Speaking for Others

There is a big problem in speaking for others.

How do I know how someone else feels? How do I know what someone else’s experience has been?

In my work I research and write about the critical intersections of disability studies, gender studies, and such. I am pretty concerned about taking other people’s voices away from them by replacing them with my own. If you are a wheelchair user, you should speak for yourself. I shouldn’t write about your experience as if I know what your life is like. So I should just describe my own experience? There is a problem with that though. My daughter is not old enough to speak for herself in many situations. Sure she comes out to people on her own terms, but I wouldn’t make her confront the school and its inability to meet the needs of LGBT kids, at least not alone. In fact, because she is a kid there are plenty of things she shouldn’t have to worry about, like making sure the school acts on its zero tolerance for bullying policy.

So as her mom I speak for her. I advocate for her. It is the duty of parents to advocate for their kids when they aren’t old enough to have the power to advocate for themselves.

Now, if she wants to speak about her experience publicly, I will do my best to support by helping her acquire the skills and find opportunities for her to speak to a larger audience, opportunities that she will find comfortable and safe. My child is a crusader. She refuses to keep quiet about who she is and what she believes, but right now her venues are the playground and the carpool, not the school board meeting.

(Surely there a time will come in the not too distant future when she will be annoyed that I am advocating for her because she will feel like she doesn’t need my help. But we’ll work it out then and form a new kind of collaboration.)

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