The other evening, I wandered onto Facebook and followed a conversation that ensued after a friend posted Teen Vogue’s article about Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl performance.
One person couldn’t take it. They questioned whether they were a bad person for not seeing it as political and, despite my friend’s very even-handed responses, finally went on a bender about how condescending the article is, it isn’t going to change anyone’s mind, and therefore it is pointless because we should all be focusing on empathy and building bridges and unity. They ended with, “this article just broke me.” At which point, my friend politely gave up.
It was at this point, however, that I lost it. If the article broke them, their rant broke me. I did something that I almost never do. I lit into them. I told them to Shut Up. Yeah, I wrote, “Shut up. Literally, shut up. The people who don’t understand that Lady Gaga’s performance was political have real and actual feelings about wanting my family and friends DEAD. And you know, I fucking build bridges. I work on unity every day. But I don’t necessarily look for it on FB. Is this article going to reach them? No. Is it going to give me a little sliver of dignity? Yeah, it did. This broke you? TOUGH SHIT.”
Okay, I’m paraphrasing, but some of those words are exact. (My children are shocked.) My friend, in her wisdom, took the post down and we and some others had a saner conversation. And after hours of reflection, I finally realized why I couldn’t stay silent when this person I didn’t know went all sob story on the internet.
Because I had been doing it wrong – just as, I believe my friend’s other friend has misinterpreted these messages, too. I kept seeing posts about how we should stay hopeful. That now is not a time to get angry because that’s just spreading negative energy. Keep our message positive, shit rainbows. No, neither of those posts are bad. Both have good suggestions. The first even talks about what you might do with your anger. It also suggests that if we encounter anger, that we *listen*, because that helps angry people.
Indeed, it does. Curious, is this message getting sent to the folks who literally think my child’s life is worthless?
In any case, that meant I was trying to stay upbeat, be relentlessly positive about what we could achieve and, essentially, stuffing everything else. Can I see the long view? I can. I can see how, in the long term, our world will get a whole lot better and how this shitstorm is exposing pain and suffering that needs to be exposed in order to heal and advance. It is a last, dying gasp of a fading way of life.
I also, however, am a member of a family that is made up of a number of threatened minority groups and not thinking about that is not only irresponsible it is erasure. Every single one of my family members has very real feelings about how threatening this administration is to them – and those feelings are legitimate. While I have talked to my girls about Michelle Obama’s “when they go low, we go high” speech at the Democratic Convention because I get tired of hearing of creative ways of ridding the world of this new fascist experiment, I don’t entirely believe in it, either.
I’ve been abused. I know empathy. I’m so damned empathetic I didn’t even realize I’d been raped until almost 20 years later. I do not need to fucking empathize with rapists and abusers. And yes, that is exactly who our current president is. Knowing that there are so damned many people in my country who sympathize with him is not comforting to me. It does not soften me. It tells me that I live in a very dangerous world and that I have to draw extremely clear boundaries if I am to keep myself and my family safe. Because not only will no one else do it, they are not even fucking interested in doing it.
Will I practice all the empathy, love, unity, positivity, hopefulness, and whatnotness that is recommended?
I will love myself enough to know when I need to stop listening to you.
I will love my family enough to know when them letting all their feelings out is more important than an image you feel is important to uphold.
I will be positive that my priority is to my family, not you.
I will be hopeful that you will eventually get a clue.
I will empathize with you. I remember a time when I was just as clueless.
Are you listening?