Sara Ahmed

Professor Sara Ahmed is the director of the Centre for Feminist Research at Goldsmiths’, University of London, and warmly in favour of trans people. Her blog has wonderful things to say in our favour, and is full of beautifully expressed gems.

She describes herself there as “a lesbian academic of colour”. She experiences exclusion, from people who expect a man or expect a white person. She has the work of correcting pronouns just as we do, in her case when someone refers to her partner as “he”. Certain norms are expected. Explaining I do not fit can be exhausting, and is often seen as an imposition on the normal people. Someone who says “grammatically, ‘he’ includes ‘she'” is irritated by someone insisting she is not included: her insistence is experienced as an imposition on him.

I found this in the comments there: the bisexuals’ rejoinder to the taunt that they are “sitting on the fence” is “Your fence is sitting on me”- your understanding of how people are should not marginalise the people who do not fit it.

Those whose being is in question are those who can question being, she says: which threatens the Normals, but has the power to liberate them. Here she is on Passing: it is our way of avoiding harassment, even as the concept casts us as deceivers. In the hotel, she and her partner find twin beds- do they go back down to try for a double? She is known as a feminist, and the Normals roll their eyes even before she starts to explain.

Her passing, when white people expect someone white, is different from ours: Passing is work; it is the effort not to notice the bother caused by your own arrival. There is pretence involved; this is not about pretending to be something you are not but pretending not to notice you are not what they expect. She still has to make the normals comfortable, by minimising the signs of difference. Which for us can be torture- anyone feels entitled to judge my dress sense, which is always too feminine yet not feminine enough. That post refers to “killjoys” which may partially explain her blog title.

Polite racism works to create “presumed whiteness.”  In other words, it is more polite to presume you are white. In order not to disappear you have to make your brownness or blackness into an assertion. Compare and contrast benign sexism.

It is hard to leave happiness for life. Reading Becoming unsympathetic, I see her perspective on (I riff) how groups can be formed by all feeling the same way, how we can be excluded, how our independence may depend on feeling differently, which may be seen as betrayal.

Living a lesbian life: Trans women are willful women; women who have to insist on being women, who have to keep insisting, again and again, often in the face of violent and repeated acts of misgendering…an anti-trans stance is an anti-feminist stance; it is against the feminist project of creating worlds to support those for whom gender fatalism (boys will be boys, girls will be girls) is fatal; a sentencing to death.

I will go there again and again.

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Monet Poplars Epte Autumn

5 thoughts on “Sara Ahmed

  1. Ha! I have experience of almost everything you mention here….

    ‘…..Explaining I do not fit can be exhausting, and is often seen as an imposition on the normal people.’

    ‘Passing is work; it is the effort not to notice the bother caused by your own arrival. There is pretence involved; this is not about pretending to be something you are not but pretending not to notice you are not what they expect. She still has to make the normals comfortable, by minimising the signs of difference. Which for us can be torture- anyone feels entitled to judge my dress sense, which is always too feminine yet not feminine enough. That post refers to “killjoys” which may partially explain her blog title.’

    For me it is torture too, because the signs of my difference are so obvious, and the only way I could think to minimise the difference was by sitting still, which only makes the issue more acute.

    ‘….Polite racism works to create “presumed whiteness.” In other words, it is more polite to presume you are white. In order not to disappear you have to make your brownness or blackness into an assertion…..’

    Or, ‘presumed ability’, which is often a compliment, can be impossible, and is in any case, exhausting.

    Thanks for such a beautiful post. 😀 xxx

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    • Do read her blog. They are wonderful essays, “inspired by love and anger”, affirming the Strange and the Other in a way that values all of us.

      Don’t sit still! We have too much to share.

      What do you know of Disability Studies? I had not come across it until Barry shared this article creating new explanations for Asperger’s. Seeing it as other or lesser distorts it. “Neurodiversity” values it. That article is not an introduction, and deals with my particular interest, masculine/feminine, so I will blog 500 words on it as one of my sort-of undergraduate essays; but- if you have not heard of this already- it might lead you to useful shifts of perspective, and give you the language to help others to new views.

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  2. Perhaps it’s just me, but I always have a difficult time understanding why race is ever an issue. Culture or ethnicity I can understand being an issue, but race, absolutely not. It would be like an issue having blue eyes when another expected you to have green, or having black curly hair when another expected you to be a straight haired blonde.

    I notice that here in NZ we seldom discuss race or colour. We do however discuss (and at times argue) ethnicity and/or culture. This isn’t because we’re being “politically correct”, but I believe it’s because most of us don’t see race as being the same as ethnicity.

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    • I get what she means. My best friends of other races have “passed” as- “British” at least, the kind of “British” our Government wants to enforce on us with teaching “British values”. One said she was seen as Indian in Britain, and British in India. Including everyone is hard work.

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      • I guess because we are a young nation, there’s still no consensus on what being a NZer entails. One in four NZers are born elsewhere, and just as many are first generation NZers via at least one parent, and we like to pride ourselves as being a multicultural society ,perhaps the same presures don’t apply here.

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