Freeing Speech and the Not-So-Trivial Pursuit of Happiness

A busy work schedule, new routines, maintaining friendships, and a powerful need for sleep…all of these things have prevented me from doing any writing, both online and off. However, as I’m currently sitting in the car dealership so auto mechanics can manhandle my Cavalier, I find myself with a rare opportunity to bang out a blog post!

So, in my last entry, I was transitioning rather quickly from one job to another. The past couple of months have been filled with reflection, realization, and change, mostly on an internal, personal scale. The incident at my former job was a catalyst of sorts. My intense emotional reaction caught me off-guard in a big way, and belied how profoundly I had allowed these people into my head. It took some time to process how I had become complicit in this subtle worship of convention, including the “necessity” of shaming the deviant. I, of course, was the deviant.

The entire situation led me to reflect on other instances in my life where I have given others unwarranted access, to influence my feelings of self-worth, my goals, and ultimately my autonomy. As a writer, I try to examine episodes of subtle (or not-so-subtle) manipulation in terms of motivation. What is this person trying to gain? Are they acting with malicious intent? Is this just the way they were socialized? The answers vary by incident and by person. It is my tendency to distance myself from the manipulation, however, which acquiesces to the behavior. I dislike being confrontational, and in the moments of greatest tension, my inclination is to flee. While I would like to say that my passive examination of the behavior is derived purely from an intellectual desire to understand, it is also a useful mechanism to soften and depersonalize its impact. So the behavior is never addressed, and over time I internalize the messages I’m receiving.

Does that seem tedious enough for you? Yeah, me too.

Somewhere along the way, I found my voice. I can’t tell you exactly which variables came together for me or why, but something clicked. Some internal Berlin Wall came down, and I started talking. There was a week or two where I literally made the rounds, without any premeditation, and confronted certain people about their impacts on my life, on my thoughts, and the emotional fallout I was experiencing as a result. I was suddenly able to speak openly about my insecurities, about my emotional scars, and, on the flip side, about how much certain people mean to me. A pretty big change from my typically stoic, sarcastic demeanor.

Besides some obvious shock, surprise, and awkwardness, the overall result of this free-flowing communication has been an amazing sense of relief and happiness. I’ve managed to set up solid boundaries with certain people who drain my energy, I’ve gotten closer with the people who mean the most to me, and I’ve relinquished the sense of ownership I’ve felt over the misdeeds of others. I’m giving myself permission to say “no” and express my opinions openly.

The biggest deal for me, though, is that I am starting to let go of the shame that I’ve held onto for not fitting into the hetero-normative conventional mold. At twenty-seven, I really thought I had moved past that high-school-esque desire to belong to the mainstream. It isn’t as if I have any desire to live out a sort of quintessential American dream, with a successful businessman husband, 2.5 children, and a white picket fence. That just isn’t something I’ve ever really desired. What really bothers me, I think, is the sense of exclusion. Many people, even people in my own family, see me as less valuable because I don’t have a conventional lifestyle. I have less to offer as a tattooed, queer, Buddhist woman, with a pansexual, agnostic, transgendered boyfriend; because I don’t want to get married until it becomes a truly equal and free institution; because I don’t want to work a 40-hour-per-week 9-to-5 job for the next forty-five years (as if those jobs existed anymore) unless it’s for a company or a cause of which I could truly be proud…

The biggest deal for me….is that I’m finding my differences to be empowering, and beautiful. And I don’t fit in…I have chosen an alternative path, and it can be very hard at times, especially in the face of the social enforcers, who would like me to believe that I’m just a freak. Learning to keep those external voices out of my head is giving me more than a little peace of mind.

Tired and triggered (trigger warning)

Yesterday was a long and stressful day, and I’m experiencing quite a few mixed emotions. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to write about them last night–hopefully tonight I will have more time.

Something else that I find tiresome is the long debate and discussion going on regarding who’s responsible in cases of sexual assault. I am exhausted with all of the victim blaming and the sympathy with the attackers. It always seems to be the case that whenever a woman is assaulted, members of the community and members of the media come forward to drag her through the mud. The story is all about what she was wearing and how much she was drinking and how promiscuous she was, and how these factors contributed to the downfall of the rapist, and his “bright future.” You know what really ruins the future careers and reputations of a rapist? The fact that he committed rape. The fact that he was clearly told that there was a certain kind of person who “deserves” to be assaulted. The fact that the adults or other community members are so eager to come in and “clean things up.” Do I think that a teenage girl should be partying and drinking until she’s passed out? No. But my reaction to that, unlike so many popular reactions, is one of compassion and empathy, not of scorn. So I’m going to take a slightly controversial stand here, and say that anyone who has a greater feeling of compassion for the attacker than for the victim is contributing to the problem. You’re complicit in the rape culture we have, and yes we have a rape culture. We have a culture that says those with social power are allowed to sexually assault and exploit those with less. The fact that we even have conversations like this sickens me. The fact that people in the media are pointing out that in other countries and cultures, rape is just a part of a woman’s life–in those cultures, rape and abuse are acceptable punishments for any woman for any reason. That sounds like a threat to me. When you are telling me to think of the times I have been raped, to think of all of the friends I have and people I have known who have survived sexual assault, and tell me “it could be so much worse,” I cannot help but wonder if that’s what you want. We already have such a permissive attitude towards assault in this country, that legal punishment for it–if, indeed, any is doled out–amounts to little more than a slap on the wrist, and you want to remind us, oh so often, that things could easily be set up in such a way that people can rape with impunity. You disgust me.

The only way we are going to fix this problem in our culture is to stop believing that to rape anybody is ever acceptable. Stop shedding tears for the rapists. Stop treating the victim’s behaviors (if there even are any bad behaviors) as justifications for stigma and violence, and start seeing them for what they most likely are: a sign that something is wrong. And maybe, just maybe, stop blaming the victim and start trying to help. I know it’s a crazy concept, that violent criminals should be severely punished, and victims should be protected. I’m clearly living in the wrong country, the wrong society for that belief. That the justice system is supposed to deliver justice and protection against violent offenders. Every person who speaks up in favor of the attacker, and every person who remains silent about how messed up this system is, is complicit.