The importance of intersectionality, Q&A with Robin Morgan Bentley
Updated: Feb 26, 2021
This LGBT History month, we're sponsoring a campaign called "Connecting the Letters", in partnership with Royal Mail and House of Pride. As part of our sponsorship, we were asked to write an open letter to the LGBT+ community. Ours was something of a love letter to the community, shouting out those amazing role models who've influenced us as a business and as individuals. One of those we mentioned in our letter was the wonderful Robin Morgan-Bentley, a friend of A New Normal, and part of the cracking team we've been working with at Audible. Ahead of sharing our letter, we asked all those mentioned whether they'd be happy to be shouted out as part of the campaign, and Robin was really happy to do so, especially because he feels intersectional role models are so important. In this chat we talked about why intersectionality is so important, especially now.
Q: Robin, when we talked about this campaign, you mentioned the importance of intersectionality - how do you define it, and why do you think it matters in LGBT History Month?
A: For me, intersectionality is about understanding the connectedness of the characteristics that define us. We can be defined by a whole series of social characteristics, and this combination can be empowering or debilitating. So when we’re thinking about LGBT History Month, it’s an opportunity to reflect on the fact that someone who self-identifies as LGBT may also identify as male or female or non-binary Black, or White, with or without a disability, to give some examples. And each of these definitions will affect that person’s experience of being LGBT. So when we’re thinking about the history of LGBT we need to appreciate that there needs to be more than one narrative – there is never a one-size-fits-all history to tell.
Q: How important do you think it is that we all see people we can relate to as role models?
A: So important! When I was a teenager, I went through bouts of serious depression as I was coming to terms with different parts of my identity. I think a lot of this was about not knowing anyone in my community that shared my characteristics. I’m very conscious about being very open about my sexuality, my disability and also my mental health challenges because I think if I’d have heard someone talk openly and honestly when I was a teenager I would have been a lot happier. “Be the person you needed when you were younger” is a bit of a mantra for me.
Q: How important is intersectionality to you personally? Why do you want to talk about it?
A: In my particular case, I identify as a gay man and I also live with cerebral palsy. There are a lot of areas where the disability narrative is excluded from LGBT discussions. For example, I find it hard to go to Pride marches because I struggle with my physical balance in large crowds. I don’t feel like I know where I can go to connect with other LGBT people with disabilities. I don’t use a wheelchair and although I walk with a limp my disability can be somewhat hidden sometimes, for example, if I meet someone for the first time and I’m sitting down for the entirety of the interaction. I find often that I have to come out as being gay, and come out as being disabled within the same interaction. To give you an example, in pre-COVID times I would use taxis more than the average person because I find it hard to walk long distances. I’m a chatty guy and invariably get into a conversation with the driver. Often in the space of one journey, I’ll have to both come out as gay (because I’ve been asked a question about my wife/girlfriend) and also come out as disabled (because they’ve seen me walk into the car and noticed my limp.) Unconscious bias is real!
Q: How does intersectionality influence your work at Audible and your work as an author?
A: At Audible, we’re constantly looking to amplify marginalised voices and make sure stories are told that represent everyone. Intersectionality has to play an important part in this. As far as my work as an author goes, I’m taking it slowly. My next psychological thriller, due out in early 2022, features a protagonist with cerebral palsy, drawing largely on my own experience. It’s partly because I’ve never read a thriller before that features a man with a disability that even partly resembles mine. Maybe in the future I’ll write a gay, disabled character, but at the moment I’m finding that I don’t want my fiction to be too autobiographical!
Q: Why do you think it's important that allies understand intersectionality?
A: It’s the next step, as far as I’m concerned. I think we’ve come so far in hearing stories from people who identify as one thing or another, but the truth is that the actual makeup of a human being is invariably more complicated than that. If we understand intersectionality, we are understanding that the way in which people are privileged, or not privileged, is a nuanced thing. If we can accept that no two individuals' experience of discrimination or oppression is exactly the same, then we become better allies.
Robin's incredible first novel, "The Wreckage" is out now. You can follow Robin on twitter for all things literary, dad and CP-related @rmorganbentley
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