Freedom to be me

“Raise a glass to freedom, Something they can never take away.”

~ Lin-Manuel Miranda (“The Story of Tonight” from “Hamilton”)

Freedom is a concept I‘ve taken for granted all my adult life. Even when I felt at my most constrained by marriage or parenthood I always knew deep down I had choices. I worked and had something of a disposable income, though there was a time when I had immense debt. But still I worked a way out of that and managed to pay every penny back. Trouble is you don’t always recognise you have those freedoms and you certainly don’t see the restraints others exist under.

Right now I am extremely lucky. After almost 40 years of work I was able to retire two years ago on a pension that I could just about live on. However, I live with a man who is also retired and has enough put away and so we can enjoy a pleasant lifestyle. We don’t have to worry about having enough food and can shop wherever we want. Our freedoms in other ways are somewhat curtailed right now, but more of that later. But food poverty, or indeed any poverty at all aren’t something we have to worry about.

Yesterday I read this blog post by Jack Monroe (she / they). If you don’t know who Jack is go and read about her here. Struggling to house, feed and clothe her son she accidentally became a food writer and campaigner. The gist of this article is the assumption that poor people could help themselves if they bought basic good and turned them into healthy meals rather than buying convenience products. But actually it is harder to do so than you imagine. Meat, fish and vegetables aren’t necessarily cheaper to buy than items with everything put together. What if you don’t have the electricity to cook or a kitchen to call your own. What if you can’t afford a bag of potatoes and the shop doesn’t sell them as single items.

I didn’t really intend to write about Jack Monroe in this post. But I was so struck by the forcefulness of her arguments that I felt I had to include how poverty prevents freedom. This is something I can identify with because if I hadn’t had a job when I got into debt my choices may have shrunk to where Jack was and to a certain extent still is. I haven’t however forgotten the fear of not having enough money to buy the contents of my food basket.

People are quick to offer advice to others about how they can solve whatever perceived problem they have. To cry that all lives matter and that only women have a cervix (or whatever bandwagon they have jumped on this week). Listening to the voices of those who feel un seen and unheard is much harder. Instead judging others and assuming they had a choice is the flavour of the day.

2020 will go down for me as one of immense learning. I have tried hard to listen and to learn. To understand that people don’t wake up one day and announce to the world ‘I think I’ll become transgender’. Instead such decisions come after years doubt, confusion and anxiety about personal identity. A lack of freedom to express who they really are. I don’t think I even thought about that much before this year and I know I have a lot to learn too. Nor did I really consider that my personal challenges will never be the same as those of someone who is discriminated against because of the colour of their skin or because their name sounds foreign.

Master and I have struggled these past few months because some of our personal freedom has been removed from us. He is particularly fed up that no concerts are taking place, that there is no theatre or cinema to visit and that art galleries have been closed for months. His personal fulfilment comes through those channels as well as the ability to travel. He loves to go to London, see a concert, have dinner and a drink and maybe stay in a hotel. But as frustrating as that is, we still know how lucky and privileged we are. We have a comfortable home filled with books, DVDs and CDs. Plus we have Netflix, YouTube and the internet. We have indulged in nice food and wine from our own home.

We are lucky because we start from a basis of privilege. Thought that doesn’t mean we can’t complain about the things we don’t like about our life right now. However it doesn’t mean that we can’t learn about the lives of others, nor speak up when assumptions are made about those lives. If you are told it is cheaper to buy potatoes in a tin than fresh believe them. If someone tells you that they are being misgendered, being hurt by the careless words of others or that they are more oppressed than you then listen and believe them. And don’t try to make it about you.