I can’t always justify or even explain where the deep melancholy that I feel comes from, and if anything I feel ashamed of it or I glorify it with words that come without much meaning, words that describe feeling but find no anchor. I wonder if the need for justification comes from living in a world where you are expected to always be happy, if atleast for the good of others. Or is it because I was raised to take it all in stride, to smile at it all? Is it some misguided manifesto I dedicated myself to a long time ago, always the shining light for others?
And, in some ways, I get energy from being that light. But when I start to feel the deep tinge (depression? melancholy?) that pulls like a stringe from my sternum down to my pelvic bone I just can’t tell what it means. Does standing up taller cure it? Is it better to pick up the slack? The isolation that I self-inflict doesn’t help, and I can only blame it on fear. I am afraid of what other people want from me and what is taken without asking and what the takers never plan to pay back. It isn’t out of cruelty and it’s probably an unconcious act, this deficit that is created, the deficit that causes me to talk about emotional energy in banking language.
It’s hard for me to feel comfortable with most people. So I pull inward and I move from the bed to the couch to sleep more, and then I blame only myself for this inward turning always, this safe spot away from threat or my own fear.
Is it about choosing the right company? Is it about allowing yourself to be alone for most of your day? I think that some sort of balance is important, and I have trouble with that. Letting yourself be alone, but also knowing how and when to spot inspiration in other people, and trusting that what you give comes back and perhaps staying away from the ones that don’t give it back (whether intentionally or not).
Maybe I need to read more stories that have characters like me. Maybe I need to spend more time with the individuals that I trust, but who get clumped in the mass avoidance. It’s just that throughout my entire existence, and this dates back to reading books at the mall and in the restaurants and not taking the time to look at people because of what they may see in me, I’ve always been afraid of other people. It used to be self-doubt, I think. The kind that exists naturally in anyone who is shy and self-concious.
As I read theory and I learned, as I discovered myself through college, as I made friends and started going out, I told myself that I was brave. That I was a social butterfly. That I didn’t care what anyone thought. But take a second to consider the butterfly, and consider why the flitting happens. It’s a social tool for the charming yet anxious. Being a butterfly means no one can ever know you or look at you too long.
I remember crying after my senior capstone project for the Communications and Rhetoric program. I was sick and exausted, but I also felt so different from everyone else that I couldn’t take it anymore. I had prided myself all semester on being different, on having a different perspective, so much so that I probably put myself on a pedastal. My identity was based around my difference and the value of that in a classroom. But then I presented my project and it was so different than everyone else’s. My difference was displaced, it was dislocated from my self and put against everyone else’s in such a vast contrast that suddenly I doubted everything I had ever done (really, it’s dramatic but true). I thought I had misunderstoof everything and that I’d fail and it was all over. And then I got an A-, because I talked too long and had to squeeze the ending in.
But what does this mean? There’s the fear: of being wrong, of being different, of not getting it right, of being on display. And then there’s the rest: basing your identity on difference, what it’s value is, how it feels to be sticking out. And maybe that all ties back in with fear, too. I’m not sure. I’m figuring it out as I write this.
It also has to do with caring about the quality and the clarity of your message. I truly believe in what some theorists (Giddens, for example) say about the importance of a self-narrative, how it changes throughout time, how you create it and use it to understand yourself and make sense of memories. I worry about the translation of my story into the language of other minds. I am preoccupied with the split between me, you, and every other person. I realize, in retrospect, that the moment I have described above happened because I was afraid of being misunderstood; that my project, which was a project based on identity and understanding and how we collect demographic information in the census (I know, right?) meant so much to me, and it was the opposite of everyone else’s projects (a marketing campaign for Syracuse, a technical writing example).
I worry a lot about how I come off - my social style and presentation, if you will. I calculate and deliberately present myself (as we all do) but it’s hard for me to not feel disjointed. Two selves, split. The me in my head and the me you see. It’s why I prefer extended writing (essays, poems, letters) to any other communication. Because it’s deliberate. You can revise and revisit. You can look back on it and understand it in relation to yourself.
I haven’t been writing much, besides social commentary, because of this fear that I have taken so long to name. It’s easier but far less rewarding to wallow in sunny day loneliness in a half-lit living room where there is no energy to give to anyone. Saving all the energy up, just in case. There is never a just in case save for wasted hours that could have been more fulfilling, and the movement from the couch to the porch seems too difficult but it changes everything and then you keep moving off the porch and suddenly it’s okay again.
Not all too coincidentally, I’ve been reading Judith Butler’s Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence on-and-off for the past month or so. Butler’s talking mainly about how mourning and violence can be used to inspire solidarity and global justice rather than policies of revenge, war, and the idea that some bodies mean more than other bodies (i.e. middle eastern bodies, american bodies, etc etc). She digs deeper to examine the ways that individuals and communities and cultures are humanized and made real, or ignored altogether, in a context of mourning and the recognition (or lack of recognition) of loss on an international scale. However, I can’t help but see how this also aligns with the LGBTQI movement within our country and what I was saying in my last post. She recalls for a few paragraphs the assimilation politics of the second wave U.S. feminist movement, about the idea that “it’s okay to be this way if you look and act like us.”
I may be doing nothing more than rehashing my previous post. What matters is this: we cannot be abated simply because our president or the media recognize those of us who are easy to compartmentalize; that we will continue to be compartmentalized and we must talk about this, we must never shut up about it.
Butler says, “For if I am confounded by you, then you are already of me, and I am nowhere without you. I cannot muster the ‘we’ except by finding the way in which I am tied to ‘you,’ by trying to translate but finding that my own language must break up and yield if I am to know you.”
And the question becomes: will you care to know?
Hi Doug! I think you make a point that must be acknowledged: public figures who come out cause dialogue… and that is AWESOME. I wouldn’t have posted about what I think is wrong with the way we represent identities and talk about justice if not for A.C. coming out in the first place. I wouldn’t be having these conversations about identity politics, power, experience, and representation if that didn’t happen. Actually, that’s not true - I still would have ;). But his coming out and the response gave me context and urgency.
I hope you don’t mind I’m posting this publicly. Thanks for sharing.
because they still matter. And I’ve been waiting for a long time to talk about it and I’m usually too tired. But then Anderson Cooper came out. And I said things that were tongue-in-cheek and sometimes I forget that my opinions aren’t everyone’s, and that if I don’t explain it, some people don’t get the chance to try and understand. Most of this is pulled from directly or influenced by conversations happening on Facebook. I try not to be blindly fixed in most of my opinions, but this is something that isn’t going to change. I will vehemently argue about this, because it’s just one of those situations where I am right (to myself) and I’ll always be right and sometimes that’s the only way you can find your energy. This isn’t a matter of opinion. Who has visibility and what bodies matter is the real deal. Justice is more than opinions. Access to justice is not an opinion that we can all differ on.
I do not care that Anderson Cooper came out. At all. I give no fucks. The way I feel about him coming out is pure ambivalence. No negative or positive (J.M. said this before I did). I believe that him confirming his sexuality to the world is important and necessary, because he is a gay/cis/white/male who is in a position of power andcan maybe even influence popular opinion. However, I think MOST people who are going to be okay with gay people are already okay with people that are on tv and cute and already read as gay in a very mainstream, pallatable way. Visibility is important for all of us, but until I see a queer/trans person of color reporting for a major broadcast network I. just. don’t. care.
The outpouring of internet and tv verbal jack-offs that happened in response were totally unnecessary. Because the world loves when a person isn’t threatening to their idea of how people should be and look. And because his story gets translated as everyone else’s story, when it isn’t. Because he already is visible, but there are people who are queer or trans that don’t exist to anyone and A.C. coming out doesn’t change that for them. This is what is important to me: what happens now? What happens because he came out, and how will he use that?
No matter what, themost important tactic of social justice is how individuals use their power and visibility to make space for others. A.C.’s race, gender identity, sex, and economic status have everything to do with the response that he got (J.M. said that too, I agree). In the spirit of making our words really count (and the same reason that you shouldn’t say sorry unless you really mean it), I think that the response to A.C.’s coming out could have been measured better. I think we could start asking what does it mean when someone like Anderson Cooper comes out? And how “brave” is he? And how “brave” is anyone else, any other odd creature just trying to survive and be a beautiful living thing? What about the little victories and battles that we fight every day? Where are those (floating around visionless waiting for a face because they just don’t have one yet on cable news)?
We don’t all look like Cooper (and we don’t all look like Ellen or Rachel) and that’s okay. But it means that some of our stories don’t get told to enough people. I’m talking from a place of privilege, too, as a cis white cutesy queer girl who really could fall on either side of the “queer or just artsy”? game But what about CeCe? What if instead of spending hours of time and filling up all sorts of blogs and falling over ourselves to congratulate Cooper and talk about how things really are “changing”, we get angry for a second and we share some stories about trans women, about queer people of color, about the queers who don’t pass, about the queers who don’t give two shits about marriage, etc etc etc.
We need to focus on difference. It’s the only way things really change. Because, as Lorde said and as I will always always quote forever, “You can’t dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools.” Because we aren’t all the same and our experiences never will be. Cooper’s experience isn’t mine, and I’m fairly sure it isn’t Frank Ocean’s (but you’d have to ask him). Ignoring difference doesn’t change anything. Ignoring difference is like what my landlord does when he paints over the spot in the ceiling where the upstairs sink leaks through and even though it still rains from the ceiling sometimes he says it’s fixed cuz it looks ok for a bit. Ignoring difference is what you do when you are afraid to feel uncomfortable, and when you think identity politics are too hard.
MAKE PEOPLE UNCOMFORTABLE. BE KIND WHEN YOU CAN
What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?
I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.
There is not a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States at this very hour.” —Fredrick Douglass.
July 5th, 1852
Rochester, NY (via humanformat)
Mr. Douglass, whose words are certainly something to reflect upon tomorrow.