Strength, Gentleness, the Human Voice, Dismantling “Feisty.”
Isn’t it wonderful how gentleness and strength are not opposites, and are in fact facets of each other, in some ways.
I feel both gentle and strong, in different ways in different circumstances in changing waves.
I see interconnectedness between gentleness and strength in many areas. For example, human psychological qualities that complement and are essential parts of each other; physical qualities that complement and are sometimes part of each other; the subtleties of any internal or external activity that require a beautiful mixture of different types of strength and of gentleness.
In giving voice, speech and singing, we utilise a mix of strength and gentleness. Which muscle groups and body areas you engage, and how, and which you relax and release, and how, can have a huge impact on the sound you make, how you feel whilst making it, how people receive it; and how long you can sustain making that vocal quality.
Excess muscle effort/tension in some areas of the body can restrict vocal freedom, cause strain, and reduce resonance and vocal stamina. Voice teachers talk about ‘support,’ usually referring to connecting vocalisations with gentle diaphragmatic, abdominal & intercostal muscle engagement, whilst exhaling with sound. Lack of this support can make vocal use unsustainable, feel/sound weak/quiet, or lead to straining in compensation.
To help find the right balance of strength and gentleness for best vocal use, singers need to learn to release abdominal tension completely (so no pilates-held stomachs!), to allow a deep, natural (may not feel natural at first depending on breathing habits) and diaphragmatic inhale; and also need to learn to engage and use various abdomen and torso muscles on the vocalised exhale to help support healthy vocal use. They also need to learn to release tension from areas in which holding tension can restrict vocal potential – eg jaw, shoulders, neck, tongue, whole body in general!
Of course, worrying about “getting it right” can also cause mental and physical tension, and can get in the way of the human ability to play, explore, learn and develop. This means that a more relaxed and playful approach to progress can often (paradoxically but also logically) mean that progress tends to happen faster, and more enjoyably! Also, taking everything with a pinch of metaphorical salt (this is a strength and a gentleness) continues to be important – if you are breathing, you’re alive – win! Everything beyond that can be interesting explorations, and getting in a tizzy isn’t generally helpful (nor is getting in a tizzy about getting in a tizzy). We’re all human and we probably all have “perfection police” of a kind – but if you can be gentle and strong enough to see them, turn down the volume on them and save their input for later, I have found this makes for much more satisfying, fruitful and effective singing lessons (and other activities too).
A bit like in the work of Alexander Technique teachers, and some other body work practitioners, we may find that to maintain any physical position we have to engage some areas of the body; but there are lots of areas we don’t need to be engaging in order to stand / sit / sing; and this excess tension/effort can drain and restrict us.
Knowing what to engage and when, and what to relax and when, is a great skill, and a strength in itself, and one which requires gentleness and strength to assess and explore and to be willing to try out changes.
I think a lot about strength and about gentleness in general. I think of gentleness as a very important interpersonal skill – e.g. the ability to really listen; the ability to help people feel safe around you and safe to share and be honest; the ability to consider others; the ability to check in for consent before giving a hug or etc; the ability to express your hurt and frustrations in ways that do not involve taking them out on other people; the ability to be kind; the ability to listen in every sense of the word. Being connected to caring, to the need to approach gingerly sometimes. The ability to proffer your hand to a cat you want to stroke to see if it’s up for it, before you jump in and stroke it. The ability to listen for and pick up communication signals, and respond to them kindly and lovingly. These and many other things are part of the strength that is gentleness.
Activism can be done gently as well as loudly, and all these acts of change are strong. E.g. listening to and not dismissing the realities of others which are different from your own. Being willing to learn about the experiences of others. Making efforts based on what you learn, to help people feel comfortable safe and welcome when around you, personally and professionally. (re ‘welcome’, of course, you won’t want to spend time with everyone personally all the time and that’s fine – saying no is part of strength). Writing, all forms of, in books, papers, social media, blogs, websites, etc. Sharing other people’s writing that you think is important and educational. Sharing something you know a lot of people will have a knee-jerk socially trained response to, but that you think is important for social change.
Also e.g. Treating everyone around you with respect. Claiming your right to take up space. Questioning your and others’ assumptions. Walking down the street / going to work with visibly hairy legs/armpits as a female presenting person (if that’s what you want to do). Asking people what their pronouns are, and making an effort to remember. Wearing make-up and colourful clothes as a male presenting person (if that’s what you want to do. Assume it says that after every example here. I’m just having fun brainstorming gentle(r) forms of activism! I’m not saying anyone/everyone should do any of these). Telling and showing people how you express your gender and asking for that to be respected (and even celebrated!). Kissing your same-sex/same-gender-presenting partner in public. Marrying your same-sex/same-gender-presenting partner. Attempting to make your language inclusive, even if it feels awkward and you’re think you’re probably getting it wrong a lot!
Also e.g. Listening to a friend who is sad. Telling your friends who you love that you love them (if you reckon they’d be fine with that and get what you mean). Being respectful to the elderly people that you know. Learning about areas of your own privilege. Passing the microphone to those who need it (literally or metaphorically). Questioning why when you find yourself judging others. Being fat, and not self deprecating about this, and not paying attention to influences that say you ought to shrink. Avoiding diet talk. Removing body hierarchies from your ways of speaking, and thinking. Questioning what you see and hear and habitually say. Learning about black history, queer history, rights for the disabled. Learning about anything that baffles you but seems important, rather than prejudging it. Applying what you learn to your questioning of what you see and hear and say and do. There are many ways that activism can be gentler than shouting in the street with a placard, but equally strong and part of the change. Nota Bene, shouting in the street with a placard is also a wonderful, vital form of activism, the strength of which has caused so much positive change.
I think strength is also a very different thing from violence. Very, VERY different. Bravery, and appropriately, helpfully used physical strength, are both examples of strength. Emotional/mental abuse, hate crimes, hate-trolling under the label of “free speech,” are not acts of strength, but examples of violence. Physically hurting someone against their will is not an act of strength (a few caveats for self defence when no other option perhaps?), but an example of violence. These are acts of violence. Strength is not violence. Strength is not power gained by harming others.
I think assertiveness is a brilliant form of strength. E.g. a mode of communication that is not aggressive (“make me that cup of tea now or I’ll bash your head in”), nor passive (waiting to be offered tea, getting colder and thirstier), nor passive aggressive (“yeah well if you actually gave a shit you’d have offered me some tea by now, so just forget it anyway”), but assertive. Knowing what you want/need, asking for it, and accepting that the answer may or may not be what you want (if the only answer you’re okay with receiving is the one you want, it’s a demand, not a request). It can be hard to be assertive, because of social pressure, the desire to people please, fear of repercussions, confusion about what you actually want to assert, and habits etc., but I think it’s a most wonderful way to communicate.
More on communication – let’s say you are feeling ill and realise you need to have the night at home to rest, but you had planned to go to a friend’s house. If you do manage to notice what you need, and assert what you need, that’s already some good gentleness and strength right there! You might also want to bring in the strength of gentleness and consider how that might be for your friend, and therefore try to let them know in good time, apologise briefly, suggest a rescheduling, etc.
If you are the friend being cancelled on, the strength of gentleness might be with your being able to give a warm and understanding response to your friend, and you might also want to assert something practical about how/when is best for you to have cancellations made in future, for example. If you’re disappointed, of course it’s ok to express that – but I think it no longer becomes strong or gentle, if you start trying to make them feel guilty about something that’s not their fault (e.g. being too ill to come out), and it can be easy to slip into passive aggressive or straight up aggressive if you start venting at them. If you find yourself guilt tripping somebody, well done for noticing, stop, and try to suss out why you are doing it. Probably, there’s an unmet need, you thought this person would meet it, and they can’t. So instead of berating them for it, try seeing if something else can meet that need in that moment instead.
Regardless of the specifics of the above example, going through any sort of process like that with yourself takes gentleness and strength and the strength of gentleness, and will make you more likely to be flexible and understanding with the people around you, and with yourself, whilst also asserting and knowing better your own needs. Obviously, don’t be a doormat – if someone cancels a lot for no reason, is consistently rude to you, or is otherwise draining you, and it can’t be solved, then don’t make plans with them so much! Know when to say no, and then say it. Don’t be a doormat – but also don’t be a bulldozer – employ some gentleness with your friends when they are human and can’t do everything machine-style reliably and well (note – machines also break and need fixing and get bugs and go rusty. Nothing is 100% reliable!). It takes gentleness to know when to say yes/no/don’t-know, and strength to say it, gentleness and strength to know how to say it, etc.
Let’s talk physical strength. There are lots of different types of physical strength. Ability to walk far; ability to sing beautifully; ability to lift heavy things; stamina and endurance; short bursts of sprint type energy; physical intuition; climbing; balancing; juggling; riding a bike; seeing and interpreting body language; ability to communicate via body language; sensing things kinaesthetically; ability to recover from physical activity fairly quickly; ability to recover from colds/flus etc quickly/at all; ability to keep fighting/working with a chronic illness or impairment; ability to do fiddly things like sewing/platting; precision (eg for threading a needle / painting a picture / performing an operation / icing an intricate cake / making clothes); knowing how to bake/do dishes/tell how ripe fruit is with a little squeeze; ability to run fast away from things and for fun; ability to consensually and comfortingly hug, and be hugged; ability to express things through dance; ability to communicate with others through dance; ability to digest things; ability to experience and express sexuality; ability to process stimuli (eg light sound heat smell etc); ability to regulate temperature; the senses; quality of touch and intentions behind it; ability to chew and swallow; ability to give massage; knowing how to receive; ability to adapt to changes; ability to create new life; being able to work on and explore appropriate mobility; ability to experience pleasure of many different kinds; finding interesting feeling shapes to make with your body; embodying different attitudes and emotions and states; communicating status; having the privilege of being able to pursue fitness through strenuous exercise; and of course your classic image of lifting weights/being in plank pose/running a marathon etc. These are some examples of what might be considered ‘physical strength.’
In the last few years (can’t remember exactly how many years – timey wimey wibbly wobbly hard to keep track sometimes), I have lost a huge amount of physical strength, due to getting ill with M.E./CFS following a virus. Looking at the above list, many of them are completely gone for me (now/currently), some are reduced and fluctuate, and some are still there (phew!). Mentally it has been very challenging to lose some of these physical strengths. Some of the losses have been hugely inconvenient to my work and social life, and many of them very difficult for my sense of identity. Most of my teenage and young adult life, I had had the privilege of, if not actually being particularly physically hardy and tough, at least having the luxury of being able to pretend to be most of the time, because it suited my sense of preferred identity. I liked going for long walks and bike rides, cycling instead of driving and feeling it was a better choice (bit snobby/ableist but I didn’t know any better at the time), choosing to walk instead of take the bus as I enjoyed the air and endorphins and (slightly smug) sense of maintaining fitness whilst going about life.
I enjoyed (and obsessed over unhealthily too much) owning my physical body’s strengths through gym workouts, running, dancing, performing, teaching yoga, swimming, camping, dragging my accordion miles and then performing with it, working on developing muscles, not needing a “man to carry my bags.” I enjoyed feeling strong and independent and like I might have half a chance of defending myself against an attacker. I enjoyed embodying some stereotypically masculine traits and exploring how that gender expression sat with my queer sexuality and sense of identity and place in the world. I loved pinging about all over London (argh) getting up to much/no good at political, social and celebratory things. I – flipping – loved – it! However I was massively, deeply, graspingly attached to it. Attached to particular physical strengths, and also to an unhealthy level of fear based body control. E.g. working to maintain a thin and muscular body in a fear-of-fat-and-femaleness kind of way that, for me (and it’s different for everyone – same behaviours can be healthy or unhealthy mentally depending on the individual), for me was part of disordered eating, disconnect from parts of myself, fatphobia, dysmorphia, and general fear fear fear. We fear losing what we enjoy and (think that we) rely on, right?
Well, I went about my way for some years alternately just enjoying or being over attached to such physical privileges as described above. Some things got easier in terms of the over attachment, but that’s a different essay and off point. Then, roughly a few years ago (timey wimey), the universe gave me a big kick in the pants when it gave me an awful virus, and then chronic M.E./CFS.
Side note – if you don’t know what M.E./CFS is, look it up. It’s very common. It’s not ‘just tiredness’. It can happen to people of all ages and genders. It’s not a physical response to unhealed trauma (though these can and do happen, they are not what M.E./CFS is). It’s drastically lacking in healthcare support and information. It’s not yuppee flu. It’s a worldwide issue. It’s not laziness. It’s a whole host of very real, very physical, very specific, very unpleasant and often very debilitating system wide symptoms, which fluctuate and carry on for bloody ever, and which currently don’t really have a cure, and are lacking in NHS funding, research and information. Some work is being done by various associations, though, and understanding is significantly better than it was a decade ago, I think, so that’s something.
Because of this illness that arrived out of the blue, I have had to learn to recreate my life to be as physically undemanding as possible, because pretty much any activity at all leaves me with bad physical symptoms, and Post Exertional Malaise (e.g. recovery from activity takes a very long time and causes adverse effects). Where I used to plan to have a walk en route to things so I’d get fresh air, processing time and some (what was then to me) “light exercise,” now I have to plan activities so there is minimal walking, and always make sure I have an escape route by bus/car/taxi etc incase symptoms get worse and I need to retreat. Doing anything costs energy, and I have very little of that, so I have to leave lots of space around activities for anticipated charging the battery before and after.
I cannot do ‘exercise’ in the way that I used to think of it, at all, really, now. If I do, it’s like already being in my overdraft, but then taking out thousands of pounds and throwing it out of the window (possibly at something fleeting but fun like a colourful bird flying past – i get this is a weird metaphor), but in this metaphor money is energy and we’re talking about the energy bank. I can still do a little bit of yoga, and small amounts of walking, and the occasional fun activity splurge with crash time afterwards, but I can’t generally RELY on doing them, in the way I used to be able to and most more able bodied people can. Nor can I now usually combine a walk with conversations/phone calls etc, as it tends to take everything I’ve got to do the walking. Sometimes I make it work and have a wonderful time out and about, but not on a day where I need to function reliably later, and not without repercussions afterwards, usually. Walking to the shop and back, or to the bus stop etc for getting to work, takes energy, and I can no longer rely on it .
It’s mega hard to lose a lot of physical strength, especially if it conflicts with your sense of identity. I wanted to prove to the world that I, a woman, could carry the bags and run the show and do the job! I was doing okay at that, in my way (with many many thanks due to some wonderfully supportive and encouraging people of all genders, especially my family), then M.E./CFS came along, and now I do a quiet, less physical, needing lots of extra help, doing a lot less, version of that. I still run things I’m very proud of, and enjoy plotting to do more (cos you gotta dream and hope, right?!), but I have to take taxis and buses, have support from family, employ someone to help with very physical stuff like hoovering, say no to most social stuff on work days, etc., to make it through. I still have moments where I’m carrying heavy bags to/from the bus stop and have to stop several times, and it feels pretty shite. But hey – I have found ways to carry on as best I can despite the illness, and if that isn’t strength, I don’t know what is! Showing up when you feel like hell, and still being decent to other people, and doing your moment-to-moment best at your job/the activity in hand, is strength and gentleness. Knowing when and how to say yes/no, is strength and gentleness. Accepting changes you did not want, is strength and gentleness. Grieving changes you did not want, is strength and gentleness.
I think my recently departed Granny, Mouse/Rosemary Tristram, was a great example of gentleness and strength. She was loving, kind, accepting and generous to everyone around her. She undertook all sorts of wonderful work and charity work. She made some of her traits into a featured joke, having good humour about herself. She was caring about others, even when she was dying. She accepted help (though I think this was hard). She was loving and proud of her family and showed this gently and consistently throughout her life.
I would say being ill has given me a lot of mental strength. In many ways. Though now my mentally strong brain is getting too tired to think of examples so I’m going to take a break and come back to it.…
…It takes strength to adapt to a long term, shitty change of life circumstances. It takes strength to ask for and accept help. It takes strength to carry on every day doing the best I can, despite all the ongoing awful symptoms of M.E./CFS. It takes strength to constantly be assessing my energy and symptom levels and acting accordingly, and thinking forward to assess if there’s anything I’m going to need to cancel or adapt or plan for, and doing this in enough good time. Sometimes I just have to say ‘fuck it’ and be less careful, and then recover from the ramifications of that. It takes strength to manage and advocate for yourself when you have an illness that lots of people dismiss and most don’t understand, and that many medical professionals are extremely unprofessional and undertrained about.
It takes strength to look at the world, see something that is not how you think it should be (for example to do with equality, compassion, animals, environment), and to speak up and ask the world, and yourself, to do better. It takes strength to learn to love your weakened, fat (neutral descriptor, not insult), symptom-laden body, when you had been over-attached to your thin, over-pliable, under-control body all those years. It takes strength to admit where you have struggled or been wrong. It takes strength to spot and to call out fatphobia, biphobia, homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, misogyny, any form of societal inequality. It takes strength to try and learn your blind spots and educate yourself. It takes strength to do your best to educate others about what you know so far. It takes strength to admit you don’t know sometimes, rather than fake an opinion. It takes strength to show up as you are in a world that often shows up as wanting to change you. It takes strength to be however you are most comfortable, in a society that (for example) wants to gender you and prescribe exactly how you should look, how you should behave and who you should love and how. It takes strength to be okay with the parts of yourself that are outside the norm, and once you’ve started working on that it takes strength to be okay with the parts of yourself that are inside the norm too.
Example of this: “It takes strength to be okay with the parts of yourself that are outside the norm, and once you’ve started working on that it takes strength to be okay with the parts of yourself that are inside the norm too.” Over the past week I have had an awful flu/cough/cold/chest bug on top of the M.E./CFS. This has been pretty debilitating and unpleasant. A strange accident occurred on Saturday night, whilst I was doing my best to hibernate in a bubble of low keyness and healing vibes to help get rid of the bug and avoid a longer term very bad M.E. crash. Strange accident was this (and it is so bizarre that I couldn’t even find ANYTHING about similar on google), as I described it in a facebook shout out for help:
“Advice wanted! In my (small one person sized) kitchen, my laundry hanger has fallen completely over and completely to the floor, and completely wedged the kitchen door shut. Kitchen is my source of hot water bottles, tea, food and water, and i have a nasty bug at the moment and need the access extra muchly! Have tried a bit of door wiggling and sliding hard cardboard under door to try and prise hanger upwards, but no luck. Bottom of door has no wiggle room so i think the leg of the hanger is firmly wedged against it. There’s not much room between door and edge of floor so i reckon the hanger is wedged “wall to wall” (actually door to floor). All the windows to main room and kitchen are closed. Short of smashing the door in, what should I do? Is there a magic handiman/ woman/ person I can call to sort it out? Ideally and essentially need it sorted tonight, with minimal stress or exertion (nasty bug and M.E. is not a fun cocktail). Can someone cut a piece out of the bottom of the door, or do some other such magic?
To top it all off, there’s wet laundry and a brand new food shop all trapped behind that door! Thanks for help/tips.”
Bizarre conundrum, right? Assessing the situation, and describing it and asking for help on facebook, and having a first go at fixing it myself, all took some strength and energy. Then, I was just ignoring it for a bit, having a mental and physical break, a wonderful friend (Marcus, hero of the hour!) phoned up, and came round to try to help. We poked and prodded and pulled and kicked and scraped and such, and nothing seemed to help. My dear friend Julia (also a total hero!) offered some tools, which still weren’t quite what was needed, but we had a good chat and a laugh about the situation, which helped morale! We asked at the local shop if they had the relevant tools we could borrow, nope. Friend asked on facebook “hacksaw needed, urgent” and had some amusing/worried responses!
In the end we walked up to my friend’s house to get his penknife, to see if that might work as a last resort. On the way up there, it became extra apparent that I was in bad condition, virus-wise and M.E. wise. I was getting all the signals to go home and inside and rest, but I also really wanted to connect with my friend, see his house (nearby but not the easiest walk for someone with M.E.), and show with energy and attention how grateful I was for his help with the situation! So I overrode it, coughing and spluttering and shutting down as we went. I got to his house and lay down for a while, and had tea and water and cooling fruits. Then we had lovely long chats and about life and such while I recovered from the walk, which was grand as I hadn’t expected to have a lovely social time whilst in the middle of a crash-bug-virus-recoup weekend. Eventually we set off, penknife in tow, back to mine, and it was an easier walk as downhill.
Then there was a period of time where this wonderful man SAWED A MOUSEHOLE INTO MY DOOR WITH A TINY PENKNIFE (some friends deserve medals), while I waited and rested, utterly shattered from the bug, the situation and the walk. When he finally freed the door, the hanger, and then liberated my kitchen again, I sprang into action to do the things that I COULD do. And it happens that, thanks to illness and just how my body and mind generally are, the things I could easily do were to make him some food, and tend to a few cuts on his hands from the woodwork. I was aware that this was GENDER ROLE CITY, however it was also 100% wonderful, because none of it was weird power dynamic or performative etc., it was ‘I’m doing what I can for the good, and here’s what I can do.’ And what he could do, was FREE MY KITCHEN FROM BEING INACCESSIBLE FOREVER! With creative and persistent penknife sawing. And what I could do was, food, wound tending and being a nice host. So, I was fine with those roles. And utterly delighted that my friend could help!
I think that past me would have been really angry about not being able to saw a hole in the door myself, or at having to get help at all, especially when that help based on physical strength and practical DIY skill comes from a man (because, patriarchy). But the fact is sometimes the stereotypes match the truth, and the truth is where the best actions come from. Gentleness with myself, and mental strength, meant this was not an additional issue. It all just flowed, a problem was solved, people were taken good care of, and good things happened. Hurrah. And thanks again to the amazing amazing Marcus for your physical & mental strength helping me with this, and your gentleness in knowing when and how to offer help.
NB if my landlord(s) read(s) this, none of the above happened, it’s all hypothetical and fictional, the door is perfect, a mouse may have nibbled it but I fixed it, so please ignore all the above!
It can be hard though – when you realise some of the gender or other roles you resented having pushed upon you by society in general, are ones that actually suit your inclinations and abilities. Like, “yes please strong man I would love your help carrying this,” is not something I would have ever wanted to say, as a young adult. These days, I (would be healthier if I) take all the help I can get (but I don’t, but I do take some of it, sometimes). Not being the exact embodiment of the “strong independent woman” I had envisaged, can hurt sometimes. But the strength of gentleness is to learn what is, and then to do the best you can with that. And we cannot always choose what is, only work with it as best we can. …And in some ways, it’s all just our little/big egos dealing with mortality and such, isn’t it!… Sorry, back to the point –
Example of importance of: “we cannot always choose what is, only work with it as best we can.” If a vocal student makes a sound they don’t like, and then invests energy in self berating and stops exploring, they don’t tend to make progress, just get frustrated. However, if a vocal student makes a sound they don’t like, and then responds with curiosity, and continues to explore, they continue to glean information about how their voice feels and sounds, and can continue to make progress.
Now while we’re at it looking at gentleness and strength, I’d like to look at the word, ‘feisty.’ Feisty is something I think I have been called a fair amount in my life, and only in the last few years did I realise it was not synonymous with ‘strong,’ but was actually a diminutive thing to say. I realised it usually implies someone or something that “should not” be strong, but which is attempting to be. And I think it is generally applied to people/animals that society expects (or demands) not to be strong, and is said with amusement/mockery/diminutive intent. I think ‘feisty’ is most usually said about women, children, smaller people, smaller animals… I don’t think feisty is ever said about large adult men. Let me have a google… Yep, google define says part of its origin is “19th century… derogatory term for a lap dog.” That about sums it up!
As a female presenting person, and throughout many years of my life quite short and slim, and also someone quite outspoken with a highly tuned bullshit detector (sometimes), I think feisty has been said of me quite a lot. And these days, I don’t like it. I would rather you saw my strength and called it strength. I also don’t recall (but may be wrong) being called feisty by anyone of a similar gender and stature to me – I think it’s mostly been cisgender men, taller than me, discussing me as feisty. Not long after I got together with my most recent partner (who broke up with me when I got the M.E./CFS diagnosis. Nice. I’m not bitter.), he reported to me that one of our mutual friends had described me to him as, “a feisty one.” This felt weird but I could not put my finger on exactly why – now I have a clearer idea. I don’t like being discussed behind my back (or in a room in front of me as if I’m not there) by cis men (or anyone) in this diminutive and derogatory way.
Said ex partner also divulged to me that one of my (male identifying) yoga students (from my recent teaching days which stopped with the M.E.), who had been quite a ‘devotee’ in terms of attendance, had only been so because he was attracted to me. Was this supposed to be a compliment?! Ugh! Frankly this was hugely insulting to me as a teacher, naff in terms of gender and power dynamics, an awkward thing to be aware of, and also seemed to be quite a breach of the supposed friendship trust between the two men. And, if it was true, a breach of the understanding between student and teacher of what purpose a yoga class is there for. Yuck. I do not like male presenting people saying “she’s a feisty one,” “went to her class cos I fancied her,” etc. behind my back – or ever. It’s supremely disrespectful. Well, there are more supreme ways to disrespect, but it’s pretty shitty anyway. Same men who think it’s fine to say stuff like, “women aren’t funny.” Middle finger up to that!
Saying stuff like that, that’s seemingly deliberately derogatory to people because of gender, or other characteristics, is not strength. It’s violence. It’s not gentleness – there’s nothing gentle about it. It’s cowardly. Strength would be, discussing people respectfully, examining why you are saying/thinking what you are saying/thinking, examining why you are doing what you are doing, doing your best to learn about respectful language and behaviour, and the variety of people around you, and the social structures around you. Strength would be thinking about what’s best for you and for others, asking and listening to the answers, reflecting, and acting accordingly as best you can. Strength would be meeting people where they are at, and finding connection if possible and if wanted. Strength would be forgiving people for their limitations and blind spots, whilst also asserting your boundaries and standing up for what you think and feel to be right. Strength would be encouraging people around you not to be sexist / misogynistic / racist / ableist / homophobic / biphobic / transphobic / aggressive in other ways, and inviting exploration of what’s actually going on behind those ideas/behaviours. The ways many people are trained to behave, for example in terms of gender expression, can be pretty limited and shit for everyone in one way or another! So, strength is learning about it, gentleness is listening in order to learn, strength is calling it out, gentleness is calling it out respectfully. Gentleness is also admitting there is always more for you to learn – you’re never the all knowing guru!
SILLY JOKE INTERRUPTION – you could call a pet dog or cat something that you might need to ‘call out.’ Eg “Sexism! SIT!” Or “Biphobia ruined my sofa.” Or “Ableism is in the bathroom.” Not really, obvs, but the absurdness is fun! Ignore if you don’t get it, it was funny for me for a moment…
Just a disclaimer – I’m a bit out of it/ delirious with the nasty virus I’ve got at the moment, so if I’ve miscommunicated anything majorly or made any massive blind spot faux pas, apologies, please forgive, and of course gently let me know if you think helpful and necessary.
Discussions of gentleness and strength are reminding me of a favourite song, ‘The Traveller,’ written by a friend from happy days of yore, Anna Patton, with lyrics from an amazing old hymn. I’m reminded because of the lyric,
“I rise superior to my pain, when I am weak then I am strong.”
Do listen to Anna’s track ‘The Traveller’ at this link, it’s amazing, rich and deep.
Here’s a rough version of the whole poem. It’s fervent, mysterious, visceral and religious, and when read with the feeling of the music of Anna’s song, so so beautiful and huge:
Charles Wesley, Come O Thou Traveller unknown
Come, O thou Traveller unknown,
Whom still I hold, but cannot see!
My company before is gone,
And I am left alone with Thee;
With Thee all night I mean to stay,
And wrestle till the break of day.
I need not tell Thee who I am,
My misery and sin declare;
Thyself hast called me by my name,
Look on Thy hands, and read it there;
But who, I ask Thee, who art Thou?
Tell me Thy name, and tell me now.
In vain Thou strugglest to get free,
I never will unloose my hold!
Art Thou the Man that died for me?
The secret of Thy love unfold;
Wrestling, I will not let Thee go,
Till I Thy name, Thy nature know.
Wilt Thou not yet to me reveal
Thy new, unutterable Name?
Tell me, I still beseech Thee, tell;
To know it now resolved I am;
Wrestling, I will not let Thee go,
Till I Thy Name, Thy nature know.
‘Tis all in vain to hold Thy tongue
Or touch the hollow of my thigh;
Though every sinew be unstrung,
Out of my arms Thou shalt not fly;
Wrestling I will not let Thee go
Till I Thy name, Thy nature know.
What though my shrinking flesh complain,
And murmur to contend so long?
I rise superior to my pain,
When I am weak, then I am strong
And when my all of strength shall fail,
I shall with the God-man prevail.
My strength is gone, my nature dies,
I sink beneath Thy weighty hand,
Faint to revive, and fall to rise;
I fall, and yet by faith I stand;
I stand and will not let Thee go
Till I Thy Name, Thy nature know.
Yield to me now, for I am weak,
But confident in self-despair;
Speak to my heart, in blessings speak,
Be conquered by my instant prayer;
Speak, or Thou never hence shalt move,
And tell me if Thy Name is Love.
‘Tis Love! ’tis Love! Thou diedst for me!
I hear Thy whisper in my heart;
The morning breaks, the shadows flee,
Pure, universal love Thou art;
To me, to all, Thy bowels move;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.
My prayer hath power with God;
the grace Unspeakable I now receive;
Through faith I see Thee face to face,
I see Thee face to face, and live!
In vain I have not wept and strove;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.
I know Thee, Savior, who Thou art.
Jesus, the feeble sinner’s friend;
Nor wilt Thou with the night depart.
But stay and love me to the end,
Thy mercies never shall remove;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.
The Sun of righteousness on me
Hath rose with healing in His wings,
Withered my nature’s strength;
from Thee My soul its life and succor brings;
My help is all laid up above;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.
Contented now upon my thigh
I halt, till life’s short journey end;
All helplessness, all weakness I
On Thee alone for strength depend;
Nor have I power from Thee to move:
Thy nature, and Thy name is Love.
Lame as I am, I take the prey,
Hell, earth, and sin, with ease o’ercome;
I leap for joy, pursue my way,
And as a bounding hart fly home,
Through all eternity to prove
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love
So, strength and gentleness.
May many kinds of both be with you all, guiding you forward well, and lovingly.