Sometimes, when I am writing about my topic, I want to be polemic.
I spend most of my days reading about LGBT+ youth suicide. Some days it’s about the prevalence of it, some days it about risk and protective factors, some days it’s about the theories that try to explain it. I am really lucky because I love my project and I really believe that it has the potential to contribute new understanding to a topic super close to my own heart, and so I am really, really committed to it. But, sometimes, I just want to write in capital letters across the page:
This research is important because it is not good enough that LGBT+ young people face disproportionately high rates of suicidal thoughts and behaviours when compared to cishet youths – I am concerned, I want this to improve, and you should too!
But I don’t because that would be unprofessional, and as someone told me the other day ‘you always write for your external examiner’, and I don’t think Prof External Examiner would be very impressed. That is why I have this blog!
I walk a very thin wire between being an activist/community member and being a researcher, and trying to balance those influences is a constant underlying part of my work (I’m sure tons of people have written about this, and it is my goal next week to search for that literature, but if you have recommendations don’t be shy!). Being a community member (and I say this rather than activist, because I am not really sure I know what an activist is, and I definitely don’t know if I am one) is why I do my work, and I picked an academic route because it offers really good resources (i.e. the university funds my time to do the work and provides rigorous supervision to make sure that the work I produce is of high quality). But despite my position as a community member driving my commitment, some of that passion, anger at injustice, and sadness that I need to feel to be motivated must be tucked away quietly when I write about it.
The ’emotional labour’ involved in dispassionate writing is, I’m sure, written about widely, but this is a blog post so I can just talk about my experience of it (joy!), but it is something I had not thought about until I was sitting having tea and cake with a pal in the national museum and she said,
‘god that’s so sad. Don’t you just get really sad reading about this all the time?’
…or something to that effect. That’s when I realised that I just hadn’t been thinking about it. I had been quietly managing to tuck away those feelings, somewhat subconsciously, to ensure that when I write justifications for why my research is important that there wasn’t a hint of what I was feeling, which was anger at the injustice of what those statistics were telling me and sadness for everyone living with suicidal thoughts and behaviours. So I guess I just wanted to write it down somewhere, so that I had.
It’s not good enough!
If you wanna read more about emotional labour ‘the Managed Heart’ by Alice Hochschild is a good shout!