Giving thanks: the obvious and the not-so-obvious

At Thanksgiving I, like most people I know, take a moment to stop and think about how lucky I am… while stuffing my face with turkey and trimmings of course. I’m on Day 2 of leftovers now, and maybe it’s the last of the tryptophan haze, maybe it’s all the wine I’ve had in the last few days, but I am gobsmacked by my good fortune. What am I thankful for? A hell of a lot.

  • I’m healthy.
  • I have a small but awesome family.
  • I live in Canada, which is not without its problems, but I’d rather live here than almost anywhere else, especially as a woman (voting! property rights! birth control!) In particular, I live in East Vancouver, which is the first place I’ve lived where I feel truly at home. Beautiful tree-lined streets, lots of small shops, good transit and bike routes, diversity on a number of fronts, and a great sense of community. And most of my friends live here.
  • I have a job. It pays me well. It gives me good benefits. It lets me afford my great apartment. And the things in it that help make my life comfortable.
  • Getting my job was made possible by the specific aptitudes that I have, surely, but also by the fact that I was encouraged to and had the opportunity to get a very good education.
  • I have a second job. People pay me to teach them how to do something I LOVE to do (Cuban-style salsa, for those who don’t know).
  • I have amazing friends that support and inspire me every day.
  • I’m in a wonderful relationship with a man who makes me laugh, makes me think, values my independence and autonomy, and is apparently entertained by all my quirks and weirdness.

These are some of the obvious aspects of my life for which I am thankful. But more and more, I’ve been thinking about the circumstances of my life that I’ve tended to take for granted have made it easier than it might have been otherwise.

The ones on my mind lately:

  • I am (mostly) heterosexual. I have never had to out my sexuality. And because I live where I do (Canada/Vancouver/EastVan) and WHEN I do (and have the friends and family that I have), I have felt free to explore same-sex sensuality and sexuality without fear of judgement, harassment, or violence. The worst I’ve had to deal with is annoyance when straight men seem to think that my penchant for sometimes making out with women somehow exists for their enjoyment (FYI – it doesn’t.)
  • I am fully abled. I was born with all the body parts that are typical of a human female, and they all work as they are supposed to. I have been free of major injuries or conditions which would impair my usual function in any way. And I am free of chronic pain. (I did have a horrible and ultra-vivid dream last night that I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • I am cis-gendered. Nobody has ever questioned my gender. Not me, not anybody else. Sometimes I dither about how to express my gender (or not), but I’ve never felt that I was meant to be anything other than female.
  •  I am an atheist who was raised in an atheist household. In a country/city where we don’t talk about religion all that much (relatively speaking). Sure we read Bible stories as a kid (my mother was raised Catholic after all), but they were treated the same as Aesop’s fables or the Berenstein Bear books. Just stories. I’ve never had to out my atheism in any circumstance in my life that might have had negative consequences for me. Having the odd stranger plead with me to go to church while talking to them on the street or in a bar does not amount to consequences. There are many atheists who face serious repercussions for disclosing their status. Being shunned by their family. Losing a faith-based community that they grew up with. Violence. I never really thought about it much until recently. But that’s exactly my point: I’ve never HAD to think about it. It just wasn’t a thing.
  • I am ethnically ambiguous to a lot of people. While I have never deliberately tried to “pass” as anything other than what I am or deny my mixed background, I realize that my particular phenotype has probably saved me from a lot of racism/discrimination that I might have faced if I had been darker. Again, I’ve also been lucky to live where and when I do. When I was little, my mother thought about moving us back to her hometown in Austria. I would probably have been the only coloured kid around. It was bad enough being whispered about when I visited as an adult. I am convinced that things would not have been easy for me growing up there. I am so glad that we stayed here in Canada, and specifically in my fairly sheltered suburban childhood neighbourhood. I just came across this video yesterday which looks at NYCs discriminatory stop-and-frisk policy. This makes me nauseous and sad and angry. And hyper-aware that my life has been so far free of this kind of experience.

While I haven’t always explicitly recognized these privileges or lucky circumstances, I find myself more and more aware of them as I get older. And I wonder how much they’ve influenced things I’ve said or done in the past (or do now). Certainly I’ve said things that are ableist. Or heteronormative. Or other things that were just in ignorance of some of the struggles other people have gone through that I haven’t had to. And being increasingly aware of them doesn’t mean that they don’t slip into my blind spot at times. Hopefully a lot less so now…

So as I pick away at my slop-pot Tupperware container full of gravy-slathered leftovers,  it’s really this awareness for which I am most thankful. It is humbling to truly realize how lucky I am.

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