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I’ve spent the past few months writing incendiary social media posts about groups of people who had been bullying me -- mostly for being a transgender woman -- on a daily basis. In the process, I became increasingly angry. I was feeling burned out from fighting constantly. I saw how angry many of my friends were feeling about similar oppressions, and I wanted desperately to reach out to them to ensure that they were emotionally healthy.
My next article was actually supposed to be about the importance of self-care while fighting for social justice, and it was aimed towards these friends of mine. I thought I could write it without partaking in respectability politics, a term used to describe groups policing their own people. I thought I could help people find a balance between fighting for others and fighting for themselves.
But halfway through my writing, I hit a roadblock and couldn’t figure out why.
And then at 2am, someone who I have never talked to, interacted with, or even met sent me this Facebook message apropos of nothing:
“When I met you hosting the Improv at the Spectrum I thought you were a cool dude. I don't care what you identify as, but it seems you have a lot of learning ahead of you in regards to acceptance, and I wish you the best of luck. I can't keep seeing your posts bashing people for various reasons though... If you want acceptance, accept others. You look at the greatest people who walked this planet (MLK, Grandhi, Buddha, Jesus); they spoke of love and compassion. Look what they accomplished... You want change, be different... Love unconditionally. You want the same; fight fire with fire…”
Setting aside for a second that I don’t know who "Grandhi" is, my blood began boiling, and I realized that this is why I couldn’t finish my article: because no matter how nice I am, how understanding I am, how much I take care of myself, and how well I treat others even when they’re mistreating me, I will still always get messages letting me know that my compassion isn’t good enough.
And this fills me with unspeakable anger.
The Facebook message arrived on the heels of my recent posts, where I openly said that I regret many of the incendiary statuses I wrote. I had been decrying “white dudes” for months because I receive more transphobic hate mail and condescending messages from white men than any other group. But I started feeling like many of the things I was writing were unfairly harsh, so I apologized.
For the past month, I have done nothing but apologize. I’ve tried my best to suppress my anger. This is even after I received several questions from strangers about whether or not I would “slice my groin open.”
And after all the time I spent apologizing, that stranger still sent me a condescending Facebook message, because for him and for others like him (I have an inbox full of similar messages), I still needed to be more "tolerant" of other people’s intolerances.
I spent so much energy trying to appease people, and still, they turn around and judge me for my anger. I then realized that in the midst of attempting to write my article about self-care, I was unintentionally speaking in a similarly judgmental and condescending tone.
Telling an angry person to calm down is the quickest way to fuel that person’s anger. I had been led to believe by those who claim to be my allies that I am an “angry person.” I began internalizing this belief into self-loathing, and I was tone-policing myself lest my anger make anyone uncomfortable.
But no more.
I am not an “angry person.” I am a passionate person who gets angry at the constant mistreatment I receive, not only by bigots, but by people who say they are my friends even though they constantly remind me to “calm down” because my anger pushes others away. And to think, I almost wrote an article that would’ve justified this attitude. I almost gave people even more reasons to condescendingly misuse MLK quotes on people like me at the first sign of someone speaking out against injustices.
Blaming oppressed people’s internal anger for their own unhappiness is not only condescending and ignorant, it is a form of victim-blaming. Whenever someone says “forget the haters,” they are implying that I don’t already do this on a regular basis. I let so many microaggressions slide, but I can only take so much.
If you’ve ever watched my appearances on radio shows or my standup comedy, or if you’ve ever talked to me or hung out with me, you will know that I spend the vast majority of the time laughing and smiling. I put so much energy into loving others and being empathetic to silenced voices, even the voices of those who disagree with me, because I know how profoundly painful it is to feel abandoned by others who feel like you don’t belong.
I also meditate, go to therapy, exercise, and eat a healthy diet. I do everything I can to take care of myself. But that isn’t good enough. If I give off any indication that I am ever angry, it is too much for some people to handle. They pull the lever and get off the bus at any sign of trouble. These were the people I was trying so hard to appease. And it was a mistake.
I felt guilty for making them feel uncomfortable with my anger, so I tried to apologize for losing my temper after hundreds of people on a Facebook thread were calling me transphobic slurs and insisting that I should kill myself. “I’m sorry, I should’ve kept my cool when dealing with those bigots!” I pleaded.
“Please forgive me for snapping a couple times after a dude stared at me at the bar menacingly until one of my bigger comedian friends to sat next to me so that he would stop!” I begged.
“Can you forgive me for getting a little miffed sometimes, due to the fact that I can never leave my house comfortably again, either because I'm lying to myself to feel safe, or because by being myself I will get stared at everywhere I go? Please forgive me, I know my anger makes you feel uncomfortable and I would never want you to be uncomfortable!”
And still, those "haters" don’t care. They don’t accept my apology that I should’ve never given in the first place. They don’t care about how I feel or what I’m going through. They aren’t concerned about my mental state or my emotions. The only thing they care about is living comfortably, and I make it hard for them sometimes. They don’t ever give me credit for the other 95% of the time when I respond calmly to discrimination.
If you start a sentence with, “I know what you’re going through is hard, but--” then you DON’T know what I’m going through so stop pretending like you do. Stop pretending that you care. Stop telling me that I’m not allowed to honestly respond when people treat me like human garbage.
My friends don’t need me to speak to them about self-care. They’re entitled to feel angry, just like I’m entitled to feel angry. This does not mean that we’re “angry people,” and it does not mean that it is our fault that we cannot “get over it.” It is the people who spew hatred who are at fault, not the ones who are on the receiving end of the vitriol.
So be angry and keep fighting if that’s what your heart tells you to do. You don’t need me to tell you how to take care of yourselves. I’m sure you already know how to do that. You have a right to feel however you feel. Don’t let me or anybody else ever tell you otherwise.