I’ve been taking writing a bit more seriously for about 3 months now. I have a few things written which I’m happy about, some of it I like more than others. I have a blog setup in an acceptable state. I’ve shown my stuff to a writer who’s become my mentor and they’ve been very encouraging. I also shared some with a few friends who I got the feeling liked what they read. In theory I’m ready to put it all out there and make it more public and visible.
A couple of days ago and after some encouraging words by a friend I was like – ok, now it’s the time; I’m going to share one of my pieces on a Facebook post tomorrow. It felt good and right at the time. I went to bed and this is when it hit me: I had a terrible sleep, feeling the anxiety all over my body. I was aware of what I was about to do with terror, even if I was half asleep. I woke up earlier than I planned and I was moody all day. Eventually I saw that my body was telling me I wasn’t ready. A day after I found some answers from an unexpected place. They had to do with a recent event that’s been online lately.
I’m not sure if you’ve seen it around but there has been some posts about a young man in Berlin named Danny Pollaris, who’s been recently hospitalised with a priapism. He’s a facebook friend of mine and I followed his story from the start.
What I want to talk about though is not his story but it’s about how others, especially gay men, reacted to it. I heard that some of the comments on the press articles were pretty bad and that some websites (wisely) turned commenting off. As Danny Polaris himself posted, people sent him pretty hateful personal comments on his gofundme page. I saw myself with what ease some of his friends doubted his intentions openly on his wall – they were questioning his story and they were pushing him to reveal more about what happened. Some people were kind, there were a lot telling him to ignore the haters while others used humour to attack the attackers.
I’ve never been in his place mainly because I haven’t been brave enough to speak about the things that mattered to me so openly, but I saw similar stuff in other places. This whole thing reminded me something I witnessed a few months back in a popular gay mens’ forum, when someone reported sexual assault in a sex club. The response was quite similar: some people were kind – they expressed their sympathy. I can’t remember if a lot of people doubted the person reporting the assault (which I assume had more to do with the fact that he was a well-known member of the group) but I do remember a lot of people laughing it off. One person even said that “when someone tells me no in a dark room, what I hear is yes“. It was unclear if he was joking but nobody said anything. The comment was deleted about an hour later. I spoke up as much as I could but it felt like I was the only angry person in the group. The group admins apologised for what happened and said they would take this report seriously, but seeing their messages between all those rape jokes made was hard for me to take their response seriously. I left the group and never went back.
When I first wrote the piece you’re reading now, even though I had a reaction to what’s been happening to Danny’s story it didn’t feel right to share it. There was something about it not being my story, but also not finding a way to connect it with my own process. But yesterday something happened that changed my mind. I saw another one of those Facebook posts where Danny Polaris’ story was doubted and ridiculed. On the thread under the post there were comments of the bitchiest kind. What really woke me up though was the fact that some the names commenting were people I knew. There were people I once called friends or lovers – some I still do – or others who a few years back I used to spend almost every weekend with, for years. Some of them have been in the scene for ages, with a lot of influence and power – organising for example successful London gay nights.
This is when it dawned on me that having spent a big part of my life with these people must have had a greatly negative effect on me. This idea that the gay scene is an unfriendly, bitchy place wasn’t a hypothetical concept anymore – it became reality. It’s only logical that I feel so afraid to tell my story and to put myself out there now.
I’m not excluding myself from this. I’ve been one of those people. I said awful things in the past that when I think about them now I’m filled with shame. Even later, when I became a bit more reflective and careful about what I was saying, I was part of the problem because I was tolerating what others said with the excuse that they were my friends. Perhaps the fact that I started to see and accept this darker side of me made me see that the haters in the ‘haters are gonna hate’ are not some random people out there, but our friends, our lovers, our supposed families.
There’s a a lot of reasons I can think of why we do this. In Danny’s case, perhaps we see in him all the things we don’t like about ourselves (as if we’ve never done anything stupid, drunk on a night out…). Maybe we make a joke out of this sort of sexual story or judge because we don’t want to admit how talking about sex makes us feel uncomfortable or ashamed. Then maybe there’s trust and how not trusting others is a reflection of the fact that we don’t trust ourselves; or a result of the exact bitchy ways in which we react to stories like these. It is also scary when we see someone bringing up something so vulnerable that hits so close to home, uncovering the parts of our selves that we want to burry. And also maybe if we were in Danny’s place we’d keep everything quiet; we wouldn’t ask for help because we’d be too ashamed, and we hate that someone else was brave enough to ask for help in such a way.
And maybe there’s something even bigger: it’s hard for us to admit and accept that the good and the bad coexist everywhere, out there and within us. We’re not good and they’re not bad; we’re all the same, sometimes acting good, sometimes bad. And if we break things down even more perhaps we’ll find out that there is no good and bad really – it all comes down to how we interpret things.
So what can we do about all this? I can’t answer that. I don’t know. All I’ve come to realise is that tolerating behaviour like this doesn’t lead anywhere. There’s this idea that we need to accept others as they are, to be patient with them and understanding. I have trouble understanding what this means, let alone accept it. How about when what they do or what they say goes against our values? It seems unrealistic to think that we’ve figured all this out, we’re beyond stuff like that and we can be there for others even if we don’t agree with them. It might actually seem to be a good sign that we’re avoiding to see and accept what’s important for us, to accept that what we are and what we think matter. I personally notice that the more I connect with my own values the less forgiving I become with others who act against them. Block is becoming my favourite button on Facebook. I don’t know if it’s the right thing to do but I know that it feels right for me right now. And if that’s what it takes for me to finally find my voice and become brave enough to share it with the world, so be it.