Thirteen Reasons Why Review

As the entire internet has been talking about Thirteen Reasons Why, I found myself curious to watch it, despite my reservations based off the fact that I knew the book existed growing up and never really had an interest in reading it. I had always sort of figured that it would read like a teacher’s lecture about why bullying is bad and suicide is never the answer. And while I still haven’t read the book, so I can’t say if that’s the case for Jay Asher’s work, that is not what I found in the Netflix television show.

The television show discusses in close and sometimes graphic detail issues such as suicide, bullying, rape, depression, and women’s issues, and I have to admit, I really admire the show for the directions that it sometimes chose to take. I should say, right off the bat, that I really enjoyed this show and could not stop watching it – but more on that later. First, I’m going to list off the parts of the show that I really enjoyed, and the reasons why I would recommend it to others.

The show represents bullying in a very mature and realistic way. The kids who bully Hannah (for the most part) are not one-dimensional bullies who are completely irredeemable: they are either incredibly hurt people who are too busy dealing with their own problems to notice the pain they are simultaneously causing, or they are realistically dumb kids who just don’t think that this is something that can hurt someone. And the way that the show represented either end impressed me hugely: I liked that I cared about many of the bullies, but at the same time understood why they deserved the retaliation that they received. They were neither good nor evil people, they were just people. To a certain extent, even the show’s hero, Clay, is depicted as an imperfect person, as Clay contributes to some of the bullying that goes on at school, and it’s hard to say how much of the extent to which he blames the bullies for Hannah’s death is rational. And on the other spectrum, I enjoyed the way in which simple dumb kids were depicted. There are several scenes throughout the show where characters (particularly male characters) give Hannah very back-handed compliments and genuinely don’t understand when she gets offended, and this feels very realistic to me. This is something that people (women in particular) experience all the time is a society run on a limited definition of beauty, and it was nice to see this expressed in a very realistic way and to have it explained why, exactly, this isn’t okay.

And although the show has received some criticism about the fact that, while showing characters with symptoms of depression, mental illness is never explicitly discussed, I didn’t really mind the way it was portrayed. As someone who has suffered from depression in the past (and who has a tendency to go back to depressive thoughts from time to time), I found that the symptoms of depression were clear enough that I knew what they were trying to convey. And, more than that, it really reminded me of how it felt to have depression but to not realize that you do, and to not have your mental illness recognized by people around you – which, admittedly, mostly happened to me when I was a teenager. And the majority of the characters are teenagers. Teenagers who, repeatedly, have their emotions and issues belittled unintentionally by the adults around them, and the show does a very realistic job of portraying this as well.

These facts about the show has earned it a very special place in my heart, and when I was watching it, I found that I could not look away – both because I was so engrossed in what was watching and because, at some points, I just couldn’t look away. It was like stumbling upon a car crash – you just want to keep watching until you find out what the body count is and how gory they died. There are three scenes in particular that I found to be incredibly graphic – two rape scenes and a depiction of suicide. Thus far, I’ve been praising the show for how realistic their depictions have been, but these three scenes are where I wonder if a line needs to be drawn. Upon completing the show, I found myself feeling emotionally drained and very low, and these three scenes in particular are responsible for that. They are just so graphic, so intimate, and as much as I can see the benefit of that, I can also see the harm for a specific audience.

And more on that, the way that the show treated Hannah’s decision to kill herself was sometimes questionable. Clay, the show’s protagonist and the perspective through which we see most things, believes that Hannah was justifiably driven to suicide through the actions of those around her. They let her down, they are responsible – not her. We do see other perspectives from time to time, including a school councilor who assures Clay that Hannah’s suicide wasn’t his fault and a fellow student who claims that everyone deals with pain and that “suicide is for the weak,” but Clay’s perspective is the one that is given the most weight, and it’s a perspective that I don’t agree with. When someone kills themselves, it is natural to feel like you could have done something more to avoid that outcome, but it is not your fault. It is not your fault. It is not your fault. Everyone deals with pain, and everyone deals with it differently. If someone makes the choice to end their life, it is because they are dealing with overwhelming mental illness. And more than that, it is a choice that they made. It is not your fault. And the fact that they keep working under the assumption that Hannah’s suicide was the fault of anyone else but Hannah seems a little bit unfair. Yes, those who bullied and assaulted her should be held accountable, but her choice to take her own life is a separate action.

Despite my problems with the show, however, I have to say that I really loved it in the end. I loved how fleshed out and realistic the characters were, I love that they took on such important issues, and I loved that they were willing to take risks and be dark when they needed to be. I don’t know if I would recommend this show to everyone, just because of how dark and how graphic it is, but if you think that you can handle it, I would definitely say that it’s worth the watch.

The Failure to Listen: Conservatives vs. Liberals

I don’t know how the world got to be so divided. I don’t know how attempts to destroy binaries like ‘white vs. black’ or ‘men vs. women’ has instead resulted in creating an entirely new binary: ‘conservatives vs. liberals’.

And I won’t lie; like most people, I take a side in this binary. I am not an American, but I am very liberal. I believe that all people, regardless of gender identity, race, sexual orientation, whatever it might be, deserves the opportunity to live their fullest life and receive every right that they are entitled to as human beings. This is something that I believe in with all my heart. This is something that I am more than willing to fight or die for if need be. But at the same time, I also believe that every perspective needs to be listened to and understood. I believe that sweeping another person’s perspective under the rug as simply wrong is reductive and unfair, and this is something that both sides of the binary are guilty of right now, and it is creating so many problems.

From the liberal perspective, conservatives are uneducated, stupid, and hateful. From the conservative perspective, liberals are attacking their rights and threatening their freedom to support an agenda that they don’t agree with. From either perspective, the other side of the binary is dangerous.

I have spoken to liberal-minded people who have said that they like talking to conservatives because they’re curious to know what it’s like to be “so wrong.” The problem with thinking like this though is that it’s instantly reductive: you aren’t listening to them because you want to have an actual conversation and make progress between the two of you. You are listening to them to mock their beliefs, leaving you both in the exact same position that you were when you started talking. You haven’t grown. You haven’t learned anything. You just leave them thinking they were an idiot, and they leave you thinking you were a jerk.

And I’ll admit, I have been at fault for thinking this way in the past as well. I’m not perfect. Sometimes, it is really hard for me to see someone verbally abusing a woman who wants an abortion, or telling transgender people that they can’t exist in certain spaces because it makes them uncomfortable. When I see that, it’s very difficult for me to see anything other than blatant ignorance and hate. In order for me to see beyond that, I need to really think about things from their perspective. I need to take the time to remember that this is a person who honestly believes that abortion is murder and transgender people are mentally ill or transgressive from nature. Whether I think they’re wrong or not really doesn’t matter; they think they’re right, and that is important for me to remember if I’m actually going to have a conversation with them.

And the same thing can be said from the opposite perspective as well: it is just as important for conservatives to remember that liberals might have a reason for believing the things that they do, because it is really frustrating for me to have a conversation with someone where I am trying to explain my beliefs and yet I am constantly being told that I’m wrong and that my beliefs are dangerous to your way of life. Maybe I’m not wrong. Maybe you’re not wrong. Maybe the path toward progress can be found somewhere between the two of us, and maybe the only way to find this path is to listen to the other.

The problem nowadays is not liberals, and nor is it conservatives: the problem is that we don’t listen to each other. We are so quick to dismiss the other as wrong that we don’t even stop to consider the possibility that maybe there is no right or wrong here. Maybe there are just people who need to be taken seriously and have their perspectives heard. Or maybe I’m wrong. Who the fuck knows at this point, really? All that I’m trying to say is that we aren’t understanding one another, and when we don’t try to understand, then we turn instead to hate, and there is far too much of that in the world already – we don’t need more. I think that’s something both sides can agree on.

Free Speech Used to Disguise Hate

I believe in free speech. I really do; as a writer, I think that it is one of the most fundamental and important things that our society should uphold.

I believe that any society that stifles and controls speech is limited.

I believe that the only way for new and better ways of thinking to be formed is if they have the chance to be talked about and explored freely.

And considering all of that, I have a very hard time when it comes to people who openly and blatantly make harmful comments and claim that it should be protected under the idea of ‘free speech’.

“I’m just saying,” one person recently said on my Facebook feed, “I don’t think transgender people actually exist. I think they’re all just extremely mentally ill and gender confused.” When someone pointed out to them that their opinion was a hateful one, that same person replied with, “I’m entitled to my opinions, you can’t shame me for them!”

But what about the transgender teenager on your Facebook feed that saw that comment? And sure, you can say that you don’t have any transgender teenagers on your Facebook feed, but how do you know that? How do you know that your niece, nephew, cousin, child to a long-lost friend, whoever it might be didn’t stumble upon that status and feel a sudden sinking feeling in their gut, paired soon afterward with a sense of self-loathing? How do you know that your status won’t come to mind later on in their life, when they’re thinking about the fact that there are people who don’t believe that they exist? When they start to wonder if they do exist? How do you know that your comment won’t someday contribute to the reason why they never express themselves for who they are, or the reason why they develop a life-altering, perhaps crippling depression? How do you know that your opinion isn’t the reason why someone someday kills themselves?

And I know, this is a difficult field to enter into altogether. On the one hand, people can’t live their lives constantly monitoring everything they say to ensure that it isn’t offensive, and even the best of us slip up now and then. And we do happen to live in a society where people can internalize harmful ideas, so it isn’t unheard of for good people to believe in bad things. But that isn’t the issue that I have here. The issue that I have is the use of free speech as an attempt to excuse hate.

Think about if someone were to make a harmful comment that wasn’t targeting a specific group of people, but rather one person in particular. Imagine someone walked right up to another person and said, “you’re a stupid, worthless waste of human life.” How would you react? Well, hopefully, you’d point out that that’s a cruel thing to say, and if the bully in this scenario responded with, “I’m entitled to my opinions, you can’t shame me for them!” you’d roll your eyes just a little bit, wouldn’t you? Because, yes, people are entitled to their opinions, but that doesn’t change the fact that they can be harmful and that they do have consequences.

The same thing applies to beliefs that are harmful towards specific groups of people. You can hold onto ideas that are transphobic, racist, sexist, homophobic, whatever, but at the end of the day, you should understand that these are people who deserve rights and respect. They shouldn’t be invalidated, they have just as much of a right to take up space and be themselves as you do, and if you do make an active attempt to undermine their existence, then you should expect a response, just like you should expect a response if you actively walked up to someone and insulted them. In a society where free speech is allowed, you are free to hate as much as you want, but you should also expect to have it pointed out to you that what you are saying is hate, and you should respect their perspective just as much as you want your own to be.

A Story of Doubt – Being Bisexual, Self-Conscious, and Ready to Embrace Who I Am

The internet is my unpaid therapist, and I will exploit that to the best of my ability. Partly because it feels good to vent – to scream into the void, it sometimes feels like. Partly because I like the idea that my experience is somebody else’s experience, and maybe that somebody else will stumble upon this and relate, or maybe somebody who knows that somebody else will stumble upon this and better understand what they’re going through. Either way, what do I have to lose with honesty?

And I’m not saying that my experience is every bisexual’s experience – that would be an extremely reductive statement to make, and we’re all different people, all dealing with a similar circumstance in our own unique way. But maybe my experience has been felt by other bisexual people before. Or maybe my experience contains echoes of other issues that I’m not aware of, and you can find other ways to relate to it. Who knows what the power of words are?

But my point is, this particular scream into the void is regarding my status as a bisexual woman. I’ve known that I was bisexual ever since I was about ten years old, when I started to become aware of the fact that I noticed girls just as much as I noticed guys. When I first realized it, I thought I was being pretty accepting of the idea. I mean, I didn’t tell anyone, not at the age of ten, but still, from that point forward I lived with that understanding of myself, I didn’t really think about it all that much or question the hows or whys.

In elementary school, I developed little crushes on multiple different people. The boy who struck me as different and maybe a little bit better than the rest. The girl who defended me from bullies. They never really progressed all that far, but still, I had them and I never doubted them.

High school was much the same – I continued developing crushes on people that never really went anywhere, because I was a Strong Independent Woman who had my grades to focus on and a novel that I was working on. Before high school graduation, I only really had two crushes that were seriously note-worthy – one on a male friend, the other on a girl in one of my classes. And although my adolescent years was the time that I started to become bombarded with insecurities, I never really doubted who I was in that regard. I became aware that some people might not be able to love me because they came to my status as bisexual with preconceived notions, sure, but it didn’t matter because that was what I was. I never forgot that.

It was only after high school graduation, when I entered university, that that all changed. Because the thing is, the transition from teenager to young adult was very hard on me. I lost most of my friends, and had difficulties making new ones. I was shipped off to another town, to attend a school that I somehow doubted was the right fit for me. And more and more, I was becoming increasingly aware of the fact that there were certain milestones in a person’s life that I was supposed to reach yet that I just hadn’t. I should have had a serious relationship by now, I should be into drinking and partying, I should have made that one big mistake that fucks up my life for a couple of months but then I get back on the horse and everything’s a-okay. Drowning in a sea of regret and confusion, I became depressed and incredibly, almost cripplingly self-conscious.

Let me try to explain to you how self-conscious I got, because this is a big part of the story: I had difficulties talking to people because I felt like I had nothing to say that was of value. I felt like my life was a waste, and that I had barely lived it at all. I felt like I hadn’t touched anyone or done anything, and nobody would miss me if I just went away for good. My point is, I got low, and when you get that low and you simultaneously have a barrage of media telling you that there’s something else that’s wrong with you, you tend to be kind of susceptible to it.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t the negative stigma regarding being bisexual that I gave into. It wasn’t the idea that we’re all whores (I could combat that opinion with my own lived experience), or that we’re all going to hell (I still don’t even know if I believe in hell), or that we’re undeserving of love (maybe that was true for me, but there were a lot of contributing factors around that). No, the belief system that affected me the most was the simple assertion that we don’t exist. That all bisexual people are wrong and greedy, that we can and should just pick one gender or the other. I felt like I was committing some cosmic violation by being bisexual, so I tried to be something else. There was a period of time where I tried being straight, tried going back to factory settings, but that all fell apart when I came to terms with the fact that I was living a lie. So if I wasn’t straight, then therefore I was a lesbian, right? I talked like a lesbian, thought like a lesbian, even tried to assert that I was a lesbian to a certain extent, but just like pretending to be straight, it always felt like a lie. It felt wrong in a spiritual, gut-level sort of way, different than the way that being bisexual felt wrong. Being bisexual felt wrong because I was told it was. Being straight or a lesbian felt wrong because I was neither.

But I wanted to be one or the other. Being straight looked easier for obvious reasons, but being a lesbian looked easier too because at least I saw them. When I watched movies or TV growing up that included LGBT+ characters, they were always gay or lesbian. Never bisexual. They were whole, they were complete, they didn’t have to worry about being taken seriously as a member of the LGBT+ community because no matter who they ended up with in the end, their partner would always reflect the fact that they didn’t belong in the heterosexual world. And if they ever got married, they wouldn’t have to deal with people saying the sorts of things that bisexual people have to deal with: “So you’re a non-practicing bisexual?” “So you’re straight/lesbian now?” “Do you ever miss being with insert-other-gender-here?”

Now, I’m not saying that being a lesbian is easier than being bisexual – truth be told, I don’t know for sure which experience is easier, as I’ve only lived the one, and at the end of the day, it isn’t a competition. I’m just trying to explain my thoughts and my perspective.

And the strange thing is, when you start trying to tell yourself that you’re one thing, it sort of throws everything into doubt. Sure, I could remember having crushes on boys back before high school graduation, but were those really crushes? Heteronormativity is a bitch, so maybe I was just trying to tell myself that I was bisexual? Yes, being bisexual felt more natural to me, but how much could I trust that really? And besides, after high school graduation, the only crushes and relationships I’ve had have been really unhealthy, distorted and ugly versions wherein I choose who to flirt with based solely off of who’s flirting with me, rather than because I’m actually attracted to them. And therefore, the fact that I haven’t been attracted to the boys I flirt with must be because I’m not attracted to boys, right? It never even crossed my mind that, maybe, it was because I had really low self-esteem, and therefore I only gave the time of day to whoever validated me as an attractive individual, regardless of what I thought about them.

This has been the limbo that I’ve been living in for almost four years now – uncertain, self-conscious, and trying to force myself to fit a narrative that I don’t belong in. But the other day, I went to an event hosted by my school’s LGBT+ club, and while I was there, I was listening to one of my friends joke around with one of the club’s leaders – a girl who I haven’t spoken to very often. They kept referring to this girl’s partner, and after a while, I became aware of the fact that they were using male pronouns to refer to him. That was when it struck me – one of the club’s leaders, a girl who is welcome in this space and taken seriously as a member of the LGBT+ community here, is either a bisexual or pansexual woman. Up until that point, I don’t think it had really occurred to me what I was thinking, but it struck me then how really fucked up it is that I’m trying to make myself one thing when I’m not, and when there’s nothing wrong with who I am. I don’t have to ‘choose’. I just need to start taking myself more seriously.

So here I am: a new arrival on the long, uphill road to self-esteem. I don’t know how difficult it’s gonna be, but I imagine pretty darn difficult. I have a lot that I need to address about myself, and a lot of things that I’ve been saying that I need to start believing. Because I can say, surface-level, that there’s nothing wrong with being bisexual, but that doesn’t mean that I believe it right down to my stubborn, hard, little core. I can say that this is who I am and the world is the one at fault for trying to convince me that that’s wrong, but I am the one who needs to be convinced of that, first and foremost. And I’m ready to make myself.

And if there’s anything that I want you, the reader, to take away from my story, it’s this: there’s nothing wrong with being who you are. Whether you be a fabulous bisexual like me or something else entirely, you’re okay, and you need to tell yourself that you’re okay. You need to believe it. You can read all the inspirational crap on the internet you want, you can try to tell the people in your life that it’s true, but you need it to sink in. Because that’s the only way that you can be settled in this weird little life you’ve been given.

Why ‘Innocent Until Proven Guilty’ Doesn’t Work for Sexual Assault Cases

This morning, I was bumming around on the internet, looking for something that might entertain me while I fixed up my usual breakfast, and in my search I came across a vaguely titled video discussing Casey Affleck’s Oscar win, and, curious, I clicked on it.

The video’s argument was that people who condemned Affleck for the allegations of sexual assault against him are ‘morons’ (yes, this word was actually used; repeatedly) because Affleck’s case was settled outside of court, therefore we will never know if he really did it or not and all people in civilized society are innocent until proven guilty.

And on the one hand, yes, I believe in the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ mentality. This mentality helps people who are falsely accused avoid serving unjust sentences, and should be kept in the back of everyone’s mind in most court cases.

Most.

Because there’s a huge, glaring problem when it comes to sexual assault charges. In fact, there are two.

One of them is that the amount of women who falsely accuse rapists are immensely fewer than the amount of women who don’t receive justice after being raped. And this might happen in a multitude of ways: some women just don’t go to the police following a rape, because they internalize it as being their own fault, or because their rapist is someone close to them, or they worry that they won’t be believed, or they think it will only cause more trouble than its worth (and that’s only a few reasons why they wouldn’t). Some women do go to the police, but they aren’t believed, or the police tell them that it’s their own fault for dressing/acting/presenting themselves the way they did, or the police tell them that it’s her word against his and chances are she won’t see justice done. Some women get as far as the courts, and yet they still aren’t able to convince the jury that the rape actually happened, or that it wasn’t somehow her fault and she was actually ‘asking for it,’ and that all she’s trying to do is ruin this poor guy’s (cough cough rapist’s) life. And some girls actually do manage to make it to the police, to the courts, and to a place where they convince the jury to convict, and YET, the rapist’s sentence is incredibly light compared to the crime he committed (for an example of this, just look up Brock Turner).

There are multiple women I know who have been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives, and yet very few of those assaults are actually reported, for one reason or another. It has come to the point where I feel uncomfortable citing the statistic that ‘one in four women in Canada are raped,’ because I know that those are only reported rapes, and my lived experience tells me an entirely different story. And, meanwhile, I don’t know any women who have falsely accused someone of rape – although I’m sure it does happen, just not nearly as frequently as we think.

The problem is that, in cases such as these, the man’s word is always held in a higher place of privilege than the woman’s. The woman is always somehow at fault, somehow asking for it, while the man is always some poor, innocent victim whose life could potentially be ruined by this malicious female who is out to get him. Or, if that’s not the case, then there just isn’t enough evidence to convince the court, which brings me to the second problem with this ‘innocent until proven guilty’ mentality when it comes to sexual assault: it is very difficult to prove, beyond any semblance of doubt, that a rape actually happened.

There are cases where luck is on the victim’s side, and evidence can be found. If she gets to the hospital in time and a rape test is administered, or if there are witnesses, or if the rapist happened to make a recording of the crime, then the woman is more likely to see justice. But what about all those other woman who didn’t have that sort of good luck?

What about the women who didn’t go to the hospital or to the police right away, for one reason or another? Many women don’t, especially if their rapist was someone they knew, like their employer, or a family member, or a close friend, or their boyfriend, or their husband, or even just someone who seemed like a perfectly nice guy right up until the point that he forced himself on her. Or maybe he’s someone with a lot of power, a celebrity or a politician, and the woman knows she won’t be believed because of that, or that if she does go forward, she will face a constant barrage of fans who want to see the best of him and will call her a liar, a slut, a bitch, tell her that she deserves to die for what she did. For being the victim of a violent assault at the hands of someone they idolize. Maybe she doesn’t think she can handle that.

So these women hesitate before going forward, and the physical evidence fades away. Bruises heal. Semen is no longer traceable (maybe he wore a condom to begin with). And when she does reach out to someone, no one can prove anything. It’s her word against his and he’s innocent until proven guilty, so he gets off no problem, free to continue sexually assaulting women and empowered by the knowledge that no one will believe her anyway, while his victim is publicly shamed and accused of being a malicious liar.

So what’s the solution here? Should we operate under a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ mentality when it comes to sexual assault? I don’t know – I don’t think I have all the answers. But I do know that when a woman comes forth and claims that she has been sexually assaulted, I am more inclined to believe her than I am him, because I know that there are far too few people on her side.