot of information in a short amount of time, and it got me thinking about what pronouns have taught me about belonging.

About 8 years ago, I attended a training about trans student inclusion at the major university where I worked. I attended the training and felt pretty good about myself. I thought I had a good understanding of the issues. I figured I would use whatever pronouns a person asked me to use, end of story. I even chose to put a sticker on my office door at the university that indicated my office was somewhere a student could find respite and help in dealing with issues arising from their LGBT identity. Though I am cisgender (that is, the gender of my soul matches my physical sex characteristics) and in a heterosexual marriage, I believed I was a strong ally. I believed that since I had accepted my first cousin’s genderqueer significant other, I was evolved, and had no real work to do regarding trans acceptance.

Fast forward a couple of years to about five years ago, when I became involved with a local activist and advocacy community. In group meetings, this community makes a practice of having folks introduce themselves with their name and their preferred pronouns. In other words, at each meeting or event, when introductions came around to me, I’d have to say “I’m Tracie, and I use she, her, hers.”

I admit, despite my self-assessment as being supportive of the trans community, I hated it. I clearly remember complaining to my sister one day: “Why do we have to do this, when we’re all cisgender?”  It felt useless and a waste of time for a bunch of cisgender men and women to tell each other what was patently clear.

I suffered through what felt like performance for weeks and months at meetings with this group, quietly resenting it. Then one day, everything changed. As we went around the table with introductions and pronouns, a new person I hadn’t met was there. This person, who I assumed was female, said their name, I’ll call them “A,” and then “I use they, their.” Friends, because this was the time in the meeting when we all declared our pronouns, A’s they/there was No. Big. Deal. And that’s exactly why a bunch of cisgender men and women had been sharing their pronouns for all those weeks and months. It wasn’t for us. It was for A and others like them.

In that moment, when A told me and the rest of the table that they preferred they/their pronouns, I realized just how much I didn’t know.

I had assumed that my good intentions toward trans individuals would be enough. Hearing A declare their pronouns amidst a room full of people who also declared their pronouns dissolved my quiet resentment. A needs to declare their pronouns regularly, because they are often misgendered, as I had initially done to them. A does not identify as “she,” but as “they,” and the only way I could know that is to ask or to be told. By saying my pronouns at every meeting, declaring pronouns became normal for me. That normalizing of pronoun declaration is what A needed in order for them to be both gendered accurately and to feel truly welcomed.

Today I regularly declare my pronouns verbally or in writing, so that I can continue to help normalize the practice.

But I wanted to tell this story, of how it finally made sense to me, because I want to recognize the discomfort the practice can cause when it is first introduced. Maybe it feels silly or unnecessary to you, as it did for me when I was first asked to do it. I hope you will push through the discomfort and do it anyway, especially when meeting groups of young people who are likely much more comfortable with the practice. When cisgender people take the time to declare their pronouns, we aren’t providing unnecessary information, we are saying to trans and non-binary people, “we see you.” When we do it all the time, and normalize the practice, whether or not we know trans or non-binary folks to be present, we are saying to trans and non-binary people, not only “we see you,” but “you belong here.”

It is a message I, for one, wish more people felt in more places.


More on pronouns:

Even a Grammar Geezer Like Me Can Get Used to Gender Neutral Pronouns,” Fresh Air on NPR

International Pronouns Day

Creating Authentic Spaces: A Gender Identity and Gender Expression Toolkit


 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




We Need to Talk About Working Mothers

Posted on August 4th, 2020 by

A blog post by Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.


Regina Margareteen (center), co-founder of the Horwitz-Margareten Matzah Company, with her six children. Louis E. Schecter Collection, JMM 1974.21.9.

In the midst of this pandemic and quarantine and all that has accompanied them, we need to talk about working mothers.

[Steps onto soapbox]

There is no lack of evidence that the current reality is taking a huge toll on women, especially working moms. The Washington Post, the Today Show, the New York Times, and NBC News have all featured stories about the undue burden the “new normal” is placing on working moms.

As a working mom myself, I can tell you anecdotally, the struggle is real. I am working harder, both in my professional life and in my life as a parent, than I ever have. My situation is compounded by my husband being stationed overseas right now with the US Navy. On the other hand, I only have one kid. Still, it is rough out there, well, in here, right now.

Article, “A Study of Women at Work in War Time,” by Emily E. Lantz, June 11, 1918. Judge Jacob Moses Papers, JMM 1963.42.9.

Here’s the thing: even in the before times, I was fond of saying that we working moms are expected to work as if we didn’t have kids, and parent as if we didn’t have jobs. It was always an impossible ask, but now, in quarantine, when we’re doing it all simultaneously from our dining rooms, now we can’t even pretend.

I had thought maybe this new reality would push our culture toward a change. When all this started, I thought, “you know, maybe the silver lining will be a new attitude toward working parents—a new appreciation for all we go through and a better way to support each other.”

Friends, that is not what is happening.

At JMM, we send surveys after every program. Hearing from our participants helps us better serve you, our family of members and friends. Both validation and critique are valuable, as they allow us to do more of what’s working and/or improve what could be better. Let me reiterate: we appreciate constructive criticism. However, after one of JMM’s presentations in the past couple of weeks one of our participants had critique not of the content of the program, but of the circumstances of one of the presenters. They said:

“I really love children – it is my life’s work – but unless the young lady whose young child was playing in the background is a single mom who didn’t have anyone to watch her child, it would have been more professional if she would have had the child under supervision in another area.”

Now, the fact of the matter was the “young lady,” who is actually a professional adult, was flying solo with her two young children because her husband had been exposed to Coronavirus and they were trying to protect their children from possible exposure. But that doesn’t really matter. What I want to unpack here is the fact that this survey respondent, who claims to love children and have worked with them their whole life, somehow doesn’t recognize that 1) children’s voices carry and 2) if the very professional person on the screen has children’s voices in the background, it’s because SHE DOESN’T HAVE A CHOICE. And don’t even get me started on the ‘unless she’s a single mom who didn’t have anyone to watch her child’ comment. Because single moms are inherently unprofessional and therefore get a pass for seeming unprofessional? Is that why you bring that up?

(And I can’t help but wonder if it had been a man instead of a woman giving the presentation with an audible toddler in the background if the same participant might have thought “oh, what a great dad he is.”)

Helen Fogg (pockets & pressing) and Mary Johnson (pressing) at work at the Resisto Ties Company, 1988. JMM 1996.68.18.

Friends, the presentation was appropriately professional. The only thing I might have changed would have been to explicitly acknowledge the audible toddler, maybe even inviting the child to say hello. Because having children visible or audible is not unprofessional.

If having children genuinely diminishes professionalism, we need to stop shaming moms and work on changing our definition of professional. The whole notion that professional ≠ parent is a false binary. It. Is. Hurting. Us. We have got to break this harmful either/or. For the survival of our species and the advancement of our society, we must find a way to hold both/and. Both a parent and a professional. Both a loving mother and a dedicated manager. Both a caring parent and a valued employee. Both. And.

Sewing machine operators at work in the Aetna Shirt Company, c. 1950s. Photo by the Hughes Co., JMM 1992.42.4.

And so, I invite you to set an intention to open your thinking. Hold both/and in your mind and in your heart. And the next time you hear a professional mom (or dad)’s kid in the background of a Zoom call or a lecture or a client meeting, if you feel some irritation rising, maybe the words, “it would have been more professional if…,” try taking a deep breath. Remind yourself she or he is doing the best they can; that they are both/and, and that has to be okay. (In fact, sometimes it’s better than okay. When we allow children to be delightful diversions not annoying distractions, the world is better for the children and for us.) And if the parent is someone you actually know, I invite you to go one step further, and say, “how can I help?”

I know there isn’t much we can do for one another right now in this pandemic, but speaking only for myself, being truly seen and acknowledged would be a help.

[Steps off of soapbox]


 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Responding to this moment

Posted on June 3rd, 2020 by

A blog post by Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.


When JMM staff approached me about moderating one of the two conversations we had planned to accompany our now-virtual exhibit, GrayinBlackandWhite.com, I didn’t hesitate to say “yes.” Those who know me well know the #BaltimoreUprising that followed the death of Freddie Gray in police custody five years ago was a touchstone on my personal antiracism journey. I was glad to be able to lend my voice and presence to a conversation marking the fifth anniversary of a time that was so important to my understanding of the world and my role in it. Two weeks later, on May 21, 2020, I was again pleased to play a role in another conversation, this time with female activists and journalists working to expose and address the root causes of the Uprising.

In my introduction to that second event, I answered the question I had heard spoken or implied many times: “why is JMM getting involved in commemorating the Baltimore Uprising?”

My answer was two-fold: First, at JMM, we regularly assert that Maryland Jewish history is Maryland history, and since we make that assertion, we must value and amplify its corollary: Maryland African American History is Maryland History. And second, at JMM, we know that the Jewish community of Maryland is diverse and multi-ethnic. When most of us think of American Jews, we imagine white-skinned Ashkenazi Jews. And, though there are a lot of us, (I am one) the Jewish community is made up of white, black, and brown people. Which means that institutional and structural racism, the root causes of the Baltimore Uprising, are Jewish issues.

Little did I know those root causes would reveal themselves again with such heartbreaking clarity less than a week later in Minneapolis.

His name was George Floyd. The whole world has watched the cruel treatment Mr. Floyd received at the hands of men who wore a uniform issued by a city government. The world watched, and we were horrified, outraged, saddened, terrified, sickened. (The exact emotional response changes depending on the person reacting and the moment.) Protests in response to Mr. Floyd’s death have sprung up around the country—indeed, around the world. Many have turned violent, though there is evidence at least some of the violence is caused by saboteurs, not protestors. In Baltimore, we can’t help but see parallels with what happened here five years ago. To be frank, it’s disheartening. It’s disheartening that so little has changed in these five years, that the pain and anger and heartache is happening again.

But there is also reason for hope. I am noticing many more of my fellow white-skinned Americans paying attention to questions of race and racism than I have in my memory. As I write this, the top three books on Amazon’s best seller list are White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism, So You Want to Talk about Race, and We’re Different, We’re the Same (a kids’ book about race). In my opinion, this is a great sign. As Marvin said in his statement from the Museum on George Floyd’s death and the ongoing protests, “We must educate ourselves. We must listen, truly listen, to the voices of people who don’t look or live or worship as we do. We must commit to being upstanders, not bystanders. We will only change the story if we change ourselves.”

I want to urge us all to be steadfast. We cannot let this impulse to learn more and to move toward antiracism be a trend we abandon as quickly as we picked it up. I believe this work to be among the most important work we can do if we want to leave our children a better world. To that end, I want to offer a thought experiment, especially to my fellow Jews who may be reading this.

When I want to better understand a situation, I often find it helpful to find a parallel that is closer to me—a situation with which I am more familiar that is somehow similar to the one I seek to understand. I want to offer you a parallel for this moment: imagine what it would look like, what it would feel like if men and women wearing uniforms issued by a governmental agency were disproportionately killing unarmed Jews with little to no consequences. Imagine it happening over and over and over and over again. Imagine complaining about it, protesting it, alerting your non-Jewish neighbors in various ways for generations, and not being believed by the majority who distrust you and think you must be lying because you don’t worship as they do. “You must have done something to deserve it,” they say, and go back to their lives.

Sadly, we don’t have to work too hard to imagine such a reality. It has a familiar air about it*.

Stay with me.

Imagine in this reality that however you protest the frequent and seemingly indiscriminate killing of unarmed Jews, you’re told it’s the wrong way to protest. You’re criticized when Jewish athletes use their platform to protest. You’re criticized when you peacefully march in the street. You’re criticized when you dare say, “Jewish lives matter.” Imagine after generations of this, some people at a protest are so frustrated at never being heard, they lose control of their anger and destroy property. Others take advantage of the moment of chaos, and loot or steal. Now your non-Jewish neighbors call you names. They tell you in direct and indirect ways, the fact that your sons and daughters keep getting killed is much less important than the fact that some who participated in protests of those killings caused property damage.

This is not some dystopian future I’m describing. It’s the reality your black and brown friends, neighbors, loved ones, and at least 12 to 15% of our fellow Jews, are living right now, in 2020. I invite you to sit with that for a moment. Really sit with it. Now ask yourself, if the roles were different, if it really were Jews’ deaths being protested, what would you want your non-Jewish neighbors to do about it?

Once you have your answer, you know what you – what we – must do.**


*Pictured: (Left) Broadside, directive for a “Mr. Lynch” to leave the 9th ward in 30 days or else be “visited” by a group of 300 men. “The White Caps” will take the law into their own hands. “Beware! Beware!” printed across bottom, May 7, 1889. Possibly directed against a Bacharach who ran for public office. JMM 1991.147.39. (Center) Sign stating pool for approved gentiles only at the Meadowbrook Swimming Club. JMM 1995.201.2. (Right) Cartoon from “Puck” magazine regarding hotel discrimination and Jews. JMM 1991.147.38.

**Pictured: Title from 1941 pamphlet produced by the Philadelphia Anti-Defamation Council and the American Jewish Committee. To Bigotry No Sanction: A Documented Analysis of Anti-Semitic Propaganda. JMM 1988.211.32.


 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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