I spend a lot of time alone. This is not all bad, and sometimes it’s actually very good, and exactly what I want. A loner, as I have been described many times before, is someone who tends to find themselves isolated from social settings, but the description says nothing about why one is isolated.

Holidays are a rough part of the year in the social sense. A lot of people are dealing with familial issues, emotional stresses heavily laden with experiences from years long past resurfacing specifically during this season due to culturally-imposed proximity; all the “good boys and girls” are going home for the Holidays—it’s kind of like their Christmas present tax.

I’m not going to spend lots of time with my family, which makes sense since I am in many ways the epitome of what people no doubt interpret as the prodigal son. Thankfully, this was more true in the past than it is now. Nevertheless, I’m clearly a “bad boy.”

Instead of heading home, I had some hopes for a certain set of plans this week that did not pan out. I wanted to spend some time in a novel activity with Eileen out of the city. Though I had already mostly given up on this plan a while ago because it hinged in part on the hospitality of the family member who had a negative reaction to Eileen’s blog, I was still hoping that we could find a way to make it work, or that we would at least be able to find a suitable plan-B. Unfortunately, I am finding myself simply without her company for a longer time than I had originally expected, stuck in New York City while she enjoys the privileges of her family’s hospitality that I am unwelcome to share.

Similar displays of privilege unshared are forever painful to the underprivileged.

It occurs to me that these sorts of experiences are possibly the root of historical uprisings such as the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, and more recently the LGBT movement (and even more recently—only within the last few years—the asexuality movement). In each case, members of these groups identified that they lacked certain privileges or were stigmatized in some way in their personal lives. They were then able to form communities with other people who were also experiencing the same things and observed uncanny similarities between themselves and the rest of their community. Eventually, they came to the realization that their lack of certain privileges was, in fact, systemic to the culture or society in which they lived and their personal struggles suddenly seemed a valid political cause.

Say hello to “the personal is political.” This is how privileges are turned into rights, and that is sometimes a very slippery slope. Determining which privileges should be rights and which privileges shouldn’t has been the question every civilization since the beginning of recorded history (and probably well before then, too) has grappled with. This is hardly unexplored territory.

However, civilizations are complex and hard to understand. Furthermore, they are always comprised of many thousands or millions of individuals, each with individual experiences, opinions, and emotions. To understand civilizations, it behooves us to also understand individuals. To do that, I begin by trying to understand myself.

Being alone is almost universally expected to make people “feel lonely,” which I think is something of a misunderstanding. Being alone can, of course, cause feelings of sadness due to a lack of friends and company, but it does not innately cause such feelings. What causes feelings of sad loneliness is actually feelings of desire for (possibly specific) social interaction that go unfulfilled; this is what the feeling of missing people (including certain people) actually is.

In other words, on an individual level, it’s having wants or needs that are not met that causes sadness. Applying this same precept to our understanding of cultures, we would see that when social needs go unmet for a large group of people due to (or informed by) a disparity of privilege that is systemic, the underprivileged become second-class denizens of the social arena. This is important because the social arena extends everywhere from the workforce to the bedroom and beyond.

Costly isolation is equivalent to segregation.

Everyone who’s ever been in a relationship has felt the scrutiny of their partner’s loved ones (friends and family alike) sizing you up, making judgments, determining if you’re “good for” them. If you’re not “good for” them, then you feel judged, the thing about you that is not good enough feels as though it is stigmatized, and you feel unwelcome in that person’s presence. To them, you are now someone who is not as worthy of partaking in whatever privileges they have as someone who is better than you would be worthy of doing.

Similarly, I’m sure everyone can remember at least one time in their lives, probably when they were young, at which point their opinion about something was not considered important. As a result you felt unheard, unacknowledged, or dismissed. Not all of these dismissals have been conscious or malicious on the part of other people, but there is little difference in the experience of being dismissed because you are not seen as valuable after examination, and being dismissed because your value simply isn’t seen in the first place.

Whatever the reasons, both of these kinds of experiences can still hurt just as much. These experiences send the undeniable, specific message, “We don’t care for your kind here.” (I find the wording significant: whereas judgement might sound more like, “We don’t want your kind here,” dismissal sounds more like, “We won’t make any effort to meet your needs here.”)

I’ve felt like this many times and in many spaces in my life. I feel this way about the education system at large, which continues to tell me that I’m not “well-educated.” I feel this way when I’m told by co-workers and bosses that I don’t “value my career enough.” I felt this way in my previous relationships when I realized I wasn’t what my (now ex-)girlfriend wanted sexually, and I feel this way now whenever I’m confronted with justifying my sexuality.

Even many kink-friendly spaces, which have very little issue with my presence, are not welcoming to me. Why would I desire to spend time in such places, when they are in effect no different from, say, the coffee shop down the street? Ultimately, the net emotional effect of not feeling welcome is feeling unwelcome.

It’s that feeling I think many social justice advocates are trying to eliminate, not by breaking down the walls between spaces (homogenizing social spaces is actually detrimental to social justice), but by creating more spaces—because feeling welcomed is not a finite resource. Time, however, is limited. So whenever Eileen spends time with people who don’t welcome me into their presence, I’m left wanting, and thinking about how and why value judgments drive people’s motivations.

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