If you’ve been following Facebook, Buzzfeed, Tumblr, or other rummage piles of the Internet recently, you’ve probably seen a lot of articles about introverts and extraverts: how to categorize them, how to know which one you are, the misconceptions that are harbored about each. There’s even a piece going around about ‘ambiverts‘; they seem kind of like the genderqueers of the -vert universe. There are plenty of writers and Facebook statuses also reminding us that your -vert status is a spectrum, and you shouldn’t let yourself be defined by a binary system. I get it, this is a fun way to think about our personalities and the ways we relate to others. It can also be empowering. For me, letting people know I’m fairly introverted can soften the blow when I need to say something like: ‘hey, it’s not at all that I hate you–it’s just that I can’t handle having conversations with twenty different people at the party you’re hosting right now, and everyone’s probably going to mistake my silence for pretentiousness or judginess.’
But I want to think about the ways that conversations about silence, about loudness, about taking up space, about relinquishing space freely, how these are each still conversations about power. The whole introvert/extravert taxonomy is a fun game to play–something to match our lives to–but it’s also something to think critically about in relation to our privileges. The ways we categorize ourselves can also inform how we might use or abuse those privileges. Those categories are also critical to the ways we think about self- and community-care, i.e. how we explain to people when and why we need space for ourselves or need company, and how that is related to our effectiveness and well-being.
For example, if you’re male or masculine of center, and you consider yourself an extravert, chances are your presence is super dominant and you’re forcing out other voices in a given conversation.
Or, if you’re class privileged, and also identify as an extravert, you need to recognize that your ability to speak and act and think loudly is often informed by class (education, status, beauty privilege, etc), and that your voice has been lifted up whereas others’ haven’t.
Or, if you’re White and consider yourself a #Ally, and you’re pretty confident and extraverted, it’s likely that you’re going to speak over people of color in your organizing and social communities.
On the other hand, it’s still also a privilege to be silent. As in, White people can often choose to disengage from conversations about racism when it’s convenient for them, men don’t ‘have’ to talk about feminism. Silence you have the privilege to maintain about certain issues and certain spaces indicates that you’re not materially affected by them. It’s useful to think about the ways phrases like ‘I’m feeling drained’ or ‘this is too much right now’ are a) often totally valid concerns about mental health and sustainability, and b) sometimes a cover to perpetuate your privileged silence.
Silence and loudness also interacts with the much fuzzier area of non-identity-based privilege. For example, I have access to a pretty significant community of folks who will listen to my stories and emotions. This is of course a function of several very concrete privileges: of me having access to leisure time, of my geographic position, of my ability to rent space where I can host people, of having constant Internet. On the other hand, folks rarely name access to community and friends as a privilege in itself. As someone fairly introverted, even though I enjoy listening, I know I have a certain, limited capacity for it. But when I’m listening to other people’s stories, I’m in a way redistributing what I have access to–it’s a political project as much as a social one.
Basically, the ways we make ourselves accessible (or not) to other people and the time we take for ourselves are political. The space we take up in conversations, about politics and otherwise, is political. The slowness and silence (or lack thereof) with which we can and do approach the world is also political. These are not conditions that are separable from all the other positions we occupy, and it’s not just a ‘personality thing’.
So talk to us (if, you know, you’re able and willing to do so and are feeling a little extraverted) on the Facebook page: how does your introvert or extravert (or ambivert) status interact with your other identities and the communities you move through?
All work published on BGD is the intellectual property of its writers. Please do not republish anything from this site without express written permission from BGD. For more info, go here.
Janani is a South Asian electron spinning around making art and scholarship. They like thinking about the apocalypse, decolonizing the food system, and making space for quantum queers everywhere. They’re Youth Editor at BGD and one-half of the spoken word duo DarkMatter (bit.ly/queerdarkmatter). Sometimes they’re kind of introverted. You can read more of their work atqueerdarkenergy.sqsp.com.