I read about a horrible true story and then I read someone post about how it made them feel. And the feelings weren’t fun. They were deeply felt, tough, painful feelings. And like many people, I wanted to fix that. I so wanted to fix it. And I know from experience, you are not going to fix anyone’s feelings by hitting “reply.” Truth be told, those feelings don’t need fixing. They need to be felt. So I deleted my comment and let it go. Or so I planned. But I kept finding myself going back to that post and trying to type a comment. And I found myself crying as I typed each draft of this very short reply. I realized quite quickly I was no longer writing to the OP. I was writing to me. So, I’m here on my blog, where I can be alone and verbose and explore what is going on for me.
The story is about a journalist who outed a scientist’s personal life. And that action led to her suicide. She had no scandals. She did no wrongs. Her only crime was being a woman. If you know the story, then you know the details. If you don’t, I’m not sure really which details matter. I know what matters to me. Someone trusted someone. And then someone betrayed that trust under the guise of their “job” and did their job with the sad tools of ignorance and prejudice.
And that horrifies me. It scares me in that I, too, am someone who has done no wrongs, but I definitely can be a “story” to the easily entertained. I do not have this scientist’s story. But there are so many stories in this world. Our real day to day can be fodder for a sick hunger for sensationalism. Her story should only be a blip of language to us. It should be her own journey and for us, a non-issue. But it’s instead a whole life, a whole personal life, filtered into a clickbait headline.
That scientist had a story she told to whom she chose and in the time she felt comfortable doing it. And that story should mean nothing to the rest of the world and yet, there it is: More fascinating than science, more newsworthy than invention is one simple level of identity. And I want to feel safe that if I ever do something worthy of an interview, the “stories” I have in my life won’t be a shadow over my success. But I don’t. I read this and I feel exposed with that scientist. All of us are exposed with her. Because we all have a story. We are all vulnerable to someone wanting more followers, wanting a bigger font for his name on the credits page. That woman’s life should not have been his Pulitzer fantasy. Where did our empathy for another human stop being a moral foundation and become a career disability?
It also horrifies me to think prejudice is still so alive that our ignorance influences our tastes more than our intelligence. Judgment, thinly veiled as journalism or humor, can go viral. And I think it’s this horror that makes me cry as I try to write a five line reply on a facebook page.
So, one of my drafts is here:
It’s no consolation I’m sure, but baby steps are still steps and the tragedies will lessen. I talk to my 90 year old dad who keeps a lot of the “realities” of prejudice in his head and I forget he’s saying all his fear from the reality of his past. He knew racism from the 40’s. And to hear him talk, I’m just dumbfounded by people back then who rather die (literally) than get over their prejudice. And even in my own life, I am just old enough to know a whole culture who watched their loved ones die from one single disease and get no help because of prejudice and fear. And I always say this story. I watched LG(kinda B) turn to LGBT and now LGBTQIIA. And those are just letters to some people, but as an outcast letter in my younger days, it means a lot to be recognized. Now it’s just the painful, powerful journey of watching the world catch up.
Yeah, it’s a nice thought when all is going good. But I know it is no consolation at all when we lose people in our fights for equality. Despair, death and suicide are horrible tragedies among the fringe of culture. And weirdly, the fringe is most of the planet.
What makes us fringe? Our gender, our gender identity, our sexual preference, our addictions, the ways we recover from our addictions, our skin color, our looks, our weight, our limb count, our non-working senses, our mental health, our placement on the autism scale, the sexuality scale, the personality scale, which fucking hobbit we are, our careers, our lack of careers, our hobbies, our sex toy collection, our virginity, when we are naked, who has seen us naked, our clothes, our hair, our tattoos, our diseases, our pets, our money, our language, our religion, our atheism, our politics, our comic books collection, our latest drunken tweet….
We all can be a “story” to a “journalist.” Because people judge. And some of those stories are so personal to us, if it becomes public and, worst of all, printed in lieu of our accomplishment and joy, it can kill us. Why can it kill us? Because something we struggled to be went into this cold world where anyone could sit in the comfort of their internet cave and openly judge with no recourse.
That is not the world I want to live in. And for some, they grow tired of trying to change the world. And they die. Some die physically. Some die inside. And our social evolution slows because the ignorant win. I want to change the world. But I often feel like such a tiny, lost dot in a sea of lost dots. Very often I ask myself if I’ve died. I don’t think I’m dead yet. I’m still living to change something. But I feel weaker as I grow older. It’s not easy to admit. But it’s true.
So, I always try to end on an up note. I will do so now because there is one important take away for me. There are two pioneers in a revolution. The victims who survive, quietly, in secret. And the activists who speak loudly from the rooftops. Why must there be two types of pioneers? Because we need the pioneers who put all their strength in being who they are. Being ourselves is one amazing feat. And being ourselves helps communities grow. And they change the world from within. They help those they meet along the way. They are promoters of their identity by attraction. The quiet life they lead is what some of us need to learn at our own pace. They let the trustworthy in, and they change perspectives with the power of friendship. I have been so fortunate to have met quiet pioneers who changed my mind and also helped me find my own path.
With the quiet pioneers, there are those of us who don’t risk our lives in speaking out. We want to speak. And if we want to speak, if we have in us even an ounce of ability to speak out, we are the ones who take that on. Those of us who are privileged to not feel the shame of our identities have the ability and the responsibility to speak up and defend those without the voice. Not only about our own labels, life events and identities, but for those still new and in newly forming worlds.
How many times have you been in a conversation where you avoided outing yourself? Any secret you have that is consistently challenged in the mundane day to day. Maybe a pronoun game at work. Someone might ask how your weekend was and you can’t say for fear of being ostracized. Someone asks why you had to go to the doctor. Or someone tells a joke that is about you, but the person saying the joke didn’t know this about you. And you walked away quiet.
Did that ever happen and someone stepped up and said what you wanted to say? You weren’t wrong in being quiet. Taking care of yourself supersedes activism. But how wonderful to stand next to the speaker who unwittingly stands up for you. Speaking out doesn’t need a microphone or a camera. Speaking out can simply be saying “that isn’t funny” or “that isn’t true.” Finding ourselves is our heroic journey. How we divulge our journey is simply a facet. And those of us with the privilege of feeling comfortable in our skin have the opportunity to change the world by speaking for those quietly living with the ebb and flow tide of self-knowledge and self-acceptance.