Interacting with marginalized people who do valuable things

Sometimes people do unusual things, things that people like them are not expected to do, things that might even be taboo. 

This happens to autistic folks, men who do childcare or raise their kids or otherwise “women’s work”, women who do many things, people with other disabilities, children and teenagers who accomplish things, basically any group of people who are often not expected to do things.

And sometimes people who want to support them end up making things worse. This is too abstract, so I’m going to give an example. This is not specifically a women’s issue; I’m using that as an example because it’s one I’ve seen a lot:

Say, a woman is the first female research scientist. And that she’s overcome a lot of opposition to get to this point.

And now that she’s finally gotten to the point of being allowed to do research that other people take seriously; 90% of the time what people want to talk about is her gender. About what it’s like to be a female whatever or the first female whatever.

Even when she’s come to give a presentation on her research – people who ask questions at the end all ask about what it’s like to be a female scientist and not what she’s actually presenting on.

And it’s hard to assert boundaries about this without just being seen as an uncaring bitch.

Many of the people are just curious, sometimes in a creepy way. Some people asking about it are hostile, and want to show that they really don’t think women should be allowed.

But sometimes, the hardest thing to take is people who want to tell you how great it is that you’re a female scientist, who mean to be supportive, but who are still really intensely focused on the freaky female part rather than the scientist part. Because, then, even the people who like you aren’t really taking you seriously, it’s *always* about the thing, the freakness.

And even then, it can seem like people are assuring you that you have their permission to be a freaky female – and being treated like you need permission by supporters 

And it’s so much better to be taken seriously on the terms you care about, on what you’re actually doing.

So, be careful about that. The best way to support someone who is doing something important and stigmatized is to value the thing they’re doing, and take them seriously as someone who does it.