What I Am Going to Be

I have a picture in my head of what I’m going to be.

I’m going to be big. Not too big – I’m not going to be talked about hundreds of years from now like Shakespeare or anything. I’m not going to last long enough for people to start arguing about whether or not I actually existed. But still, there will be people who will know my name, people who I haven’t met before. That would be enough for me.

I’m going to be stable, and I’m going to land my dream job, and I’m going to be satisfied with it. I’m not going to go home after a long day at work and feel like nothing I did mattered, or like it was all just a big waste of time. No, I’m going to change people’s lives. I’m going to make a difference in this world.

I’m going to be happy. I don’t entirely know how yet, but when I look into my future, I see it. I see me, fifty years old, smiling and serene and satisfied with my lot, proud of my past self for not giving up. I’m going to have a system of support around me – friends, colleagues, a partner maybe (if I get really crazy with the happiness).

In short, I’m going to be okay. I see it. I feel it there, just there, just beyond my reach, and if I just keep trying, just keep reaching for what I want, I know I can get there, I can, it’s just…

It’s hard.

It’s hard to remain convinced that what I see is real, it’s achievable. I can get everything I want if I just keep trying. I mean, it’s not like I’m going to spend all my life trying and trying and trying, and it’s never enough, no matter what I do, because regardless of persistence or resilience or talent, I just wasn’t born in the right place, to the right family, knowing the right people. That would never happen.

Right?

But at the end of the day, do my doubts even matter? Because, hell, maybe my doubts are correct. Maybe my vision of the future is a lie that I tell myself to make these meaningless work days go by a little bit faster, these constant rejections feel a little less final. But either way, I think I need to live as though this vision of the future is real. I need to pretend that I can be big and stable and happy, so long as I just keep trying. Because at the end of the day, I know that I can’t give up now. If I give up, then that vision of the future is guaranteed to be a lie. If I keep trying, then how can I know for sure?

So I’ll keep trying. And I’ll keep telling myself that that picture in my head is what I am going to be. Because that’s what I want. More than anything in this world, that is what I want.

We All Lead Our Own Stories

Perhaps one of the most fascinating things about people en masse is the fact that we are all our own separate story.

Our world is filled to the brim with stories, and we are all the protagonists of our own. The genre changes by the week or by the month or by the minute even. Sometimes, we are caught in horror stories or tragedies, and our lives are characterized by fear or loss or sadness. Sometimes, we are swept up in romantic comedies for a time, or maybe inspirational dramas, where we’re the underdog just struggling for recognition, striving to reach that happy ending so we can move on to the next chapter in our lives.

And just like with any well-written story, we are all three-dimensional characters. Every last one of us have a motivation for our actions, a reason to do it. Some of our motivations are better than others. Sometimes we are motivated by fear or anger or bitterness or a plain-and-simple bad mood. But, end of day, we all have a motivation, and we all believe that our motivations are good enough.

We are all the protagonists of our own stories, and so we are all just trying to be heroes. We want to overcome our obstacles, to come out stronger in the end and make a difference in the world. Sometimes we’ll settle for the role of anti-hero to get what we want, but nobody ever sets out to be a one-dimensional, cut-and-dry villain.

Nobody acts without motivation. Nobody intends to be cruel for the sake of cruelty, not unless they are really and truly hurt as human beings. Nobody is any less than a detailed and well-told story of varying genres.

And one thing that really bugs me, something that is growing as a pet peeve of mine, is when people forget all that.

And sometimes it’s not only easy but necessary to forget all that, but I’m talking about some pretty intense situations here. I’m talking about times when you have been hurt deeply by someone, and when forgiveness just isn’t possible quite yet. When the only way that you can fully rationalize what they did to you is by telling yourself that they’re simply evil, and that’s all there is to it. In situations such as these, I cannot bring myself to look down upon a hurt person who is still dealing with a fresh trauma, but these are not the situations that I am talking about.

I am talking about the people that we do not know, the stories that we have not yet been told, and yet we dismiss them so quickly, without even a thought.

I’m talking about seeing a girl in a public space wearing a bikini, and immediately dismissing her as a “dumb slut” without even considering any other alternatives – maybe she was just at the beach? Maybe she is really self-conscious about her body and trying to come to terms with how it looks? Maybe she’s really, really hot? Who knows, and more importantly, who are you to judge?

I’m talking about seeing someone standing too close to something dangerous, and rather than trying to help them, dismissing them as “stupid” and “deserving to be hurt”, but maybe they don’t even know that this is dangerous?

I’m talking about hating someone because of the way that their face looks. I’m talking about telling others that you want to punch someone because of something small and trivial that they keep doing, like smiling or looking your way. I’m talking about deciding that someone else is “no good” or “up to something” because they dress a certain way.

I’m talking about judging someone else as worthless without even knowing anything about them.

And one of the greatest reasons why this has become a pet peeve of mine is because it creates such an intense air of negativity. It creates enemies out of people who are just leading their own lives. It makes the one doing the judging think so much worse of people, because they are so much quicker to hate them. And I don’t want any part of that.

I’m not saying that all people are good or trustworthy, but all people are people. They have reasons for the things that they do, and you won’t always know their reasons. You might never find out that the girl annoying you with her public crying cannot control her panic attack and is at her wit’s end with the story she is leading, but that doesn’t make it any less real. That doesn’t make her story any less valuable or important. And it doesn’t make us any better to look down on her for it.

When Does a Fantasy Become Harmful?

Although I love video games and although I love Greek mythology, the God of War series never really crossed my path until recently. Now, I still haven’t played it, so I can’t say anything about the quality of the game or the plot or anything like that. All that I’ve seen is one scene, but as this scene wasn’t overly complicated or difficult to interpret, I feel fairly confident discussing at least it.

In God of War 3, your protagonist Kratos – a Spartan demigod with more muscles than Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime – enters into Aphrodite’s chambers (Aphrodite, for those of you who aren’t aware, being the Greek goddess of love and sexuality). He finds her almost naked, laying in a bed with her handmaidens and having some sexy-fun-time with them (because lesbians). Upon seeing Kratos, Aphrodite banishes her sexy handmaidens to the other side of the room so that she can have a conversation with him, during which she is lounging out on the bed, rolling around, and very clearly trying to seduce Kratos (because boobs). After the conversation is over, the player then has the option to give into Aphrodite’s seduction. If the player does this, we see Kratos descend upon the bed, before the camera pans off of them and onto Aphrodite’s handmaidens across the room, who then proceed to watch the bed and swoon and sigh over Kratos’s supposedly exceptional lovemaking, making comments about how jealous they are of their mistress while simultaneously groping each other.

Now, the critiques of this scene are obvious. It is both objectifying to women and fetishizing bisexual women. But that being said, I can already hear the defence against this critique: that it isn’t supposed to be taken at face value. It’s all a fantasy, intended to make Kratos look like the manliest manly man that ever lived, not only exceptional at fighting and looking awesome, but also at pleasing the ladies.

And trust me, I get that argument. I love fantasies in the media. In fact, some of my favourite story lines are power fantasies, intended to make the viewer feel like they are strong and capable by making you relate to the all-powerful, impossibly strong hero. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, these are all power fantasies.

But at the same time, they are different from what we see happening in the scene from God of War 3.

The thing about Spider-Man that makes him and his story arch very different from this scene is, well, content. Spider-Man is awesome because he fights crime, he has super powers, he looks like an average teenager but is actually secretly awesome. And at the same time, Spider-Man is awesome in a way that most young people know isn’t real. When it comes to things like superheroes, parents tend to be quick to remind their kids that, yes, Spider-Man is awesome, but in real life, people don’t have super powers and they don’t fight crime in quite the same way. When it comes to discussions of sexuality, parents don’t tend to be quite so quick to talk to their children.

When I saw this scene from God of War 3, the first thing that it reminded me of was… well, pornography. Not because it foregrounded sexuality, but because of how unrealistically it depicted sexuality. Let’s all just agree: Aphrodite did not act like a real woman would. Neither does she or Kratos look the way that the average man or woman does; they are both idealized versions of what society thinks their gender should look like. And nobody in the history of the universe has made comments like the ones that the handmaidens made about Kratos’s lovemaking. This is all fake, and it is fake with the intention of pandering to the man and his ego, while most pornography is similarly made with a male viewer in mind.

And for many children in the western world, pornography is their introduction to sexuality. According to a report made by the BBC in 2016, 53% of children aged eleven to sixteen have seen pornography online, and of these children, 53% of boys and 39% of girls saw it as a realistic depiction of sex. And, look – I’m not trying to shame you if you watch pornography, all that I am saying is that pornography is not only unrealistic, it is centred around catering to a male gaze and a male ego. Like this scene from God of War 3, it is a fantasy, but when no one is talking to young people about this topic or offering them an alternative way of looking at it, it becomes easier to accept it as truth.

To put it in perspective, it would sort of be like if every single movie made for young boys was Spider-Man, and every single young boy knew that super powers existed, but they weren’t allowed to see it or talk about or hear about it ever; after a while, they’d start to question why they don’t have web-swinging powers, and why some girls look and act differently from Mary Jane.

But let’s talk about another issue that this scene discusses; female bisexuality. Like sex, bisexuality isn’t really talked about or represented in our media. The only bisexual characters that I can think of off the top of my head in mainstream media is Maureen Johnson from Rent and Piper Chapman from Orange is the New Black (both of whom are despicable human beings, but anyway…). In fact, probably the greatest representation of female bisexuality is, again, in pornography, meaning that you are more likely to see bisexual women having sex in our media than you are to see them going about their day or doing their jobs or anything like that.

But let’s go back to the scene from God of War 3, and let’s talk about the issue of desire here. Because, yes, Aphrodite starts out making out with her handmaidens, and yes, when Kratos is in bed with Aphrodite, the handmaidens are groping each other. But throughout all of this, the primary object of their desire is always Kratos, a man. Aphrodite sends her handmaidens away so that she can seduce Kratos instead. When the handmaidens are groping each other, their eyes are constantly on Kratos and they are going on about how hot he is. In fact, I am almost hesitant to describe them as bisexual, because outside of a few small sexual acts, they express nearly no desire for women; it always goes back to the man. And I have absolutely no doubt that the reason why the animators included these small sexual acts into the game was not because they wanted to represent Aphrodite as a strong, bisexual woman, but because they thought that it would be a nice treat for the presumed straight male player to see.

As I discussed before, this scene is harmful toward women in general because it perpetuates these unrealistic expectations that men have about how women should look and how they should behave sexually. But in some ways, it is almost more harmful toward bisexual women, because it perpetuates a very harmful stereotype that we all live with from the moment we come out of the closet: that we aren’t actually bisexual, we’re just trying to get attention from men.

This stereotype is one that hinges on dismissing the existence of bisexual women (and bisexual people in general). It portrays them, not as their own sexual orientation, but as promiscuous straight women – and as much as it is not okay to treat women differently depending on how many sexual partners they have had, it is an unfortunate fact in our society that that frequently happens, and it happens to bisexual women from the moment that we come out of the closet. Because of this stereotype, bisexual women are frequently dismissed, by straight men and lesbians alike, as ‘dirty’, a good, quick fuck but not actually worthy of love. Because of this stereotype, bisexual women are seen as ‘owing’ sex to men, because they obviously went to all the work of seducing them by being bisexual, and as a result, 61.1% of bisexual women are raped by an intimate partner, while 46% of bisexual women report being raped at any point in their lives, compared to 17% of straight women and 13% of lesbians. And don’t even get me started on the emotional side-effects of being consistently told, by both straight people and the LGBT community, that you aren’t enough, you’re too dirty, too promiscuous, to be accepted.

But, hey, maybe this stereotype would be less frequently relied upon if our media would just give us alternative representations of bisexuality.

So to sum this all up: when is a fantasy harmful? Well, my answer would be that a fantasy becomes harmful when it’s the only narrative we’re given. Sex is nothing like the way that it is represented in either pornography or God of War 3, but you wouldn’t exactly know that as an inexperienced young person who knows that sex exists but has never seen it for themselves, because the vast majority of our depictions of sex come through a heavy lens of fantasy, and a very male-oriented fantasy at that, resulting in some unhealthy ideas of what sex is and what women in sexual situations should be. And actual bisexual women are not lounging in their beds, making out with their handmaidens until a man shows up to sex them up properly, but if that’s the only image of bisexual women that we are given, then how are we ever going to know that?

So maybe my issue is less with God of War 3, which is nothing more than a stupid fantasy for young straight boys who like the idea of being a super powerful, super masculine lady-pleaser, and more with a society that doesn’t really give us much else than that. Where are my depictions of sex from a woman’s perspective? My bisexual women who don’t care if a man shows up or not, they’re perfectly satisfied with the woman they’ve got right here? If we had more of those, not only would this scene be much less harmful, it would be easier to recognize it as silly and unrealistic by comparison.

The Hatred of Femininity

Misogyny: (noun) the hatred of women.

In our society, misogyny can take many forms. It can come in the form of gender-based violence, like rape or domestic abuse. It can come in the form of social exclusion or hostility in certain spaces, such as cat-calling – especially if that cat-calling turns into threats, insults, or anything else that makes them feel unsafe in a public place. Or it can come in the form of constantly assuming the worst of women – thinking that they’re to blame for rape, thinking that they’re too delicate and too vulnerable to hear certain truths, thinking that they’re too emotional to do anything right.

Misogyny is something that is still very much alive today, and it is a very serious problem in our society that we cannot stop talking about. But the sort of misogyny that I want to focus on today is not simply the hatred of women, but rather the hatred of the feminine – because while these two issues most certainly connect and stem from the same issue (as I said, misogyny), the thing about the hatred of the feminine is that it affects all of us.

Because as much as femininity is something that gets assigned to straight women most frequently, that does not mean that only women are capable of femininity. They really aren’t.

Gay men, for example, are frequently represented as feminine in our media. They are represented as feminine so often, in fact, that some people have begun to shun this representation for being ‘stereotypical’, favouring the more invisible image of the masculine gay man (this can sometimes be referred to as effeminophobia, or discrimination against effeminate gay men). But feminine gay men most certainly exist as well, and they deserve a chance to see themselves not only represented, but represented well, and as much as feminine gay men have gotten a bit of the former, they haven’t always gotten the latter.

One example that we might all be aware of is the representation of feminine men in Disney movies. While not necessarily gay (or not openly so, anyway), many of the male villains of Disney cartoons are rather feminine – the Pocahontas villain Governor Ratcliffe styles his hair in two pink bows and carries around a small dog, the Peter Pan villain Captain Hook is highly emotional and dresses very flamboyant, the Aladdin villain Jafar has his eyeliner game on point. And why is this a reoccurring theme with male Disney villains? Well, in my opinion, it’s because, while Disney isn’t outright trying to say that femininity (and male femininity in particular) is wrong, they are trying to use these conventions to convey certain misogynist messages. We as the audience are supposed to read these men as being silly, vain and greedy because they are outwardly feminine. These villains are more easily detestable because they remind us of feminine aspects.

Disney will sometimes even use these aspects in their female villains as well. Honestly, think about it – when Ariel first meets Ursula in The Little Mermaid, she is applying her lipstick and fixing up her hair, and in One Hundred and One Dalmatians Cruella de Vil’s greatest downfall is her obsession with fashion.

Which brings me to another issue in all of this – it is not only women and men who receive scorn and hatred if they become classified as ‘too feminine’, but hobbies and interests as well. We as a society tend to regard the playing or watching of sports, a masculine pass-time, as worthwhile, something that builds character. And yet, watching fashion shows or reading magazines is regarded as silly and frivolous. Fixing a car is a useful skill to have, whereas sewing a dress is kind of cool if you can do it well, but not really useful unless you can make some good money at it. And don’t even get me started on the way that we as a society look down on chick-flicks for being stupid, unrealistic, and vapid, whereas action movies are awesome and full of fun car chases and explosions.

Especially if someone identifies themselves as a masculine person, it is a very common narrative for them to completely reject feminine pass-times. We have all heard about the very stereotypical set-up of the masculine boyfriend complaining loudly as his girlfriend drags him, kicking and screaming, into Sephora, while women are frequently expected to sit there quietly and watch sports with their boyfriends, even if they don’t like them.

Now, at this point you might be asking: so what? Why does it matter that people tend to look down on femininity? Well, it matters because, to some extent, we all have some aspect of us that is feminine. Not just straight women. Not just gay men. Every. Single. One. Of. Us. And this societal rejection of femininity as a valid option in our lives forces us to make one of two choices: we can continue to act feminine as accept that a side-effect of that will be that people will see us as vapid, silly, stupid, frivolous, etc., or we can reject the feminine parts of ourselves and act masculine, neither of them really works for me.

The latter option forces us to shave off parts of ourselves, to never be our complete self because society tells us that we can’t be. The latter option leaves holes in our identity, leaves parts of ourselves unexplored and unfulfilled. And when it comes to the former option, here’s the thing: I am very feminine. I like to do my hair and my make-up. My favourite movie is a love story. I dress very flamboyantly, I move very flamboyantly, and when I talk, my mannerisms are very feminine. And I am not stupid, silly, or frivolous. I do not appreciate being called stupid, silly, or frivolous. I refuse to live with that title placed on me by others, and I refuse to let others place that title on others like me.

Femininity is not a weakness; femininity is just a different way of being, and a perfectly valid way of being. The only reason why we tell our daughters that they’re frivolous for liking the Notebook, our sons that they can’t wear a dress or make-up, is because femininity is frequently assigned to women, and societally speaking, we do not like women. We think women are vapid and silly and overly-emotional, and so we think that anyone like them are the same. And it should probably go without saying that this way of thinking is misogynist and wrong.

You can like romantic movies, and get shit done. You can know all the latest fashions and be a total boss. The two things are not mutually exclusive, and we need to stop treating them like they are.

There Is Nothing Wrong With How You Feel

Very frequently, we will feel the need to hide the way that we truly feel.

This can be in a very small way, like pretending that something that someone else said didn’t hurt you just to avoid unnecessary confrontation, or it can happen in a much larger way, like spending years of your life pretending that you’re straight, or that you aren’t severely depressed and considering taking your own life.

And, similarly, this can happen for several different reasons. Maybe we’ve been told in the past that other people aren’t interested in hearing how we feel. Maybe we feel like the way that we feel is inappropriate, that we’re simply exaggerating to ourselves or seeking attention, even if we haven’t even told anyone yet – we’ve just internalized this idea that the way we’re feeling is always associated with attention seeking. Or maybe we don’t want to burden someone else with our honesty, we don’t want to make them worry about us or angry with us or look down upon us. We want to maintain a certain image before them – a strong, healthy, normal image, even if we don’t feel like we match it.

And so we keep silent.

We say nothing, but we keep on suffering. We keep on feeling.

And we keep on feeling alone.

So let me take this opportunity to say this: you need to say how you feel.

Now, maybe you need to be selective about who you say this to. For example, if are currently closeted, I am not advocating coming out to people who you know are not going to accept you, but rather will try to hurt you, either physically or mentally. If sharing the way that you feel is guaranteed to cause you harm of some sort, then I am very sorry for you, because you do not deserve that. You deserve the opportunity to be open and honest about how you feel without fear, and if you can’t be, then that is not your fault. That is the fault of the other who is causing you harm, whether they are doing it intentionally or not.

But regardless, in every single situation, it is important for people to not shoulder their burdens alone. We as the human species need people; we need to open up, to communicate. And once you do that, whether you’re talking about a mental illness, your identity, or a mere fear or anxiety that has been plaguing you, a miraculous thing happens – the burden becomes easier to bare. All of a sudden, you are not alone in this world. There is someone else out there who knows how you feel, who understands you and shares in your experience.

And furthermore – when you talk to someone else about how you feel, it can either validate it, or help you to work through it. Too often, our own minds become toxic places to hold thoughts, especially if they hold them for a long time. The longer they’re in there, the more that they sour, becoming something that doesn’t even reflect reality, and sometimes, the only way to recognize what they have become is by getting them out there in the real world to be discussed. Maybe you’ll realize that the way that you’ve been feeling is ridiculous, and maybe you’ll realize that the only ridiculous thing about all this was holding onto it for so long, or thinking that you were wrong to think it in the first place.

Too often, I hear from people who have been holding onto thoughts and feelings for years and haven’t opened up, haven’t even explored them. We as a society tend to encourage others to bottle up their emotions, to buck up and be strong and go through it alone. But going through life alone is incredibly lonely, and sometimes we need to talk to others.

So let’s talk.

Let’s offer people in need our ears.

Let’s refuse to bottle up our emotions and leave them to fester.

Let’s stop promoting this idea that reaching out is weak, or that naturally occurring emotions can be wrong.

We all need to talk, and we should all have the opportunity to talk. Because there is nothing wrong with you or how you feel; there is something wrong with a society that keeps us all silent.