Listening and Being Listened To

In Writing by nativesinamericaLeave a Comment

By Talon Ducheneaux

“Talon, are you diabetic?” She looked at me, class lecture ensuing. A chocolate in her hand, stereotype curiosity streaming from her lips and infiltrating my unwelcoming ears.

I replied with a quick whisper, underneath the lecture that I, for some reason, didn’t want to disturb. “No.” I wanted to yell so much more, but this was all I could muster without disturbing anything. Of all times, this was during the A.I.M. and Wounded Knee Uprising lecture, one that I was already cringing at while walking into that day. I didn’t want to hear yet another set of my heroes taught questionably, something I just couldn’t help but expect at this point of the semester.

“Oh, do you want a chocolate?” This wasn’t the first time I was being hassled in this class today. Actually, in these antagonizing twenty minutes I had been bothered in multiple ways, by her. For some reason, I was the one “trusted the most” to “guard my things” – an arsenal of Sherman Alexie, some “NDN humor” joke book, arrowheads, rocks, a Wawa bag, and something else that I can’t even muster the care to remember right now. In these twenty minutes. Other things went on that I won’t even go into, but the overall feeling at this point was that I wanted to leave, feeling extremely uncomfortable and angry.

“No.” after twenty minutes, this was the last straw. I messaged my hunka cuwe, my adopted sister, someone highly experienced in this nonsense, “Okay, I’m out of here. Screw this.”

“Get out of there! Just leave.” She had been trying to tell me to not worry about making a scene and just go for some time now.

“I’m waiting for my moment to leave quietly and to make up some emergency.”

My big sister and I, and many other people like us, are damn near certified in these experiences. Ph.D.’s in dealing with non-Natives diagnosed with “Severe Indigenous Fetish”. Uncomfortable obsessions that, for some reason, always happen to be paired with misinformation and a real lack of deep research and respect.

Leaving out much information from this horrid encounter, I found myself finally getting out of the class, stating that I had an “emergency that I really needed to attend to”. I walked out as fast as I could. My heart pounded. My head raced. My chest tightened. I felt like I’d collapse out of pure anger with no way to directly or immediately deal with it. This really was the last straw for me. I was ready to burst. Now, this may seem dramatic. To some, this is just a funny little encounter, worthy of an over-the-table dinner story to laugh at, which it would be for me in time, but not now. I felt a physical stress that I hadn’t really felt much of in some number of years. I rarely get angry, just sad, but this time I was feeling it bad.

The first thought that came into my mind was, “Don’t do anything stupid. Remember where you are. Go to the center and talk to your other big sister/auntie/whoever is there right now. Get this out in a better way. Don’t do anything stupid. Don’t do anything stupid.”

I rushed into one of my mentor’s offices. A student sat on her couch, waiting for another student to show up and then have a meeting with. I asked as calmly as I could (really wasn’t that calm now that I look back on it), “Can I please speak to you about something really quick, before I do something stupid?” Knowing me well, she giggled a little while understanding the seriousness of the situation. We went to another room and I told the story in its entirety.

I found myself repeating the full story to various people in my life several times more throughout the day. With each retelling of the same angering story, I felt more and more relieved. Soon, I was laughing again. Soon, I was realizing how to deal with this situation now that it was over, and how to deal with it the next time it happened.

Probably the best thing about all of these storytelling sessions, whether it be with my sisters or my brothers, my aunties or uncles, was that none of them told me what I should do without me asking them first. Instead, they felt my frustration with me, my laughter with me, my sadness with me. “Man, that’s messed up! Did she really say/do all of that? Oh my God!” I didn’t need to be told anything, just someone to experience it with me so I wasn’t alone.

Something came to mind throughout all of it.

“Man, I’m lucky.”

I am lucky to be around people, whether they be in person or on the internet, who are truly there for me. I love listening to people, I do it often. I try to be there for others, I do all I can to be there, but man am I lucky to have people who will do the same for me. Not people who will judge me and tell me what I should do, but those who will see what I have done and say, “Wow, that’s crazy. Good job on handling it that way, but that sucks.”

Not only was I lucky to have these resources around me, but I was also lucky to be okay with receiving it. For me, it was hard at first to accept much help. I never wanted to “owe” anybody anything. My thoughts throughout life revolved around “getting somewhere on my own” and “doing it myself”. I had to grow out of that. I had to become comfortable with accepting love and generosity from those who I cared about, as I had to also realize that they truly care about me too. Without that ability, who knows how I would’ve handled anything up to this point. I wouldn’t have had my sister telling me “get out of there” as I stayed fuming and letting emotions boil in my soul, nor would I have thought to really listen to what she said. I wouldn’t have immediately went to the center I hold so close to tell anyone and vent positively and safely. I wouldn’t have been able to expose myself and what I go through like I am right now. I don’t think I’d even be matured/informed enough to know how to do much of what I do today at all.

We always say we need leaders, which we definitely do. We need listeners, which we definitely do. But we also need to allow ourselves to be listened and led too. Learning to allow and love ourselves enough to trust that others will want to do for us what we want to do for them is something I’ve become grateful for in my life. I find myself a little more open now. I’ve learned how to not only deal with what I need to be heard, but how to hear it come from someone else too. Being heard helps teach me that.

It’s brought me to become a little more humble. I don’t know what the answers are, and I can’t allow myself to pretend to know them either. Even in this little “we should do this” kind of blog entry I don’t mean to play that imaginary role. Rather, all I can say is that I like listening to others. I like being the guy that people go to for issues sometimes. I like exposing myself and my imperfections in my art in order to connect and empower others, but I need to be empowered too. For years I hated myself, or rather, I just didn’t love myself. But, in coming to learn to love myself a little more (can’t yet say I’m fully there yet), I’ve found that we each deserve to be heard just as much as we should be listening, right or wrong be damned. It’s through this love that I’ve learned to accept, and not just give, that I then learned to turn anger from a stereotypic diabetes expectation to a deep feeling of gratitude and positivity. We need to listen, really listen. But we also need to be listened to too.