Star Ford

Essays on lots of things since 1989.

Staying at 6%

I was the second lowest ranking person pretty much throughout childhood and in many other situations. Sometimes I’m the very lowest or third lowest, but generally if a group is large enough I can find someone who ranks lower, someone who’s blatantly offensive or more visibly disabled for example. I feel like this information of who ranks where basically floats there visibly and no special glasses are needed to see it, although I’m aware that a lot of people, the further up they are, can’t see it. A form of privilege blindness – we can only see up and not down.

If I take a lot of situations from memory I can say that for groups of size 12 and under, I’m usually the least, and for groups of about 25, I’m most often the second. So it seems to always come out to about 6% – my consistent place in this world.

The other day a few things happened that brought that ranking out in the open.

The first event of the day was a quaker gathering. By chance I had got an invitation to introduce quakerism to a high school class, and at first I just forwarded the request to others. There was some interest but no offer of leadership coming forward, and then I realized that the task was meant for me and it got exciting. The quakers have a concept of “oversight” which is supposed to temper and draw out energy, and I asked for oversight and collaboration. The quakers do not officially have a concept of rank, but social rank still exists, and what happened is that the education committee took over in a passive-aggressive way. One of them refused to collaborate and stonewalled for weeks until the other was back from travels, and then the latter decided to run the whole thing with just himself and his ego. Because I technically have to submit to “oversight” by a committee, there was nothing to do about it, although it was extremely distasteful to watch so-called oversight play out in that way (actually so unpalatable that it pushes me significantly away from being a part of that group).

The ranking played out with the guy on top of course (probably not seeing the rank levels yet verbalizing and enforcing them), then the other committee member, then me third (surprising) then 3 others who had volunteered to collaborate originally. On the one hand I experienced a sense of pride and false success, as if I was moving up, because I wasn’t near the bottom of the ladder. But on the other hand it felt like a slap in the face too, to be so out of line. It was strange and uncomfortable to be that far from the bottom, and it was also false, because advancing in social rank is spiritual death for me; I wasn’t centered in myself when I was flirting with pride like that. I felt a need to cleanse myself of seeing too much dirt from the experience.

The second event was attending a team meeting for a friend who gets a variety of social services. She was lowest ranking followed by me so I was in my familiar #2 position. The meeting was spent listening to social workers controlling her life and pressuring her into things. It was stressful; she even left the meeting for a while. I said it should be quicker and stick to the agenda, because she said she wanted that. They said “great idea” and proceed to not do that at all. I was the one who was specifically not asked if I had anything to bring up. If I had more rank I could have explained the bit about managing sensory overload, and I could have helped them see her as a whole person and not a partial person since I think I was the only one who could see that. But I barely said anything; I stayed in my place.

The third event in the same day was finding out the department of health wasn’t even going to read the proposal that I’d spent 20 hours writing because they had already cuddled up to a different vendor and they had gotten permission from someone in purchasing to blatantly reclassify the project under a false heading, so that they weren’t bound by the rules of the original (true) heading, the rules which would have required them to read my proposal. Again, same story of rank, but played out with corrupt officials and lots of money.

One of the ways to see the ranking is to hear where the we/other gap is languaged. For example, in one group where I had a false sense of belonging, someone shattered it when they said “we appreciate you”. Meaning I’m the other, and he was part of the “we”. It should have been obvious, but I succumb to the pride and push the evidence away. Being “appreciated” doesn’t matter if I’m othered. Then I was kicked out of that group, so it turns out the appreciation wasn’t even shared or real.

It made me wonder again: Do I keep myself at 6% through some kind of psychological self-limitation? I can imagine someone reading this and saying I’m hung up on the rank thing, and if I just had more confidence etc I wouldn’t let it bother me, and not everyone is like that and so on. But there is a mass delusion or taboo concerning rank, along with the enormously widespread yet magical belief in a meritocracy; ignoring those forces don’t make them go away. In each of the three things that happened that day, the people made it pretty clear (and via related experiences) they were wiling to escalate as much as necessary to make sure I didn’t get any of the money or contribution or control. I only gave up because they had power backed by reinforcements. I’m not making up those threats. It’s not just my lack of confidence that keeps me at the lower level.

Then you might wonder if maybe my ideas were just not so good, and the better ideas won out (the meritocracy). I would say the ideas that don’t threaten those with incumbent power won, so they were “better” by that measure. Then you might say I should learn to have more popular ideas, and that’s very hard for me. If I had the skills to win in these situations that I described above, I would feel so manipulative and prideful that I’d hate myself. So I don’t seem to want to go past 6%. On the other hand being down here keeps me from being able to do things. It bars me from sharing what I can do, engaging and contributing, in all kinds of environments. So part of me does want to advance. Then when I start to advance, get that false pride feeling and dare to engage as an equal, I start hearing the we/other language putting back at my 6% level. “We feel you should…”, “We are concerned about…” If I don’t back down, they escalate. They have special intimidation meetings with me or kick me out of organizations. The quaker described above threw in something suggesting quakers shouldn’t be represented by an out trans lesbian, or something vaguely connected to that – I guess an intimidation technique to keep me in line. I’ve also gotten death threats. All of which is to say I’m not very good at staying in line, and wander pretty often.