I have Thoughts on What Went Down at Stirrup Queens last week.*
My thoughts are lengthy. They are rambling and sometimes navel-gazing. And I am well aware that I am stepping into a situation that seems to have nothing to do with me. But here I go anyway, because I care about this community and I think some very important issues have been raised.** I am coming from a place of love and compassion and while I know that Intent Is Not Magic, I do hope that my intent comes through here. Metta, karuna, mudita, upekkha.
Lived Experience; my house is my house
I have to start from this place, from what I know for sure: No one gets to tell another person that her lived experience is wrong. My life is my life, and if it doesn’t line up with someone else’s ideas or with statistics or with whatever fairy tale the media is pumping out at us, that doesn’t make it any less my life.
Another thing I know for sure: Your rights end where mine begin. And vice versa. This blog is my house, and I have the right to conduct myself here as I see fit. Your blog is your house, and you get to run it however you choose. I think that means no one should feel pressured to censor herself on her own blog, particularly in this community where so many of us come to get away from the constant self-censorship of the rest of our lives. If we can’t speak freely in the one place we have created for that express purpose, what do we have?
These two points are, I think, my best way in to understand the people who joined PAIL because they weren’t getting what they needed from the existing ALI community.
Lived Experience. There are so many comments at Stirrup Queens about people finding their readership drop after becoming pregnant or giving birth, and about people who are pregnant or parenting signing up for ICLW in particular and not getting the support they needed to get out of that experience. People feeling alone inside this community, which was often the one place they really belonged and could be totally honest. That is a real, lived experience: ALI bloggers feeling isolated from the ALI community after becoming pregnant or giving birth.
Obviously I have never done either of those things, but I know some of my readers have and I would love to know if your experience has been similar. Did your readership drop when you got your BFP? When you gave birth? Did it matter to you? Would you notice?
Your rights end where mine begin. Many of the PAIL bloggers (and can I say how much I appreciate the strength it took to say these things “out loud?”) also talked about self-censoring. Feeling uncomfortable writing about pregnancy, or childbirth, or parenting because they remember the pain of reading about those topics after a BFN or an adoption that didn’t go through or just another long slog up this fucking neverending mountain. It’s an empathetic position: remembering what it feels like to read that stuff, they don’t want to write about it and cause people pain. But the situation there spirals down — because, again, the lived experience of these bloggers is that readership drops. (Some of) the people who can’t handle pregnancy or parenting posts have already gone away. So you have a blogger who is trying to be sensitive to the needs of her readers, self-censoring in the process, and the readers still go away.
The blogger is no longer getting her or his needs met: not only is she not getting the support she still needs, she is not even able to use her own blog to share her real thoughts and feelings. The ALI community is no longer a safe space for her.
If anyone’s reading who is pregnant or parenting, did/do you feel this way? Do you censor your blog to spare readers’ feelings? Do you feel you can be honest in this community?
Not only is one person’s lived experience her absolute truth; not only do one person’s rights end where another’s begin; on top of those things, something I know for sure is that privilege exists. And that is why safe spaces are needed.
The ALI community is a needed, loved, and vital safe space for people who can’t say things in the rest of the world. We are marginalized; we are “not normal;” we are “subverting God’s will,” or proving that “feminism has failed,” or “selfish,” or too stupid to know that we could “just adopt.” We need a place where we don’t always have to smile, where we don’t always have to start at the beginning, where no one will ask us when we’re going to have kids, where someone knows what we mean by “Anyone get a BFP 5dp5dt?” This is that place.
It’s been that place for the bloggers who got pregnant, who had babies, and some of whom no longer feel welcome. And that’s why I totally understand why PAIL is so attractive. Everyone deserves a safe space; for people who have come through this crucible, regular mommy blogs aren’t going to do it. And if this community is no longer functioning as a safe space for some bloggers, it makes sense that they would need a new place that can do that for them.
me, me, me
I have to confess that I don’t understand the self-censorship thing. I have only censored myself once on this blog, and after deleting the post I put it back up. This blog? My house. Your blog? Your house. And while I would love to have lots and lots of friends over, it’s more important to me to keep my house in the way I see fit than to try to change it in the hope of keeping or increasing readership. I guess it comes down to blogging goals, as Mel put so elegantly in one of her posts. I think we all have to know why we’re here.
I’m here because this (and I mean this community, not just my own corner of it) is my safe space. I can say here what I can’t say Out in the World. I have been fortunate to meet so many amazing, strong women. You inspire me on a daily basis. When I fall down you are there to catch me.
I know that many times I have taken more support from this community than I have given back, and I absolutely need to do better. I am socially awkward in real life so I suppose it’s not so strange that I’m the same way here — but really, I need to do better.
It breaks my heart to think that on the other side of those days when I’m just not up for seeing a baby update, there is an ALI blogger wondering where all of her readers have gone.
That being said, though, those bloggers with babies? They have done it. They have achieved what we’re all hoping for, and there is a sense for me in which forming a new community just for parents feels a little like climbing into the treehouse and then pulling the ladder up after them while the rest of us are still on the ground. That’s an ugly sentiment and I’m not proud of myself for feeling it, even for one minute. I have to respect these bloggers’ need for safe space just as much as my own, and as I said above if some people are not getting their needs met here they have every right to go elsewhere.
What this means for me is that I need to work harder to make sure the bloggers I care about, who inspire me and whose journeys are giving me hope, are appreciated and feel welcome here (small-here as in gingerandlime and big-here as in ALI), no matter what part of the mountain they’ve gotten to.
* It is also, of course, What Went Down at Elphaba’s blog (formerly Yolk, now Alice in Diaperland). But I experienced it at first through the Stirrup Queens posts, which is how it filters in my head, so that’s how I’m presenting it here. I don’t mean in any way to privilege Mel’s experience of the situation over Elphaba’s, but it would be disingenuous of me to present this as though I have a complete understanding of what went into creating PAIL.
** I’m not going to talk about the uglier things that were said, except to say that we are all starting from a place of profound pain. I hope that we can be gentle with ourselves and with others.