Marissa Explains It All #44 – The Power of Myth and Awaiting Concrete Resolution

In the event of some tremendous tragedy, which in America can be any number of particular instances on any given day, there is often a temptation to blame the action on a thing. Either something that exists within our culture, or grouping a vague label of people together and dehumanizing them to the point that they become a thing. And it’s not like this is a new occurrence. Anything from rebellious behavior to national tragedy have been blamed on music, drugs, movies, video games, gay people, whichever political party the blamer isn’t, etc. It’s an easy gig too; the same as blaming the government for an individual’s life not being the way they wish it was: the government doesn’t have a human voice in which to respond, because it’s not one single entity, as much as some would like us to believe.

Blaming a giant entity or vague description of something while simultaneously reducing it to a solitary object can be cathartic. The government isn’t a person at a desk with people in line to yell at it, and that’s exactly the point. The government can mean anything from the President to the local dog-catcher. Same as when a televangelist blames leftists for something, it’s roughly half the adult demographic, so it’s nearly impossible to respond. If you can reduce an idea you disagree with into a single entity that is too broad and vague to respond personally, you can also simultaneously reduce whatever blowback you get into a meaningless small percentage of that giant vague entity. Pretty neat deal, isn’t it?

X is a broad spectrum containing thousands if not millions of people, but I will speak of it as if it’s one person that is both powerless and ubiquitous in causing a tremendous problem, therefore shrinking it to the equivalent of one powerful person. Then, in response, one critic of anything I say, the voice I do hear gets reduced even smaller than that one person, while I regrow the solitary entity back into the vague, encompassing juggernaut from which I humanized it in the first place back into its dehumanized vague existence.

That is kept in mind as I analyze the current political and cultural arena through the anthropological lens of the Power of Myth as it relates to the present goings-on and rhetoric surrounding it. While it is not my purpose within this piece to take a particular side on a specific issue, it is more to analyze and comprehend the mindsets that bring us to our plentiful divides within the cultural conversation, especially in action and reactionary terms. However, we cannot begin this analysis without defining our terms.

STORY

Stories have a bit of baggage attached to the word. Like a lot of anti-scientific rhetoric, the word is often used in a demeaning way of describing something apart from reality. “That’s just a story.” “Nothing but a story.” “That’s not real, it’s only a story.” This disregards one of the most fundamental parts of our everyday lives. One of the primary functions that define us as human is our ability to make tangible something that isn’t happening in the direct present. If one is not experiencing something immediately and in the moment, we can still access it because of stories.

A story is not only a narrative that someone made up in a book or a movie, but it can be as simple as telling your friend how your day went, recalling a trivial or even important event, or, how about this… A song. Unless a song is narrating in time with a moment (that’s actually happening, not like a musical), it is a story in some form. Stories are how we communicate and relate to each other as human.

A good story needs to be reliable, because it is meant to connect us to an event, whether that’s how awful your boss is or a fitting metaphor regarding a national tragedy. Stories are desirable. Even if they’re meant to be pure escapism, that is still a desire for a story. Our need to dissociate from a place in time is a desire for a story not connected to the present, at least on its surface.

Stories also must be accessible. While the characters and events may be fictional, or at least retold, they have to be relatable enough for the listener/reader/viewer to see something they recognize, both positively and negatively. A story that one cannot grasp is not a story that person is going to retain. It’s the balance of logical, present, analytical thinking; to see what is not there in the present and connect it back to that moment. Logic and math are how we analyze the world; stories are how we relate to it, communicate about it, and understand each other.

MYTH

We like to consider Myth, or at least Mythology, as something that took place in the Greek and Roman eras of history. A comfortable distance from beliefs that a culture once held makes it easier to look at it through the lens of storytelling rather than as a religion, but that’s another argument for a different article. Myth, however, is pervasive. It’s near the top of the list of what defines us as a species, 1A from being the Storytelling Creature. Myths are stories, yes, but they are far more prevalent in our minds because of their power to transcend any medium and period of history.

-Myths are usually set somewhere else. Whether that’s a different time, location, or reality, myths aren’t from what Film and Literature Theorists would describe as the “Realism” school of thought.

-Myths are often about things beyond explanation. The supernatural, what science has or could create, or what is natural.

-Myths often involve non-human sentient creatures like monsters or gods, or events that are beyond our understanding or explanation.

-Finally, overall, Myths are about what it means to be human.

(Acknowledgement: Yes, I did use that list in a recent article about a similar topic, but they are my words)

 

MODERN-DAY STORIES, THE OTHER, AND MYTHS

Whereas once the only way to communicate and keep myths alive was through oral tradition, we are now inundated with myths. Myths are what we look to in order to explain what we cannot, and in this process, we create a different creature. Something that is almost human. Something that isn’t so inhuman that we don’t recognize or relate to it, but also separate than us. This is a concept within a story known as The Other.

The Other is someone or something separate from the perspective and narration of the story. Its separation is a technique designed to bind you with the perspective of the story being told, and in general, make the separate group the source of the problem or what must be overcome. You read the introduction of this article; don’t get ahead of me just yet.

To Other is to dehumanize; both figuratively and literally. In the figurative sense, that is why Myths often include beings like Monsters, Aliens, Zombies, or Vampires. They symbolize what a concept or a belief can become if left unchecked, and are the counter to the narrative being told, which is either to return to normalcy or subvert it. Rather than taking a race of people, a religion, a political party, or just that guy down the street who yells things at you when you walk by, the Monsters are a blank slate onto which we can project our greatest fears.

The most famous example of this exists in 1950’s Sci-Fi, where space aliens were The Other and a near one-to-one for Communism. Communists… I mean aliens… are invading, and it’s up to us to stop it. Another famous example is connecting Zombies to Consumerism, and if anyone knows of a less-subtle use of that metaphor than They Live, I await your response. The point is, when The Other is not human, our sympathies do not lie with them. Our natural instinct is to want the storyteller, or hero, to survive and overcome the non-human threat to our way of life. Think of Lord of the Rings. If the Orcs weren’t ugly, grotesque, and based entirely on carnage, would it have been so easy to slaughter them by the thousands without a second thought? The body count of Orcs in those films has to be in the hundreds of millions, but they’re ugly and evil so we don’t care when they die.

So how does this relate to the present that I set up in the Intro?

THE INABILITY TO SEPARATE OUR MYTHS FROM REALITY

We like to think that we know when something is a story and aren’t affected by it. While that does not mean that we’re talking on a one-to-one level something like “video games cause mass shootings,” we’re tricking ourselves if we don’t think the stories we tell have any affect on how we live our lives, speak to other people, and formulate our behavior.

The #MeToo Movement was the most effective and visible communication of stories of sexual harassment, assault, and violence in years because the stories became so accessible that they could no longer be conveniently ignored. It would, though, be foolish to say that it was not met with its own resistance. Why is that? Why would someone be in favor of those harmful and sometimes life-threatening actions?

On the surface, at least for a majority, they aren’t. Nobody believes themselves to be the villains of their own story, because that’s not how stories work, right? Either the hero themselves tell the story, or an omnipotent but completely separate narrator follows the hero throughout the duration.

How many stories in our culture exist that follow one specific trope: Boy Gets Girl.

Or, a bit more specifically: Boy Meets Girl, Boy Likes Girl, Boy Gets Girl. That’s a three-act movie right there that anyone reading this can apply one hundred different versions of on the spot. But those are just stories, right? They don’t affect the way we behave in real life. We can distinguish the two with relative ease. Right?

Not if you look at the commonly-portrayed behavior with the beliefs that many think are associated with “how things are supposed to be.” Following someone around because you’re interested in them, even if they don’t return the interest, isn’t okay in real life, but how many stories have been told that it’s the right thing to do? That’s how you show you’re interested, right? That’s how you make yourself visible. Especially if the girl has a terrible boyfriend and you know you’re just right for her, even though you don’t really know her. That’s what boys have been told they should do, and that’s what girls have been told they should want. Normativities aplenty aside, that is the culture many of us were raised in.

Here’s another: The Hero’s Journey.

Or, a bit more specifically: The World is Great. Something Bad Happens to a Man. Man Goes on Adventure. Man Makes Things Right. And, in most cases, Man Gets Girl.

Most popularly attributed to Joseph Campbell’s “Hero of 1000 Faces,” this is not only one of the most common and famous plot/story structures, but for a very long time was believed to be the only way to make a movie. Now, in these stories, there’s a man… usually cis, straight, and let’s be honest, white… who lives in a place where things are amazing. Good family, nice town, great life. Then, something messes that up. His aunt and uncle are killed while goons look for droids. An evil scientist or millionaire disrupts tranquility in the town. Dad is killed. Girlfriend is kidnapped. Wrong is done. Sometimes to everyone, but usually to one specific white cisgender heterosexual young man.

In most of these stories, it is the One Man (TM) who must stand up to the giant evil that has caused this disruption. Sure, there are friends who help him along the way, and the girl (always a girl, of course) that may have a series of characteristics, but is ultimately The Prize. The One Man (TM) defeats every obstacle put before him, no matter how insurmountable the odds may be, until the Villain… Or to connect it to earlier, The Other… is the last thing that stands between him and Justice, Revenge, A Return to Normalcy, and of course, The Girl. Just as I’m writing that, you’re imagining everything from Star Wars to Troy. That’s because those are Myths that we have accepted as part of our understanding of our culture. They’re ingrained.

REALITY

Think of some of the following phrases, now that we’ve set all this up, and how they might relate.

-Boys will be boys.

-That’s how boys show they like you.

-Good Guy with a Gun/Bad Guy with a Gun.

-Everything happens for a reason.

I want to note specifically that last one. Why do you think it’s so pervasive in our minds that everything happens for a reason? Even with religion teaching that, and whether or not you believe in a religion is not the point, that’s the basis of all stories we’ve been told. Most stories to mass audiences that don’t have a conclusive ending, and therefore a reason to hear/see the story, are not well received. We like our stories accessible, universal, and most of all, resolved. That is how we understand the world: Everything has a reason, and therefore a conclusion that solves the story.

To once again reiterate, this is not to make anything a one-for-one. I’m not saying that seeing John Cusack stand outside a house with a boombox will make you go and do that thing. But the feelings it may have given you make you want to do something like that, don’t they? Hearing that a friend has been hurt by a partner or a total stranger, the instinct often is to go out, hunt that person down, and harm them in return, bring them to justice, or both, right? Of course! The most common stories in our culture, at least until recently, have been One Man Will Save Us All. That is how we understand the world.

Is it not then any wonder that when stories are told differently, the so-common default for those stories doesn’t feel able to identify with them? A cis straight white guy has had so many stories told about him and for him, why would he want to hear anything else? Anything else must be wrong: that’s not his story, that’s not how it’s supposed to go. He’s supposed to interrupt the wedding and that will win over the girl, because that’s how the story is supposed to end. The One Man Will Save Us All is supposed to be called to action when times seem their worst, and they are, always, the Good Guy With the Gun. No one is the villain in their own story.

CONCLUSION

It may be that the story has been changed when it comes to flirting with women, or that it feels threatened by people who are no longer interested in the fantasies of taking down someone with a penis-enhancing murderstick with their own, or at least want to see some kind of limitations put on it. That’s not how the story is supposed to go, and taking that option away can feel like it will always mean that chance to be The Hero will never be obtained. I’m not saying it’s right, but how can it be any question as to its influence on discourse?

The natural instinct is to blame a terrible event on The Other, because everything in stories is almost universally cut and dry. To blame The Other is to be the hero of one’s own personal story, because stories is how the human experience is most accessible. Because it isn’t inherently logical or pragmatic, anyone can project themselves onto a hero, and heroes always fight the bad guys, The Others, The Villains. Anyone who is not that hero must therefore either be the Prize to be won, or the ones who need to be fought against. Queer people, trans people, people of color, immigrants, etc., have almost always been The Other, unless it’s to enhance the story of the hero for being so brave as to acknowledge that one of them is, in fact, human after all. They’re an accessory.

When almost all the stories have been about you and for you, seeing them be for another feels like a threat to that. You’ve been told you’re the universal default, so why can’t everyone always just see it through your eyes, because that’s the way things have always been? The guy wants another guy instead? That’s not how the story goes! The woman is the hero? No, she’s supposed to be the one the hero wants! Trans people and non-white people exist as something other than a Punchline or a dangerous Other? That’s just the radical SJW agenda. The stories have almost always been for a certain default, and ridiculed whenever they’re not. Does the phrase “Chick Flick” ring a bell?

Where some people feel threatened that their stories are being invaded because they’re not always about them, they fear what many of us have had to accept as our only representation. The Accessory or the Villain. They fear not being the hero of the story, because they know what happens to the people who aren’t the heroes, and if they aren’t the heroes, they may have to change. It’s better to immediately dismiss anything that isn’t for or about you and blame it on a vague group for whom it must be as a negative thing. If someone else is the hero, that must mean that they’re the villain, and we can’t have that.

Same as how if they don’t have the chance to be a Good Guy With a Gun because enough people are tired of getting shot, how will they ever be the hero of their own story? The most popular religion in America teaches that God made man in his own image. How can the image of God itself be wrong? Everyone else must be. Better attack the credibility of the one telling the story so that it never has to change.

Whether it’s simply talking about making it a bit harder to get guns morphing into a total gun ban in the minds of the defenders, non-cis straight white males being a protagonist turning into some kind of all-out political agenda, or adults who constantly complain about this generation of kids always being on their phones and never getting involved also turning around and attacking those very kids for getting involved when it’s something they don’t like, it’s a violation of their attachment to a Myth. A Story. And all of those have an easily-blamed villain and an easily-understood conclusion where everything is set right.

Unfortunately, as some people end up finding out, the way stories work is not always how the world works. Just because you relate and identify with the story does not mean it has all the answers. Just because that’s how it’s always gone doesn’t mean that’s how it always needs to be. Nobody wants to believe they’re the villain in anyone’s story, so if they can control all the stories, they never will be. The attachment to those Myths has never been more visible and prevalent as it is right now, and whether it’s people speaking out about harassment and assault, or daring to not want to be shot for the preservation of a perceived-threatened right, the long-thought Universality of those basic and retold Myths has finally been threatened.

And that’s far scarier to accept when you’ve always been the presumed societal default.

 

 

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Marissa Explains it All #43 – Addiction Morality

I’m going to spend an entry today talking about something that in which, admittedly, I have very little personal experience. With opiates being declared a public health crisis once again, I couldn’t help but notice the way in which addiction and drug use are approached in this country.

If you’ve ever watched an episode of COPS, most of the time, the targets of their stops and investigations are related to drug use and possession. The 80s saw the launch of the war on drugs. People, primarily those of color, are arrested and kept in the for-profit, quota-based prison system for drug charges.

Yet, Indiana recently ended a needle-exchange program that reduced the spread of infection by 80-percent, and they used a vague Bible quote to justify its removal. Seattle, a city that lives on the mirage of being progressive so that the giant corporations aren’t disturbed during their gentrification and homeless relocation projects, ends needle-exchange programs. Most of the time, ending existing programs, or refusing to start new ones, are approached from a point of selective morality.

When I say selective morality, what I mean by that is picking and choosing which substances are bad, and painting those who use the bad ones as criminals; not to mention, deciding that persons of color using are criminals and selling, but young white kids are just experimenting and made poor decisions, but that’s another conversation.

My brother-in-law and former roommate once told the story of his uncle being incarcerated for heroin, and when he asked what rehabilitation he would have access to, he was told, “you’re not here to be rehabilitated, you’re here to be punished.” That’s the mentality we’re dealing with when it comes to drugs, and it’s no coincidence that the War on Drugs was a product of the Moral Majority.

When I was in elementary school in the early 90s, we had anti-drug assemblies constantly. We also had anti-smoking and anti-drinking ones, but those were different. The anti-drinking ones were only “underage” drinking-based. The anti-smoking ones were health-based. The anti-drug ones though were about drugs being bad, and (drug users being bad.)

It gets more selective than that. Caffeine is as addictive as any of these drugs, and withdrawal symptoms are very similar. Headache, crankiness, fatigue, cravings… All symptoms anyone who has tried to quit something addictive experiences. When it’s drugs, it’s called detox – the word implied being that the substance you’ve been using and now are not was toxic and needs to be cleansed. In other words, you need to be cleansed because what you were using was dirty and therefore made you dirty. Funny enough though, if the addiction is coffee, put your anger symptoms on a t-shirt and it becomes a witty anecdote. Or having a glass of wine being on your must-haves list is fine, but smoking a joint (although less so nowadays) is stigmatized.

Let’s go back to the idea of not being rehabilitated but being punished though. The way this country frames this narrative is that if you’ve gotten addicted to something that we don’t care for, you’re a criminal and deserve to be punished for it. However, if it’s alcohol, you’re only a bad person if we catch you driving after using it (and therefore can make a lot of money off it.)

When you raise a generation that ostensibly teaches that anyone who uses any kinds of drugs (Except the kind we’ve made legal) is bad, trying to sell it, doesn’t care about you, and is an awful person who needs to be punished, is it any wonder that we treat those who have become addicts and seek help like criminals instead of people who are sick? Even the idea of rehabilitation is stigmatized and mocked, painted in the usual Bullshit Bootstrap narrative of that you couldn’t do it yourself, so you must be weak. The same narrative flows through 12-Step programs that make you accept that you have no control and are weak before your addiction; nevermind the religious overtones that go along with it.

All that being said, I’ve never used most drugs, and I probably never will. But that doesn’t mean that I think my friends who do are bad people. I don’t think that means anyone who does deserves to go to prison for the rest of their lives. I don’t think that means that anything that is designed to help drug users as opposed to punish them needs to go away to teach them a lesson.

Therefore, when the government declares opiates as a public health crisis, it’s not actually about helping any of these people get better. It’s about declaring yourselves the morally righteous. It’s blended with an aspect of fighting crime and punishing users, because the last forty years have been spent stigmatizing and blanketing anyone who uses certain kinds of drugs as criminals who deserve punishment and confinement. It’s an easy publicity move to sell, because as long as our narrative is framed that way, it makes the government money, it selectively punishes minorities and poor people, it feeds the for-profit prison system, and a bunch of smug white people get to feel morally self-righteous for their drug of choice being Merlot.

Marissa Explains it All #41 – “Why Didn’t You Just…”

TW: Sexual assault

I was sexually assaulted in the summer of 2014. Twice.

Once was by a guy who gave me a roofied drink. Once was by a woman who didn’t listen to me say the word “no” repeatedly.

Since that time, I have read countless stories, talked to countless people, and seen countless events unfold where people have been assaulted, threatened, abused, and worse. There’s one thing that they all seem to have in common, more or less: Someone saying “Why didn’t you just X?”

Maybe X is “Why didn’t you just leave if he was abusing you?” or “Why didn’t you just call the police if you were assaulted?” Regardless of what X is, it’s indicative of a first reaction that a good percentage of people seem to have when listening to someone else’s story. The instinct to find out what they could’ve done differently, or what they did wrong, or what they didn’t do in time, or how they didn’t handle it. “Why didn’t you just X” is the epitome of victim-blaming. At least as much as “we live in such a victim culture” is a kiss-off to those who have suffered assault or abuse.

The shift of blame making it to the person who violated consent or harmed another person is hard to traverse. Whether it’s the school not knowing what to do or a friend not knowing how to help, their actions are almost secondary in the eyes of many. “It couldn’t have been that bad if you stayed” or “maybe you said yes but just regretted it afterward.”

I don’t think it’s a lack of empathy. I think it’s symptomatic of a system that has been put in place to not deal with people getting away with shit. It protects those who are just being young or throwing a ball or not wanting their lives to be ruined forever by removing the consent from another person and taking something that isn’t theirs. Why these systems are in place, I’m not sure, but they’re there.

Any post you encounter on Facebook of someone talking about these things will not only be met with these victim-blaming questions, but will also have comparative questions of their agency. “They don’t live in the Middle East, so it can’t be that bad.” “They survived, so it can’t be that bad.” There’s always an excuse for why it happened. There’s always an excuse for why it could’ve been worse.

Meanwhile, a person is having a panic attack when they see their attacker every single day, and the campus police are too busy asking what they wore. There’s bureaucratic nightmares lying between the victim and justice of any kind. There are untested rape kits, hidden stories, avoiding of bad PR, and Gaslighting Central from abusers who either don’t know they’re abusers or want to keep getting away with it.

So many people want to blame the person who was assaulted. So many people want to blame the person who was abused.

I don’t know what to do about this. No matter how many speak out about their stories, there are shitty people looking to make it the fault of the person who received this treatment, rather than confront a culture that protects and welcomes these behaviors, or at least excuses them with anything from “that’s how it happens in romantic movies” to “boys just being boys.”

I didn’t go to the cops when I was raped for multiple reasons. I’m a trans person, so they’d likely think it was my fault for existing, that me being open and public was an invitation to such behavior, since some people link us being trans with some kind of sexual fetish or perversion. A woman did it, and enough people think that in and of itself is impossible. And, because I spent so much time, even to this day, asking the very questions that so many people throw on the abused and the victimized, still blaming myself on some level.

When people get abused or raped, because of how this society treats those who have been, it’s nearly impossible to not internalize these victim-blaming tendencies. “I could’ve done better.” “I should’ve seen it coming.” “I should’ve gotten out earlier.” “I should’ve trusted my instinct.” Because so many people are set against believing us or finding any way that it couldn’t have possibly been the perpetrator’s fault, at least entirely, we start to believe it ourselves.

When I was the recipient of repeated unwanted touching earlier this year, my first self-criticism wasn’t on how better to protect myself, but on how I didn’t say “no” assertively enough. On how I put myself in a position for that to happen. On how I should’ve known better.

In other words, victim-blaming is so common that I ended up doing it to myself.

If that isn’t indicative that we have a major problem when it comes to helping those who have suffered these situations, I don’t know what is. But I can tell you this: if someone comes to you and tells you that they’ve been abused, attacked, assaulted, or anything else…

Instead of asking what they were doing or how they could’ve stopped it or suggesting what they could’ve done differently, start by telling them that you believe them. Just knowing that someone in the world to whom they’ve trusted enough to admit these events believes you is a step that many people need in order to start coping with what happened in the first place.

One that happens all too seldom in the stories of many. I’ve even seen recently when women quote statistics of how many people are assaulted or have been abused, someone will inevitably respond “that seems a bit high.”

Yeah. It is. And the fact that your first reaction is disbelief does nothing but prove that further. Stop blaming people for what abusers, assaulters, rapists, and violators have done and start supporting those they’ve hurt rather than trying to find out what they could’ve done better to stop it in your eyes. If you’ve ever wondered why more people don’t speak up or step forward, your answer lies in those reactions.

Believe people when they tell you something’s happened to them. Start there, and then move forward with the rest.

Marissa Explains It All #38 – Questioning

There was a bit of an altercation on a thread for one of my shows today, and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around everything as best I can. Unfortunately, I’m left with more questions than answers, so I suppose this post will have me explaining my questions rather than divulging my usual way. Forgive the endless series of wonders that I’ll go through here, but I’m trying to reach for something tangible in all this.

On one of my podcasts, we spoke to a trans person who talked about having to go “undercover” as their assigned gender at birth while teaching in Zambia so as not to be put in jail for 14 years. A bad joke and a reference later, and I named the show after it, replacing part of a line from Toto’s “Africa” with our show catch phrase because… silly song, sarcastic reference, nothing bad intended.

On the thread for it this morning, it was called out for being racist, and I wanted to ask why. I wanted to understand how it was doing so. I’ve tried to do nothing but ask questions since, but I come up with more questions than answers, as I stated in the beginning.

Just as it’s not a cis person’s place to tell me when something is transphobic, it’s not my place to tell a POC whether something is or is not racist, which is why I asked if anything I did disparaged anyone. I was then explained the history of colonization and imperialism, about which I’m not familiar but again it’s not my place to question, and then the guest was reprimanded for “changing the topic” to LGBT oppression… on an LGBT show whose thread was an interview with someone who had to pretend they were someone they weren’t in order to help build schools in Zambia without going to jail.

I don’t understand how a reference to an admittedly problematic song reinforces racism, but I changed the name of the show because I don’t feel like I should tell someone it isn’t. But within the thread, it was stated more than once that all white people are racist, as they benefit from the systematic oppression of POC; the second part of which is of course demonstrably true.

I tried replacing some of the words to see if I could find something tangible to grab on to. As an Autistic person, sometimes I need to do that in order to process it, but I’m finding myself more lost the more I think about it. If we start with the idea that an entire group of people is automatically racist, where do we go from that? If we’re all grouped in with those who actively oppress, how do we work to improve that situation? I know we don’t rely on “I’m not racist, I do this,” but I always want to improve, be more educated, and try to be better than I was yesterday, and I don’t see a way to do that here.

I try to ask so that I can listen, because I don’t feel qualified to speak on these issues. You can be privileged in one area and not another, and that gives you a unique perspective on knowing when to speak and when not to. Where I don’t have cis or male privilege, I do have white privilege, and that’s important to recognize. When I’m asked about the murder rate of trans POC, I don’t feel qualified to speak on that topic because I don’t feel my voice is the one that needs to be platformed on that specific issue. I try to find others who speak from experience or better knowledge than I do.

I know the answer is to sometimes not speak at all, and I get that. When it comes to race issues, I don’t know that experience. I can definitely speak on trans issues though, and that’s what our show is specifically about. If the title was racist or evoked negativity in that way, I felt obligated to change it, whether or not I understood it. Again, not my place to decide.

But what do I do from here? I don’t want to be racist. I try my best not to do or say problematic things or support people who do, but where do I go from there. If we’re all automatically the same as the active oppressors, I don’t know where to go from that point, and I feel the need to distinguish between “I’m not racist, but…” and “I don’t want to be racist,” meaning if I am, I want to work toward not being so. I definitely want to be corrected, I definitely want to be educated, I definitely want to learn, but what do I do if there’s nothing to be done, or nothing I can do to escape it?

These are questions I don’t feel qualified to answer, and I hope I’m not being problematic in doing so. On one hand, I feel like if I said that all cis people benefit from cis privilege and are therefore transphobes, that would be very problematic, and I wouldn’t say that beyond the intentionally-joking manner of “hecking the cis.” I also acknowledge that those are not the same situations, but I’m trying to grasp them somehow so I can understand, learn, acknowledge, and grow.

And even in writing this, I’ve further confused myself. I actively admit this is beyond my understanding, and if I get told to stay in my lane, then I should. But I don’t know what to do while I’m there either, and that’s where I find the most confusion of all.

Marissa Explains It All #36 – Defaulting to Apathy

Written One Year Ago: July 25th, 2016.

Put your political allegiance and ideology aside for a few minutes here, before you read what I’m about to say. It’s easy to blame the media and government for what happens, but I want you to consider an alternate explanation for something that’s going on right now.

There are just a lot of people in this country who love to bitch. They love to bitch about what’s not happening, what’s not getting done, and what’s not going right. But they’re also the ones who bitch about anything that anyone does in order to help things go right, to fix an issue, to try to get something done. No matter what it is or who says it, they call everyone who thinks about it an idiot and criticize any idea proposed and anyone who tries to propose them.

The default position in this country is not right or left, it’s stagnation. It’s not liberal or conservative, it’s willful ignorance. It’s celebrating the lack of not having any attachment or taking a stand on anything, and thus equating the act of not participating to the right to bitch and complain about everything, somehow believing that is the hard position to take.

It’s not. Not taking a stand or commitment to any stance, any ideology, any event, any controversy, is the easy way out. It’s the way to not have to think about things. It’s the way to complain about things without having an alternate solution, or being called on for one, for that matter. We celebrate ignorance in this society, from an education perspective as well as an awareness one. You’re too political if you care about something going on, you’re shaming, ranting, sharing propaganda, influenced by the media, sheeple, a libtard, Republitard, or any other ableist name that makes people think they’re being clever and original, all the while using deflecting tactics to avoid having a thought.

I’d rather have a conversation with someone closed-minded who commits to an opinion than an open-minded person who takes a stance on nothing. For all the complaining we get about the oligarchy, political stagnation, the two-party system, crumbling infrastructure, or anything else that we use to blame government as if it’s a big fuck-all building with people in monocles twisting their mustache and guffawing. And the people who complain about their inefficiency are also convinced that they’re responsible for making every tragic event in this country a conspiracy cover-up, or saying that it’s distracting us from what’s really going on. They can’t do anything right, except orchestrate mass cover-ups and diversionary tactics that everyone but them believes. That makes sense.

On top of that, anyone who comes along who wants to do something about the system is derided, called a wasted vote, not taken seriously, and not given any chance to have a snowball’s chance in hell in the general, and anyone who opts for those who are trying to change the system are derided for equating the support of an independent, a Libertarian, a Green, a Whig, a Free Soil, a Know-Nothing, a Communist, a Socialist, a Pikachu, an Abnegation, a Hufflepuff, a Mystic, a Gamma, an Ajah, a Prole, a Blue Meanie, a Goonie, a Thuggee, a Greaser, a Na’Vi, a Fire Bender, a Morelock, a Rohirrim, a Hooman, a Brotherhood without Banners, a Democratic Republican, a Republican Democrat, a Crystal Gem, a Vox Populi, a Scav, or even Vermin Supreme who might just be insane enough to challenge President Whitmore on the next ticket because hello boys I’m back and all, are tossed aside before the election even begins, given no platform or opportunity, because a majority of people who claim to be dissatisfied with the system and hate everyone also are against anything that changes the status quo. After all, that’s easier, requires less effort, and has less uncertainty. Who knows what you might get from a Morelock, they’re crazy man, and without Team Red or Team Blue to choose, how would you identify yourself and save face at that thing where people congregate and discuss stuff?

So don’t tell those who are trying something different to shut up and go away, or to just vote for your person because you fear the other, as if only two people are running for President or should even be considered. Give them a voice, give them a chance, and put them in the debates and on the tickets so they’re not just a strange name no one’s ever heard when you reach the booth. And don’t write them and their supporters off the minute you hear about them because you fear the big fuck-all candidate, whoever that may be at the time. Voting out of fear seldom leads to anything good.

Remember, the person considered the best president in our country’s history was running from a party that had only been formed four years prior, against three candidates resulting from other split parties over a tremendous issue, and he won with 39 percent of the vote. I’d say Mr. Lincoln turned out all right for this country.

If all we do is complain, but keep electing the same people that have a 9-percent approval rating and do nothing of consequence to change the system everyone hates, then we need to stop pretending that not doing anything gives us full, criticism-free platforms from which to bitch and moan all the time. Just like a coach or an unpopular foreign group, government and media are consolidated into a big thing that we just like to yell about, and if that’s all we’re going to do, at least be honest about it. “I don’t like the way things are, but if I try to change it, I might have to find something new to bitch about, so I’ll pick the lesser of two evils, whomever that may be, because that’s better than actually thinking and taking action. And more fun.”

There’s so much bullshit and hyperbole in politics that selling it on a four-year cycle of elections gets ratings and media profits through the roof. They’re not the ones who created it, they’re the farmer filling the trough because it’s empty every day and it somehow remains a bottomless pit. If scaring the shit out of people and pitting them against each other was ever unprofitable, it wouldn’t dominate every second of media because that’s not how businesses work. If people truly didn’t get a smug satisfaction and sense of Schadenfreude out of it, it wouldn’t exist. It’s only a reflection of what the consumers want, and election rhetoric from the major political parties is a mirror of the times as well.

If you don’t like it, let’s start doing things to change the system and challenge people to step up. Or, at the very least, stop casting aside those who do. It doesn’t make you superior to not care or pretend that you’re above it all, so stop acting like it does, and stop giving credence to people who do nothing but complain no matter what happens. The Undecideds aren’t the noble among us, carefully weighing every single platform until the last second, because anyone who doesn’t commit to anything or can’t make up their mind doesn’t get the privilege of calling everyone else a sheeple. Sorry.

Marissa Explains it All #35 – Let People Feel

Whether it’s Chester Bennington, Robin Williams, Chris Cornell, or any other person in the mainstream awareness that passes away from these circumstances, the same responses are always so irritatingly prevalent.

“You didn’t know them, stop pretending like you did.”
“Suicide is the coward’s way out.”
“He abandoned his family.”
“Permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
“Fuck them, I didn’t like their work anyway.”

I’m curious why it is so many people seem determined to remove the agency of how people feel from the conversation. What is it about feelings, especially surrounding one of the most difficult situations a person can deal with, that causes others to speak up about how others shouldn’t feel a certain way?

As I described in the last blog, I recently went through the loss of a friend of 14 years, the 18th person I’ve known in my life to have left via suicide. This was shortly before Chester Bennington of Linkin Park resurrected the same conversation I hear as mentioned above, so my feelings are still sort of raw on the topic, and I’ve had to avoid a lot of threads based on that.

What I can’t understand is how some people seem determined to not let anyone feel or grieve, whether it’s because they didn’t care about the person’s work, or because they’re unwilling to acknowledge the impact artists can have on our lives.

I had this conversation a lot when Robin Williams passed, and the graphics and memes were passed around where people were mourning. Whether it was because of the Genie, Good Will Hunting, his standup, or any of his other endeavors, he touched a lot of lives. And there was, as mentioned, the usual offputting responses of “He took the easy way out,” “You didn’t know him, why do you care?” etc.

I think you have to wrap yourself in a layer of ignorance to not think that artists can impact our daily lives. You’ve seen pictures of my library. You’ve heard my interviews with podcasters and activists. Some I consider friends at this point, but they all started out as people who influenced me, or whose voices were prevalent in my life. Losing one of them would be devastating, because their voice or words were a part of me, even if it wasn’t an interpersonal connection.

For many of us who grew up in the late 90s, Linkin Park’s “Hybrid Theory” managed to capture an essence of rebellious youth, of suffering, of being angry and not necessarily knowing why. It was my entire freshman year, especially being in and out of the hospital. Granted, I moved on from it rather quickly, especially when an album of remixes came out. It didn’t catch me anymore, but for that brief moment in time, that screaming and raw emotion captured my inner conflict of the time.

That level of angst was so real for many of us, especially post-9/11 when those of us who were social outcasts were singled out and pushed away. I didn’t last an entire school year after that happened, partially because I wasn’t interested in conforming to my elitist school’s image of what a student should be. Many of us were pushed out the same way. That’s part of what “Voice in the Dark” (available now at rismccool.com and free to patrons at patreon.com/RisMC or patreon.com/incitingincidentpodcast) was really trying to recapture; a time in my life where it seemed like the management was more interested in pushing us away for not wanting to fit a certain model of a student or citizen.

But sometimes, someone who speaks up about those things the most ends up losing their battle with mental illness. Then people call them a coward or someone who abandoned their family or a quitter or a piece of shit for leaving people behind, and you stand there and wonder… “Gee, I can’t imagine why people don’t speak up about these feelings when they have them.” When you stigmatize mental illness, or refer to anyone on anti-depressants as weak, crazy, or say that they just need to go outside, the world can feel empty and alone. People don’t want to reach out for help because they don’t want to be belittled, insulted, or condescended to. Or even worse, proselytized.

I sat through the funeral for a friend recently, and I saw little to no reflection of who my friend was. Instead I heard about Jesus and heaven and the same stories we’ve always heard, but I went there to remember my friend. I cannot emphasize that enough. I kept my mouth shut, even though I know when I’m being stared at (it was a Catholic service), but this was like Aiden’s grandmother’s service. Thirty seconds on his grandmother, 29 minutes and 30 seconds on Jesus and the rapture and going to heaven and salvation.

Maybe it’s because I was raised in a family where you talked about and celebrated the person when they passed, but this seems so foreign to me. I didn’t get that experience of remembering the person until a bunch of us who were friends back in the day sat around a table at the diner and reminisced, laughed, and even teased. To me, that’s always been how to remember someone, and I wish more of that was incorporated into remembrances such as that. I’d rather remember my friend who was an amazing musician than what Jesus said about X. I’d rather acknowledge that he thought he was way better at martial arts than he was, which led to him getting dumped on his ass a few times, than hear about how God called him home because X. It seems so fake, and more to convince people that they shouldn’t be sad because they lost someone because better tomorrow or something.

I mean no disrespect to anyone for whom that is a comfort, but distracting from what’s going on, in my experience, has never been a healthy method of coping. Remembering who the person was and what they meant to you? That’s how you learn to accept what has happened, and remember them fondly.

But yet, we don’t allow people to feel this way when it comes to the death of an artist or celebrity, because you didn’t meet them or know them, so that means you’re not allowed to feel. Feelings are constantly invalidated by those others who are uncomfortable with them, because god forbid things are being discussed that don’t involve you, or are about someone you didn’t personally admire.
Whether it’s about the death of a celebrity, our experience as LGBT people, or anything else that anyone has to deal with, there’s always someone out to tell us what is more important that we’re not focusing on, what is more important than whatever it is being discussed. “Why do you care about X when Y is happening and nobody’s talking about it?”

And usually, whichever Y is, they don’t do anything about it. They only want to stop the conversation, pat themselves on the back for pretending to care about an issue, and then move on like nothing happened because conversation about feelings outside of their box made them uncomfortable, and we can’t be having that shit going on.

Feel what you feel. If an artist meant something to you, celebrate their presence in your life. If a writer captures your imagination, you’re under no obligation to pretend that meant nothing to you when they pass. And for the love of everything, don’t invalidate how someone feels upon their passing just because it isn’t how you feel. We have to deal with that enough without adding grief to something that can’t be expressed without being explained to why it’s wrong and being constantly invalidated.

Marissa Explains It All #32 – Gratitude

Sometimes I feel like I don’t express the gratitude that I feel others deserve enough. Overcompensation ends up becoming a big, and probably annoying, part of my personality, because I never want anyone to think that I’m taking them for granted.

The work that I do has afforded me opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. From traveling to Flint and standing with indigenous folk from Standing Rock to being given a platform on which to speak, and even better, for others to listen… The transformation was so quick that it still amazes me when I’m reminded that someone actually knows who I am. My brain hasn’t quite reconciled this yet.

Nearly every day, whether through Facebook, email, or other means, I receive messages and letters from people who ascribe such meaningful platitudes to things I’ve done or said, and I feel incredulous. I’ve looked into the eyes of people to whom I’m speaking and seen tears form because I know I’m reaching them.

I’ve also seen the hate in the eyes of people who consider me subhuman. I’ve seen the ire that the mere mention of the word “transgender” draws, across the spectrum from “kill them all” to “you’re not really women.” It’s easier to take some days than others. When I was speaking in Flint, I was interrupted by a guy who yelled at all of us about insulting the military, when none of our presentation had even mentioned it, and yet I stood calm and trying to understand him where I could’ve yelled and been righteous and nobody would’ve blamed me.

The point is, unless someone directly gets aggressive with me, I want to be open, calm, and understanding. I want to learn from others. I want to hear their stories. I want to see the passion opening up in their eyes as they talk about something they love. What I do has given me the chance to see that with so many people that I wouldn’t know if I didn’t travel to see them. The community farmer outside of Flint whose daughter dressed in pink My Little Pony tights with purple socks and a giant hat. The Standing Rock cast-offs who for some reason wanted to hear what I had to say. The trans kid in the closet who is only out to me. The parent of a queer kid who wants to learn but doesn’t quite understand it.

I don’t know why people listen to me. Many times, I don’t know why I’m speaking in these places. I feel like I should be the one listening to the stories from Flint, or from Atlanta, or from wherever it is I’ve gone. So many people feel unheard, uncared about, unworthy of love that it breaks my heart. People thank me for what I do, but I want them to know that how they feel matters, and their lives are not without value. What they care about and love matters. What makes them happy matters. Their passion, whether it’s growing vegetables or watching Doctor Who, it matters! I can have no clue what you’re talking about, but seeing the passion in your face and body language makes any subject worth it! Unless it’s white supremacy, why Jesus commands you to kill the gays, or something like that, but I think that goes without saying.

The point is, the last few months especially have had me traveling to every corner of this country, and I’m still not used to it. I’m not used to being recognized while walking around a city. I’m not used to strangers asking to take me to lunch or have a picture with me. I’m not used to someone I didn’t already know reading or listening to my bullshit. Even though in some capacity I’ve had that since 2011, The PC Lie, no doubt, brought a lot of eyes to my work that weren’t there before, and I can’t express enough gratitude for anyone who doesn’t have the previous bias of knowing me.

On July 14th, my fourth book since coming out will be published. Noah Lugeons, who contributed an essay to it, read his work on Patreon for his subscribers, and interviewed me for this week’s Scathing Atheist. On that same day, I talked to my cohost Molly about the validation of fears and anxiety, and was on Gaytheist Manifesto talking about self-harm, and hearing the other guest’s voice fall into silence for periods of time that were haunting. What have I done that makes me worthy of being in all these places with such immensely talented people? What have I done that when I travel to Flint, Michigan, which still doesn’t have clean drinking water, that they give me time to speak to them instead of the other way around? I don’t deserve it, and I feel ashamed. They shared two water bottles with me. I’m still having trouble reconciling all of these things, but I also know I need to keep working.

For all the people who aren’t being heard, I try to remind them that even though I’ve been given time to speak, I hear them. Every single email that isn’t filled with slurs and shittiness, it matters to me. I constantly get surprised reactions when I respond to them, and that breaks my heart that so many people out there are being reached out to, and can’t respond. I know how that feels, and I do my best to make sure it doesn’t happen. So many voices are crying out in what they feel is the darkness, an unheard void not being regarded by the rest of the world, but to me, the most powerful tool I can use is my attention. People often ask me how to be a better ally, and I try to take the same advice I always give: Listen.

Sometimes people just need to know that they’re being heard, if not even understood. To see the response of someone nodding or saying that they are valid, it’s so valuable. Even in the world of instant communication and social media, so many feel alone. Try not to take it for granted that someone in your life knows you love them. It’s better to remind them too often than not enough.

I love all of you. I hope none of you ever feel like you’re completely alone. If you’re reading these words, you’re not.