I don’t know about you, I have a hell of a time remembering to practice self-care, and I’ve heard the same from a lot of the people I interact with online. Many of us spend a lot of time and energy online fighting for causes we care about at the expense of our mental and physical health and while we know that we need to pause and do things that are just for us—things like social media breaks, playing with the dog, listening to music, or just DRINKING SOME DAMNED WATER—it can be really hard to do so.
That’s why I created SELF-CARE BINGO!
It’s like an act of self-care I can share with all of you. Yay!
The symbols are intended as prompts. For example, I live in Seattle, so there are many days (weeks, months) when getting sunshine is just not in the cards, but I can get outside and breathe some fresh air or use my little full-spectrum light thingy. Not into knitting? Do the craft you love. Already hugged your dog today? Tickle your cat or throw a ball for your ferret. The possibilities are endless!
I’ve got my SCB card printed out and ready to mark up even as I type this. See?
Let’s do some self-care, people.
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
In a few days, I will celebrate my 50th year on this planet. I haven’t done as much as I guess I hoped I would by now. I have, on the other hand, survived a lot. And that’s why it’s especially important to me to make a big deal out of this nice, round number. It reminds me that I’ve reached an age my depression and anxiety made me fear I’d never see. It is a way of giving myself some credit for making it through and not giving up—for continuing to strive for wellness and to reach for a place where I will once again feel satisfaction with the way I am using the days I have on the earth. I’m not there yet, but I know that I deserve that, so I’m celebrating the fact that I can celebrate myself. And not insignificantly, I’m celebrating the fact that two years after a major trauma, I am able to celebrate my birthday again. This time of year will likely carry some weight of grief for some years, but I am taking this day back.
My birthday wish is honestly too big for words to encompass. The only word that remotely comes close to the thing I would most like to see in this world is LOVE. I have no wish for romantic love in my life—another thing to celebrate, I suppose, since every year up until age 41, I wished for that on every star and birthday candle and dandelion seed and though it was trauma that brought me to this place, I can focus my wishes elsewhere. The love I’m talking about is a more universal thing: THE thing that so many prophets and philosophers and poets have been trying to tell us all along. The thing that is very likely our only hope.
Big, right? It feels unattainable, but I don’t think it is. I believe that if we keep this word in our minds like a mantra, then it can’t help but make bad situations better. So my wish is that everyone reading this remember that word when anger and frustration flares up, not as a reminder to love your enemies necessarily, just as a reminder of what’s inside you that needs expressing out into the world and of what’s important—really important.
This is not the post I set out to write. I came here (inspired by a friend—thanks Britni!) to tell you about a few people and organizations I care about and suggest that you consider them in your holiday giving. But I asked myself what I truly wished for and wanted to answer authentically, so here we are, as close as I could come to putting my wish in a word: LOVE. A big wish, but a small ask. Keep it in your mind and in your heart.
AND if you could show some love to these people and organizations, I would be grateful. Let me know in the comments or on Facebook or Twitter, and I’ll thank you publicly. (Do let me know if you don’t want that!) Give whatever you can afford, though I do like the numbers $5 and $50, for some reason. And if you can’t give, please consider sharing this post.
Eric Garner’s family lost a father and a husband when a police officer used an illegal chokehold, killing Garner on video as he told officers again and again, “I can’t breathe.” The Garner family’s lives have been shattered. You can help ease the financial burden on the family by donating to this fundraiser (I have committed to $5 a month for 2015):
Johnetta and DeRay are Ferguson organizers, publishers of the Ferguson newsletter, and all-around badasses. You can help them stay fed and housed and support the work they do by donating to their PayPal account.
Brianna Wu is one of several women in the video games industry that has been targeted for relentless harassment by the scum that is GamerGate (all together now: “Actually, it’s about ethics in video games journalism!”). From her Patreon page:
I got into videogames to make video games – but right now the majority of my workweek is wasted on fending off BS from people harassing me.
Wu goes on to describe some of this harassment, which continues to be brutal. These people used her dead dog as a prop with which to torture her and her husband, Frank Wu. Brianna Wu is asking for help:
If you appreciate what I do, please chip in so I can hire some help with the Women in Tech advocacy I do. I need someone to help me with the medial parts of dealing with my attackers so I can focus on my work, making and shipping games.
*Trigger Warning for discussion of rape and sexual assault*
As some of you know, I’m pursuing closure in a thirty-year-old rape case. I have contacted a number of organizations that purport to help people like me, and Joyful Heart Foundation is the only one that reached out and offered to speak with me, hear my story, and provide knowledge and assistance as I navigate the legal system. I’m so grateful for that support.
“Joyful Heart began as a dream of helping sexual assault survivors heal and reclaim a sense of hope, possibility and joy in their lives. We have evolved into a national organization that is paving the way for integrating holistic approaches in treating trauma, transforming the way people think about, talk about and behave around the issues of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, and advancing public policies to ensure justice for survivors.”
Thanks for reading and helping me celebrate my 50th birthday.
It was 1994 or so, spring maybe, and I was on my way to work at Electronic Arts in San Mateo, CA. I must have been listening to the rock station rather than my usual NPR, because the dude on the radio announced that They Might Be Giants—one of my very favorite bands of all time—was giving a free concert that day in Golden Gate Park in nearby San Francisco.
It wasn’t even a question. I got to work, made my apologies, and drove to my ten-year-old daughter’s school, signing her out for the day so she could see TMBG live.
Arriving at the park, we spotted you, Big John—John Flansburgh—right away. You stood a few yards away from a rope line near the stage talking with some guy. My daughter was utterly beside herself. She stood at that rope line waving, hoping to catch your eye. She waved and waved and I stood there with her watching as you finally…well, “condescended” is a kind word. You…condescended to wave to her, which sent her over the moon. She loved the concert. She had a great day.
Here’s what I saw: My little girl standing there waving, smiling, thrilled to see you and you, John, turning to us with a look on your face that said, “I can’t fucking BELIEVE I have to do this,” an eye-roll that most certainly offered you a view of your own BRAIN, and a wave that couldn’t have been more exaggerated if you’d thrown your shoulder out of socket and could not possibly have communicated more disdain for this tiny fan.
My daughter turns 33 next year. She rolls her eyes at me when I tell this story. She was thrilled that you waved at her. She was too young then to understand that you were not saying hello but saying, “Jesus, kid, would you fuck off, already?” And so, it didn’t hurt her the way it hurt me.
20 years later, telling this story to someone I know, I realize that it still hurts a lot.
I have friends who tease me about my “grudge.” But dude, you were mean to a kid. My kid. That’s not the kind of thing a mother gets over. And also? I loved your fucking band. I bought every album and went to every show I could. I took my child out of school to see you that day because she loved you, too, and I thought it would be a good experience for her. Thankfully, it was. Thankfully, she wasn’t hurt by your behavior. But she could have been, and I think about other kids who came to see you. Were you mean to them, too?
I like to think that this was a one-time thing. I like to think that you later realized what a jackass you’d been and felt so guilty that you started making kids’ records to atone for your behavior that day. I know that’s ridiculous, but that little fantasy has given me some measure of comfort.
The more likely truth is that you were probably just exactly the egotistical jackass you seemed to be. I wonder if you still are.
My daughter’s love for music, partly fueled by listening to your records, grew into a talent. She’s an amazing singer and songwriter, and she and I were in a band together for a few years. This month we’ll sing together at my 50th birthday party.
Though you kinda broke my heart that day in 1994, I’m just glad you didn’t break hers.
All of this illustrates a few things: my ability to hold a grudge for 20 years; your capacity for being an utter dickwad to fans; the fallibility of our heroes and our tendency to put humans on pedestals…but I guess more than anything it’s about a mother’s love for her child.
You don’t fucking mess with my kid.
I have failed her in so many ways, so maybe telling stories like this one (you’re not the only person I’m still angry with over their treatment of her, in case that makes you feel any better) is just my way of proving to myself that despite all of my failures as a mother, I am a mother who loves her child fiercely.
Dear John: you owe my daughter an apology. I owe her a few, too, but that’s between us. If you and I ever meet, I’ll tell you this story and ask you to extend that apology. I don’t really expect that you’ll comply, but I’d do anything for my kid. Even write a silly blog post about a grudge I’ve been holding for two decades.
Trigger warning for multiple topics*.
I am super irritated that I have to write this. That I feel like I have to write it today, right now, because not only did a concern-trolling article come out in the New Republic a couple of days ago, but people were already complaining about trigger warnings as though they were some kind of censorship (some even using the word). As though the people using or benefiting from them were proposing banning words or ideas. As though we want our world scrubbed clean of all references to traumatic topics. This is not remotely the case, and I feel the need to clarify for anyone who’s listening and isn’t sure they get it.
What’s a trigger warning? The top Urban Dictionary entry does a fairly good job of defining them:
Used to alert people when an internet post, book, article, picture, video, audio clip, or some other media could potentially cause extremely negative reactions (such as post-traumatic flashbacks or self-harm) due to its content. Sometimes abbreviated as “TW.”
Trigger Warning for sexual violence
The New Republic article adopts a slippery-slope argument, pointing out among other things that UC Santa Barbara’s Associated Student Senate has passed a proposal, now presumably before university officials, recommending required warnings before graphic material. The author doesn’t seem curious about how this might help people. In fact she states quite plainly that it doesn’t:
As a means of navigating the Internet, or setting the tone for academic discussion, the trigger warning is unhelpful. … There is no rational basis for applying warnings because there is no objective measure of words’ potential harm.Of course, words can inspire intense reactions, but they have no intrinsic danger. Two people who have endured similarly painful experiences, from rape to war, can read the same material and respond in wholly different ways.
This tells me that the author a) has missed the point entirely and b) didn’t bother to speak to anyone who uses or benefits from trigger warnings (she certainly doesn’t quote any). If she had spoken to some of us, she might understand that trigger warnings are actually very helpful to trauma survivors. They allow us to choose when and how we engage with content so we can do so in a way that results in less harm. It doesn’t mean we won’t view the content. It just means we have a choice—that it doesn’t hit us like a slap in the face and possibly to our great detriment. But people who pooh-pooh trigger warnings often (though not always if they take the time to listen) seem unconcerned with the everyday battles survivors face on the Internet. In fact, like the author of the NS article (quoted again below), some are now wringing their hands over how this practice is apparently harming us as a society and will lead to trigger warnings on cereal boxes and shit:
What began as a way of moderating Internet forums for the vulnerable and mentally ill now threatens to define public discussion both online and off. The trigger warning signals … a wider cultural hypersensitivity to harm and a paranoia about giving offense. And yet, for all the debate about the warnings on campuses and on the Internet, few are grappling with the ramifications for society as a whole.
… it’s only a matter of time before warnings are demanded for other grade levels … it’s not inconceivable that they’ll appear at the beginning of film screenings and at the entrance to art exhibits. Will newspapers start applying warnings to articles about rape, murder, and war? Could they even become a regular feature of speech? “I was walking down Main Street last night when—trigger warning—I saw an elderly woman get mugged.”
Trigger warnings aren’t about not giving offense. They’re about taking the time to consider how material might affect survivors of trauma (empathy) and allowing them to a) brace themselves emotionally for the material or b) skip it entirely (choice). They serve as a helpful guide for people who might want or need to prepare for—or choose not to experience—content that might trigger reactions that they aren’t ready to deal with right now—reactions that can range from mild discomfort (which is what most people who have a problem with TWs seem to assume we’re talking about) to outright panic to self-harm. In an age when most of us are suffering from information overload, it’s about giving people more awareness of possible emotional landmines so they can make informed choices as they navigate their day. Believe me, we’re going to encounter plenty difficult material without the benefit of a trigger warning. We’re not living in a sterilized environment. But we do appreciate a heads-up when something might reopen our wounds. To me, it doesn’t seem like much to ask, and it doesn’t cost me anything to include trigger warnings on my content.
As yet, no one is obligated to provide trigger warnings. It’s something we do out of consideration for those who might appreciate and benefit from it. A simple [TW] before a tweet about a difficult topic gives readers a chance to steel their gut or skip it if they don’t feel like dealing with hard stuff just now. Ever read or watched something that made you cry at work? If so, you might know the feeling of wishing you’d waited until later. Have you ever said something insensitive in front of someone who was hurt by your words and wished you hadn’t opened your mouth? Would you knowingly walk through the world causing people to feel either of those ways…or much worse?
No, the world cannot and should not be free of all references to rape, abuse, domestic violence, racism, slut-shaming, fat-shaming, suicide, war…but knowing what we’re in for allows us to reduce emotional stress and strife in an environment that—for at least some of us—feels like a barrage of those things on a fairly constant basis.
It’s about self-care, and those who think trigger warnings are unnecessary or asking too much are basically saying that they don’t care whether we’re able to practice self care, or whether being blind-sided by something might cause us to engage in self-harm or flip a switch in our brains and trigger anxiety that can last for weeks (or months and require medication or even hospitalization to overcome)…this is what we’re talking about here, folks. We’re talking about caring enough about survivors of trauma that we allow them to choose. The National Institute of Health estimates that over ten million people suffer from PTSD in the United States alone. We’re talking about avoiding doing or saying something carelessly that might cause real harm to people who are already struggling every single day.
Here’s where the concern-trolling really gets going:
Issuing caution on the basis of potential harm or insult doesn’t help us negotiate our reactions; it makes our dealings with others more fraught. As Breslin pointed out, trigger warnings can have the opposite of their intended effect, luring in sensitive people (and perhaps connoisseurs of graphic content, too). More importantly, they reinforce the fear of words…
Go read the article if you want. I’m done.
Yes, there is a good chance that trigger warnings will rise in popularity as people become more aware of why they are a thoughtful thing to do. And people who think they’re useless will continue to wonder “What’s next? A trigger warning because you don’t like the brand of beer I drink?” And I will shake my head and wonder why it’s so difficult for them to consider the lives of others—lives which are clearly quite different from theirs when their reaction to our trauma is “This is the world. Deal with it.”
Well, this is empathy, and it’s what allows people to care for each other and not hurt each other. I recommend that everyone take a spoonful with their tea in the morning and see if your day and that of everyone you interact with doesn’t get just a bit better. At the very least, maybe you’ll cause less harm.
Any article in which I’m cited as triggering needs to have a trigger warning. Because that totally triggers me.
Way to be an insensitive fuckwad, Dan. High five.
I mean seriously: aside from some people’s snide reaction to the idea that some people need to be a bit more gentle with themselves than others, what is the problem with a warning before a particularly graphic film or tv show (many of which already feature them and have since I was a child)? What is the cost? Do we really think this is going to lead to everyone walking around in full-body armor and darkened goggles that filter out anything objectionable? Why don’t we start by worrying about survivors and concern ourselves with the Great Trigger Warning Dystopia later? Because at this point it sounds to me like some people are just irritated by other people’s sensitivities, and to that I say, get out into the world and meet some people whose lives are completely different from yours. Listen to what they have to say. That’s where your full dose of understanding will come from.
I’ll close with a quote from the always-amazing Anne Theriault of The Belle Jar:
Life is an ongoing exercise in empathy. As a human being, your job should be constantly learning how to make your own way in this world while causing as little harm as possible. Which is why I’m ultimately baffled when people wonder aloud if they’re supposed to look at everything critically and worry about its potential to harm others. Because yes. Yes, that is exactly what you are supposed to do.
*See how easy that was?
UPDATE: People have argued here and elsewhere that trigger warnings might be harmful to someone who really ought to face their triggers as part of recovery. This argument assumes that a) we are all in the same place in our recovery and b) we all need the same thing with regard to our recovery. It seems to me that people making this argument are telling people who appreciate trigger warnings that they (the arguers) know better what we (the triggered) need than we do. While I think these people’s intentions are in some cases good, I strongly disagree and I ask these folks to examine their own privilege in making these assumptions for others.
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
Today will be a crying day. I can’t always tell when I wake up, but when I wake up and burst into tears and cry until snot runs down my face, that’s a sure sign. Last night I fell asleep acknowledging that there’s a part of me still waiting for her baby to come back, and this morning I dreamed that I followed you and your girlfriend around like K did when we were first together, trying to give you gifts and be affectionate while you mostly ignored me.
Waking up my first thought as the tears came was “But I don’t want to.” I’m still trying to work out what that means. Don’t want to be over you? Don’t want to walk away like I did at the end of my dream? None of this makes sense because what I want more than almost anything in the world is to not feel anything where you’re concerned. Anger protected me for a lot of last year but as it subsided—as my brain started forgetting to hate you—I began to remember who you used to be to me: not a villain but the man I loved.
You’ve done a lot of crappy things. First there is the original betrayal—it seems so wrong that I can sum it up in three words like that when a) it went on for so long and piled betrayal upon betrayal and b) it has left me more broken than anything that came before including rapes and beatings I wasn’t sure I’d survive. Telling me over and over again via email about your new love and your bullshit philosophical “types of love” and how I fit into this one box over here, but that one didn’t really count, and your wishes for multiple lovers in the future and your hope that she would accept that, as though that information could possibly help me heal. Then ignoring me on our anniversary after I told you how hard just the days leading up to it were and how I dreaded it. Then promising to leave me alone about the house for six months and then sic’ing your lawyers on me after only three. These are the bigger ones, but once in a while I realize that some part of me still feels that your worst crime was not loving me—not loving us—enough to stay and try to fix it. The absolute worst thing about this for me is that you don’t love me.
For the past 14 months I have been in a state of illness. For several weeks I could barely get off the couch. It was four months before I felt ready to move back to our bedroom and since I did, I’ve barely left it. I am unable to earn a living because depression keeps me from working more than a few hours a day for a few weeks at a time (which means I can get through a book editing project, but a full-time job feels out of the question). I am fighting a constant, uphill battle just to get back to the level of depression I occupied when you were still here. For the past six months I have been largely unable to blog. It’s like I’ve run out of things to say and confidence in my ability to say them.
J told me that you said your actions were hurtful. They weren’t just hurtful—they were harmful. Nothing in my life has ever left me this broken. She said you mourn the loss of your friend. My first thought, and what I said to her, was this:
“He killed his friend. And he killed mine. I will never, ever be the same person I was when I met him. I will never start a relationship with that trust. 8 years ago today I met the man who would murder the person I was that day.”
I know you’ve read things I’ve written before and come away thinking that I hated you. I have tried to, but I don’t. The honest truth—and the most excruciating thing I have to accept on days like this—is that I still love you. And accepting that, it takes everything I have not to hate myself. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned this past year it’s to be gentle with me because I have been on the edge and I know what it feels like to want to slip over and lose myself. I can’t let that happen.
Now you see where I still am 14 months after you left and a year and ten days after we last spoke. I am still crying over you. I am still dreaming about you. I am still waiting for you to come back to me. And I am still agonizing over all of these things and trying not to despise myself. The best thing my anger did was to protect me from that hope and I really wish I still had it. Since I don’t, I’m just trying to get through the time it will take for the hope and love to fade away. I really thought a year would be enough.
I painted this for you back in the early days. For me it expressed what I thought was happening between us: something so big and important that it threatened to burst out of the confines of this mortal existence.
Now I realize that it was big and important, just not in the way I thought. Now I see the flaws in a painting I once thought beautiful and I look for meaning in them. Where is the line that shows you falling out of love? Where is the one that predicts your betrayal? Which lines represent not love but pain? Which ones are the signs I should have seen that would have allowed me to prevent us from falling apart?
So, this is the state of things. These are some of the things you need to know before you make any attempt at another apology. I wish I could tell you everything. I wish that I could make you experience what I have experienced this past year. I want you to know what it is to be the one left behind instead of the one always leaving and leaving destroyed lives behind you. I wish I could communicate the sadness I’ve felt watching friends and even my family members choose to remain in contact with you even when they know how much it hurts me. I want you to feel what I have felt and know the pain that your choices—and complete lack of empathy for me—have caused. And I want to understand, I think, but maybe I don’t because every time you’ve tried to explain you’ve only caused me more pain. What I really want is for things to be ok, and on days like this it’s hard to believe they ever will be again.
Trigger Warning: Violence Against Women
Hi. My name is Rosie. And I’m a persona.
I exist to protect the person who hides behind me. I allow her to say things she has trouble saying with her real mouth, but I am her True Voice. Through me, the person who writes this blog has found a way to talk about her life and what it’s like to be a woman in what is still very much a man’s world in so many ways.
I can be a bit rough around the edges. Ranty, sweary, short-of-temper, unlikely to take crap. She’s like that too, but my knob is tuned way higher than hers. And I think that sometimes people make the mistake of thinking that the fact that she and I have strong opinions about things and fight for what we believe in means we’re super tough and impervious to harm. I think sometimes people have the impression we’re so sure of ourselves—this real-life-person and I, her avatar—so confident and secure, that words, judgment, implications that we are what’s wrong with feminism, that we see problems where none exist, that we’re too angry and intense and that we spend our energies on all the wrong things…that none of this gets through the armor of this persona and reaches the real person.
But she’s in there, and she’s tired and sad and it’s taking everything I’ve got to help her find the words to admit it. She has learned that life is different now and unless she’s willing to give up on the dream of making positive change, she’s going to have to get used to encountering resistance not just from the faceless Internet, but from friends and allies.
She’s sad and tired and sometimes she feels like giving up, but she’s got hope and she clings to it and it’s what gives me whatever power I’ve got to pull out words when all she’s got are tears. Hope that all this will end up being worthwhile (and faith that it must), and that those friends and allies who doubt and resist will let down their guard and trust that when she says “this hurts me” it does. Hope that the fact that she hurts is enough to make a thing—or even a movement—important enough to them that they won’t dismiss it out of hand or imply that she’s not seeing clearly or that she’s “too angry.” Hope that if they disagree, they’ll remember that it’s not philosophy to her—that it’s something she feels deeply.
Hi. I’m Rosie. And I’m here to tell you that activism isn’t fun. It can be very, very rewarding, but when one of us launches a campaign like the one I helped launched yesterday, we’re putting ourselves out there to be criticized by the whole entire Internet, and if you think I haven’t spent the last 24 hours second-guessing myself, alternately shaking with rage and crying tears of frustration, then you think I’m a lot stronger than I really am. I’ve been told I’m part of the problem and that my perceptions are flawed, that I’m wasting my time, and that I’m aggressive. None of these are firsts, but when every ping from your blog and social media elicits a moment of panic, you know you’re stressed. And when some of the doubt comes from within the tent, that’s particularly hard to take—but it happens every single time. And while it’s certainly healthy to entertain differing points of view, by the time I’ve gone all-in on a campaign like this, I’ve gone over and over it and I know how I feel about it, so the second-guessing is just a mind-game I play with myself. I’m in no doubt, for example, of how I feel about that hotel ad.
And that’s what I left out of my post yesterday: Me. Why this campaign is important to me personally.
When I was 20, the man I was with beat the shit out of me and promised me I would not live through the night. He smacked me around first, then gouged my eyes with his fingers (leaving scars I still see when I look at a blank wall), cut my face with a putty knife, then threw me across the room. Somewhere in there he told me he was going to bury me in a field where no one would find me. About half this he did in front of my two-year-old daughter. That’s just one of my stories of violence, but it’s the one that comes up like bile when I see this image.
A reader yesterday said the ad in question looked like slapstick to him. Someone else said she looked like she was just lying there—no violence implied. Me? At a gut level, without any analysis, I see a dead woman lying on concrete (I get “alley” or “parking lot”) at a glance. When I see this image, I see her story. The story this image tells me is of a woman to whom violence has been done (she didn’t throw that suitcase at herself) and who has been left for dead on a stained concrete floor. On closer inspection, she’s sprawled in a decidedly lifeless way (I now have a copy of the magazine and it looks like she’s in a parking garage—there are oil stains), her hand palm-up. She’s certainly not conscious—not struggling to get up under the weight of the heavy suitcase she accidentally dropped on herself. In fact, to me, it doesn’t look like she’s getting up at all.
And when I see that, I think of all the women who—like me—have had violence done to them but who—unlike me—did not survive it. And I feel sick. And I feel like this is a crass fucking way to sell a product. But at the heart of it, this image causes me pain and given the response I’ve received privately, on the post, on Facebook, on Twitter, and in the comments section of the petition, I’m not alone.
Hi. My name is Rosie. And I’m not as strong as you may think I am. But I’m not alone. For that, I’m more grateful than I can say.
The Standard Hotels, DuJour Media, and Violence Against Women (makemeasammich.org)
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
Tomorrow will mark six months since I learned that my best friend had betrayed me. Six months since he got caught, confessed, and ran out the door as fast as his cowardly feet could carry him. Four months since I gave up any hope that he was still capable of being a friend or even a decent human being when it came to his treatment of me and broke off all contact with him probably forever.
This has been one of the (if not the) most difficult periods of my life—a life that has included other betrayals as well as beatings and even rape. And though I’m doing much better than I was six or even four months ago, there are times when the whole thing hits me all over again and knocks me back down onto the floor where he left me back in December. A photograph, a dream, the bar where we had one of our first dates which I can’t avoid visiting because friends must support friends—these things and so many others poke holes in the armor I’ve built around myself these past months and stab me right in the heart.
Some folks tell me that all this only has as much power over me as I allow it to have–that it is my choice whether to dwell in the past or move on with my life. It’s true, I have no choice but to move on–it’s that or die. But this healing I’m doing is a process, and I don’t actually control how my body reacts to stimuli such as an image, a place, or just a vivid memory. There’s a sensation like a kick to the gut or chest, and then the tears come, and *then* I get to choose what to do next. And I have chosen life. And there have been good times. I have optimistic days. Sometimes I think I might be ok. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t happen again and that I won’t feel agony every time—at least for a while.
The support I have received from friends and acquaintances (and here I must acknowledge that even the ones who say and do things I don’t find particularly helpful are usually trying to be supportive) has been overwhelming. Social discomfort has mostly been due to the place (my old apartment building, the bar I mentioned above, a local convention, or just downtown Seattle, for that matter) or my state of mind. There are those times when people ask how I’m doing and then change the subject when I tell them the truth and it’s not happy, and that can be awkward and can leave me feeling like they didn’t really want the answer to that question. (I’ve never been one for small-talk anyway, so if you ask how I’m doing, you’re very likely to get an honest answer.) There are those people who I know are still friends with my ex, and that can be uncomfortable for me because he hurt me so much and they remind me of that by their very existence in my social sphere (it’s not their fault—it just is). There are those people I suspect are still his friends, but who don’t tell me so—don’t say anything at all about him (which is as it should be—as I have requested—if they are still friends). All of this can be awkward and painful, but it honestly pales in comparison to the outpouring of support from people from all areas of my life—especially from my online friends and acquaintances (some of whom are also RL friends and acquaintances).
That very much includes you, dear readers. Very much indeed. Without this place to share my stories and my personal…challenges? …this past year, I can’t imagine what my life would have been like. Without this place to vent my pain and rage in December and January, I’m afraid to think what would have happened to me. And without you showing up here, whether just to read or to comment or commiserate, this place would not be what it is for me. I know that I can talk about the things that feel important–whether they are about all of us or just about me–because you have helped me see that our stories are one of the most important ways we learn, grow, and connect with our fellow human beings.
Thank you for being a part of mine.
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
I’ve been at this blogger-activist thing less than a year, but I know I’ve said it more than once: I strongly believe we have to hold ourselves and our allies to the same standards we do our opponents. This means we can’t allow ourselves to place anyone on a pedestal where criticism can’t reach them, and we can’t sweep bad behavior under the proverbial rug. It means we don’t let one another off the hook when we slip up and contribute to the problems we’re all trying to fight.
It means no sacred cows.
It doesn’t mean we have to point fingers and assign blame—at least not in my personal best-case scenario. To me, it means we point out the problems we see with what someone said/did/wrote, and then we stand back and let the person respond, hopefully taking some time to consider and form a thoughtful rebuttal or explanation or mea culpa. I know this can work—I see it all the time. But people have to be willing to ask the uncomfortable questions, like “Did you mean to say X? Because that’s what I heard.” And then follow up with “Here are all the ways that’s problematic.” And that’s difficult to do. But I think there’s too much at stake not to at least try to do it more often.
Lately, I’ve had a number of encounters with people who are fairly hardcore about responding when a stranger or celebrity or faceless entity they care nothing about says or does something out of line, but seem very reluctant to call out people (or entities) they consider allies even if they behave really badly. And some of these folks can be extremely critical of those who do call out bad behavior from people (or entities) they deem “good.” For example, some critics point to a given target of my activist ire and a) tell me all the things to like about them and b) draw comparisons among the issues I could be focusing on and finding my choices lacking—particularly in the face of how awesome the target is if I could only see all the good they do. But the fact that a person or company or organization might be otherwise awesome is precisely why I have to speak out when they do something less-than-awesome. If I let someone off the hook for bad behavior because they also do good, I’m making a conscious decision to condone that bad behavior under certain very particular circumstances (i.e., ones that suit me in a given situation). There’s a word for someone who does that: hypocrite.
Sacred cows are everywhere, even in our social circles. Like that one guy people apologize for because he’s a “good guy” who goes to church or gives to charity or volunteers with underprivileged puppies or whatever even though he did something really awful to another member of your social circle (this probably sounds like I’m talking about someone specific, but it happens all the time—see Captain Awkward #322 & #323 and #393 for examples). Or that woman who really is a great person who helps people and does all kinds of good, and when she says or does something really awful, no one will call her on it because she probably didn’t mean it the way it sounded, or she was just having an off day, someone provoked her, or don’t pick on her because look at all the GOOD she does. When we let these people off the hook, we’re sending a message that they can behave as they wish without consequence. We’re sending a message to anyone these people have wronged that the wrongs they suffered don’t count. And that can be pretty harmful. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. (In fact, Sid wrote about it here.)
So what is at stake? Because we’re all tacitly condoning it, the behavior will very likely continue. Within the framework of activism, allies may decide to adopt the behavior and perpetuate the problem, while opponents will certainly make as much hay out of the offense as possible—especially since we’ve chosen to ignore it and laud the offender’s accomplishments instead. These are just some of the risks we take when we apply a double standard.
But the most important thing at stake here for me? My integrity.
When I do this thing I am describing—when I choose to apply my standards to only those unfortunate enough not to be among my sacred cows—I compromise my principles. And what value is there in anything I do or say if I don’t defend my principles with everything I’ve got?
The most high-profile sacred cow we liberals hold dear is President Obama. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am happy as hell that he became president and that he got reelected. But there are things he does that have me scratching my head and I have spoken out about them in the past (not here I don’t think, but on my previous blog for certain). I had a (very unrealistic) hope that we would get modern-day equivalent of a fireside chat out of this guy where he loosened his tie, rolled up his sleeves, parked his butt on the corner of his desk, and leveled with us on the day-to-day struggles of governing this country. I want to understand why we’re killing civilians with drones, why Gitmo can’t be closed (yes, I’ve read the reasons), and why the HELL he thinks fracking is a good idea. I wanted him to explain how he didn’t agree with some provisions of the NDAA but had to sign it into law anyway (for reasons I’ve also read). And that’s just for starters. The President of the United States is the very LAST person we should be letting off the hook.
Penny Arcade, PAX, and front-men Gabe and Tycho, are sacred cows in the games industry where I’ve mostly made my living for the past 25 years. When I asked friends recently whether PA had ever acknowledged what the real problem was with the way they handled what’s now known as the Dickwolves Debacle (i.e., did they ever apologize, or did everyone just sweep it under the rug and keep going to PAX?), I heard two things: 1) No, they haven’t done anything to illustrate an understanding of what they did wrong. 2) PAX is too important a networking opportunity for some folks to miss, especially given the current economic climate. I sympathize, but I think we have to demand better from people with as much pull in the industry–especially among youth–as Penny Arcade enjoys. But we don’t, and so Gabe goes along his merry way being a rape apologist (he recently decried the unfairness of Kickstarter’s decision to pull a game called “Tentacle Bento”–in which the player’s goal was to accost as many schoolgirls as possible as an alien tentacle monster) and all around ignorant ass, and steadfastly refuses to hear anyone who attempts to help him understand people whose experiences differ from his and correct his course to avoid causing harm in the future. He consistently trivializes issues people ask him to take seriously, poking fun at or even ridiculing critics (and thereby encouraging his followers to do the same). And anymore, Tycho just seems to pretend none of it is happening. PA continues to be a major influencer, with the industry flocking to PAX where a lot of people still think Dickwolves was a kick in the pants because PA never stood up and said “We were wrong–here’s what we learned.” They have explicitly chosen not to use their influence to help solve the problems they continue to help perpetuate. And frankly, too few in the industry have asked them to.
The rape joke that got Penny Arcade into trouble in the first place (but was ultimately minor compared to their handling of the fallout) fell into that oh-so-holy space just outside reality where people are supposedly allowed to say and do anything: comedy. I’ll let Lindy West speak to that (via Jezebel):
But it’s just a joke. Calm down.
Yeah, dude, but this shit isn’t magic. It’s not a game. It’s not like you get to declare the comedy stage “base” and the rest of the world “hot lava” (spewing from the vaginas of feminazi gargoyles, I’m sure) and everything you say on the stage exists in some sacred loophole that’s exempt from criticism and the expectation of hard work. Rape, domestic violence, brutalization, marginalization, the struggle to make yourself heard—all of this shit is REAL to a lot of people. They’re not cute little thought experiments for you to mess around with without pushback. You can lie to yourself all you want, but if you say something awful to somebody in the course of your regular day, it is exactly the same as if you say it on stage. If anything, its emotional impact is magnified.
And anyway, anyone who says “but it’s just a joke” has never had their life profoundly changed by a joke.
In the same article, Lindy has this to say about sacred cows:
But Louis CK!
Ugh, this part is so boring. Okay. Do you know what else Louis CK does? He changes. He evolves. He thinks. And when he fucks up, he gets criticized like crazy, and some of that criticism makes it into his brain—and, eventually, his act. Also, just because one of comedy’s sacred god-kings manages to be funny and smart when broaching certain sensitive topics doesn’t mean they can’t also be harmful. You know, Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. Etc. Just because Jeffrey Ross can (debatably) pull off a “haha, faggot” once in a while doesn’t mean that identical “haha, faggot”s aren’t actively moving gay kids to kill themselves all over the fucking country. It’s real, and it deserves critical thought, not kneejerk defensiveness.
Also, you’re not Louis CK. Maybe don’t invite the comparison.
It’s not easy to realize your behavior might be contributing to the very problems you claim to want to solve. But if you’re lucky enough to reach a certain level of self-awareness, you realize that you’d rather be right—really right—than be wrong and defend your wrong position like a stubborn jackass. I have been known to say you can be Jesus H. Christ and heal the sick all day long, but if you’re an asshole, I’m going to say, “Jesus! Don’t be an asshole!” But even I didn’t want to heap criticism on the president at election time in 2012. And that made me a hypocrite. A well-meaning hypocrite with what felt like good reasons for being so, but a hypocrite nonetheless.
So, this is my mea culpa for that and for how hard it is for me to call out my sacred cows when I think something they have said or done has caused harm. I can’t say it will never happen again. I’m not going on a witch hunt; believe it or not, I’m actually non-confrontational by nature. But I want to do better. I’d like to call on anyone reading to consider joining me in making a commitment to hold ourselves and each other to the highest possible standard so we all strive to do and be better. At the very least, we’ll give our opponents less ammunition. At best, we will raise the level of discourse, which is always worthwhile.
Either way, we’ll have our integrity.
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.