by: ellie june navidson
i was walking down the street and passed this inordinately tiny fence. It was this puny piece of plastic, poked into the dirt. There was only about ten feet in total, encircling an equally small yard. i had trouble imagining any creature that couldn’t cross the boundary.
This 15-inch tall fence was purely symbolic. This is not to say that i don’t recognize the symbolism of most fences, but some, like border walls and prison towers, do have significant, physically oppressive capacities as well. The grimy, plastic, garbage-hunk fence could have been blown away by a minor gust, in fact, part of it seemingly had been.
At first i chuckled to myself; a catty bit of haughtiness all for myself. But my cocky fierceness blossomed into a complex concern and a lucid vision. My face tightened and my lips pursed. i felt the edges of my eyes cool with the welling of tears as i thought about why this fence existed.
This was not some cutesy lawn ornament; it was literally garbage. But it was intentionally placed garbage. Garbage designed to send a signal: “This land is my land.” This putrid token of imperialism is so endemic to American culture.
i don’t want to write yet another crusty punk piece on private property mentality and culture though, so i won’t. i was disturbed in a different way. It was not so much the ownership of space that bothered me as the intentional disconnect from the outside world.
The “this is my space” mentality is not only a criminal attempt to keep people out of spaces, it’s also a deeply saddening attempt to keep people in. The owner of this fence planted this plastic crop at the edge of their (you couldn’t even call it a) garden and stood back with a sense of pride and a feeling of safety.
They were able to look at this demarcation and see themselves as an entity separate from the world. Detatched. Attempting to be complete despite that detachment. This is not to say that individuals aren’t unique to themselves, but it seems to me that our culture has aggressively pronounced these lines in such a way that leads to a hyper-isolationism.
Most of folks’ interactions the world occur through media, a one-way onslaught of selective information barraging rods and cones and perspectives. Most of this media inundation seems to cohere with the idea that the symbolic fence is a good idea. The prevalence of ideologies that state that individuals are solely responsible for their circumstances and that place a primacy on individual luxuries over community involvement describes just how isolating this trend is.
When folks come home from wherever they were (probably their unfulfilling job) and cross back into their houses, behind imaginary lines, they disconnect. They don’t disconnect literally, but figuratively. They sit behind their fence, cut off from the world around them.
Culture has found ways to bring this sense of disconnect into the public sphere as well. i frequently see folks walking down the street wearing headphones, almost completely unaware of their surroundings. i often see folks at coffee shops, sitting together, but working on separate computers.
Interaction is cut to a bare minimum. Individuality is commodified. Honest communication is not taught or cultivated. Community becomes a word to describe the demography of an area.
This doesn’t stop that world from turning, interacting, and affecting itself. The web of society is in constant flux, tensions build and reform constantly, but people ignore this in favor of a personalistic disengagement.
i think that if we tore down fences, we’d do more than enable folks to pass into whatever spaces they needed or wanted to pass into. We’d create a society that acknowledged the importance of interaction. We’d cultivate a culture where people would respond to problems in their communities constructively, rather than simply isolating and blaming.
ellie june navidson is a queer, gender non-conforming creature. She has a degree in Gender and Women’s Studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her activist experience is as varied as her identity, but currently, she is involved in queer/trans safe-space organizing and does written explorations of gender and normativity. Her personal blog can be found at invisiblyqueer.blogspot.com.