November 19, 2011

The Rules of Entrainment

It's time for my second column for the blog (actually, past time...heh heh...  Oops).  Alas, I now recall what it means to be in a sophomore slump. There are so many different things to talk about – and so many different questions to ask – that I am not sure where to even begin. Beyond that, there is a high degree of intimidation stemming from the notion that the experiences in my life are not abundantly useful when it comes to Our Lives. My words will be much more clinical (in the “scientifically detached; unemotional” sense) than the very personal and often moving contributions I’ve read here over the past two years.

And then I remembered – I’m an engineer! I can totally get away with “scientifically detached” and “unemotional”! So I should just start writing and see where it goes.

What I decided to write about is the idea of entrainment. In fluid mechanics, the term entrainment describes how otherwise non-moving fluid is compelled to move by virtue of the motion of the fluid around it and the connectivity among the molecules. The Dyson Air Multiplier fan is an example – high velocity air coming out of the “blade” pulls along the previously-still air in the room and makes it move. The net effect is that a greater number of molecules end up traveling together to a new location.There is a cost of course – the high velocity air exiting the blade loses some of its energy in bringing the rest of the air along with it – but the important thing is that matter which otherwise would have been perfectly happy to sit still was motivated along some new path by its energetic comrades.

From a personal perspective, the process of entrainment ends up being a very good description of how I got here.  It models what some of my students and friends, and this blog, and the Center for LGBT Life have done for my mindset and motivation.  The people who have been willing to share their experiences and emotions in this venue and others have done much to change me from a person who otherwise would have been perfectly happy to sit still to a person compelled to get going along a different path. I have been the beneficiary of others’ willingness to connect and to share, and I feel myself being moved accordingly.

Within society, however, I recognize that the costs of human entrainment are similar to those in a fluid system.  I can only imagine the physical, emotional, and – for those who believe the term has relevance – spiritual toll of the work done by Janie, and Jess, and all the students, faculty, and staff.  I marvel at the effort that is put forth by those who are working towards the expansion and protection of human rights and towards the recognition of equality and preservation of dignity for people all over the gender and sexuality spectra. Not to mention (only because I don’t have the words for it) what it takes to fulfill all the different roles of counselor, friend, parent, leader, listener, advocate, and so many others for so many people.

As examples, I have learned from reading a number of coming-out posts that, even when there are generally positive reactions from family and friends, there is still a great deal of anguish and doubt.  There is additional effort that must be expended to maintain (or repair) relationships. I have talked to people who still fear that who they love or how they present will somehow have an impact on their employment prospects. And I see in our own state that a sad majority of our elected “leaders” want to codify discrimination and put civil rights to a vote.

Given that, I think it becomes the job of an ally, once entrained, to figure out a way to add energy to the community rather than be a drag on it. We still need to be led – and taught, and corrected, and sometimes even forgiven – but we also need to be willing to take up the banner and use our voices and our privilege to promote understanding and acceptance.

As noted during ally training, we need to make a personal commitment to:
  • Knowing more about the LGBT Community
  • Recognizing what holds us back as individuals and as a society from being supportive and affirming
  • Speaking up in our everyday interactions to combat homophobia and heterosexism, and
  • Acting to make the lives of LGBT individuals better by working for change and continuing to engage in the community. 
If we do those things, we can strive not only to restore the energy it took to get us moving in the first place but also to serve as agents for change ourselves.

I hope that any of you reading this who celebrate Thanksgiving will have a wonderful holiday from whatever it is that you do day-to-day and get a chance to reflect on and revel in those things for which you are thankful. For me, that includes my family, my friends, my colleagues at work, the opportunities I have been given to work with the next generations of leaders, and the gift to learn from all of you who participate on this blog and in the life of the Center for LGBT Life.  Thank you for bringing me along!

1 comment:

  1. The fact that high velocity air molecules became a metaphor for energetic Community members is adorably geeky---and on point!

    And for real, it is important to remember that the LGBTQ friends who patiently correct Allies' vocabulary, answer all kinds of questions, and broaden their perspectives, are spending their limited energy doing all of that. Allies (and everyone) SHOULD ask questions, and SHOULDN'T be ashamed if they screw up some vocabulary when it's new to them, etc. etc....but, as Dr. G. simply-yet-brilliantly puts it, the Ally's truest question should be: how do I take everything I am learning and DO something with it? If the LGBTQ community is investing its time in educating Allies, the community's energy should not go to waste.

    I personally like the whole each-one-teach-one method, wherein an educated Ally begins to teach her expanded vocabulary/perspective/etc. to other potential Allies. Allies should feel just as comfortable correcting heteronormative language/norms as any member of the LGBT community.

    An easy Ally-trap to fall into is the Strictly Social Ally role. The ally character in this role has many out friends and maybe stops by a Fab Friday and wears her Love=Love shirt all the time, but she isn't very tuned in when her queer friend reminds her he prefers "queer" to "gay" for the 100th time, or she isn't very cognizant of gender's role in the community, etc.

    It's easy to be a social ally, because it's easy have gay friends and social energy at Duke. Much harder is the mission to adopt a queer-ed perspective and practical energy.

    Thanks for the post, Dr. G! A call for allies to become high velocity molecules. Whole-heartedly noted by this Trinity ally :)

    --Emily

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