Experience first, then theory

I was struck recently by something Holly Boswell wrote in 1997 (at least, it was published then, she may have written it long before). Holly lives around these parts… in fact, I saw her today at a barbecue… though I neglected to introduce myself, I suppose she’s somewhat of a local celebrity, and I’m sometimes intimidated by the thought of saying “by the way, i read something you wrote, and loved it/hated it,” whichever way the axe falls that day. Though I did send her an e-mail right after I stumbled upon it, in response to something she had sent, to let her know I found it thought-provoking.

The piece is titled “The Transgender Paradigm Shift Toward Free Expression,” and was published originally (as best I can tell) in Gender Blending (1997). Here’s the quote:

For us, the experience comes first, then our conceptual explanation of it – unlike the academic approach of postulating a hypothesis that must then be proven.

More after the jump…

It’s often how I’ve lived my life – experiencing things and then trying to explain them, I think it’s how most of us live. And it is so against the grain of the academic world. It’s why this whole thesis thing is freaking me out a bit. I can’t come up with an argument I want to make and then work to make it because the truth of lived experience and the reading of the theory may not play out that way. I’d like to think I could come up with some fantastic quantitatively measurable and then test it, but I don’t think queer lives are measurable. Much like poor and working class lives aren’t measurable. You can talk about the income and occupation and education and lack of health insurance until you’re blue in the face, but you’ll never explain with numbers what it feels like to walk on a floor that isn’t solid. I can say “My mom fell through her kitchen floor” and it doesn’t even register with people. And it happened, not two months ago. If I could figure out how to get the pictures of the new floor we built her off my fucking cell phone, I would post them here for proof, but I shouldn’t have to prove myself.

If I were to try to quantify this thesis, what would I postulate? That poor queers are less likely to come out of the closet? Well, that presents an unlimited number of methodological issues, like how to find queers who are in the closet and poor. You might say, try the internet, but really poor people don’t have the internet hell a lot of ’em don’t have library cards, and don’t know how to turn on a computer, let alone search for a fucking date online and keep it a secret. can you imagine that call to tech support? I wouldn’t want to be on either side.

I could postulate that poor queers have a harder time coming out, but what the hell does that mean? and coming out is a hard thing to do no matter who you are and what’s at stake, be it your head or your heart or your family’s love… it all fucking matters, even your family’s money if they’ve got it. and this rant is making me wonder what the point of this thesis is, but now I remember that the experience of being queer is different because of how much money you have and how valuable your social and cultural capital are – knowing all the lyrics to every Reba McEntire song isn’t going to get me as far as understanding how the stock market works and my head’s never gonna get that second one. I’m a fucking reporter for a fucking newspaper in my spare time, and I still can’t pressure people into answering my questions because being the good Southerner I am, I can’t bear to be impolite. and then sometimes i yell in people’s faces because I can’t stand the bullshit anymore and my mouth can’t be polite anymore because it’s tired of making excuses for my brain and my fists want to punch something but my mouth has to do it because the other can put me in prison. and this has turned into a really long rant and some of that random poetry in the middle of things that i promised in the introduction, and y’all are probably all getting really bored, at least the 2 of you who are reading my piece of the blogosphere, as if I own it.

And that stream of consciousness is what experiencing before explaining it is about. I just gave you the experience of 30 seconds inside my head and how the thoughts never come out in linear words, and somehow i’m supposed to go back and make sense of that when really i want you to read it and get it. and i know it can’t be done because the shit in my head is often insanity that must be deconstructed before it can be reconstructed into well-patterned thought. And that is what i can’t do sometimes – be civilized and well-constructed, because the pieces I’m made of are crooked and that little straight piece that shows them all how to line up is lying somewhere in the depths of the universe, and even exodus can’t help me find it, because they don’t offer a money  back guarantee and i’m not dumb enough to sign up for something that doesn’t work.



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