by Giselle Renarde
I've wanted to write this post for months, but I could never work up the courage.
Of all the messed up shit that's happened in my life, nothing has impacted me quite this deeply. In fact, despite having been majorly depressed in my early twenties, this June's event marked the first time in my life when I ever considered killing myself. (Don't worry! I'm not going to do it! I know you guys worry about me! Hence the exclamation marks!)
It all started when I had a guest blog to write for All Romance Ebooks' AReCafe. It was Pride month and I'd always wanted to do up a little post about homophobic and transphobic language people use without seeming to realize how offensive those words are. What particularly sparked this idea was the casual use of the word "tr*nny" in popular culture. There have been times when fellow authors have used this word around me, and when I've explained to them that it's an extremely derogatory term they've been like, "Oh, no, it can't be because I hear it all the time."
So I figured I'd write a post called "The Top Three Word You Might Be Saying (And Definitely Shouldn't Be)." Since it was Pride Month, I focused on derogatory words that get thrown at LGBTQ people even by those who think of themselves as allies. Since those top three words were all gender identity-related, I decided to do an in-conversation type post with my girlfriend. I didn't want be all like "look at me, speaking on behalf of trans people" when I had this great opportunity to bring a trans woman's voice to the masses (at All Romance Ebooks).
I don't know how much of this I can emotionally handle delving back into, but while I got a lot of tweets from LGBTQ people and allies saying "Thank you for this post," I also got one that wasn't so positive. The person (who was/is a stranger to me) took issue with my girlfriend's statement that throwing the T word at a trans person is like calling a black person the N word. The twitter person told me this this statement was offensive. I cut and pasted the first two tweets this person sent me in the comments of my original ARe Cafe post because I wanted to give voice to their opinions.
At this point, I want to interrupt my story to talk about anti-racism anti-oppression training. Because, through my work in domestic violence, I've been to a lot of it. And I LOVE ARAO workshops. Truly. They are extremely challenging, but also very enlightening and you always leave a more open person. You're never done with this kind of training.
If you're not familiar with working within an anti-racism anti-oppression framework, the crux of it is acknowledging that certain peoples have inherent privilege because of various aspects of their identity. On the other hand, there are aspects of identity attached to oppression. And of course we all have so many different aspects of identity. Some are fixed. Some are in flux.
A lot of people like to think they're not racist, they're not sexist, they're not homophobic, they're not transphobic, they don't look down on poor people, they don't bash followers of any given religion. And maybe they're not those things in loud and noticeable ways, but we ALL have our moments of unfairness. We're all oppressors and we're all oppressed in one way or another. I know I'm an open-minded person, but does that mean I never have some random thought that's based on stereotyping? Nope. When we have those thoughts it's very important to have an open dialogue, even if it's just within ourselves, about where that thought came from.
I repeat: this is hard work. It's NOT comfortable.
I'm fortunate in that I was raised in a family where nobody said things that were racist or homophobic. My grandmother credits her openness to the fact that her line of the family has been biracial since the 1920s. Her family saw a lot of discrimination growing up, and she never understood why (for instance) she, as a white person, could go to the beach but her black brother couldn't. (YUP, there was segregation in Canada. We like to pretend that never happened here, but YUP it did. That's something I never learned in school.)
So, getting back to the event that made me suicidal, when a stranger on Twitter felt something I had published was racially insensitive, I took it to heart big-time. I would never even think to shut down a suggestion like that or reject it outright. I would never think "black people are my family, so I couldn't possibly say something offensive." That's just silly. My reaction is always to do an internal check on the issue.
Then I made the mistake of wanting to have a conversation with my detractor.
That was a mistake. Big mistake. Huge.
First off, Twitter isn't the best place to have a conversation with anyone, let alone someone you don't know who is already upset with you. The last thing I was looking for was an argument. I really wanted to hear this person's opinion, but they seemed to take everything I said as an attack.
I no longer remember which tweet sent me into shock, but my god... I remember sitting on my couch, looking at my laptop, and suddenly my hands started shaking. Then my arms started shaking. Then my whole body started shaking. I was in such disbelief that this person could think so ill of me and my intentions that my body started shutting down. My ears started buzzing. My vision blurred. Aside from the full-body shaking, I couldn't move for hours. I lost my vision and didn't regain it until the next morning.
The only other time anything close to this has happened was a few summers ago when I sliced my finger open. The cut was so deep I blacked out and fainted in my kitchen. But THAT I recovered from. This, I haven't. And I probably never will. I think about it every day. I think about this person on the internet who thinks I'm a horrible racist horrible horrible person and then I start wondering if I am all those horrible horrible things.
In the week that followed that event, I understood why people killed themselves. I've never done a drug in my life, but I understood that as well. I would have done anything not to have to feel the way I felt. I couldn't talk to anyone about it because it would make them wonder about me. After all, people only accuse you of being racist if you ARE racist, right?
This has been a long post, but it's been a long time coming. Since June, I've pretty much stopped blogging except here at The Grip because I'm so afraid of my words being taken the wrong way. I've retreated into myself, where I'm constantly asking, "Were they right about me?" And if I've offended someone, does right and wrong even matter? To me, in my heart, all that matters is that I hurt somebody. I can't get over that.
Obviously I haven't come to terms with this. I'm still in disbelief and I haven't yet found a way out.
That's all I have to say, I guess.