Mental exercise and challenges are just as important as physical exercise. For physical exercise, I like to challenge myself by, for example, walking the 6 kilometres from my house to UVic, or trekking up an enormous hill that separates the university from Cadboro-Gyro Park, or going on a hike. Mental exercise, however, is something that I get every day, both through my blogroll and my real-life interactions with people.
Probably the biggest challenge to that is the five-day-a-week lunch break that I take at the university. Every day at Twelve Noon, I take my tupperware with a sandwich and salad outside of my office with the advocacy groups, and join Jaime and her coworkers for an hour of lunch and conversation. The atmosphere between my time at work and my time at lunch couldn’t be more different. When I’m at work, on duty, I try my best to adhere* to the safer spaces policy set in the office. We talk a lot about feminism, queer issues, and activism, and the atmosphere is generally fairly mild and friendly, because we are, for the most part, cut from the same cloth- progressive-minded twentysomething queers who are well-versed in socio-political theory and believe strongly in leftist approaches to social justice.
When I’m at lunch, I’m with a group of people who are united only in the fact that they are graduate students in physics; their backgrounds, experiences, and opinions couldn’t be more different. The debates are often fierce, and I usually find myself seething furiously while trying to explain exactly why opinion XYZ should be revisited. A few times, I’ve had to eat in silent fury, holding back tears because I didn’t know how to respond to a particular sentiment expressed.
After the hour’s up, or whenever somebody becomes the first to initiate the return to their offices by getting up, I return to my happy queer bubble to lick my wounds and think through all the things I should have said, but was too afraid to say because it was hurtful or reactionary. In the queer bubble, I don’t need to explain why some things are hurtful to say or joke about, why some opinions are wrong, or why “heterophobia” and “reverse-racism” are purely false equivalences. I’m immediately understood and sympathized with.
Why do I do it? I ask myself sometimes. Why do I put up with giving myself such a massive headache when I could be eating my lunch with other like-minded people and spare myself the pain?
The answer’s simple: First of all, not all of them are that bad. The physicists I speak of have adapted wonderfully to Jaime’s coming out, and treat us the exact same way that they did before they found out we were queer, like a cute couple who is a bit on the oddball romantic side. Secondly, when they do express opinions contrary to mine, ranging from the mildly vexing to the outright “how do you even go around thinking that?” I consider it to be a means of strengthening myself and my mind. When I’m in the queer bubble, I’m comfortable, that’s for certain, and that’s good for many times: When you live in a heterosexist, transphobic society, it’s good to have a safe space to catch a breather where you don’t have to explain yourself or your identity ad infinitum.
But if I get too comfortable, I’ll get lazy. I know the way my mind works. I might make the mistake of thinking that my view is the mainstream one, or the only one in existence. That makes me a bad progressive and a bad advocate, because I always have to know what’s on the minds of those who have different ideas and experiences from my own, even when I virulently disagree with them. It’ll help me think through why exactly I hold the ideas and values that I do, and how I came to them, and, most importantly, whether they are something I should adhere to.
So, even though they can drive me nuts sometimes, I adore those contrary, interesting, ever-so provocative physicists. And I’m sure they’re fond of me too, in my own loud-mouthed outspoken feminist way.
* I fuck up sometimes. I’m an imperfect person. I hurt people, I slip up on terminology and pronouns. But I’m glad for being allowed the chance to move on and learn from my experiences, which I feel safer spaces policy offers