"Doesn't it get tiring?" my sister asked, in one of our ongoing quasi-hostile debates about sexism and heterosexism and how much or how little one should talk about it. "To be policing people all the time?"
Igniting this particular version of the debate was a comment our brother's girlfriend, C, had made. C jokingly referred to herself as a "pussy" because she was tentative about doing something. I gave my usual response, "What's wrong with pussies?" And went on to explain that vaginas are actually pretty powerful and resilient, and if we're going to use any genitalia as a synonym for weak and easily hurt, I would like to nominate the penis instead.
Sometimes it's hard for me to tell if I am being enlightening or insufferable.
And the answer to her question is yes, it does get tiring. And yes, it is sometimes scary to know I am entering a field extremely personal to me. In addition to campus-wide education, the centerpiece of my job will be supporting female and LGBTQ college students in their quest to understand themselves, be happy, and recognize which limitations are real and which are imposed by others and societal norms. Which is essentially what I am trying to figure out for myself every day.
Gender and sexuality social justice work is not work you can turn off, laying it to rest at the end of the day. For example, while in a luggage shop searching for a handsome leather briefcase, I was asked by a staff person why a woman was looking at the "old man bags" and soon after all three staff members gathered together at the front window to make fun of a man with a pink mohawk. If you can't conform, you are a freak, these salespeople were telling me. A simple errand became infuriating and depressing.
What saves me from rants in public places and daily feelings of hopelessness is my belief in the ripple effect. While I am all for grand gestures like civil disobedience and media campaigns and the like, I believe that small respectful exchanges are the way to lasting change and equality. Even at the risk of some people finding you insufferable.
C told me later that my pussy comment made her think. And it may just be that the next time she needs a word to describe weakness, she might say "weakness" and leave gender out of it. And it may just be that the next time someone uses "pussy" in a derogatory way, she doesn't laugh. And perhaps two years from now, she'll let her friends know that she only ever wants hear "pussy" when talking about a cat from the 1920s or as a synonym for "awesome."