- Different in a threatening way
- Disturbingly different; alien
- To perceive a person or people as alien to oneself
Each of these phrases defines “other.” I confess that I hadn’t known the word could be used as a verb, but it exemplifies perfectly the way far too many of us treat “others” of us whom we don’t understand.
As the author of books and stories about gay teens, I tend to notice situations in which LGBTQ individuals are othered. Examples are all around us, from the notorious Kim Davis to state-based Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs, introduced because “the advance of LGBT rights has encroached upon religious liberty”) to fanatics like the Westborough Baptist Church to most of the current candidates vying for the GOP nomination to the wanton murders of trans individuals (more last year than ever before).
But there are other others also being maligned, mistreated, and murdered. I’ll name a few: people of color (Black Lives Matter, anyone?); Muslims (even the peaceful ones); women (don’t think they’re being murdered because they’re women? Google it for any one of many, many, many examples); the elderly (huge problem; see the National Center on Elder Abuse; and, hey, just the fact that this organization exists…); people with developmental challenges (such as abuse of the autistic); people who used to live somewhere else (that is, immigrants); this list could go on for a long time.
What do these groups all have in common? See the three statements at the top of this post.
And what do those three statements have in common? They all play directly into the virtual hands of the lizard brain.
This is a part of our brains that is so primitive that we have it in common with lizards. The scientific term for it is the reptilian brain. It’s the seat of instinct. It’s non-congnitive and non-verbal. Bottom line: It doesn’t think. In fact, it’s impervious to reason. When something feels wrong to the lizard brain, it causes chemical reactions that result in the fight-or-flight response. No time for thinking. And something is wrong to the lizard brain if it’s different from the brain’s host. Different. You know, like, other?
Your lizard brain reacts immediately; as far as it’s concerned, your life might be in danger. Everything different from you—other than you—is wrong, a threat until proven not to be. And when a male, caucasian, Christian, cisgender, heterosexual encounters a black, trans woman? Whether she’s Christian or not, or straight or not, won’t matter; there are so many alarm bells in his head they crowd out his ability to reason, to think, even to speak articulately. He’ll probably pick up a baseball bat, or introduce another RFRA, or start another Focus on the Family-style hate group. Sometimes all this man’s lizard brain sees is the “other” person’s dark skin. Sometimes all he has to see is that there’s a woman having the gaul to publish her opinions.
The lizard brain’s effectiveness stems from one, extremely powerful tool: adrenaline. And when the lizard shoots adrenaline through anyone’s system, the immediate response is fear. Sometimes it’s full-out TERROR. All because of that “other” person’s existence, or their insistence on being treated as human.
This fear-based response to the other doesn’t care why the other person is different. Alien. Threatening. They just are. Comedian Russell Brand puts it like this (see time index 00:30): “An immigrant is just someone who used to be somewhere else.”
There’s a term familiar to... well, probably everyone: Divide and conquer. But usually the action of dividing and conquering comes from outside of the conquered.
In a recent blog post, Brandon Kneefel draws a strategic thread through various movements that, while they have important differences among them, are all striving for the same things: equality and acceptance. He highlights LGBTQ and Black Lives Matter efforts, but he notes that these and other movements have the concept of “other” in common:
“The past would give us perspective into generations of violence toward the LGBTQ community from policing forces … These policing forces also had a target before we LGBTs organized—people of color, immigrants, people outside the predominant religious faith. The ‘others.’”
Connecting the various movements’ efforts did not go over well with some of of the post’s commenters. For example:
“What do LGBTQ rights have to do with Black Lives Matter?” I'm a trans woman, and I'll say it, even if others won't. Not a GOD DAMNED THING!
What does one minority community fighting for equal rights and representation have to do with another minority community fighting for equal rights and representation..... I don't know, the connection is just.... so hard to make.
Some commenters understood. For example:
Why do people hate black? It is something inside of themselves. Have you noticed that a person who hates blacks, usualy hate gays and Jews also. It is so frustrating!
It's really very simple: We are all in this together, and no one is free until *all* of us are free.
There’s a takeaway for those who see themselves as a member of one or more of these “other” groups: Park those devilish details that make you feel different from other “others.” Stop isolating yourselves into separate groups, a practice that lets the lizard triumph. It’s time to lift your gaze and seek the allies who might not be in your specific group, but whose striving for equality and acceptance is identical to yours. Help each other. This way we will all win.