...and how it's different from what British people mean when they tell me they don't feel British.
I tweeted this yesterday morning, and a couple of things happened. First, a bunch of people kindly retweeted it. That led to some "fun", like the guy who told me everyone was welcome here and if I didn't feel welcome it was my own fault and why wasn't I more grateful that he was welcoming me
(which, bless them, seemed to shock and horrify my friends with his rudeness, whereas I thought I'd gotten off lightly to have only attracted one of the well-meaning Britsplainers and not any of the proper nasty bigots...#everydayxenophobia, eh?).
Anyway, the retweets also elicited this:Now, I've heard "I don't even feel British" from people who are, technically, British a lot. Pretty much any time I talk about my status in the UK, I'm met with this. When I was fretting over having to take the awful Life in the UK test, co-workers and in-laws were always intrigued by my book of practice questions but when none of them -- all native Brits! -- could answer them, they inevitably laughed it off by saying that having to take a test like this was itself an un-British thing. The think-pieces about "what it means to be British" work along similar lines: it's like "the true meaning of Christmas," something a certain kind of person likes to noodle about and everyone always comes to the same conclusion about: it's not only impossible to pin down, but that very ineffability is part of what makes it so great. Et cetera.
Through no fault of his own, Daniel's tweet made something snap in my head. It wasn't the first time my articulating how hostile I find "Britishness" and how little I feel it's anything to do with me got this kind of reaction. Indeed, I don't think I've ever talked about this without one or more friends -- and very close friends! and partners! -- saying "I don't feel that British either."
Of course people are welcome to affiliate themselves with "Britishness" as much or as little as they like. But I think they can't help but mean something very different by it than what I mean when I say "I don't feel British." I certainly empathize with Daniel's reluctance to align himself with some of the actions of his country's government -- of course I do, I'm from the U.S.! The first time I visited the UK in 2004 I was delighted my accent so often got me mistaken for Canadian because I'd have much rather been from a country that wasn't determined to bomb the shit out of all the brown people.
But even if I were to say "I don't feel American" when I don't agree with its government...it is in my head an entirely
different thing to what I mean when I say "I don't feel British." And I kind of despaired of being able to explain this at all, much less in Twitter's character restrictions, so I just said And this got the responses it always does: people born in Britain who've lived here most or all of their lives saying they don't feel British and "feeling British" isn't a meaningful phrase to them. They're good people who I know love me, but things (temporarily!) seemed to be getting worse instead of better. I doubted my ability to explain to myself what bothered me about this, much less to loved ones whose identity I might be treading on, much less on Twitter.
But I figured if I was going to try, I might as well try it on James -- poor guy, these are the perks of being my partner: more unrefined unsolicited thoughts! .And I added this, more generally.
And he understood it better than I understood what I was saying myself at the time, because he's good. Yes.
Luxury. Unavailable luxury. This I think was the description I'd been groping for. It was the kind of luxury that means white people don't have to think about race, cis people don't have to think about gender, non-disabled people don't have to think about accessibility, and so on. (A point something like that was made by pickwick
But it helped a lot to see someone else saying that, and not having to say it myself. This is true not only for personal reasons of it feeling so nice to be understood and have my perspective valued...but also because it's not just my identity that people feel free to argue with, it's also any opinions I might have about theirs -- like the guy who said Britain is welcoming and if I don't think so I'm wrong -- he told me
"rubbish" when I challenged that, but he didn't say anything to the British people allying themselves with my side of the argument. So it's nice to have James saying these things partly because he makes me happy but also he doesn't run such a risk of attracting the kind of animosity I would have to worry about if I said the same things. And not only can Twitter randoms argue with it...the Home Secretary can argue with it. A nasty headline or a few minutes of Radio 4 on the subject of immigration can ruin my mental health for the day. I know my passport says I have Indefinite Leave to Remain now, but I don't really believe that. You can be working illegally, or more difficult to give a job to, once the passport that has your ILR in it expires. You can be deported if your British spouse isn't making enough money. The ILR stamp in my passport says I am officially "Settled" in the UK, but I'm really not. I'm decidedly unsettled, that's just how the system wants me, and that's
what I mean when I say I don't feel British.
My well-meaning chums who've never lived anywhere else and think passports are for holidays rather than for when a family member dies or might
die...they might not feel British because they disapprove of the actions of their government, but at least they can vote
. They can stand for election
and try to improve that government. I can't. The label they'd toss away carries privileges and securities I can only dream of.