An apology, and an (optional) explanation

I don’t generally go in for long explanations, when harm has been done. I did harm, this morning, with some heartfelt but thoughtlessly expressed sentiments and poorly chosen words, which conveyed nearly the opposite of what I intended. I screwed up in about a dozen separate ways, and people were offended and possibly hurt by that. For that, I am truly sorry. Period. Insofar as the apology goes, that’s all that really matters, and no one owes my explanation any attention, if they prefer not to hear it. I fucked up, I’m sorry, and I intend to do all that I can not to fuck up in that way, in the future.

Someone in my Twitter timeline retweeted the following tweets from Yves, regarding the revelation that Sandra Bland was homophobic:

yves

Image description: Twitter thread: Author- Yves@Adamant_Yves. Two tweets. Text in first tweet : “I mean, I suspected homophobia when I saw that this was her last post after same-sex marriage was legalized.” Image inset: Sandra Bland’s post – “Now legalize being Black in America.” Second tweet: “I always wonder if I’m marching WITH someone who doesn’t value my life & if I’m marching FOR someone who didn’t see value in my life.

There was a tweet before these two, which apparently had a link to an article that I somehow missed. I replied with the following:

sandra bland mistake tweet

Image description: Tweet thread. RainbowNinjaFeminist@fembecca – @Adamant_Yves @curlyheadRED – Perfection isn’t a prerequisite for value. Homophobia, while personally painful, isn’t a lethal offense. She was young and bright and should have had the opportunity to reach a better understanding of life and love. So I’ll still be sitting over here with my rainbows, and I will still #SayHerName. #SandraBland.

…and was soundly and deservedly reprimanded by three separate people.

Not having read, or even been aware of the article, my response was dismissive, and likely painful for some who read it. I wish I could rewind, and repair that. Stop and read the original tweets more carefully, from a more mindful, less emotional place, and either not respond at all, or respond with a better understanding and more thoughtfulness. Since I can’t, I’ll offer what explanation I can, here. Not as an excuse – I was wrong, and nobody is obligated to excuse that – but merely as insight for anyone who cares to have it. And this will be long. There’s a whole lot that went into the feelings that inspired those badly worded tweets, and I don’t know how to condense this, without losing the essence.

I’ve been really disturbed by this never-ending pattern of media and public response to state sanctioned murder of black men and women, and other people of color, in which the “they were no saint” rhetoric gets trotted out and paraded around every article, every television news feed, every sound bite, every comments section and social media discussion. It makes me physically ill to read, over and over again, the picking apart of every single personal choice, belief, and behavior of the victims of these crimes, as if smoking weed, or refusing to put out a cigarette, or speaking rightful challenge to over-reaching authority, or shoplifting, or being fucking rude, somehow justifies their murders. It’s the same damned thing that I, and other victims of sexual crimes, have to face when we come forward to either report those crimes or seek social support. It’s victim blaming, plain and simple. It doesn’t matter whether or not Sandra Bland put out her cigarette, when the cop told her to do so, any more than in matters what a rape victim was wearing, when some rapist made them his prey. It doesn’t matter whether or not Michael Brown had ever smoked weed, any more than it matters whether a woman had one too many drinks in a bar, if somebody assaults her. It doesn’t matter what the fucking VICTIMS did, before they were made victims, whether the person who victimized them was a rapist or a trigger-happy racist cop. The victims deserve our support. So, the whole not-a-saint thing hits me pretty hard.

Homophobia does, too. It has been a fact of life for me, since I realized I was something other than “normal,” something other than straight, when I was in my early teens. I’ve written, here, about what it was like for me, growing up bisexual in a bigoted, shitpot, southern town, and here, about how some of that bigotry was shoved down my throat, growing up. And here, about sexual abuse, rape, and victim silencing. About hate, racism, homophobia, erasure, shaming, indoctrination, and how all of those things have been a part of my history, a part of how I became who I am, now. If you don’t want to read them, I understand. None of them is an easy read. All of them come with possible triggers, especially for anyone who is marginalized, harmed, and/or oppressed by racism, homophobia, or rape culture. In a nutshell, I’ve faced homophobia for most of my life. I still face it, now. The memories of the ways it has been weaponized against me are still nearly as painful as its current presence. The fears of what that same homophobia, and the usually accompanying transphobia, may do to my teenage, transgender son, are ever-present and often overwhelming, even in the obvious context of my own undeniable white privilege.

Since my unavoidable return to that shitpot town, all of those things, and a sweeping culture of racism that pervades nearly every single facet of life, here, have made me all but a shut-in. I can’t go to the grocery store, without running into someone who bullied me in high school for being bisexual. I can’t stop to put gas in the car, without seeing a handful of bigoted, hateful stickers on cars, or an overblown pickup truck with a full sized confederate flag hanging from a jury-rigged flagpole in the back. Christmas dinner with my family ended with me, my partner, and my child walking out fifteen minutes into the meal, because of the blatant, unapologetic racism in my family’s conversation. My facebook, on June 27th, was FULL of right wing rhetoric about how conservatives and Christians were being oppressed by “that Muslim traitor in the White House.”

Living here, it is utterly inescapable, and for at least a few more years, I can’t leave.

So, I turned my facebook, where my friends are family and what few locals I didn’t have horrid associations with, from before, into a platform. Nearly every day, I comment on other posts, trying to simultaneously maintain composure, and fight against the all encompassing culture of hate-infested, cis-hetero, christian, white supremacy that permeates everything. I post educational things about the history nobody taught us in school, the one in which slavery was literally the ONLY real reason for the Civil War (and that, alone, is usually a brick wall), about how community policing, as we know it, has always been inherently anti-black, about how Jesus never condemned homosexuality, about how love between consenting adults is never either a sin or a crime, about how transpeople deserve the right to not be murdered by bigots, about how people of color deserve to live in a place where the police aren’t the enemy.

I have NO community, in real life. Aside from the two other people who live in my house, I have a sister and a former stepmother I barely see, and one old high school friend, with whom I find I have less and less in common. My father and extended family refuse to see their unconscious racism, transphobia, and homophobia, so I don’t feel safe in their presence. There is literally nothing to do, here, no place to go, that isn’t at least a 45 minute drive, which doesn’t involve associating with dangerously hateful bigots. I’m disabled, so travel isn’t something I get to indulge in, much, even just to the nearest city.

In the last two years, over and over and over again, I have either lost friendships, or chosen to dissociate myself from people who refused to see their victim blaming, predator enabling behaviors were a problem. So the vast majority of people I knew, people from my former home whom I considered friends, are no longer a part of my life. And that one former high school friend I mentioned? He’s a white, cis-, gay man. Recently, he was here, visiting, and dropped the phrase, “playing the race card,” into a conversation about politics. It was kind of the last straw, for me. I’m basically a hermit, now.

See, bigotry has been a fact of life, for me, ALL of my life. I am always the most upset and offended by that bigotry when it comes from someone who is also marginalized and/or oppressed by the current status quo. Hearing my gay friend express something so blatantly racist was enraging and devastating. The one person I believed I had, here, the one person I thought was more evolved, and beyond all that bigotry, had just revealed that he wasn’t. It felt, as it always does, when that happens, like a betrayal.

Oppressed people actively participating in or perpetuating the oppression of other people is the one thing I simply can’t ever wrap my brain around, can’t ever stop feeling astonished and hurt by, when I hear or read it. It rips into me like a dull knife, every single time.

What happened to Sandra Bland, even though we don’t know all of the truth, yet, was horrific and inexcusable. I’ve argued with idiots about this until I could barely speak. Idiots who trot out that ridiculous line about how, if she’d just obeyed the nice white policeman, she would have been fine. Idiots who spout the suspicious evidence of marijuana in her system as proof that she was to blame, somehow. Idiots who are just exhausting, and pretty much everywhere I go. I’ve argued until I wept, in frustration with them, and in utter despair of our culture as a whole. I haven’t been able to march. I can’t go to where the protests are, but I’ve been working towards educating other white people about the white supremacist reality of present day America, nearly every single day since last August.

So, when I saw that Sandra Bland was homophobic, it felt like a kick in the gut, on a day when (for a host of unrelated reasons I won’t even get into, here) my guts had already been pummeled. My initial emotion was that same sense of betrayal I felt when my friend revealed his racism. Then, a little bit of anger, and the return of that overwhelming sadness and despair for what our culture is, despite the fact that it’s the 21st century.

If the people I know, here, discovered this, they would undoubtedly use it as a sort of gotcha. They would use it as yet another reason why they think I’m wrong to believe that her death was not fucking okay, or in any way justifiable. They would do this, even while believing that I, and my son, are fundamentally less worthy, as human beings, because of our sexual orientation and gender identity.

And all those things were swirling in my head, as I realized that it didn’t matter whether or not she would have fought for me, or for my son. She did not deserve to die, alone and unjustly imprisoned. When I said that “homophobia isn’t a lethal offense,” I did not mean that directed homophobia doesn’t kill, because it absolutely does. I know why that seemed dismissive, and it is entirely the fault of my own hastily worded reaction. I only meant that her being homophobic was not reason enough to justify locking her up and taking her life. When I said what I did about her not having the opportunity to learn and grow, I said it from a place of someone who was raised to hate, raised to be racist and bigoted, and learned better. Someone who, through life experience and age and seeking knowledge and understanding, overcame some busted beliefs that were carefully cultivated in my young, formative mind. Someone who believes that we all have the capacity to overcome our broken and damaging conditioning, to become more empathetic and humane and caring towards one another, no matter our lot in life.

If someone had killed me, when I was a few years younger than Sandra Bland, I would never have been shown my internalized racism, either. I think that unjustly depriving someone of that chance is every bit as tragic as killing someone more socially enlightened, more empathetic to the ways in which people unlike themselves are oppressed.

So, yes. I will continue to demand answers and accountability from the people responsible for Sandra Bland’s death. Her homophobia didn’t make what they did to her less unjust, and my support for that doesn’t hinge on what her attitudes towards me may have been. I don’t say that for anyone other than myself, though. It is completely understandable and justifiable for other LGBTQ people to wish to withdraw their vocal support for that particular cause, in light of this information, and I don’t judge them in any way. For me, her death didn’t remove homophobia from the world, or even my little sphere of it. It just denied her the chance to gain experience that may have shown her a better way to be.

So, I will still  say her name. Sandra Bland may never have been my friend, if we’d met, but what was done to her demands justice, and she should not be forgotten.

Again, if you’ve made it this far, I am so very sorry that my language was dismissive, offensive, and/or harmful. I can’t promise never to screw up again, but I promise to try harder to be more conscious of my words, rather than spewing complex emotions into thoughtless 140-character blurbs. And now I’m off to find the article that inspired all of this, and learn how to do better.

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.