Every time I talk about a personal experience related to my own life and personal history, and somebody responds with the phrase, or a variation on, “I read once that…” I involuntarily shudder. Why?
Because it never ends well when someone tries to compare or match my lived experiences to something that they read about in a book, whether that book is about autism, Judaism, Blackfoot life, activism, lesbianism, bisexuality, dating trans* people, fiction or nonfiction, whether it comes from a medical journal, New York Times Bestseller, blog post, or Bitch magazine article. Because almost inevitably, they ask me to account for a variation between what was described in their book and what goes on in my life, or they immediately take control of the conversation about the topic away from me and my life and put it into theirs, when they haven’t ever actually lived these experiences, except vaguely vicariously through a medium which may not be 100% accurate and may or may not have been written without a particular agenda to push. It means that I lose power over my own stories and get unfairly demanded to match it against some ideal which probably doesn’t even exist.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe people should educate themselves. I believe in reading and learning. I believe in asking questions and sifting between sources of information. What I don’t believe in is valuing the written word of an outsider over the real experiences and lives of the people who are being written about. The next time you find yourself following up somebody’s personal story with, “Well, I read in [Insert Medium here] that actually…”, I’d like you to stop, think, and wonder, “Is this going to make me sound like I think I know more about this particular identity and experience than the person who lived through it?” If the answer is yes, better re-frame your question, or you may end up getting a rather curt and unamused answer.