Most of my life, I have been willing to be unpleasant if I had a reason I perceived to be right. I don’t know why. It might be the one positive vestige of my dad that I inherited. He was loud, outspoken, rude. Like him I can be difficult. Unlike him, that difficulty often has some external purpose.
When I was a child I harassed everyone around me about seatbelts, recycling, not flushing when they peed, shutting off the faucet while brushing teeth. I jumped fences to chase cats and save bunnies from attack. I was always opinionated. In elementary school, I told my mother I thought having biological children instead of adopting was selfish. That was my moral sense of things. I did not stop to consider the harm of what I’d said, the rejection of her choice to have me. I was a kid. I was loud and had big ideas; I was rude.
In high school and middle school I was passionate about LGBT rights and sex education. I organized and led in-school protests and awareness campaigns. Alongside a few close friends, I pushed my way into Sociology classes and taught units on gay history and trans identities because our teachers were not capable. I came out as asexual to everyone and taught them what that meant. I interrupted a lunchroom of hundreds of kids, holding a microphone, reciting facts about the harm and cost of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I opposed abstinence only education and tried to get Planned Parenthood to come to my school. I organized Day of Silence events and hate crime awareness campaigns. I campaigned for John Kerry and registered new voters before I was old enough to vote. I tried.
A lot of this stuff was unpopular. The school’s administration hated me. My mom was supportive, logistically, of my political involvement, despite her being a Republican, but she asked me to not tell her parents that I was doing it. The message was always that I could believe what I wanted and do what I wished, but that we wouldn’t discuss it and that she didn’t agree. Even that, which I’m sure was her best effort, stung. Kids at school thought I was unpleasant and brash and called me slurs. Some teachers dug the whole thing. But on the whole it did not win me friends. It got me hostility or mockery.
I have been political ever since and it has always been a similar low-grade frustration, a swimming upstream against equally oppositional currents of apathy and hate. My first serious boyfriend was conservative and undermined my efforts at every turn. The next mocked me for caring and tried to leech away and control all my free time so I couldn’t do it. I worked on prison abolition and science advocacy and in school reform and it was fine. I had some really awful shit happen to me and became far far more feminist. Nobody in my family really understood it. Many of my peers and co-workers thought I was too much, too. It was fine. It hurts to feel like no one else cares, but you live.
I have always, always, been brash and angry and assertive about stepping in when I witness harm being done. Most people do not fly off the handle at the sight of such things, but I do. Having trauma is a contributing factor, but not the root cause. I have always been loud.
I have screamed at children for attacking homeless people, I have run straight into domestic violence occuring across the street, I have chased flashers down the street and hit them, yelling all the while. When I have seen women being harassed I have generally be present and vocal. When I was groped on public transit at 2pm on a Sunday, in full view of dozens of people, I shoved the guy and tried to corner him and tried to give chase, yelling viciously. Nobody else did a thing for me then. When my last boss
threw things at me and berated me, I threw things back and screamed “fuck you”. Even when I was being abused by an intimate partner, I flung bile in the fucker’s direction.
There have been times when I was not present and did not do the right thing. I saw a woman being followed in a Target and while I watched and kept close, I did not intervene. I waited too long for it to get “bad enough”. I have failed thousands of homeless and impoverished people whom I have passed on the street. I have missed instances of bias in the workplace that I could have called out.
I have failed plenty of people plenty of times. But I know I have the capacity to follow the right instincts. My anger has informed and helped and protected before. My capacity to give a shit has led to meetings with legislators and new votes and silenced harassment. I don’t know why I have the ability to be brash and present, or why I sometimes lack it, but I know that I do. And I must keep that part of myself awake all the time now. And so should you.
This goes 1000 fold if you are white or straight or a guy. Seriously. If I could confront and attack my own sexual assailants at the time the attack was happening to me, there is no excuse for someone bigger or dude-er to be passive when he witnesses harassment. I have had to fight to save myself more times than I can count. I know this is vastly more true for poc or visibly queer people who must grapple daily with even more violent prejudice and hatred. We cannot just watch. We have to be willing to be inconvenient. How else is there hope. How else is there hope.