Nicky Bryson: She May Be Weary
Screaming for equality, marching in ralllies, joining campaigns - is it all in vain? Nicky Bryson suspects she's coming down with a case of activism burnout.
I think that I suffering from activism burn out. It frightens me because I am generally very positive about change and solid in the belief that I will see full equality in my lifetime. However, with every word I type about marriage equality, or transgender violence, or teenage suicide, or the multitude of other issues facing my community, a little part of me shuts down.
Sometimes I wake up and just wish I didn’t have to fight. The one thing I really envy about heterosexual privilege is how much of their life is pre-approved. Getting married, having kids, writing wills, falling in love with someone from another country and moving to be with them… laws exist to make these things easy to deal with in hetero world. They can get on with the business of living their lives instead of having to fight every day for the right do to so.
That fight is simply wearing me out and kind of making me cranky. Yet another well-meaning straight person asked me recently if I planned to marry my girlfriend. I didn’t even have the energy to respond. Here I am screaming for equality, writing columns, joining campaigns and contributing funds to gain a right that most people assume I already have. Is it all in vain?
This burn out isn’t really something I hear people talking about. I think there is something of a stigma attached to not having the drive to fight for your own equality. However, I think if I am feeling it, then I can’t be alone. There must be plenty of other people who are worn out and feeling a creeping sense of futility.
I decided to contact one of the most involved and seemingly tireless activists I know to talk about this “what’s the point?” malaise. I asked Senthorun Raj, Senior Policy Advisor for the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, if he had ever felt a sense of hopelessness around the fight for GLBTQI equality and was surprised to find that he knew exactly what I was experiencing.
“Activism stress has certainly affected me. In the LGBTI community, there are so many important issues of social justice to address, and I have often felt my intellectual and emotional capacity stretched in order to do work on as many of them as I can.
Alternatively, when I have focussed so intensely on a single issue, such as marriage equality, it can be so disempowering to constantly rehearse the same arguments and feel you are not achieving the change you desire”, said Raj.
“We need to recognise that activism is a form of labour. Sometimes, when we are so passionate about an issue, we can ignore the emotional and physical consequences it may have on us. In order to prevent ‘activism burn out’, it is so important that we recognise our physical and emotional limits, ensure we share activist tasks, and make sure we debrief constantly during any campaign.
“For activism to be sustainable it must be balanced: a mix of fun, challenge and passion.”
In order to overcome the burn out factor, Senthorun said that he focusses on specific issues to work on and shares the workload with other ‘engaged’ people. He also said that a good strategy is to break down broad movements of social change into easily identifiable outcomes. That is definitely good advice. I get so upset about equality on a global scale that I could spend my life writing letters and signing petitions and giving money to organisations.
I think it might be time to give myself permission to just focus on one issue and trust that the other struggles keeping me up at night are in good hands. For the sake of my sanity, I’ll become a reverse NIMBY for a little while; an Only In My Back Yard campaigner.