My name is Eliot Waddingham, and I use gender neutral pronouns.
Did you feel that? That tight little clench in the back of your neck, like you’ve just heard someone announce a radical political view?
Don’t worry, I felt it too.
You’re feeling it because you’re thinking, “Oh boy, here’s another one.” I’m feeling it because I know that’s what you’re feeling, and I just wanted you to refer to me using neutral pronouns. I can’t do that, however, without inadvertently making statements that cause the majority of people I interact with to assume other things about my identity. I’m a communist, a vegan, and a militant feminist. Probably. You never know with those people.
But wait! There’s more. I’m also a Christian. More accurately, I’m a theistic rationalist.
I know, I know. That’s an unnecessary level of detail when you haven’t even bought me a coffee, yet!
I attend St. Alban’s Anglican in Ottawa, and between frequenting the music team and occasionally giving a sermon (http://eliotinterchange.com/2015/07/13/telling-our-stories-me-the-ethopian-eunuch/) , lots of people know my name there even if I don’t always know theirs. As part of my leadership at St. Al’s, I’ve also lead two workshops about gender and sexuality and how these things intersect with faith. I was once on a panel of ‘millennials’ talking about why we still go to church. Despite my incredibly verbose and awkward manner of speaking and just generally taking up space, people seem to be interested in my opinions on things there, and I share them.
So, that’s my personal life, which honestly, is not as simple as I’d like it to be. Being queer and Christian is not something that comes without contradiction, or, rather, contradictions have to do with what people assume I think or feel about [insert religious/queer rights issue here]. If you were friends with me on Facebook, you’d see a collection of religious memes, political posts encouraging Canucks not to vote for Harper in October, and a lot of geeking out about how Nepal just created third-gender passports. Oh, and pictures of my cats. Kind of a lot of pictures of my cats.
You would also see on my Facebook a number of reposts for whatever is going on with my job. I am very privileged to be the head of research for an “edutainment” company called Bold & Mighty. (You KNOW you wanna click through that one. Did you do it? Don’t worry, I’ll wait). I post daily “On This Day in History” posts, in English and French, corral a pretty rad team of researchers, and occasionally write more in-depth blog posts about historical events, like this one about an air raid on a German dam that would make a great blockbuster film (http://www.boldandmighty.com/blog/2015/5/17/5-things-you-didnt-know-about-the-dam-busters). Though I usually feed most of the social media posts into a bot that will post them for me at higher traffic times, occasionally, I have to do things manually. Because our Facebook page insists on being tied to my “personal” Facebook account, when that happens, the feed will show that: Eliot K. Waddingham on behalf of Bold and Mighty posted this. This can sometimes be sweet, because people like my grandmother will post on our daily history facts and comment about how much she loves my job. It’s also a little frightening. I work for a company whose spoken purpose is to educate Canadians about Canadian military history. Military buffs, by and large, tend to be conservative people, who probably wouldn’t like the pride flag gradient I’ve had over my profile picture for a month.
When I was growing up, I lived in a (small-c) conservative family. My father and his parents come from a very British tradition of keeping your business to yourself. My family was, and still is, very involved in the church. For as long as I can remember, a particular sort of tension often cropped up in church life about having, “private,” issues you dealt with in the family, and having, “public,” matters you shared with the broader community. Churches have a lot of good to them, but anyone who’s gone to one for an extended period of time will know that gossip is a vicious weed in those circles. Everyone talks about everyone else. It is allowed, to a certain extent, because churches were considered to span that bridge between, “public,” and, “private,” life. It used to be that we had this expectation that people–average people, less so for celebrities or politicians–would leave their personal problems in the personal sphere and put on a private face for work. And similarly, it didn’t matter what your political views or sexual identity were as long as you could get the job done. As Pierre Elliot Trudeau once put it, “there is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.”
The historian in me needs to point out that this idea has always been a fallacy–in the 1920s, Ford famously implemented his “$5 A Day” wages, which were only for workers who were married, kept their house in good order, and ideally abstained from alcohol. Look at the British royal family or the Clinton affair. Look at any tabloid magazine in any convenience store! We’ve always been obsessed with the “personal,” and frequently have let the personal impact the political.
This is particularly relevant now, as never has it been so easy as it is today for the political to monitor the personal. How many articles have you read about the importance of curating your Facebook page, avoiding those drunk photos and keeping away from expressing too strong a political opinion on anything? How many times have we been told that potential employers are looking for your Facebook–they want you to have one, and they want to see something about you, something personal, but something positive. Well-put together, ideally with at least one quirky interest, but nothing you wouldn’t show your great-grandmother. This is where things can be difficult for me.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of my identity (even more than the Queer Christian thing) is that I am open, and always have been, about my ongoing struggle with mental illness. I’ve always made it a point to be open about that part of my life. Similar to my more-recent coming-out as queer, I find the only way to decrease stigma is to talk about myself with candor – and occasionally, humour. While that’s a cute little life philosophy, what doesn’t fit on the convenient business card blurb is the anxiety that comes along with it. I lay it out pretty clearly on my blog that having depression makes me a crappy 9-5 employee (http://eliotinterchange.com/2015/07/17/on-salaried-existence-spoon-theory-and-digital-nomadism/), and that can be off-putting to some.
This is about the time where I’m supposed to sum up what I’ve written in something pithy you can post as a tagline if you share this on Facebook (which, hey, I hope you do! I’d love to get talking about this in the comments). But the truth is, I don’t have an easy summary for this, nor do I have concrete conclusions about what it means to be a Complicated Human in a Digital World. I do my best to own my contributions to that virtual cork-board where we all create ourselves, status by status, share by share. Some of these contributions are complicated — it’s not easy to be queer, to be Christian, to be both. To be chronically depressed and clinically anxious, and still hold down a job and some university courses. Paradox and ambiguity characterizes many of these, which makes them hard to pare down into simplistic views and soundbites.
In my opinion, all we can do — and admittedly, I’m not always great at this — is think before we talk, and try to be who we are. The century we live in has brought us a lot of cool stuff through this Internet thing. It’s never been easier for me to find those people who fit in the Venn diagram of queer and christian, geeky and introverted, mentally ill and wanting to talk about that. The cost, of course, is that we’ve also got problems like Weinergate, a Facebook timeline that has forever chronicled that stupid stuff I wanted to share with everyone at age fifteen, and subreddits about creepshots.
The internet is holding us to a level of accountability we’ve never seen before, and it’s brought the “personal” and the “private” so close together that the letters have started to blur. There may be no place for the state in our bedroom, but we did make space for our smartphones. To mix metaphors–we’ve built a new bed. Let’s start talking about how best we want to lay in it.
Eliot is a 22-year old self-described “gender bandit” with a big heart and a weakness for Bridgehead lattes. Professionally, they do research and monitor social media for Bold & Mighty. Personally, they like to knit, embroider, and watch 80s sci-fi. You can find them at eliotinterchange.com