When I was sixteen, I, in all my infinite wisdom, informed a pansexual that I thought his identity was a bunch of trumped up nonsense because biologically humans are attracted to certain physical aspects. After all, it’s a necessity for the procreation of the species.
The boy, a lovely person I had considered, if not a friend than a close acquaintance, quite rightly burst into tears and had to leave the room. Being sixteen and a little shithead I’d simply shrugged and claimed that I was “allowed my own opinion.”
In the aftermath of my moment of erasure, bigotry, and insensitivity I was not called out. The teacher in the room gently tried to work me around to seeing why what I’d said could be considered rude. She was — for whatever reason — unsuccessful at drawing my understanding.
It wasn’t until several years later when I’d fully claimed my own identity and had called several other people out on doing the exact same thing that the reality of what I’d done hit me. And I really do mean hit me. I had been relating the story to a fellow queer advocate and her response was to smack me so hard on the arm that I had bruises for a week. I don’t know that I’ll ever forget the absolute rage and disappointment that radiated off of her.
Now, before we continue, it’s important to note that at the time I made the comment I was not “in the closet.” I hadn’t said it out of repressed fear or anger. I hadn’t been terrified to recognize myself in someone else and lashed out in a torrent of adolescent hormones. Nor, should I mention, do I believe the teacher was to blame for my actions or my subsequent lack of realization and apology. She did the best she could given the constraints of the situation.
That being said, the memory from a new perspective and a severe verbal lashing from my friend were enough to take the place of what coulda, shoulda, woulda happened in the past. Years after the incident I hung my head in shame and a burning embarrassment. Here I was, a self proclaimed advocate for queer (and other) rights, who had blatantly done what I was so verbal about others not doing.
For a few days all I did was lock myself in my apartment and pretend the outside world didn’t exist. Netflix and a fully stocked kitchen made that easier than it probably should have been. It wasn’t the adult thing to do but sometimes doing the adult thing requires more of a bitter pill to swallow that you have the ability to do at the time.
To my constant mortification I have still not apologized. I could make excuses for this: he would never talk to me anyway, I don’t know how to reach him, it would be silly after all this time (it’s been just about five years)— but the real reason is simple. It’s hard to get called out. It’s painful and ego damaging and forces you to rethink the way you thought about yourself.
Over the past week or two I have seen more calling outs than usual. I’ve had conversations reflecting back on being called out and I’ve listened as those around me discussed how their getting called out changed them — always for the better, even if it was a rocky journy.
These moments have made me pause, look at myself, and scrunch up my nose at what I see. I’ve been called out and have apologized. I’ve been called out wrongly and set about calling out in return. I can admit to a million different situations that I’ve been involved in that have to do with this topic. What I do not like to admit to, and what I hope to not have to ever admit to in the future, is being called out and ignoring the situation regardless.
Logistically it is somewhat difficult for me to get in contact with the boy I’d hurt. The thing is though, I could reach him and the fact that it isn’t easy is a shoddy excuse. I’ve gone along enough without taking accountability and responsibility for my actions.
So, here goes nothing:
Eden (assuming this is still your name),
I am so, so sorry for what I said. I took your coming out and I made it into an opportunity for me to seem “smart” and “out of the box.” I took an admission that costs so very much to make and the safe space you’d developed after and turned them on their heads. I made people who had supported you wholeheartedly nod in agreement as I casually ripped your identity apart.
I am sorry for the words I said, the insensitivity for which I said them, and the fact that I never once stopped to think before speaking.
I am sorry for hurting, demeaning, and erasing you.
I am sorry for not apologizing, for not being accountable for my actions, and for ignoring the pain that you suffered at my own hands.
This apology, so many years later than it should be, probably does not make up for what happened. I don’t blame you if you hated or hate me. I don’t blame you if you held or continue to hold a grudge. I certainly would in your position.
That being said, I hope that, if you cannot accept my apologies or forgive me for my actions, you will, in the very least, let go of whatever damage I caused. Presuming, of course, that I caused any. I’m not saying that to escape responsibility — I know that what I said and proceeded not to do was wrong — but because I do not want to assume that I had any power over you and your emotions.
Since leaving your acquaintance and the environment in which we met I’ve grown up. Partially this is due to time. I have, literally, grown up. More importantly though, I’ve developed as a person. I have read extensively about queer politics, queer shame and queer shaming, queer identity, and queer allowance. I am not saying this to once again brag about how smart I am. Instead, I want to present to you a fuller person. A person who has accepted her mistakes as her mistakes and has attempted to learn from them.
I cannot promise you, myself, or anyone else that I won’t make another bigoted remark for the rest of my life. What I can promise is that when I do and when I get called out on it (because I have no doubt that I will be) I will reflect back on you, Eden, and the situation we were in, and remember that not apologizing, not changing my course, only made it worse.
Since being sixteen and so blatantly rude I have become the advocate I always wanted to me. I’ve worked with queer youth, refugees, and women’s rights movements. I’ve traveled across the planet to further educate myself on gender and sexuality. I have intentions to work in advocacy politics and help the next generation in receiving a better understanding of sex, gender, sexuality, and sexual violence.
When I was sixteen I was young, indignant, and angry. I took some of that anger out on you for whatever reason. I am sorry. I hope that, if you see this apology, you will know that not only do I truly regret what I said and the pain it caused but that I have made an active choice to change the thoughts and actions that led me to doing so in the first place.
I know that, in the end, everyone makes mistakes. Everyone says or does something that has negative consequences for someone. I know that being called out isn’t fun but I also know that getting called out is less painful than having your identity erased.
If nothing else comes from this apology but perhaps a single person reading it and reflecting back on themselves I will be happy. Apologizing, being accountable, being responsible, and actively working to fix the situation (and any like it) is the only (in my opinion) acceptable response to getting called out. I might not have been called out by you or those in our immediately vicinity but I have been — thoroughly and harshly — called out. Better late, I suppose, than never.
This is my apology. I hope it reaches you.
And, more importantly, I hope it reaches you in good health.