Be aware of intersectionality, don’t define people with simplified terms

Michele Mathis and Michele Mathis

I love helping people.

I try to be readily available for my friends, acquaintances and even random classmates to help with school projects or to be a shoulder to cry on if school or life becomes a little too stressful.

Take advantage of me. I love it.

I’ve been asked to participate in an interview for a dissertation, write poems and be a part of survey research that goes into lengthy papers.

Usually, I assume that I am approached by those who need assistance with these projects because of my diverse background, but after an experience I had this past week, I realized that I was constantly being put in a box.

In this instance, I was asked to partake in an interview as a person who was from a “different culture” than the interviewer. I am more than happy to share my experiences from my life, so I eagerly agreed.

I immediately thought I would be quizzed on my religious upbringing. Being raised Mormon, I get a lot of curious questions [we’re kind of like deep-sea creatures; everyone knows we exist, but don’t really know where].

After I asked what part of my life she was interested in that coincided with my religion, she looked at me quizzically: “Wait, you ARE gay, right?”

Oh, yeah. I forgot.

I also love talking about my sexuality, different sexualities other than my own, inclusivity and other social activism ideals. It’s a humongous part of my life and I agree, it’s important.

But it isn’t me. My sexuality is a part of me, but it’s not all that I’m made of.

In a social activism context, you could call this intersectionality. Intersectionality can be defined as, “…the study of intersections between forms or systems of oppression, domination or discrimination.”

Most social activists use this term when helping those who don’t experience oppression [or those who don’t experience something called a “double bind” or multiple forms of oppression].

To unpack this a little further — or to maybe put it in slightly simpler terms — most humans walking around on the planet are more complex than they seem.

Each person is made up of unique, complex layers; similar to the layers of an onion or the rings on a tree.

This is extremely important in learning how to interact with the people around you, because as much as you know someone, each experience will be slightly different.

We all feel, experience, celebrate and view situations, struggles and triumphs in a

different light.

If one was to be blind of intersectionality or even the idea that each person is more diverse than they initially seem, it can turn into an ugly situation very quickly.

To avoid racist, sexist, homophobic and other ignorant situations, be aware of intersectionality.

I don’t walk around with a nametag that says, “Hi, my name is Michele and I’m queer.”

If wearing such a nametag was an actual reality, I would want mine to say something like, “Hi, my name is Michele. I’m queer, I’m a writer, I’m a Christian, I’m a social activist and someday I want to grow up to do something I love. Ask me about it.”