Things Unsaid

I am having a moment. Fuck.

I’m transcribing the interviews from my thesis fieldwork, and while there is a lot of words to capture, there are also a lot of silences. It’s interesting to me, that when the person is speaking and their thoughts are flowing, I can hear myself in the audio making little sounds of affirmation, indicating that I’m with them and that their making sense and yes this is all very interesting and important. Because it is.

Some of what I’ve recorded is brand new to my field. I spent a year reading everything I could on the intersection of race and alternative sexuality; specifically consensual non-monogamy in US urban cities. The silence around racial privilege in polyamory is bright and shiny. Which is why I chose this topic… because of what was missing. The things left unsaid are startling.

We can not talk about sexuality in the US (or anywhere else Colonialism has ruled) without addressing racism and racial privilege. Can NOT. If you don’t want to talk about race and privilege, then kindly see yourself out of the social sciences. Go to psych, or maybe O-chem. Or how bout geology… yes, go over there. Rocks, that’s an awesome place to talk about colorblindedness and all that good good bullshit that makes eyes roll the world over.

So given that context, it’s not surprising, that there are silences in my interviews as well. Places where I didn’t think to push, or want intrude on the speaker, silences where my outsider status to what that person is relating is very, very apparent. Which is how it should be, right? I came to them as an outsider, as an academic, representing an institution and a discipline with a racist history and currently operating within the context of racist ideologies.

However, unlike the lack of information in the field of sexuality studies as a whole, the silences captured in my audio recordings feel like respect. Like it shows the awareness of my privilege within this dynamic.  I am grateful that, despite my formal training and intrinsically extrovert personality type, I was able to keep my mouth shut. The dilemma I am foreseeing though, is how to keep that form of respect intact through the process of analysis. I am worrying about my advisors, who may not be as concerned about acknowledging systemic and structuralized racial privilege as I am, asking for more, expecting deeper probes, wishing I had taken better advantage of the participant’s time.

I can see it from their standpoint… and that’s when I see academia as a place of higher ignorance.

All this really means is that I am going to have to defend my methodology. I am going to have to say some things often left unsaid to academia by academics. I will put the weight of authority on the words of the people, and not try to fill in the blanks left by my, and therefore academia’s, ignorance with some all encompassing sociological theories. Knowing something about a subject is not that same as knowing everything about a subject.

Hopefully, another person interested in the intersection of racism and mononormativity will read my work and see the bright and shiny silences. Maybe then they will craft another study. Maybe they will even take the time to critique my work. Maybe their framework for analysis will have better insight because of the things I’ve left unsaid. This is how the field will grow. How resistance to harmful ideology is built brick by brick, written paper by paper.

Until then, I’ll  be here typing. A lot. For a while.

  • Linda

    Well put Airial. It’s a tough one. But enough phenomenological observation in context, and the truth comes a-surfacing. Stay right at your typewriter…

  • airial

    Thank you!