Liminal state

As a long-time migrant, who’s lived outside her ‘home’ country nearly as long as she lived within its borders, I’m no stranger to existing in a space neither here nor there. Nor is this particular moment my first professional transition.

It is, however, the first time I’ve needed to truly redefine who and what I am at least in part, moving from a space and time in which I identified primarily as an ‘instructor’ of a very specific type to no longer laying claim to that title or identity. I am uncertain, about what role or position I will occupy in future, in addition to a great many other things. But, perhaps, removing the label ‘ & instructor’ from my email signature was yet one more difficult step in this rather lengthy transition.

Victor Turner referred to that betwixt and between reality that accompanies rites of passage within specific cultures as ‘liminal states’. We transition from one thing to another, but that period in the middle of opposing states leaves us hovering between identities, between what we were and what we will become. Typically, participants in processes and rituals have a label waiting for them to claim and occupy, although what that means for and to them might remain rather undefined and illusive.

I was an instructor until yesterday at 12.01 in the afternoon; I am not sure what I will become in the weeks and months to come.

Despite occupying an undefined liminal state, despite being what is referred to as a liminoid, a weird term applied to those of us fortunate enough to live in this post-industrial gig economy that demands multiple skills and talents, I am not one thing. ‘Instructor’ was simply one identity of many, and one which offered more than a paycheck, becoming an identity which was as much personal as it was intellectually challenging and rewarding in equal measure and unexpected albeit welcome ways.

I am a woman. I am a feminist. I am a wife, thankfully to a fellow feminist. I am a friend, as well as a daughter and in-law. I am a craftivist, a reader and a bibliophile. I am a writer, and I am a bloody good editor, although not of my own texts (who is, I wonder?). I am a runner, gratefully so. I am an anthropologist, more precisely a medical anthropologist. I am an American, despite questioning my ability at this point to physically live in my home country again for so many reasons. I am an activist. I am a lover of coffee and gin, depending upon the time of day. I am a birder, obsessed with tiny, loud baby woodpeckers and finding the nests of our neighbourhood goshawks. I am a migrant. I am a Deadhead. I am a science communicator. I am.

So many of these individual identities featured if not required transitions from one state to another, some instantaneous, others slow-burning transformations which took years. Others still feel like goals, as if I am in the process of becoming them. Some identities pervade my every action, whilst others happily occupy less-visible outward expressions. And, naturally, this list does not represent the totality of who and what I am.

There will come a day when I move beyond this liminality, and enter into a status and identity which will offer some new meaning and new status to me. What that will be, I do not know. When that will be is a nonspecific ‘eventually’.

Years ago, one of my mentors would answer the question, ‘How are you?’, with ‘I am.’

So, for now, I am…. Temporarily, I am becoming something else. And, that’s okay.

On ‘The Uncounted’ by Sara ‘Meg’ Davis

The Uncounted by Sara L.M. Davis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In today’s world in particular, there are days when it seems as though we are drowning in information. Too much data. Too much ‘stuff’ to process and make sense of. That feeling is only partially true, however. Across various areas and arenas, we know far too little, particularly when we focus on issues surrounding health and human rights. All too often we take the absence of information or data or evidence as a sign that we may relax a bit.

We desperately need to shift that thinking. The Uncounted, by Sara ‘Meg’ Davis provides a road map for how we may begin to shift our thinking and perspectives in order to adjust how, amongst whom and what we collect data in a relatively simple way, and in a way which may pay huge dividends, particularly amongst those most in need and previously most neglected in policy planning and financing.

‘The Uncounted’ is a fantastic read, one which profoundly challenges the notion that in the absence of information or evidence we don’t need to worry about issue X. That is, if we carefully examine those variables for which we have no data or evidence, perhaps upon digging deeper and enlisting assistance from those more acutely and intimately aware than we are, we will find previously hidden information and data. And, that data and information are likely to radically shift how we design programmes or policies on various issues. We will no longer be able to simply dismiss an issue as unproblematic. Quite simply, ‘The Uncounted’ provides a profound argument for carefully considering how we examine and apply the absence of evidence as an indicator.

‘The Uncounted’ is rich in ethnographic descriptions, documenting the various assumptions made by multilateral agencies charged with dispersing funding to and establishing guidelines for countries in how they respond to HIV, tuberculosis and malaria (e.g., The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, UNAIDS, WHO, PEPFAR, etc) and local-level agencies and individuals best situated to argue for expanding programmes and funding schemes within communities. For those unfamiliar with such agencies, Dr Davis disentangles these various personalities and agencies rather neatly, making it clear who does what and whose voice is perhaps most necessary in deciding upon programmes and policies to address HIV in particular. Following the progress and steps necessary to count the uncounted within the Caribbean region provides evidence for how we can begin to shift our thinking and truly ensure full inclusion of all individuals affected by HIV and specifically those least likely to date to receive crucial services and support.

Reading ‘The Uncounted’ during a global pandemic proved rather surreal,not simply because some of its key characters are also playing a crucial role in current events vis-a-vis Covid-19. As our global health-related realities have been thrown into chaos this year with the emergence of Covid-19, I’m curious to see how various elements of Dr Davis’ careful and thorough work play out. Whilst focused primarily on HIV, and the very real oversights in counting typically hidden populations such as men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers and people who use drugs, certainly many individuals, and perhaps the most vulnerable, will go uncounted in the wake of Covid-19. Will health, social, and economic policy makers and planners at local, national, and international levels solicit the perspectives from those at the community levels most intimately associated with the epidemics and acutely aware of problems in providing treatment, care and support to those affected in order to understand who, what, why and where? Or will they rely on the absence of evidence as evidence of absence simply because individuals are not counted by the powers that be? How will key populations be accounted for? Will they?

My hope is that the powers that be across power structures would heed the advice and road maps provided by Dr Davis. The reality is that in some places, that advice and those road maps are not being considered. And, in those places it seems as those Covid-19 is raging unchallenged. [Insert heavy sigh here.]

‘The Uncounted’ provides this cynic with a bit of hope, however, particularly with regards to HIV. Hope that we expand our perspective ever so slightly, yet in a way which we can make a huge difference to communities and key populations who may have previously faced stigma, discrimination and institutional neglect, and who may finally receive the crucial support to transform structures that place them at the response to HIV. It won’t be easy, but it is necessary. And, to my mind, long overdue.

Clearly, we can no longer that that ‘absence of evidence as evidence of absence’.

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