Four mornings ago we learned, seemingly simultaneously, of the suicide of Anthony Bourdain. The reaction was swift, and far larger than I expected. Though I knew Bourdain was popular, I had no idea just how beloved and inspiring he was to so many people from so many different walks of life - but it makes sense. For nearly two decades, he traveled the globe, eating every possible type of food with every possible type of person, and seemed to delight in it all. Just as comfortable sharing a meal with the President of the United States as he was sharing a meal with Laotian villagers, just as satisfied by a greasy hotdog from a sketchy midnight street vendor as by the finest French cuisine on the planet, Bourdain took the concept of Everyman to an inspiring extreme. He single-handedly exposed millions of people to seedy stripclubs, posh 5 star hotels, back-alley greasyspoons, and stadium sized fruit markets all over the world. He was the envy of writers and chefs alike. His brilliant mix of vulgarity and compassion, dry wit and warm heart, eccentricity and down-to-earth dialogue combined with an obvious passion for all the world had to offer - particularly its food - made him appealing to damn near everyone.
And it is those qualities, those passions, and that accessibility that makes the idea of him hanging himself in a hotel room in France so difficult to accept. As I have written about more than once, depression is indiscriminate - it does not care about your new book or your awards shelf or your bank account - and so I will not do Mr. Bourdain the disservice of asking how someone with the self-described "best job in the world" could not muster the will to go on for another day. Anyone who has experienced depression knows it can eat away at absolutely anybody, no matter how awesome their lives look from afar. Instead, I wish to highlight just how awesome his life seemed, in an effort to drive this home. Anthony Bourdain was an incredibly talented man, both in the kitchen and at the keyboard, and his unique combination of skills led to a career most of us only dream of. How many of us wish we could get rich seeing the world and taking in all of the food, drink, culture, and people it has to offer? How many of us believe most of our complaints about life would disappear if this was suddenly our job? Beyond his impossibly great sounding career, even, his personal life seemed alright - he had divorced a few years ago, but the split was apparently amicable, he had a great relationship with his daughter, and he was dating a woman who was (literally) model-gorgeous, and bright, and talented. It would be very difficult to pity the man's life. And yet, he was depressed. There was some part of him, unknown and invisible to those looking in, that could not find peace, despite living a more than enviable life.
We desperately need to understand that depression can affect absolutely anyone. That it is not a reflection of our jobs, our failures, our flaws, or our habits. That it is not curable by way of wealth or fame or achievements or yoga. That the homeless man and the millionaire, the fat woman in the basement suite and the supermodel in the penthouse, the grade 8 dropout and the PhD, the fast food worker and the man with the "best job in the world" can all share the same affliction. We desperately need to understand that depression is a disease that can kill people, just like any other. Just as a healthy diet and nice figure does not make one immune to cancer, a fun job and a hot wife does not make one immune to depression. We desperately need to understand that suicide does not have a face. It looks like Robin Williams, it looks like Kate Spade, it looks like Chris Cornell and L'Wren Scott. It looks like 22 American veterans per day, 41 Canadian youths per month, 800,000 human beings worldwide per year. It looks like three of my childhood friends, my ex-boyfriend, and a guy I used to play pool with at a sketchy local bar. It looks like Anthony Bourdain.
May he, and the nearly half a million people who have lost their battle this year rest in peace, and let those of us still here commit to learning, listening, and talking more. Perhaps over a bowl of something weird and wonderful.
I've been thinking a lot about poetry lately, about the best and the worst of it. About how a single stanza can bring on an epiphany, or mangle language so badly we lose all faith in it. I've been thinking about poetry, and how it can mend, and how it can break. I've been thinking lately about birds and their fierce independence, their fierce independence that their partners defend. I've been thinking a lot lately about my teen years and how many of us knew exactly what we wanted to be when we grew up and how many of us now laugh nervously at that idea. How many of us wonder when this being a grown up thing kicks in and whether or not we will be notified. I've been thinking about plants and how the seasons can confuse them so, and still they thrive, and still they grow. If they cannot quite predict the weather, they can defend against it and blossom in November, if need be. I've been thinking a lot about gender and how I do not understand it. I do not know what, aside from biology, makes me feel like a woman, but I do know if I woke up tomorrow, entirely myself but in a man's body, I would feel a bit off. I've been thinking about that feeling you get when you've had two and a half pints and you're not quite drunk but you're not quite sober either and how much better life would be for all of us if we could maintain that feeling perpetually but that we wouldn't - half of us would get too drunk and too rowdy all the time and the other half would panic at the slightest slip of inhibition and swear off this forever and always. I think a lot about god/gods/goddesses and how, whether you believe in them or not, you've gotta admit, these stories don't make sense. I've been thinking about dark chocolate and how much I love it (sorry, James), and wondering if it's because the combination of sweet, bitter, and heavy is some kind of irresistible metaphor for...something. I've been thinking about tattoos and piercings and dyed purple hair and how so many think they are a call for attention and how maybe they are, but not for the reasons they think. That maybe it is not ourselves we are calling attention to but the fact that art can be both permanent and fluid, that flesh and steel can coexist, that our bodies are indeed temples and we should decorate them as we see fit. I've been thinking a lot lately about how many of my idols have died of (thank you Gord, thank you David) cancer or (thank you Prince, thank you Tom) substance overuse, and how very dare I, what nerve I have to squander the not even half as much talent, but more than double the health they had. I think a lot about how that dark cloud can give way to that bright sun and oh how deceptive that is. I've been thinking about squirrels, and how they are not picky, but they are meticulous. I've been thinking about my washing machine, my deep freeze, my clean water on demand, my country full of guns but with no guns at all, really, not in the way that matters. I've been thinking about poetry, and how it can mend, and how it can break.
This year, I learned my grandmother has dementia. This year, I saw family and friends torn apart over politics. This year, just like last year, I saw some of my lifelong artistic idols leave this world. This year, I went home for the first time in a very long time, reconnected with and disconnected from friends old and new, unearthed long buried family secrets, and once again, did not quit smoking.
This year, I still did not figure out what I want to be when I grow up, but realized it bothers me a lot less at nearing forty than it did at nearing thirty. I finally figured out that what you do to earn survival paper is not necessarily going to align perfectly with your passions, and that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. That your real joy may come from playing D&D or baking fruit pies or running marathons and that you haven't found a way, or necessarily even want, to make that your career, and that's okay.
This year, I failed in many of my goals. I am zero pounds lighter than I was this time last year, my newest book that's been "almost complete" since 2013 still isn't ready for print, and my savings account better resembles a mason jar full of coins than a nest egg (...fine. My savings account is a mason jar full of coins). But those failures are at least partially due to discovering newer, and perhaps more urgent goals that I have made an effort to fulfill. That's not to say those other goals aren't important or that my failure proved positive, only that other things mattered more this year, and that's okay.
This year, I had to face head-on a few things that I really did not want to. That I was not prepared to. That made me uncomfortable, anxious, and upset. And I did not handle some of those things well. I cried when I should have remained calm, I stayed quiet when I should have spoken up, I laughed at inappropriate moments. I hurt some feelings unnecessarily, and hurt myself sparing the feelings of others. I did not respond as I wanted to in many, many situations this year, and that's okay.
This year, I went to concerts I could not afford, bought books I had no room for, went places I would have never considered going five years ago, and wore the comfortable but ugly shoes to work. This year, I made a conscious decision to put experiences and comfort above frugality and vanity. I took some tiny steps towards living a life I can appreciate. I tried to think more about today than five years from now, to live in the moment, to ignore a little of my anxiety. I put my own joy ahead of a lot of other things, and that's okay.
This year, I learned that it truly is the small moments that count.
And so, on this New Year's Eve, I have but one piece of advice for everyone, myself very much included: think smaller. Yes, plan for that trip to Costa Rica, but maybe take a trip to your grandparents' house first. Start writing the book that's been building up inside you, but also take a minute to write a text message to a friend you haven't talked to in awhile. Train for that marathon, but be willing and eager to sit down when someone needs your ear. Eat a few boxes of Kraft Dinner so that you can afford that concert ticket - you're unlikely to remember what you had for dinner on some random Wednesday in 2018, but you most certainly won't forget being in the same room with one of your favourite bands as they belt out tunes you love. I suggest that we all make more of an effort to reach out to those we love, and feel less guilt about distancing ourselves from those we do not. That we spend more time doing things we truly enjoy and a little less time doing things we feel obligated to do (I mean, within reason. You should still probably feed your kids on a semi-regular basis). That we, without shame, ditch goals that we aren't actually passionate about fulfilling and pursue with a fierceness those that we are. This year, I hope we all try to be a little kinder, and little more patient, a little more honest, and a whole lot bolder. I hope we try a little harder to follow our own bliss, to reach out to those we love, to set aside time for ourselves. This year, I hope we all try to think a little smaller.
Abortion. The Military. LGBT rights. Religious freedom. The death penalty. Chicken sandwiches and cake.
These things may not appear to be closely related, but if you debate about them often enough, you will begin to notice a common thread; all of these topics come down to personal freedom. They all come down to where, exactly, the line should be drawn between individual autonomy and the collective good. To where, exactly, the line should be drawn between personal values and public interests. All of these subjects can be viewed through both the lens of individual rights and social pragmatism. No matter what your position is on any of these topics, it's more than likely that your position is informed by your ideas about freedom and consequence. It's highly likely that you believe what you do because that's what feels right to you.
But we don't really care whether we're right or not, do we? Every statistic, anecdote, and theory can be stacked against us, but we will still cling to our position. We can stare directly in the face of a thousand facts that prove us wrong, and we will hold that we are right. We see this play out again and again and again. There are those who are anti-abortion who do not recognize the need for sexual education, easy access to birth control, affordable daycare, or that there are already 30,000 kids waiting to be adopted, the vast majority of whom never will be. There are those who believe in the death penalty even though there is zero evidence that it works as a deterrent, plenty of evidence that a death row inmate will end up costing more than a lifetime prisoner, and a scary number of death row inmates who were proven innocent after they had been executed. There are those who believe a business discriminating against a certain group is justified, but express outrage when it is a group they are part of that is being discriminated against.
We claim to care a lot about specific issues, but very few of us follow through. Very few of us care about what would truly help our cause. Very few of us are willing to look at the facts. We just decide that x is right and y is wrong, and refuse to look beyond that. Worst of all, we expect the law to support our feelings, even when our feelings cannot be supported by facts. We all want the world to conform to our own personal values, and feel a sense of righteous indignation when it doesn't.
We all have a choice to make. We must either acknowledge the facts, and work hard to look for solutions - knowing they will not always sit well with us - or we must admit we don't care as much as we claim to. We must either be willing to change our positions in the face of evidence, or we must be willing to admit our positions are based on nothing but our own feelings, and therefore should not be legislated. We must either be consistent in our views, or face the fact that we aren't passionate, but self-centered. We must all, ultimately, decide whether we want to make this world a better place for everyone, or for only ourselves. I do hope that we can all find the courage to choose the former.
I am absolutely exhausted with hatred - more specifically, hatred that comes directly from ignorance. Today, I made the grave mistake of commenting (and reading the comments) on a BBC video about how a family is handling their son transitioning to a woman. The comments ranged from the despicable ("would have been better off with one of those late term abortions") to the downright insane ("this is the genocide of white people" - yeah, I don't get it either), but they all shared a common theme. They all suggested that transgender people are sick, and should not live in a way that is most comfortable for them, because it is uncomfortable to others. I am particularly fed up with this being the opinion of many people, on many issues.
First of all, no one is obligated to deny their own happiness for your benefit. No one should be expected to live a life that makes them unhappy because it will make you a little more comfortable. I presume most of you believe that, if you really think about it. I assume none of you feel like you should have to give up your religion because others don't care for it, to work a job you hate because other people would like it if you did, to deny your own political views so as to not offend those on the other side. I can't imagine any of you would live in a way that would make you miserable because other people, some of whom you don't even know, would prefer it if you did.
Second - hold onto your hats here, as shit's about to get scientific - there is significant evidence that trans people have brains that either more closely resemble the gender they identify with or brains that are not typically male or female. What does this mean? Essentially, it means that a trans person is not delusional or mentally ill - they simply have a brain that is more similar to the gender they identify with than the sex they were born, or, at the very least, have a brain that lacks a lot of the markers of a cisgender person. Imagine for a moment that you woke up tomorrow with the brain you've always had - the same thoughts, emotions, wants, and dreams - but suddenly had the body of the opposite sex. Some of you would likely be able to adjust, but a whole lot of you, undoubtedly, would feel uncomfortable, miserable, wrong. You would know in your mind that you are still a man or a woman, but your body, your mannerisms, your voice, your very presence would be decidedly the opposite of what feels right to you. What you may choose to do about that is obviously entirely up to you, but I can't imagine you would want to be denied choices, shamed publicly, or even killed, for how you decided to handle it.
Third, and this is where I get super fucking angry, transgenderism isn't a mental illness, but that doesn't actually matter at all. The position that it's a mental illness is wrong, but it's also maddening from the perspective of those of us who really do have one. People with mental illnesses often suffer terribly, and would do absolutely whatever it takes to live normal, happy, functional lives. We will experiment with prescriptions, diets, physical activities, and even obvious woo in the hope of getting just a little relief. If there was solid evidence that cutting off my little toe would significantly reduce my depression, that little piggy would be gone by dinner. Claiming that transgenderism is a mental illness is wrong, but it's also stupid if you follow it up with something along the lines of "therefore, they should get help, not mutilate their bodies". Even if it were a mental illness, transitioning would be a perfectly reasonable treatment, just as taking anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication is a perfectly reasonable way to deal with those issues. They do not "cure" us of a "problem", they do not mean we've "given in to a sickness", they simply assist many of us in leading happy and functional lives. Why would you ask that we do otherwise? Why would you ask that we refuse the one treatment that might allow us to live happily?
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, why the hell is this such a concern for people? As I hear every time I discuss this issue, trans people make up a statistically insignificant portion of the population. This is the argument presented each and every time anyone proposes a change to how we approach any number of issues - "why should the rest of us change on behalf of such a small number of people?" Why indeed! Why would so many of us focus so much of our attention, intolerance, hatred, and bigotry on a tiny minority? Why are billions of people so obsessively concerned with ~ 0.5% of the population? Why does a single video on Facebook about one individual transitioning generate hundreds of thousands of comments? If you are genuinely concerned with the well-being of others, might I suggest you first work on the approximately 100,000,000 people who are currently homeless? The nearly 80% of people worldwide who survive on less than $10/day? The fact that several million people will die of cancer this year? That, thanks to the anti-vax movement, preventable diseases are on the rise? Might I suggest that your concern for the health and happiness of others would be better spent on issues like a lack of proper medical care for people all over the world, our outright refusal to house the homeless and feed the hungry, rising education costs, the belief that manual labour and so-called "dirty jobs" are things we should not aspire to, the perpetuation of war and armed conflict, the worrying trend of racism, sexism, and religious bigotry being acceptable once again, or the fact that nearly 800,000,000 cannot read this rant - not because they don't speak English or have no internet access, but because they are illiterate? Might I suggest that if you are really do want to focus on trans people, you should perhaps consider that their alarmingly high suicide/suicide attempt rates are almost exclusively due not to their "mental illness", but the horrific treatment they face by society at large, and that they are murdered at a higher rate than numerous other demographics?
Please, for the love of all that is good, stop pretending that your bigotry is actually concern. Stop pretending that you are holding on to some sort of moral high-ground. Do not pass off your horrible comments and abhorrent behaviour as tough love and hard truths, because they are truly neither. The "trans issue" is yours, not theirs. Trans people exist. There is nothing you can do to change that fact, so you really only have two choices: you can spend your days frothing at the mouth about a teeny tiny segment of the population that has done you no harm; perpetuate dangerous hatred against vulnerable people; advocate less rights for citizens that make you feel icky, or you can learn a little about people who are different than you; challenge yourself to show love to people you don't quite understand; treat everyone with the same basic decency you'd like to be treated with. Those truly are your only choices, here. Please choose wisely.
Those of us alive today live in one of the most interesting times in human history. We have, quite literally, the entire world, and all the information we have ever accumulated, at our fingertips. The vast majority of us, no matter our social, racial, political, or economic status, can access an unfathomable amount of information; we can learn about absolutely anything we want to, find out what is happening right this second in any part of the world, take a virtual tour of the entire planet. We can educate ourselves on every political, philosophical, and theological position that has ever been proposed. We can have conversations with people all over the world, gain perspectives we could only make uneducated guesses about a couple of decades ago, really get to know people of every possible persuasion. We are experiencing the dawn of global communication. And we are spitting on that fact every chance we get.
I would expect that any outsider looking in on us right now would feel a certain amount of joy and excitement - how wonderful it is that we can communicate with people from all over the globe! How privileged we are to be able to hear directly from the people on the ground. How thrilling that we can have conversations, at any time of day or night, with people on the other side of the world, that we can learn their reality, their hopes, their dreams, their biggest concerns, and tell them about ours.
But we don't use it that way, do we? No, no we do not. The vast majority of us use this almost infinite source of information to confirm our own biases. To dig our heels in a little deeper. We take every piece of information that has ever been presented, and sort it in such a way that it exactly lines up to what we already believed. Shame on us. We have developed, contributed to, and laid claim to a tool that can connect every human being on Earth, and we are using it to build echo chambers. We are using it to further separate ourselves from anyone who may have an even slightly different perspective to offer. To make our world just a little smaller. We are now able, and all too ready, to "delete", "remove", or "block" people for the smallest difference in opinion. We have become hyper-sensitive to disagreement, and feel it not just our right, but our moral duty to immediately and proudly cut all communication with those who challenge our beliefs. We build a friend list, an audience, a group of followers upon a foundation of agreement and acquiescence. We connect on a global level...with those whose beliefs mirror ours.
Hundreds, thousands of years ago - eras we now see as uncivilized and brutal - great minds would gather to discuss everything from what love is to the most efficient economic system. Philosophers would fight for days, weeks, years on end over the most minute details. Decades ago, authors and journalists would carry on life-long debates and disagreements through print. Scientists would publicly one-up and challenge one another. These people disagreed, often fundamentally and vehemently, but they did not tend to just pretend the other did not exist. They did not decide they had no time for someone who had a different outlook. They did not shy away from a debate.
So why do we? Why have so many of us chosen, as I touched on in a previous post, to make enemies and bigots of people who are neither? Why have we become so sensitive to differences of opinion, however minor? Why do we suddenly believe that the only true friends and allies are those who agree with us entirely? Sure, there are some issues on which we should have a zero-tolerance policy - I will not be embracing true bigotry against race, sexuality, or anything else any time soon, for example - but even on these very serious issues, we seem more and more willing to deem the slightest difference in perspective as bigotry, thereby justifying an end to communication with those who are open to changing their minds. This is particularly concerning, as we are rejecting opportunities to positively influence individuals, and society as a whole, in favour of being offended. We are dismissing entirely that some positions are the result of simple ignorance, not malicious hatred, and can be changed through a simple exchange of information and ideas. We believe we are being strong, being righteous, standing up for ourselves and our people, by building a wall between ourselves and anyone who may see things a little differently. What we have seemingly not considered is that, eventually, we will be very alone behind very large walls.
We are living in an age where truly understanding what drives people is more possible than ever, and we have chosen to shrug that off in favour of our own biases. To reject information and cling to prejudice. To build virtual armies against enemies we cannot even define. We have chosen to take technology that can connect us on a global level, and use it to make our worlds smaller than they have ever been. And we should be ashamed of ourselves.
Woo, boy, it's that time again already, is it? As the first week and a half of Pride Month went by relatively quietly, I had begun to get my hopes up that maybe, just maybe, things were starting to change. That maybe it wasn't such a big deal anymore. That those who had once so vehemently opposed it had come to accept it, or had at least found more worthy directions for their anger. Ah, to hope.
A few days ago, several friends who still live in our hometown posted photographs of their local Pride-painted sidewalks covered in burnout marks and what appeared to be tar thrown across them. People began raging about flags being raised where they "shouldn't be" (see: anywhere). My debate haunt is seeing the yearly influx of "why gays are bad", thinly disguised as a valid topic of discussion. The rainbow emoji on Facebook has single-handedly started an online war between Christians and the LGBT community. Disappointingly, this year is just as every year before it has been. Full of vitriol and spite. And this year, just as every year before it, I can only ask: why?
I mean, I know why. I'm neither stupid nor ignorant, and this is a topic I've spent many years discussing. I'm well aware of the religious, political, cultural, and ideological reasons people do not accept alternate sexualities or gender expression (from here referred to as "LGBTs", because I'm lazy). And, to be honest, I get it. There isn't a person on Earth who doesn't have a belief someone else would find offensive, who has never had an irrationally visceral reaction to something, who has never felt something was wrong for reasons that would not make sense to anyone else. Over a thousand years of religious and social opposition has molded the minds of those alive today, and it isn't something that's going to disappear overnight. No, it's not the reasons people still fight against the acceptance of LGBTs that baffle me, it is the insistence. The determination. The passion so many have for this particular "social ill". It never ceases to amaze and confuse me, the amount of time and effort people invest in this specific group of people. The literal billions of dollars that have been spent trying to deny basic rights to people. The violence that has been leveled. The single-minded dedication so many have to opposing this and only this. The unbridled hatred and condescending pity forced upon people who deserve neither. I am perpetually in grotesque awe of how much attention is paid to what should be insignificant.
I've read the Bible. I've read the Q'uran. I've read political manifestos and philosophical treatises. I've learned about numerous cultures and what they value, both directly and indirectly. While many of these ideologies and value-sets differ greatly - some even being in direct opposition to one another - none of them, not-a-one, places sexuality front and centre. Most dwell far longer on much deeper topics - what it is to be a person, what more there is to existence, how to live well, how to best serve God, or the universe, or yourself. Existential concerns, economics, and evolution get far more attention than which individuals another individual finds most attractive, and for what I hope is an obvious, and damn good, reason. Those topics affect everyone, deeply, whether we want them to or not.
So why, why, the determined obsession with sexuality and gender? Why not greed? Why not hunger? Why not war, or bigotry, or capitalism, or healthcare? What, exactly, makes so many focus on perhaps the least significant part of their belief system? Is it because LGBTs are easier targets? I mean, it's easy to tar a Pride flag - it's a lot harder to revolt against the banking system. Is it because LGBTs are visible? That there is something physical, something tangible to revolt against, while concepts like greed and dishonesty take some effort to challenge? Is it because we've become so apathetic to our real societal ills that frothing at the mouth about gender is the only thing that gives us a sense of accomplishment anymore? That we can walk away, wiping our hands, feeling like we've done something to serve God, or society, or biology, or...whatever, without having to really get them dirty? I genuinely do not know. It's a question that has bothered me since the very first time I ever asked it, and I've never heard a satisfactory answer, as I don't think anyone will ever answer it honestly. I have my suspicions, I have my theories, but ultimately, the only people who can answer it won't. And maybe that is an answer in and of itself.
But maybe, just maybe, we've also been asking the wrong questions. Maybe, instead of asking why these folks can't accept LGBTs, we should instead ask why they spent millions of dollars on opposing equal rights, when that money could have been raised to feed the hungry, educate people, and provide healthcare to those who cannot afford it on their own. Maybe we should ask why they spent time protesting some temporary paint on a piece of pavement instead of protesting the fact that 200,000 Canadians will experience homelessness this year. Maybe we should ask why they are more concerned with love than with hate. For every gay person that exists, a victim of domestic abuse exists. For every gay person that exists, a victim of a hate crime exists. Maybe we should ask why many are more willing to fight against the former than the latter. Maybe we should ask if they want "I told gay people they should not be gay" to be the ultimate accomplishment they can boast at the end of their lives. Maybe, instead of asking these people why they spend so much time opposing LGBTs, we should ask why they do not spend time opposing things that matter so much more.
This Pride Month, I will not ask that you join in a parade. I will not ask you to pin a rainbow on your jacket. I will not ask you to suddenly change your mind. I will, however ask that you all go visit that tarred crosswalk, that torn down flag, that building with FAG spray-painted across it, and ask yourselves if you are truly comfortable with what you are looking at. If you really want to continue making this your life's work. If your passion could not be better spent. I want Pride 2017 to be the event that finally points people in a better direction.
Please, be the rainbow, not the tar.
Divide and conquer.
It's a phrase that has existed, in some variation or another, for well over two thousand years, and an idea that has existed seemingly forever. As a strategy, it is as brilliant as it is perverse - keep the people fighting amongst themselves, and they will be too weak, too fractured, to fight you - and it has worked far more often than not.
It's not hard to understand why this strategy is so successful; humans are hardwired to desire an authority figure and to be suspicious of those we see as "different". Any particularly ambitious and immoral person can exploit the latter to become the former. But to maintain that power, to increase that power, that takes some real work. It is easy to remind people of tensions that have always existed - to poke the bears with names like Right, Left, Race, Religion, and Sex. It is a guarantee that there will always be stereotypes, there will always be bigots, there will always be clashing ideologies, and anyone clever enough to manipulate that fact will always have a good chance of grabbing a little power. It's easy to keep hot buttons hot. Real power, real influence, however, comes when you can create conflict between those who once saw themselves as being on the same team. It's easy to start a fight between a left-winger and a right-winger, for example, but what if you could get two lefties to declare themselves enemies? What if you could get historically oppressed people to fight - often viciously - amongst themselves? What if you could get generally privileged people to pick petty arguments between one another? How much easier would it be to control things then?
Way easier. That was a rhetorical question. It would obviously be way easier. Better even yet would it be if that in-fighting happened organically, and I fear that's where we are heading. It no longer requires any real effort on the part of the powers-that-be to create conflict between allies. We now happily, willingly, righteously, throw ourselves into battle with anyone who disagrees with us even slightly. Feminists hate feminists. MRAs hate MRAs. Liberals hate liberals and conservatives hate conservatives. Black activists disagree with black activists, LGBTs fight with LGBTs, Christians battle other Christians. And, on some level, that's a good thing. I do not believe it is healthy to develop a hive-mind, to launch oneself into an echo chamber, and to never duke it out amongst ourselves. It is infinitely valuable to hear different perspectives on the same topic or ideology. When it becomes problematic is when we make a foe out of anyone who does not agree with 100% of what we believe. When we reject would-be allies due to a single difference of opinion. When we begin to see vibrant colours as the fence-sitters in a black and white world. When we are comfortable making enemies and bigots of those who are neither. And that seems to be, if not where we are just yet, the road we are on. It's not a road I am happy to be traveling.
Don't get me wrong - I vehemently believe we must be honest and unflinching in what we truly care about. I do not expect anyone to stand down or compromise on significant, passionate issues. What I do expect is some cooperation. I expect humans to recognize one another as humans, and to acknowledge and respect the fact that we will never be in perfect agreement. I expect us to wake up to the fact that the more divided we are, the easier we are to conquer. That the more importance we place on petty differences, the less likely we are to accomplish anything. I expect us to view the society we live in as a direct reflection of ourselves, and to act accordingly.
Divide and conquer. It is as brilliant as it is perverse. And it works because we let it.
Liberal. Men's Rights Activist. Atheist. Gender-queer. Conservative. Muslim. Feminist.
I'm willing to bet all the change in my pocket that at least one of those labels made you a little itchy. At least one of them caused you, maybe even involuntarily, to raise an eyebrow or get your fightin' words ready. We all do it; we all have our biases and are often eager to see those biases confirmed. We assign these labels to others, or they apply them to themselves, and we immediately begin forming a response. An argument. A desire to tell them that they are wrong, and we are right. We hear these labels and we form an image in our minds, and that image is rarely pretty.
And that's a problem. That's a really, really big problem, in fact. As soon as that image takes form, we begin to see them as the "other". We begin to separate us from them. They become caricatures to us, rather than other real, feeling human beings with genuine concerns of their own. It becomes very easy to see others as the enemy, and to dismiss their worries, and their humanity.
--And this is the part where I have to write a disclaimer, because that's where the world is right now. No, I'm not about to tell you that you have to just smile and nod at that aunt who always drops the N-bomb at Christmas dinner or that you should respect a Nazi's opinion. Bigotry does not ever, at all, have to be tolerated. Period.--
When we allow ourselves to see these labels as tiny little boxes that most definitely contain things we hate and fear, we are doing a disservice to ourselves and society in general. We are saying we are okay with prejudice. We are saying we are comfortable in our ignorance. We are admitting we are hypocrites, but not willing to do anything about it. We are saying we would rather hate than talk. We are saying that our own personal beliefs trump the very basic needs of every other human being on Earth. That we are okay with people suffering, so long as we can stay righteous in our ideology. And, worst of all, we are often entirely wrong about these people in the first place. We form our opinions on a foundation of their loudest and most awful. When we think of feminists, we don't think of the people worldwide who are fighting to give women equal rights, we think of white Western women on Tumblr complaining about manspreading. When we think of Muslims, we don't think of people forming prayer circles around Christians, we think of terrorists and western invasions. We think of liberals as hypocrites and conservatives as bigots and MRAs as misogynists and atheists as immoral and gay people as degenerates. We choose to see everyone different from us as somehow worse than us, and our society reflects that.
While we're busy coming up with clever memes about "libtards" and new insults against Trump, nearly two million Americans are sleeping on the streets. While we bitch about Trudeau attending a Pride Parade and come up with new and awful things to call Muslims, the fentanyl crisis is killing Canadians. Both countries have serious problems, from crime rates to housing shortages to healthcare accessibility, and we are either ignoring them entirely or blaming them on our favourite scapegoat. And it is largely due to our insistence on absolutely refusing to work together - to put aside our biases and realize that we all live here, that we all need the same basic needs met, that pointing fingers accomplishes nothing. It is that itchy feeling we get when we hear labels that trigger our intolerance that guarantees no real issues will ever be addressed, as we've decided that it's "their" fault. That "they" created this mess. That "they" are distracting us from the real issues. We don't see "them" as real human beings with feelings, with genuine concerns, with something to contribute. No, no, we see them as the problem, the reason things keep getting, in our minds, worse.
And so, I must ask you all a question. How has your calling people "libtards" improved the healthcare system? How many homeless and crisis centres have been built on the foundation of you calling people misogynists? How many women worldwide have you advocated for by chanting "feminism is cancer"? How much safer is your neighbourhood now that you've posted a meme about Muslims planning to invade the western world? Did your bills get easier to pay after you called Justin Trudeau an idiot? Did the housing shortage get solved that time you posted a meme calling conservatives bigots? Has this us vs. them, hate everyone who doesn't think like me, insult people on Facebook approach solved a single problem that you are concerned about? No? Then stop it. Please.
Feminists, MRAs, conservatives, liberals, LGBT people, Muslims, Christians, atheists, are all, for the most part, just ordinary people living ordinary lives. They aren't the enemy, they aren't evil, they aren't immoral, they just have slightly different concerns than you do. They have beliefs you do not share, and yes, that can be scary or maddening or concerning, but I'm willing to bet that if we all set our biases aside, if we all ditched the hyperbolic, childish, extreme rhetoric and had an actual conversation with these folks, we'd find an awful lot of common ground. And we'd sure as hell have a better chance of changing things for the better.
I certainly can't tell you what to do. I can't demand that you stop posting stupid memes and misinformed news stories on Facebook, or that you suddenly become tolerant to views you abhor. I can, however, ask you to, at the very least, stop for a moment and ask yourself if your biases reflect reality in any way whatsoever. If you genuinely believe that "they", whoever that is to you, are truly the awful people you think they are. I can ask you to take a moment out of your day to ask yourself if hating them is improving things at all, for anyone. I can ask you, ask myself, ask everyone, to put their money where their mouth is, and start actively working for what we claim to believe so dearly in.
Most years, I begin the year with a post entitled "The Obligatory New Year's Eve Post". I opted not to this year, because said obligatory post is usually just a cheeky, one-off comment on how last year went and where I figure this year will go. 2017 seemed deserving of a bit more depth.
A lot of us are entering this year with some trepidation. 2016 took a lot of our childhood idols (raise your hand if you're still mourning David Bowie and Prince). Our pop-culture took a brutal beating. Our economies left us nervous. Tragedies and travesties in Syria, the Philippines, Germany, France, India, and the U.S. - just to name a few - left us reeling. The American election gained worldwide attention, disappointment, and suspicion. And it ended with Donald F***ing Trump becoming the president-elect. We've seen a resurgence of bigotry, of bitterness, and yes, of hatred. How do we walk, head up, into this year, from a place of love when everything seems so...well...terrible?
We just fucking do, (sorry Mom) that's how. We insist on it. We demand it of ourselves. If 2016 was anything, it was a year in which we all had to face hatred and sadness head-on, and keep on keeping on in spite of it. We all got a good lesson on the fact that bigotry is alive and well, that justice is rare, that hatred often does, sadly, win, and that our heroes are humans, just like the rest of us. Some will take those lessons as instructions on how to build a wall, how to put up defences, how to return hatred with hatred. But the rest of us, those of us who have bigger goals in mind, will take those lessons as instructions on how to love harder. We will - we must - hold ourselves to a higher standard than we ever have, and hold steady in our love for this world, for our fellow humans, for existence itself. We must resist the urge to declare enemies. We must take some responsibility and claim some power and put ourselves in charge of the revolution. We must - and this is the hard part - not stoop to the level of our opponents.
I almost finished that paragraph by saying "in fact, we must not see them as opponents at all", but that's not quite right. We do need to acknowledge that people with opposing views often do seek to harm one another in some way. It would be silly and dangerous to sugarcoat or ignore that fact. But we also must acknowledge that some of what we read as hatred is actually just fear in disguise. We must keep in mind that where we see our morals and ideals under attack, our polar opposites do too. And, most importantly, we must realize that no minds have ever been changed, no fears have ever been assuaged, by being declared an enemy. If we choose to cut off all communication to those with opposing views, if we choose to offer knee-jerk responses and accusations of bigotry to anyone who sees things differently than we do, we may as well just volunteer to dig their heels in for them.
To love in an era of hatred is to choose to both speak up loudly and listen quietly. It is to look for solutions that do not just serve us, but serve our "enemies" as well. It is to stop seeing them as enemies, and start trying to see them as fellow humans with fears of their own. And, when that is not possible, when it becomes obvious that they really are enemies, to oppose them, to fight them, with dignity and self-respect rather than with an equal disdain and desire to see them suffer. To love in an era of hatred is, quite simply, to consciously refuse to hate, even where it may be deserved.
Wherein I say
whatever I want.