Traveller Pride are glad to share with you this guest blog by Tommy. If you think you'd like to contribute to our blog then get in touch!
Yesterday while walking through the streets of Darlington, I was thinking about the communities I was raised in and the specific barriers to peaceful living that have been a very real reality for our people for a very long time. Growing up I was well used to hearing the phrase 'bad with their nerves' and 'that bad complaint'. People just didn't talk about physical or mental health issues very much, probably for fear of setting a bad omen or bringing bad luck. Nowadays I'm grown, I'm a 30 something, gay, liberal, introvert who came from certain cultures and now exists within another. Life's not always peachy but you know what? I couldn't be happier. My life and who I am as a person is not what my communities would expect. I understand why, even though it still dulls me a little. I know, generally, the main reasons why harmful norms existed in my life growing up. I'm talking about the inter-community shit. The type of deconstruction that requires a three day cleanse and two whiskies just to process so I'll spare us that for another time.
As individuals we are weak but together we are strong, so I'm told and yeah, it makes sense. So what can I do that will promote community and have the most positive influence for our people?
I believe that we as Gypsy and Traveller people, will progress towards equality much faster if we stopped holding each other to unhealthy expectations. By supporting each other's new horizons and encouraging individual growth.
To me, communal love is fostering a sense of safety throughout our people's lives. The peace of knowing that we can be our true selves, do amazing things, and still be seen as and considered 'real'. Generally speaking, we come from very practical people. We have common sense, yet we don't always do what's in our best interests. We know that bottling up our feelings is bad for us, so why should we hold that weight on our shoulders alone? To save face?? Why!? I know we deal with a lot of social expectations and it is difficult to maintain a sense of 'realness' when actively taking steps away from international trauma and the effects of multi generational societal exclusion. Why is it so difficult for us to say, 'I'm not feeling too good right now,' 'I can't find work,' 'I'm scared' 'I want to wear dresses and makeup'' I don't want to get married'? Cleaning? AGAIN..
I believe one of the main reasons is fear. A fear that if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable we might be taken advantage of by someone more desperate, or even a worry that by openly talking about mental health we'd be declaring ourselves as weak. We worry about somehow letting our families down because others will talk about us if we don't do a certain thing, if we don't act a certain way or have certain interests.
It's true that our people, our fathers and mothers, aunties and uncles, grannies and great grannies had to be strong, and the same is true for us too. We do have to be strong in a world where most of the country people/gadies don't like us. Whether we like it or not, life will be a little bit more difficult for us.
Therefore, doesn't it make sense for us to be open with each other about our dreams and aspirations and actually get encouraged to be who we are and for us all to fulfil our full potential? Perhaps people worry that it'll make us less 'authentic' and I do understand the logic behind that way of thinking but to be honest, I seriously doubt our communities are going anywhere, culture evolves, it's normal and often a good thing, especially if doing so makes things easier for us? No one wants to be made a laugh or get jeered. That's totally normal. But remember, most of us have at least one person in our lives who will listen and not judge us.
So, to bring this back to my original point, we can help our communities, families, and ourselves by not bottling up our worries or contributing towards things that ultimately, hurt, limit and weaken us such as 'Shaming'. If another person opens up to you, it's because they trust you, and in return, you also get to confide in them. If you hear about someone doing something that is considered shameful or weak you don't judge so when it comes time for you, or me, or any of us to do something considered shameful or weak we to won't get judged and shamed. Can you imagine how much easier and nicer life would be if we could have open and honest conversations with our elders and other people our own age? How nice it would be to not be pigeon holed into a tiny box. To be encouraged to expand? It would make life a lot easier.
When we promote openness and honesty, and by embracing positive change, we are practicing communal love. Life is hard enough as it is never mind making it more difficult for ourselves. So by not engaging in things that are harmful to us such as 'Shaming Culture' and 'Toxic Masculinity, we are practicing communal love. Not only will it make life easier for us in the short term, but it will also make our people stronger and better equipped in the long run, which will make a difference when we encounter difficult situations, not just in our own lives but also in the fight towards equality for the future generations.
And the great news is! We're already doing just that. Various amazing organisations, collectives and individuals are already practising communal love in various different forms by being true to themselves and encouraging openness and positive change.
My name is Tommy Dean Gilheaney but most people know me as Dean Rheims. I'm from the Irish Traveller and Scottish Gypsy Traveller communities. I make art that uplifts our people and depicts us in a new way. Once in a blue moon I'll feel compelled to write about stuff but please understand, I am not a natural writer nor am I a professor or anything like that. I'm just a person with thoughts.
You can find Tommy on Twitter on @DeanRheimsGRT or Deanrheims on instagram. All the amazing artwork in this piece is his own.