This blog has been quiet for the last couple of weeks because, honestly, there is nothing that I had to say that was of any value. Instead, I’ve been listening, learning, talking with friends and family, crying with friends, having difficult conversations with people. And feeling uncomfortable. I’m learning to not fight that discomfort, but instead examine it and work out how I can be involved in change.

Today, I’m dipping a toe back in slowly, and sharing this from New Yorker Cartoons (maybe this blog really is going to become nothing more than an appreciation page of New Yorker Cartoons and Effin’ Birds). This cartoon spoke to me. Because: tone policing.

Recent New Yorker Cartoon by Jason Adam Katzenstein. (Click for source)

I write about being tone policed in the healthcare space, and that is what I am writing about today. It’s happened for as long as I’ve spoken up about my experiences of diabetes and my thoughts and ideas about healthcare. I’ve been called aggressive so many times by HCPs who have not liked it when a mere ‘patient’ has suggested that they are being damaging to people with diabetes in the words they are using to talk to and about us.

The bolshie nuns who taught me at secondary school taught me that when women are accused of being aggressive (or strident), it is usually because we are being assertive. I’ve come to learn that it’s not just women. It’s anyone who has, for too long, been expected to just take what is dished up – and to accept it with gratitude.

Being assertive, being aggressive, being challenging and saying enough is enough should not result in being told to tone down. Or to be excluded from discussions unless we agree to be more moderate. Or more respectful. When that respect is truly a two-way street, then let’s talk about that. But for as long as power imbalances are at play, and HCPs insist on speaking on behalf of us, or only agreeing to speak with us if they like what we are going to say; or when HPCs feature more in diabetes campaigns because they insist on centring themselves rather than actual people living with the condition…well, then we don’t have true two-way respect.

Our diabetes community is not immune from tone policing each other. It’s happened to me. I continue to listen to type 2 diabetes voices because I can never expect to understand what they are experiencing in our community unless they tell me. It may be uncomfortable for me to hear – but that discomfort comes from a place of my complicity. It is not my place to tell them to moderate the way they are speaking about their experiences, just because it makes me feel prickly. But it does happen. In the timeline of my involvement in the diabetes world, I know that when I was first diagnosed, I contributed to the stigma many people with type 2 talk about, and then, as I learnt more, I moved to being quiet about it when I saw and heard it – even though I disagreed with it. Now I am trying to be a better ally and calling it out when I see it. And shutting up and listening and accepting what people with type 2 say.

We learn when we listen. We learn when we are open to accepting that we do not have all the answers. We learn when we stop being so centred on our own experience and try to turn the spotlight onto ourselves when instead we should be shining it on others.

We learn when we don’t tell people how they should feel or how they should speak.