Long-Winded Answer

So, today, I noticed in Google Reader that there was a new comment on a very old thread of mine at Shakesville -- the post in which I "came out" as myself.

I started to answer over there, but you know how I can go on -- when my response started squishing out the edges of the comment box, I thought it better to address it here at home (you may want to click through to read the question for full context, because it's pretty long, too). My summary of the question, though (and I may not have got it right -- be sure to tell me if that's so, swedishfisherman!) is this: What do I think and how do I feel about the use of the word "psychic", my choice to self-identify as such, and the way that some people use it as dismissive or pejorative.

Here's my response:

I don't generally find an honest question offensive, and I don't find anything about your question offensive at all. In fact, I find it a very engaging question and it's stimulated a lot of thought for me.

RE: The term "psychic". I don't particularly like that term, but it is a handy shorthand to communicate to people a general sense of what to expect when working with me or attending one of my events. It doesn't fully encompass for me everything that I think I'm doing, but explaining that would take several pages -- plus it keeps evolving.

One reason I don't like the phrase "I am a psychic" all that much is that I believe that everyone is "psychic", in the sense that I think that they have the ability to receive information that is clearly not being transmitted in physical 3-d -- whether they use that ability consciously or not. I train people (who want that kind of training) to develop those abilities, and I've never met a person in the course of that training who "couldn't" access others levels of perception, once they started exercising them.

Another reason I'm not fond of the phrase is because of the associations and assumptions which exist for some people, but I recognize that those are outside any realm of my control. (I think that's true of anything that exists in someone else's head, btw.)

My experience has been that most of those who eye-roll over the term psychic probably do so because of a broader set of beliefs and understandings that they hold which doesn't include belief in anything "supernatural" (another term I dislike, but will use here as a short-hand, as that's usually how people who hold these views express it when they talk to me about it). I respect each person's right to their particular personal beliefs and word-views, though, so this doesn't bother me at all.

I think that other people may actually believe that some things exist outside the purely physical perception of reality, but they may have had experiences with professional psychic practitioners that were damaging to them or made fraudulent claims (and I know full well that those kinds of practitioners exist). While I think that's unfortunate, and that some practitioners give the term"psychic" a bad name, I also think that people should listen to their own guidance over anyone else's, so if the very mention of the word gives them the heeby-geebies and they have the impulse to back away or disconnect, I encourage them to do so, rather than to override their own knowing -- so this doesn't bother me either.

In terms of using this word to refer to msyelf, I think of the intuitive abilities that I use in my work not as a "gift", but rather a developed skill-set. Someone may really like woodworking, and even excel at it, but not call themselves "a carpenter". I refer to myself as "a psychic" because I do this work in the world, not just for my own enjoyment (and there was a long time when exercising my intuitive abilities was more of a hobby for me).

My experience has been that most people who are drawn to the kind of work I do don't have usually have a particularly negative connection with the term "psychic" (even some who have had bad experiences with particular practitioners) -- in fact, they seem to be drawn to it -- so I rarely run into blanket dismissal or pejorative use of the word in my work-life. It is usually only when I interface with others outside my work-life and people ask "what do you do?" that I encounter these types of responses.

When that happens (and I tell them), some people simply say: "I don't believe in any of that stuff, but you seem a nice person. Let's talk about gardening." Others may decide on the spot that everything I have said up to that point and everything I might say in the future is now placed in doubt, because my belief in something beyond the purely physical means that I am certifiably crazy.

If I found anything offensive in the comment you mentioned (the one that led you to my coming out post), it is not that this person identified me as a psychic (I identify myself that way -- why would that be offensive to me?) -- but that s/he did so in a way that used my vulnerability in revealing that self-identification as a soft spot in which to poke me, in a context that had nothing to do with my profession. It was clearly a jab (that's not my interpretation alone -- the commenter emailed me after the event to apologize personally to me, and specifically characterized it as "a jab" and "mean-spirited").

My perception is that, when people use this term in a dismissive way (especially in a context outside a discussion of me or my work), it is usually in an attempt (conscious or unconscious) to discredit the other things I might be saying, or even an entire group I might be associated with. ("Well, what can you expect? They hang out with PortlyDyke, and she thinks she's psychic. *eyeroll*)

That second part is a concern for me -- I "came out" in that post with full understanding that some people would dismiss me because of it. That was a risk I was willing to take, but it is a concern to me that others might be similarly dismissed simply because they choose to be associated with me.

Because of this concern, when I decided to come out at Shakesville in the post where your question appeared, I discussed it with Melissa first and told her that I would understand completely if she didn't want me to post it there, or even if she didn't want me to continue as a contributor if I posted it here at my home blog (because a lot of Shakers read me here as well). She, in her usual embracing manner said I was welcome at Shakesville as the person I really am.

In fact, when Melissa McEwan initially invited me to become a contributor (I had only had contact with her as a frequent, but psuedonymous commenter up to that time), I told her what I did for a living before I accepted, and told her: "I wanted to come clean with you about all of this before we continued in confirming your invitation. I won't be at all offended or disturbed if this information is a "deal-killer" for you in terms of the invitation." I felt that it was only fair for me to let her know what she might end up dealing with, precisely because I understand how the judgment about who I am and what I do might be applied to Shakesville by association. Melissa responded that she was not the slightest bit dissuaded by my revelations.

I chose the term "coming out" in that post quite intentionally, because my process of "coming out" as a psychic has been exactly like my process of coming out as a Queer, and I think that this did contribute to a reclamation of the term "psychic" for me.

For one thing, "being psychic" was something that has always been true about me, and something that I do not perceive that I chose -- just something I chose to be out about or not (as with being queer). It was something that I really did not talk about with anyone for a long time (lest people think me "crazy"). I would sometimes flirt around the edges of this stuff in conversation, but would veer away from it at the first sign of any scoffing or disapproval.

Then, I started coming out, usually very cautiously and tentatively, to a few other people who I either knew or suspected also identified in this way -- people who had dropped hints in conversation, or whose bookshelf in their bedroom held tomes that indicated they might be into "woo-woo" stuff (and yes, I kept my early metaphysical books in my bedroom or private space in my younger years, just as I "straightened up" my apartment before my parents visited at that time).

Then, I began to understand that if I were going to become close to someone, I was probably going to need to share this information about myself in order to do so -- or they were going to find out anyway (if they got close enough to me).

Then, I got a little bolder and put it out there in the world in a tentative way, but tried to limit who might access this information by generally only putting the information out to people who I thought would be open to it (I had two business cards for example -- one that mentioned my psychic work and one that did not, a website that only the people who attended my events knew about, and which was visible only to registered members, etc.).

Then, I made the decision to come out to my family of origin.

Then I got to the place where I started telling those who might be affected by the judgements of others by virtue of being associated with me (potential employers, people who blogged with me, etc.) before I accepted the associative position.

Then, I got to the place where I just said: Fuck it. I'm going to be out everywhere, and people are going to think what they think.

Then, I came to the stance of celebrating it as a huge gift in my life.

Finally, I came to where I am now -- this is something that is so much a part of who I am that I don't usually think about it until I run into someone's judgment, and I'm often kind of surprised when I do.

That is exactly -- same steps, in the same order -- the process I went through in coming out as a lesbian.

And the responses I received from others to my coming out were also the same in both cases (and in about the same proportions) -- listed below in no particular order:

Some people said: "So what? You're great."

Some people dismissed me out of hand. (Very few)

Some people felt betrayed that I hadn't told them sooner because if they had known, they wouldn't have chosen to associate with me, or they were hurt that I hadn't trusted them.

Some people told me they didn't understand or that they didn't agree with my world-view, but they didn't see this being an obstacle to our continued relating.

Some people told me they didn't understand, but they wanted to know more.

Some people said "Me too! And your coming out has given me encouragement to come out."

Some people said "Of course I don't care, but I think you're exposing yourself in a way that isn't safe."

Some people said that knowing me and then having me come out to them had motivated them to re-examine the judgments they had held previously, because they had liked and respected me before they knew, when they had believed that people like me were innately crazy or wrong and they would never be able to like or respect "someone like that". (This being one of the really good reasons to come out about anything which is attached to a societal stigma.)

There are parallels, too, in how "being psychic" and "being queer" have affected my life in terms of where I choose to live geographically, the impact on my relationships with certain members of my family (my fundamentalist sibling now believes that not only am I going to hell for being queer, but I am also possessed by the devil -- but she still talks to me at family gatherings), and choosing to spend the majority of my life within circles of people who have a certain basic level of acceptance of these realities about me.

As to how I feel about the dismissive/pejorative use of the word -- I take a "sticks and stones" attitude for the most part. I believe that the comment referenced above really says something more about the commenter than something about me.

As I found with being out as a queer, the more I claim the word and identity, the less effective it is as a tool intended to harm or silence me, even when people would like to try to use it to dismiss or discredit me -- and I understand that it's possible that some people may try to do that, and some people have.

For me, at this point, it's kind of like having someone yell "Lesbo!" at me derisively -- I can feel a bit of pain at first if it's someone I have previously known, respected, and thought liked me (this pain is usually followed by a period of reassessment on my part about whether that person is someone I want to know) -- but if it just pops up randomly from someone I don't know or don't know well, it's pretty easy for me to simply go: "Oh. OK. They have a judgment about me. Good to know."

I think that when people attempt to use this term to dismiss me, they are relying on what they assume is a shared, status-quo judgment, just as someone who yells "Lesbo" is hoping that others around them will share the opinion that that's a bad thing to be -- and hoping that I will buy into that opinion as well, which would be the only way that the word itself could hurt me.

Just as with being out as a queer, it's possible that some people will attempt to use my vulnerability in being out against me, I suppose -- and just as with being queer, I had to move through my own internalization of the social stigmas about psychic stuff that might give efficacy to those attempts.

If people want to discuss the validity of my world-view with me, I'm totally open to that. If they want to judge and dismiss me, that's their sovereign right, but it's unlikely I'll engage them in conversation about it -- because if they hold those attitudes, I imagine that they probably wouldn't want to talk to "someone like me" anyway.

In my own life, I've experienced things that defy any other explanation but that there is "something more" going on besides what I can perceive with my five physical senses -- and I've experienced enough of those things that I'm clear within myself that those things are "real" -- my need for proof is satisfied, and I accept completely that this may not be true for others.

I had to come to a place where I was satisfied that being queer was completely true, normal, and positive for me. I've also come to that place in terms of acceptance of my psychic skills as something that is true, normal, and positive for me. This comfort in my own skin has allowed me to let go of attempts to manage what others think of me, and that's a huge energy-saver.

I sometimes entertain fear when simple words start to turn to actions (as it recently did when someone dropped my profile into a comment thread elsewhere and my website suddenly sprouted derisive and demeaning comments on my other blog), but I try to remember that these, too, are only words -- unfortunately, words that require energy on my part to delete, but words nonetheless.

When that fear crops up, I remember that if I had lived my life making a real attempt to people's criticism or judgment, I would, right now, probably be married to some poor man who knew I didn't really love him, going to a church that I didn't really believe in, and doing a job that I hated. Which I believe would be a misery for all involved and make the world a crappier place.

So, yes, I'm a psychic -- a lesbian psychic at that, and proud of it.

I hope that answers your question.

Posted byPortlyDyke at 2:00 PM  

3 comments:

swedishfishing said... June 13, 2009 at 8:42 PM  

Wow, thank you so much for taking the time to write this.

I've actually been thinking about your post and my questions since I wrote my comment, specifically about how you framed it in terms of coming out. I love how you've drawn such a perfect parallel here between being open about your sexuality and about your beliefs. There's something really valuable about not compromising your identity regardless of how judgmental other people can be. I honestly hadn't considered (until after I posted) that the language of coming out went much deeper than a reference to the possibility of harsh judgments. It addressed a lot of other questions I asked, and I just hadn't really considered that one could come out about anything other than being queer, really. Obviously that's incredibly naive of me; your explanation here makes total sense, and I can see it being possible for any number of things.

Ultimately, I guess I'm just drawn to your descriptions about not really giving a fuck for somewhat selfish reasons--I'm 22, about to finish college (like, a real adult or something, ha!) and even though I consider myself a pretty strong feminist, I'm just stuck a lot of the time when it comes to what other people think about me. I sort of wish I could suck the little nuggets of wisdom out of your posts and inject them into my own life and make them stick. I mention this mostly because you discuss people's perceptions of certain traits as "crazy," or "wrong"--something everyone has probably had to deal with to a certain extent. My example is nowhere near the same level of stigma that you've dealt with, I'm certain, but I'm, ha, crazy enough to have been put in the behavioral health unit during college against my will. I've read that you've had more than your fair share of mental health treatment as well, so I'm guessing you know how dismissive people can be about crazy-ill people, too. In any case, I'm struggling to be ok with the way I identify myself and with the way others identify me. My stuff isn't at all comparable to coming out in any sense, but I really appreciate the way you describe accepting your identity as true, normal, and positive. I really love that idea, and I think it's really useful for everyone struggling with an identity that others think is wrong. Just to be clear, I don't mean to be dismissive of the seriousness of what you're talking about at all--I just think it's a really good philosophy.

Again, thanks so much for answering so thoroughly. Really neat thoughts here.

PortlyDyke said... June 14, 2009 at 12:47 PM  

My pleasure, swedishf -- It was enlightening for me to write it, as well -- lots of good stuff for me to chew on.

Anonymous said... June 14, 2009 at 7:58 PM  

Bravo, Portly! I found it very helpful to "hear" this. Muchas gracias, mi amiga.

Lambness

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