My parents held racist beliefs. My mother was born and raised on a farm in northern Ontario, child of immigrant settlers in an area full of settlers from northern Europe. Mum’s early beliefs were those of her fellow immigrants, living on farmland that had been stolen from indigenous people. My father was born and raised in Toronto The Good: a place where men with pedigrees prospered. Dad didn’t speak much about his past or his politics. He voted for men in the progressive branch of the Conservatives. That was back when Conservatives had a lot of “red Tories” like Joe Clark: people who wanted to construct a fiscally responsible social safety net. I’d love to discuss politics with him now, but he’s long dead.
Multiculturalism was accepted where I grew up. All the families on our block, most of the ones in our survey, were first and second generation Canadians. It was common to hear languages other than English spoken at home and on the street. I remember a black boy in my class in elementary school; a Japanese girl who was my best friend; a redheaded boy; a Newfoundlander; and a bunch of us with grandparents or great-grandparents born in Europe.
One of my best friends in high school had been born in South Africa. I told my parents that part. Her parents had been born in Pakistan. I didn’t mention that. Since I didn’t bring friends home from school, it was easy to keep my parents in the dark about my dark-skinned friend.
I sometimes wonder if dating a status Indian was a factor in my youngest sister running away from home. The relationship didn’t last long. It created tension in my family. I got a view of police and the justice system that most white people with a steadily employed parent never see. The structural inequities I witnessed contributed to my vehement rejection of white supremacy and kyriarchy.
Most of the people on TV were white, with a few shows like The Jeffersons and Sanford And Son featuring black people in a positive light. All In The Family showed a place where racism was ignorance and misogyny was something to challenge. I adored Maude and other shows where first- and second-wave feminism told me I could be a success if I worked hard.
Education was a way to move ahead socially and economically. My father, a high school graduate, had a job in sales. He was home on weekends and most evenings. My brother was the first in the family to complete a university education. My eldest sister earned a college diploma in nursing, and completed additional credentials throughout her career. I was the youngest and the only female-designated person to complete both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s.
I didn’t fit in at university. I worked hard in my studies, much more than students who weren’t dependent on scholarships and part time jobs. I studied my fellow students, staff, and professors to understand educated people’s norms of behaviour and language. I couldn’t do much about my clothes and entertainments on a poor student’s budget.
As early as I can remember, I knew I was queer and different without having a vocabulary for it. I can now say I’m pan/demisexual, non-binary, gender-non-conforming, and stuck in a female body and an anti-female socioeconomic structure.
The first openly queer person I met was when a university friend introduced me to his friend B: a lesbian who had been disowned by her professor father for her failure to be “normal”. She died by suicide a year or two after I met her. For decades I was careful about outing myself, lest I meet a similar fate.
As a skilled person with a keen thirst for justice, I have been encouraged throughout my life to shoulder the burden of changing the world. It’s a mission I have so far achieved in small, almost invisible, ways. I’m much more passionate about what some call “social justice” than most of the people I grew up with, more of an activist than most of my peers. It matters to me to make society more equitable.
Deep in my programming is an expectation I will make things better for everyone, especially the oppressed. I don’t always do a good job. I want to learn to be better, to accomplish more. Sometimes I am a selfish, thoughtless oppressor. Being weary is no excuse for failing into harming people I have advantages over.
There’s a lot of work for me to do. I can’t do everything. I can do something. It helps keep me going.