My own personal “fuck off” to Gamergate

TW: Child sexual abuse, online harassment, and fucking gamergate bullshit.

I’m not really a gamer, at least, not by the standards of most hardcore gamers. My NES was the most significant and best remembered gift I ever received as a child, a few years after it was released. My favorite memories of my father, from an otherwise strained and strange relationship, come from sitting together on the floor, playing marathon games of the original Super Mario Bros., with a little Duck Hunt thrown in, to break things up a bit. I’ve played and loved everything from the original computer-lab version of The Oregon Trail, to the Resident Evil on the original PlayStation. I was poor, though, and struggling to keep up a family, so I didn’t even have home internet access until 2008. I was nearly thirty, by then, and soon to become disabled, just as I was pulling myself out of poverty. So, I never got into PC games, or MMORPGs. I never learned the keyboard controls, or what the fuck ‘tanking’ is. I still enjoy the hell out of some old-school console games, or some quest-type games like Machinarium, but that’s about it. So, I hesitate to call myself a ‘Gamer,’ because I’ve seen what kind of insults come at women who actually are capital-G Gamers. The ones who have played MMOs since they were created. The ones who develop games for others to play. I’m already a woman, disabled, and a feminist, so I simply didn’t want to give them any more reasons to come after me.

I’m pretty well-versed, though, on Gamergate. As a feminist – hell, as a woman who expresses opinions online – it’s pretty relevant to me. So, I read up on it. It took quite a long time, and a bit of digging, to find all the relevant posts and counterposts, the incoherent video rages of those involved, the endless campaigns of harassment and abuse directed at women who didn’t do a single thing to deserve any of it. One was stalked by her abuser. One made some videos about problematic aspects of video games. Several others spoke out against the harassment and blatant abuse directed towards others. One of those was Sarah Nyberg. I had no idea who Sarah was, until someone online called me by her name, one day, in the midst of what might loosely be called a debate. I was pointing out that this guy was resorting to some really heinous tactics, such as using ableist, racist, and misogynist slurs, and saying I “needed to be raped, to be put in [my] place,” instead of using sound logical arguments, based in fact and reality. After he tossed a few more awful threats and abusive slurs my way, I told him I refused to continue the conversation, unless he stopped being abusive and bigoted in his language.

He said, “Sure, Sarah Nyberg. You’re a dog-fucking loser, anyway, coward.”

Since I was being compared to her, and even being labeled with her name, I thought I’d look her up. After all, anyone with whom I was being compared, because I refused to take abuse and argue with a juvenile fuckwit, was probably someone I wanted to know. I read up on all the horrors they visited on her, all the abuse they’re still throwing at her, and followed her on one social media platform. Unsurprisingly, I discovered a warm, witty, engaging woman. Someone who seemed to share most of my values. I engaged in a little back-and-forth with her, online.

Then, the DMs. The gators who urgently needed to tell me the SHOCKING! TRUTH! that Sarah was a pedophile. On its face, it seemed eerily similar to pretty much any reactionary smear tactic, such as the recent CMP smear on Planned Parenthood, or the Breitbart smear of journalist Shaun King. All flash, no substance, and a whole lot of vile verbal sewage.

I’ve seen the actual, un-edited transcripts of the conversations from which they carefully culled their bullshit accusations. And I’m still fucking furious.

Let me be as clear as humanly possible:

UNFUCK YOU, GG ASSHOLES. 

See, I was the victim of an actual pedophile. I was molested for five years by my stepfather. Five years of my childhood and adolescence that I will never get back, never be able to remember without pain, never be able to forget. Five years of being objectified and assaulted and abused by an adult who damned well knew better. I have lived with the after-effects of that abuse for over two decades. The gaslighting by family. The betrayal of a mother for whom money was more important. The whole extended family who didn’t believe me, either of the times I tried to tell, the failure of the responsible adults in my life to protect and defend me, and have my back when I mustered the strength to finally speak out. Being branded as “manic depressive,” and a “pathological liar,” by people who were not mental health professionals, and only using it as a smear tactic. Being harangued by other family members to “repair the relationship” with my mother, because she was the only one I’d ever get, in spite of the fact that she was the one who turned her back on me, in spite of the fact that she was the one who painted me as the villain to every single person from whom I may have received support.

I lived with this, virtually alone in the knowledge of what he’d done to me, what he’d taken from me, for seventeen years. I suffered secondary victimization on several levels. I spent years in therapy, and years researching the effects of child sexual abuse, to develop coping strategies for all of the lingering effects. I was doing pretty okay. It wasn’t tearing me apart, like it had in those earlier years.

I lived with this for seventeen years…until he molested a very young relative. Police and social workers got involved. When they asked the adults in the child’s life if the man had a history of molesting children, they were pointed in my direction. I gave a statement, and they offered to press charges against him for what he did to me, too.

That was three years ago. Three years ago, every single carefully cultivated scab was ripped right off. Every single emotional tripwire was restrung, just as tight as they’d ever been. And we’re still awaiting that bastard’s trial.

THAT is what pedophilia does. And consensual age play between adults IS. NOT. PEDOPHILIA. You useless fucking fecal stains.

WORDS.

MEAN.

THINGS.

You don’t get to dredge up a word like pedophilia, and use it to smear someone who isn’t one. You don’t get to use my personal hell, and the deeply personal suffering of roughly one quarter of the population, as a smear tactic in your pathetic little imaginary war to save video games from teh upstart wimminz. You don’t care about abused children. You don’t care about pedophilia. You don’t give any fucks at all about the damage you have done, or continue to do, with your endless, senseless abuse.

You can take your mindless, childish, incoherent, bullshit outrage, and shove it straight up your greasy, grimy, pasty, pathetic asses.

Nobody was ever coming for your stupid fucking epeens. Nobody was destroying gaming. Pointing out a problem with a thing does not equal hating the thing, or trying to destroy it. If you can’t grok that, you need to go back to grammar school and learn a few things.

And I hope you never have a not-solo orgasm in the entire remainder of your sad little lives. I hope your Cheetos all taste like chalk, and your Mountain Dew like dish soap. I hope all your bacon burns, and all your Hot Pockets sear your slimy fucking tongues. I hope you step on a Lego every time you go to steal mom’s cold cream, and that you accidentally grab Gojo, instead. I hope your PC crashes in the middle of every future raid. And I hope that people mock you for it until you cry into your pech fuzz neckbeards. If there was such a thing as hell, there’d be a special place in it for someone so low, so utterly without remorse, as to use such a real and horrific pain of millions to smear someone who isn’t guilty of anything but calling you out on your bullshit, you fragile, inadequate little manbabies.

Shame on you. Shame on you, forever. If you ever grow up, and learn the depth of the awfulness of what you’ve done to so many, I hope you feel that shame until you die. I hope it never lets you get another decent night’s sleep. I hope you suffer tenfold for every pain you’ve inflicted on others. Because you deserve nothing less.

Sincerely,

Someone who knows what pedophiles really are.

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Why I Need Feminism

I have recently started spending an inordinate amount of time on Twitter. A year ago, I would have believed that to be a waste of time. A year ago, I was uninformed.

Twitter, largely thanks to the efforts of Black Lives Matter activists like  Johnetta Elzie, DeRay Mckesson and Zellie Imani, has become the active, vibrant, effective hub of social change. It’s strange to say, but I sometimes feel like I didn’t really grow up, didn’t really mature in my own feminism, until I found Twitter. Sure, I sort of understood my own white privilege, but I didn’t really know even a third of the racial history of this country. I believed in intersectionality, but I had not quite internalized it.

Twitter changed that, 140 characters at a time. Not to mention all the links to mind-blowing, mind-expanding studies and articles, op-ed pieces and blog entries. It also introduced me to a host of amazing people who are doing some very difficult, often thankless, sometimes risky even to the point of possible death, activism work.

Aside from the cat pics and joke memes (which, let’s be clear, I enjoy more than I should), Twitter has mostly been a feeling of community I’ve missed for a long time. It has given me something I thought I’d lost, before: a place to talk about my personal feminism, without feeling like I was constantly under attack. A place to learn from other people, without feeling completely disconnected from the teachers. A place to debate, where the trolls can fairly easily be dismissed (at least, they can for me; I know others’ experiences haven’t been that at all) by the simple click of a mouse.

And there are the question tweets. Mostly, the questions aren’t original. Often, they’re things I’ve seen a million times, and just haven’t bothered to address or answer, for myself. Simple questions, with maybe not-so-simple answers.

Tonight’s simple question, from Feminist Gals an account created mostly (from what I can tell) to educate teens and college-aged adults about feminism, was this:

Why do you need feminism?

I responded twice, and I’ll include those answers, here. But there is so much more than I could put into tweets, even if I filled that text field over and over again, all night long. I decided to start a living, updated-as-necessary list of all the reasons why I need feminism.

I need feminism…

  • …because before I was old enough to legally buy a drink in a bar, I’d been molested for five years, gang raped while on a vacation, abused by two different partners, and roofied and raped at a party where I had one drink.
  • …because my family didn’t believe I’d been molested.
  • …because I chose a boy I didn’t really care about, to lose my virginity, so that the grown man who was molesting me wouldn’t take it from me, without my consent.
  • …because virginity has become so commodified in our culture, I actually believed I would lose value as a human being, as soon as I was no longer a virgin.
  • …because from the moment I had sex with that sweet boy, I was labelled a slut.
  • …because my best friend at the time was also gang raped, that night, and blamed me for it. Because she and her friend beat me in a parking lot for not saving her.
  • …because I was taught to question and doubt the validity of my own lived experiences, by people not believing my accounts of them.
  • …because of gaslighting.
  • …because, when I told my boyfriend (at the time) about being raped, he blamed me for it, and immediately explained how he would leave me, if I pulled away from him the next time he tried to kiss me or initiate sex.
  • …because I was still so unsure of my own value as a human being that I stayed with him, anyway.
  • …because my sexual orientation has been dissected, ridiculed, picked apart, and even been deemed imaginary or non-existent, since I was outed in high school.
  • …because not all of that came from straight people.
  • …because a high school guidance counselor told me that I shouldn’t be “shoving it (my sexual orientation) in everybody’s faces, when I spoke to her about the bullying.
  • …because I was quietly steered away from the hobbies and careers I wanted, when I was young, because of my gender.
  • …because my childhood religion taught me both that I was the source of all evil, and that my only legitimate purposes on this planet were to make babies and take care of them. And men. To take care of men.
  • …because my emotions, even when their expression is both logical and appropriate to the situation, are often used to discredit my words. I am neither hysterical nor oversensitive.
  • …because I had an easier time getting booze at the liquor store, when I was a teenager, than I did getting birth control.
  • …because I grew up believing that women weren’t supposed to enjoy sex.
  • …because all the heroes in my books, movies, and TV shows were men and boys, beyond Nancy Drew.
  • …because I was taught all about all the things I was supposed to do to keep myself from being raped, without ever hearing a thing about consent.
  • …because my male friends and cousins were never taught not to touch me, if I said no.
  • …because I was never taught how to set boundaries, or even that I was allowed to do so. In fact, I was made to accept kisses, hugs, cheek-pinches, and to sit in someone’s lap, even when I’d said I didn’t want to do so.
  • …because parents are still forcing their kids to accept touches and physical affection from people who make them uncomfortable.
  • …because, until I was in my late twenties, I believed that if I “led a man on” to a certain point, I owed him sex.
  • …because girls – and more importantly, boys – are still being taught that lie.
  • …because too many people believe they are entitled to my attention, time, respect, affection, body, and intimacy.
  • …because girls are still made to choose their clothes for school based upon whether or not the boys might find them “distracting.”
  • …because the vast majority of legislators making policy and funding decisions about women’s health in the US are male.
  • …because I’m afraid to post face or full-body pictures of myself online, due to the possible commentary.
  • …because my clothing does not indicate consent
  • …because my alcohol consumption doesn’t, either.
  • …because one in five women will be raped in her lifetime.
  • …because 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are molested as children
  • …because our country provides those child victims with neither justice nor adequate treatment for their trauma.
  • …because a child victim of sexual abuse is almost twice as likely to be sexually assaulted or raped, later in life, as someone who was not molested as a child, yet there is no ongoing support system.
  • …because children almost never lie about sexual abuse, yet are rarely believed.
  • …because women almost never lie about rape, yet are rarely believed.
  • …because police officers often interrogate reporting rape victims as if they were the criminals…
  • …and only about 3% of rapists ever see the inside of a prison cell…
  • …and victims are revictimized by the court system, during trials…
  • …and by their communities…
  • …and by the media…
  • …yet too many people, when told by a woman that she was raped, refuse to believe her unless she goes to the police.
  • …because people like RooshV and Donald Trump exist.

And that’s all I’ve got the spoons to type, right now. I’ve barely scratched the surface, and I will be back.

Diving into Outer Space: a tale of reclaiming (tw: csa)

For those of you who don’t really know me, I’m a geek in many ways.

Also for those who don’t know, I was molested by my stepfather from about six months after his marriage to my mother, until I was sixteen. That experience soured a metric fuckton of other experiences, for me, spoiled a lot of things I once enjoyed, or might one day come to enjoy. Those things ran the gamut, from sex to certain books, from television shows to relationships.

I’ve done so much work, extremely difficult work, over the last twenty years, to overcome all those insidious little landmines. To overcome the shame I felt around sex, in general, and the somewhat contradictory but ever-present feeling that I was only worthy as a sex object. To finally lay claim to my own sexuality, and my enjoyment of sex, while understanding that I had value, as a person, without it. To not feel afraid of every touch, to be able to be assertive, to communicate my needs. Hell, to communicate at all, outside passive-aggressive co-dependence. Simply learning enough to understand what was done to me, what was taken from me, and why so many of the effects lingered on for so long, in such weird ways, has been and remains the work of a lifetime.

I haven’t moved beyond all the triggers, yet. I imagine there are some that may never go away. I experience the fight-or-flight instinct, whenever I hear someone pronounce the word wash as “worsch.” Every muscle in my body tenses up, and the hair on the back of my neck stands up, whenever I hear anyone whistling an actual tune, especially if they do those little vibrato trills. The sight of an L. Ron Hubbard book can make me vomit. I am actually less comfortable in a crop top than I am naked. I think of him Every. Single. Time. I walk into a shopping mall.

And I get very uncomfortable at just the thought of watching what was once one of my favorite television shows, Star Trek: The Next Generation. See, he used to call me into his room to watch reruns. He’d harass me ceaselessly, if I refused. After a while, I stopped sitting on the bed, because I couldn’t get far enough away from him. Instead, I started sitting on the cold hardwood floor at the foot of the bed, between the bed and the TV, where I could see enough of his reflection to be able to tell if he was making a move towards me. Still, though, he managed to make scars that stick around, even now. He’d start a conversation, during which he’d get me to turn around and look at him, to mimic a facial expression, or show me a distance with his hands. Sometimes, that’s all it was. Usually until I’d let my guard down, and stopped expecting badness. Then, he’d get me to turn and look at him, and he’d have the leg of his shorts hiked up far enough to have his penis hanging out. It was the first naked penis I’d seen, aside from changing diapers when I was babysitting. It terrified me.

See, I knew next to nothing about sex. What I knew was rumor and gossip from the girls’ locker room, and all of it was at least misleading. Whatever boys did with those…things… I didn’t want any part of it, if they looked like that.

Once I figured out what the sex thing was all about, in the midst of his years-long campaign of touching me, exposing himself, trying to catch me naked, offering me money for sex acts, and just generally harassing me, I became afraid he was going to rape me. I didn’t want to lose my virginity to him, so I found some boy who seemed nice enough, and gave it to him, by choice. Just so it could be mine. I was fourteen. All of this was inextricably tied to TNG.

But it was a wonderful show, and I miss it. Maybe that’s silly, but there’s this defiant piece of whatever it is that makes me, me, which refuses to let him forever ruin something that I once found so enjoyable. I’ve reclaimed so many other things, battled to the death of so many other triggers, but he still has this stupid, mostly meaningless power over me, the power to soil some part of my present, with what he did in my past.

I’m not okay with that.

So, tonight, thanks to the wonders of wifi and Netflix, I’m going to start reclaiming my Captain Picard and Commander Riker, my Data and Geordi LaForge. I’m going to try to rediscover my innocent adolescent crushes on Wesley Crusher and Deanna Troi, Lieutenant Yar and Captain Picard, himself.

What? I told you I was a geek.

I guess I’m off, to boldly go. Wish me luck.

enterprise

The problem with “drama”

Drama. It’s a term we hear quite often, in recent years. As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, in this context:

An exciting, emotional, or unexpected series of events or set of circumstances

As defined by Merriam Webster, in this context:

a :  a state, situation, or series of events involving interesting or intense conflict of forces

b:  dramatic state, effect, or quality <the drama of the courtroom proceedings>

If we’re speaking literally, then, drama is really just a part of life, for everyone. Giving birth is drama. Dealing with a crying baby is drama. Getting married, beginning or ending a relationship or job, getting a promotion or a raise, being stuck in traffic when you’re on your way to something important, the loss of a loved one or pet, the first day of school, work, or marriage, a wedding, a funeral, a cat chasing a robot dog across your living room floor. All of those things qualify as drama, and all of them are perfectly normal, mostly necessary or unavoidable, parts of life. Without drama, there would be no life.

Recently, though, the word “drama” has taken on much more negative connotations. In order to explore those, we need to step into a slightly seedier (if occasionally more amusing) corner of the internet.

From urbandictionary:

The…

Wait… Jesus Christ. That’s a rather… dramatic… discovery. I had to go down thirteen definitions, just to find one that wasn’t completely loaded with misogyny, either in the definition, or in the examples. And number thirteen is so poorly written, I refuse to include it, here.

So, I guess we’ll just start with the number one definition:

Something women and especialy [sic] teenage girls thrive on. consisting of any number of situations that have an easy solution, wich [sic] would bring a fairly good outcome, but these girls choose another, shitty, bad way to deal with it, again consisting of backstabbing, blackmailing/gossiping/betraying their friends, or the all-too-common “I want to break up with him but i still love him!”
it drives men and what i like to call “normal” girls nuts.

Unfortunately, when people talk about drama, these days, the above definition is usually what they’re intending to convey. Unfortunately, it is very much a gendered issue. In fact, looking through the top 35 definitions, there are over 50 blatant misogynist, ableist, or homophobic slurs, or characterizations of women and girls as the main sources of all the “drama,” always.

Which is telling, really, and speaks directly to the point I wanted to make, when I opened up this post. I’d like to include the first definition listed, at number twenty-three, which I feel adequately describes what is actually going on, when someone tosses out the word “drama,” in conversation, especially around sensitive or controversial topics:

A way of referring to problems and other normal complications in life, typically of others; painting them in a negative light so that the person speaking doesn’t come off as being a self-interested jerk even though doing this inherently determines them to be so.

This definition is actually much closer to the truth, I think.

When victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, sexual harassment, or blatant misogyny speak out, or when someone speaks out on their behalf, there’s almost a guarantee that someone, somewhere, will accuse them of being drama queens or drama llamas, or of stirring up drama, or having too much drama, or of causing drama. Often, the people using the term will claim that the person’s tone is the problem, or their personality, or their past.

What this indicates is that the issues to which you are trying to draw necessary attention – issues like domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment – are uncomfortable for them to hear. It indicates that the person hearing about these important issues doesn’t want to face up to the reality of the problems, doesn’t want to admit that, perhaps, there’s something they may need to do, or change, or put some effort and empathy into, in order to fix the problem.

What it amounts to is fear. They’re afraid of things changing. More often than not, they are comfortable with the way things are. Either the situation isn’t harming them, personally, or they have internalized the harm to a point where they are unable to see how damaging it is, to them, to others, and to their culture as a whole. Or, perhaps for some, they are well aware of the truth of the matter, and don’t want anyone to take what you’re saying seriously, because it might reveal them to be the abusers, rapists, harassers, or violators that they are.

It’s fear, manifesting as intimidation, and it is one of the favorite weapons in the arsenal of the victim blamers, abusers, misogynists, and cowards of the world. It is almost exclusively used against marginalized or victimized people, to discredit them, to silence them, to shame them into not saying things that might make somebody look bad. To make them shut up. To make them question themselves. It’s their way of saying,

STAHP!! Stop saying these things that I don’t want to hear about! Stop trying to take away my illusions or my nice-person mask! Stop telling me things that make me ashamed of things I might have done, or might do in the future! Stop making me have to actually think about what my actions, my choices, my words, or the actions, words, or choices of the people I support and defend, might be doing to other people! Stop pointing out my utter lack of empathy for my fellow human beings!

The worst of it is, in many situations, it works. Often, a victim will speak up to a community, to tell them that their policies aren’t good enough to keep the members safe, or they will give an account of something that another community member did to them, which caused harm, or they will notice a Missing Stair, and ask that someone make the needed repairs. They will be met by an onslaught of criticism, insults, attacks, and threats. They will be accused of being drama queens. They might face entire groups of people, loudly demanding that they stop lying, stop stirring things up, stop causing trouble, stop making noise. They will be met with such ferocious resistance, at a time when they are already vulnerable and raw and afraid… and they will back down. They’ll shut up. They’ll stop trying to draw attention to the problems that need to be recognized and addressed. Sometimes, they’ll simply pull away from the community in which the problems exist, often losing important social support networks in the process. Sometimes, they will internalize what is being thrown their way, and begin to doubt themselves, blame themselves, and by extension, begin to blame other victims, in later problematic situations.

That’s just not okay. Silencing and shaming people who are speaking to legitimate issues, by using the word “drama” as a weapon, is not okay.

So, do me a favor. Stop that. Have a little more empathy.Understand that anyone reporting someone or something which is causing harm isn’t a “drama queen.” They’re a brave, hopeful, empathetic person, trying to keep other people from being harmed, often in ways in which they already have been. They deserve your attention. They deserve to not be invalidated with words like “drama.” They deserve your gratitude, instead of your ridicule.

When you say, I don’t do drama, what I hear is, I am more invested in being comfortably ignorant, and utterly selfish, than I am in showing empathy to my fellow human beings, or taking some responsibility for shaping the culture in which I live. 

And I think that most of us want to be better than that. Don’t you?

Robin Williams – It isn’t about his fame. (TW)

In a post on another website, someone lambasted people who were publicly mourning the loss of one of the greatest actors of our time, one of our greatest artists, one of the few celebrities who has actually had real influence beyond just what it took to cash a paycheck. This post was my response.


 

Dead Poets Society came out in 1989. I was ten years old. I didn’t see the movie, though, until junior high. Eighth grade, I think. 1992. I was thirteen.

And I was miserable.

I was living in a town where gay was either the worst possible insult, or a whispered horror, like someone telling you that your aunt has cancer, when she’s standing in the next room, and they don’t want her to hear. I didn’t know what bisexuality was, yet, but I knew I liked girls, too. In my mind, I was “half gay.” And I couldn’t tell a single soul.

I was being raised by a father and stepmother who demanded obedience to an extremely rigid set of rules. The dishes had to be washed in a specific order, in water hot enough to burn my hands. The beds had to be made – complete with hospital corners – every morning, before school. I wasn’t allowed to watch movies above a “G” rating without explicit permission, and I’d learned not to ask. I was only allowed fifteen minutes of time on the telephone, twice a week, and only if one of them was sitting there, listening in. I wasn’t allowed to speak to a boy on the phone, not even for a group project for class. If the boy had to get information to me, or I to him, it had to be relayed through another female member of my group. I did a lot of projects alone.

I was forced to attend a church that was based more on hate than on faith. Everything was bad. Everybody else was wrong, and going to hell, and if I so much as put one toe out of line, I was bound for everlasting fire and damnation, too.

My stepmother picked out my clothes every night, the ones she’d chosen when she took me school clothes shopping in August. They were horrid. I went to school every day looking like one of those kids you see in sensational news footage, after the authorities have raided a polygamist cult compound. Long skirts or baggy pants, button-up blouses, and nondescript tennis shoes. No jewelry or makeup allowed. Couldn’t cut my hair. Face covered in horrible acne. Braces on my teeth. I got grounded for almost two months for my first “B.” So, I was a nerd. Always with better grades than most of my classmates. I wrote poetry, and won spelling bees, and always had my nose in a book.

There weren’t many people who would even talk to me, and I had even fewer friends.

One of those friends was Heather. I’d had a crush on her older brother for over a year. He asked me to be his girlfriend. Starstruck, of course I said yes. She stopped speaking to me for months.

I’d lived a very sheltered life, and didn’t know anything at all about relationships, let alone sex. He seemed to know all about it. And he wanted me. The girl no one would even speak to in the halls, and he would hold my hand, send me candygrams on holidays, pick me flowers.

One day, we were hiding, making out, hands in places they probably shouldn’t have been (but entirely over our clothes), and a group of the popular kids came around the corner.

By that afternoon, they were talking, you know, the way they do? Loudly enough for me to hear, to the whole class, like I wasn’t there, or was invisible? They were talking about “that girl who let that boy finger her under the bleachers.” I was labelled a slut, immediately. And this was the same boy who gave me my first kiss.

It never stopped.

Everything was about conformity. And I just couldn’t seem to get it right. Couldn’t pretend well enough. Couldn’t make anyone believe that I was just like them, even though everything around me screamed that such was the only appropriate way to be.

At the beginning of that year, my sister had gone to live with our mother. And our stepfather. The one who had been molesting me for two years, by this point. For the first four years of her life, I’d raised her, mostly alone. For the next four, I still had to be the parent, anytime we were with mom. As far as I was concerned, she was my responsibility. And she was gone. There. With him.

I was beyond miserable.

I spent most of the first half of that school year considering suicide. Thinking about how I could do it. About what the least painful way would be, and more importantly, the least messy. After all, I wouldn’t want to leave a mess for anyone to clean up. I was already too much trouble, as it was.

Worry about my baby sister stilled my hand, and stalled my plans, but the thoughts wouldn’t go away. I still couldn’t fit in. Couldn’t be what everyone wanted me to be, what it was obvious I was supposed to be. I was a failure.

One day, just before Christmas break, my English teacher rolled in one of the AV carts, and put in Dead Poets Society.

And I realized, for the first time, ever, that maybe… just maybe, it could be okay to be me. Maybe the people demanding that I be something else, that I round off my edges to fit in that round hole, were wrong.

I know that was a fictional character, and I know the writer is probably owed much of the credit for the role. But Robin Williams’ performance as Mr. Keating rocked my world. And changed my outlook. I decided to take charge of my own fate, albeit in a horribly misguided way.

At the end of that school year, I moved in with my mother. To protect my sister, and to try to figure out who I was, when I wasn’t trying so damned hard to fit in.

And the next year and a half were HELL. My sister didn’t want me. My mother didn’t care enough about me to even ask where I was going when I walked out the door with a friend. And my stepfather had continual access to me, in a house where none of the doors locked properly.

That movie was, again, a touchstone. Mr. Keating was my hero.

A couple of years later, and back in the shitpot little town, I was outed to my entire high school, and came out to my dad, about the time The Birdcage came out. Robin Williams, again, was playing characters which were SO very relevant to my life, and that silly, touching, wonderful movie was a part of what got me through that.

At the end of 2000, my second child was stillborn. I have never wanted to die as badly as I did, then. I don’t even remember most of that year. Just flashes.

But I remember discovering What Dreams May Come. I sobbed most of the way through that movie. Then I watched it again. And once more. I watched it until I could stop crying, and get up off of the couch, and do something besides just wanting to die. I shared the movie with my sister, after her boyfriend, and the father of the child she was expecting, committed suicide. I held her as she sobbed, and we watched it until she was all cried out.

A year or so later, I was the one who put people into action, when no one could reach my sister, and her last communication to anyone, to me, sounded suicidal. I’ve talked people off those ledges, metaphorical and literal.

There were … attempts… during all of those times. Moments when life just seemed too damned difficult, and not at all worth it, besides. And I won’t say that Robin Williams is in any way the main thing that stopped me. But he helped. Every single time. He helped, even if only by giving me a safe reason to cry until I felt a little better. Some catharsis. And that isn’t even counting the laughs he gave me at so many other times.

So, today, I was heartbroken. No, I never met him. No, he wouldn’t have known me if we passed on the street. But the mere thought that someone who has, in some weird, secondhand way, been instrumental in helping me through those times when I wanted to give up, gave up, himself, is awful. Every time I hear of someone’s suicide, I am saddened by it. I know what it is to be mourning the loss of a loved one because life became too much. I know what it is to want to just check out, just stop trying. I ache for every single person who finds themselves in that place.

But, as much as I didn’t personally know Robin Williams, this one hit me pretty damned hard. He helped me, when I didn’t feel like I had anyone to turn to, and when things got bad for him, he didn’t feel like there was anyone there to call for help.

If you want to insult those memories, by saying or implying that the only reason I care is because he’s a celebrity, go right ahead.

Or you could, you know, stop focusing on just the pain of those left behind, and realize that the pain he must have been in, the pain that anyone who commits suicide must be in, is probably far greater. Yeah, he was a celebrity. So what? He was another person, floating around on this rock with the rest of us, and in a pain so unbearable that he chose to hit the emergency exit door, rather than keep suffering.

And I feel for him. Not more than I do for any other person who reaches that point, because of his celebrity status, but certainly not less, either.