What’s with all the pity?: On liberal niceness
So it seems that people feel sorry for me. I’ve been trying to understand why - my whole life - and I can never come up with any sort of rational answer. But I reached a point of exhaustion so long ago. I can’t even discuss the ongoing issues of my life because all people want to do is feel bad about it.
I’m not trying to make you feel bad. The things I talk about are my reality. This is what I live through. I’m not going to sugarcoat it to make people who can walk feel more comfortable, but I also go out of my way to avoid exaggeration and piling on lists of random things that suck about my life, because I’m not trying to make people feel bad.
In a way I feel empowered most of the time - I don’t have to tell people shit I don’t want to. I can leave it up to everyone else to learn about being queer and a paraplegic and the intersections of those two “problems” (and I use scare quotes because while the things I deal with are shitty, I don’t really consider my existence problematic and I get a bit upset that some people do.) When I tell anyone anything at all about my disability (or about being queer and disabled and living in south Alabama) it’s because I’ve gone out of my fucking way to rehash my story over and over and over again for educational purposes.
So yeah, you’re welcome.
There is so much privilege inherent in the whole concept of pity. If you feel sorry for me it comes from a place that somehow gives you the impression that you’re better than I am. You’re not sitting down as much as I am so that makes your life easier on you and then the tears start flowing and that magically makes everything okay because now you’ve offered your tears. You can’t stop walking in order to make us even, but you can cry. Oh, you can cry like no one’s business. And then out of nowhere - ! - everything is better because of the tears. Mysteriously, no education took place. There was no thought process. No one learned or attempted to learn anything about my actual lived experiences even after I graciously provided personally hurtful and private information so that some thoughts could worked out on this subject.
But the real underlying point is that you don’t actually have to think about it. You don’t have to think, wow, I’m part of a world that completely fucking ostracizes large portions of our communities and our families and our friends because they’re sitting down. You think about it when it’s right there in your face, and even then, half the fucking people in the world go “ohh you’re bringing up the disability card again! You just want me to feel bad because you’re losing this argument!” Like I’m trying to win a fucking argument. The truth is you can’t fucking win at very fucking much when you are in the situation I’m in.
Good luck with that.
I wrote this the other day at my blog (soon to be published at The Huffington Post’s Gay Voices where I’ve been a blogger for months, after I was invited to write there because of my popularity elsewhere and because of the fact that I can get my thoughts out in a fairly coherent format, so, again, careful with the pity there) because it’s true:
I would like to know why anyone would feel sorry for me, and it seems to be quite a bit of the people down here in the backwards abyss that is south Alabama, blanketed with humidity in the atmosphere that leaves anyone feeling choked. Honestly, I feel like it’s a huge waste of time to feel bad for someone in my situation, as seated as I may be. Do you know how many people have a worse life than I do? It’s a lot of people. Please don’t waste time feeling sorry for some guy who’s sitting down and still managing to do what he wants to do.
Feel bad, if you must, for the people who won’t try. The people who think it’s not worth it. The people who have just given up. And it’s so many people. You don’t have to go out to make a difference. I’m always surprised to hear from nurses and doctors who have worked with paraplegics for so long that it shocks them that I’m so active. I mean, what else is there to be? Do they expect me to lie around in bed all day feeling terrible and wishing I could walk? I’m not gonna walk, not ever again, and that’s the way things are. But who cares? What are the important differences between people who can walk to whatever places they want to go in life and people who wheel to those places? Can anyone think of any? I can’t. What matters is what you do. not whether you’re sitting down or standing up when you do it. It’s not even where you go. If you even leave your place to do what you want. It’s just not.And I’ll always do things. Sitting down has done literally nothing to keep me from experiencing life the way I want, with the exception of the frustration I often feel from my lack of having local friends…
I write these things because I just want people to consider my perspective. Why not try to connect with other people? It doesn’t have to be a lecture. I am not trying to start a fight. The last thing I would do is beat people over the head with the “you can stand up and I can’t” club. Who the fuck really cares if you can stand up? Chances are I can write better than you can.
But the bigger point is that it’s not even a competition. My loss is not your gain. You’re not “winning” something because some people have the misfortune of being born into certain situations (or having been thrust into terrible situations at age 15 because of surgical mishaps.) The world is simply not a good place sometimes, and this is the world in which all of us live.
Why do people have such problems seeing this?
I wish I had the privilege of seeing everything with ‘my world vs. your world’ glasses. First thing I’d do is drop everything and fight like hell to be a part of your world. The world where things are apparently okay. But we are all in the same place and nothing is okay. Where are all the pitying people NOW? Where are the attempts to make this all better? Where is the fight? Where is the anger? I have anger. Don’t know where yours has gone to. Feeling terrible is fucking easy and honestly, if you’re seen feeling terrible in public, other people will congratulate you. They’ll give you hugs and pats on the back.
I guess the worst part is that I feel like there’s not enough niceness in this terrible fucking place and that at least some of the people who feel bad for me are attempting some random niceness - some people seem to be coming from a decent place. Sort of makes me feel like shit for reacting internally with so much anger. I can’t help it, though. I get so fucking mad. To be perfectly clear so as to avoid confusion, I get pissed specifically because I feel like I go out of my way to express myself in order to get people to think about things and no one thinks and everyone just feels bad. Or worse, I get accused of trying to make them feel bad by existing and mentioning the fact I exist in the context of educational discussions. It’s incredibly fucked up.
And it makes me question my communication skills - and let me tell you, as a writer, that is the absolute worst fucking feeling in the world.
Last night provided a good example of this. I was unable to sleep so I was writing comments in this godawful post written by a gay Republican reality TV person. He had a sad over the fact that someone posted a blog post calling out Republicans. So he did what any regular gay guy in any of the country’s 50 states who has a complaint does at that point: he went to a national online news site and asked for the privilege of complaining to the readers there about the sad he was having.
I mentioned, briefly, that there are lots of problems in the world and queer people are not really doing very well. I discussed in a sentence the fact that I’m disabled and queer in the South. I was only trying to point out the bigger issue: that it’s incredibly privileged to rush off to a national news site to complain in an article and in the process to actually write the sentence “I was recently annoyed when I read a letter to gay Republicans on the Gay Voices section of The Huffington Post.”
Yeah, I was recently annoyed too. I feel you, brother.
So I posted my comment, and a nice person said this back:
There’s no other word to describe your writing.
It tugs at the heart strings, my friend.
F&F all the way.
Thanks for sharing (apologies if that sounded like a twelve-step meeting).
And don’t get me wrong: it was nice. That person was very kind. And I love compliments. I have always been incredibly open about the fact that I have longstanding self-esteem and general mental health issues. So when people say nice things, a part of me is always glad because it proves in some small way that I don’t totally suck at life.
But there was no heart-string tugging going on. There was no attempt to emotionally manipulate anyone. I was just stating what the reality of my life is. And since it was a comment directed to a complete fucking idiot, I was pretty sarcastic about the whole thing. I wasn’t about to waste my valuable time educating a “gay Republican strategist” who is also some TV person. So it’s not like there was a clear reason for the sad reaction to my comment.
But this is what always happens. And this is what I don’t want. I just want to feel connected to people. I want people to see me as a legitimate part of their world and I want them to see my issues and complaints as something they could take on and fight back against - not out of pity but out of the plain fucking fact that we’re all in the same world whether or not we experience it the same way. And we’ll all be buried in the same ground. This is what we get and people would rather just feel bad than try to make it better.
Everyone sees everything as someone else’s fight. It’s as if everyone thinks “I can feel bad about this but golly gee I just can’t do anything. I know you’re fighting this fight and I admire your total bravery and courage - because YOU’RE SO BRAVE! - but also I’m just gonna stand right over here and do nothing. But hey, nice going there.”
It’s your fight too and everyone notices your absence from it. You need to be aware of this.
Stop feeling terrible about things and start realizing that they’re not getting better because you’re not helping.