Giving Others Your Light

There is this quote that I have seen bounced around on social media, by an unknown author:

“Good people are like candles; they burn themselves up to give others light”.

There’s something about this idea that struck me, and it has to be more than a somewhat accurate metaphor.

Perhaps it’s this idea of self-sacrifice (to this degree) being connected solely to good people, the implication being that, if you aren’t willing to douse your light for another, then you aren’t a good person. And perhaps this wasn’t the author’s intent when they produced the quote; more than anything, this quote strikes me as a lamentation about how unfair life is, that good people are harmed by doing good for others. But the idea that the only way to be considered a ‘good’ person is by putting out your light is, admittedly, an interesting one to me.

Or perhaps this quote struck me because I have known people who did, in fact, burn themselves up to give others light. I have known people who gave everything that they had, all of their time and energy, and it still wasn’t enough.

I have known people who do, in fact, expect others to sacrifice their light for them, and dismiss those people as ‘not good enough’ if they spare a little light for themselves.

But, personally speaking, I do not think that giving others everything you have, right down to the meat and marrow, is the only way to be a good person. In fact, I don’t even think it’s healthy.

This quote relies on an idea that we have in our society, that you need to give people your 100 percent greatest effort at all times, especially if they are family, or if you have made a commitment to them such as marriage. If you don’t do this, then you aren’t trying hard enough. If trying harms you emotionally, then that’s your problem that you need to work on, because that person needs your attention. Society has decided that you owe them that.

But the thing is, a relationship between two people should not be draining.

You should not feel like you are a candle, melting away to give light to others; ideally, you should feel like the moon: solid, stable, giving light effortlessly and receiving light in return.

Remaining in a toxic relationship and allowing the other person to drain you away to nothing does not make you a good person, and walking out of that relationship does not make you a bad one. These really are not moral questions. If someone is hurting you, or making you feel like you are diminishing, then sometimes the best thing we can do is walk away, for our own sake. Because not everyone in this world is going to make us feel this way; sometimes certain people just aren’t good for us, and it doesn’t matter if they are family or if we have made some sort of commitment to them in the past. Sometimes, the only thing that good people can do is leave.

And maybe that does mean that the other person has to go without light for a little bit, but they will find it again, even if they have to create their own. But if you allow yourself to burn out completely, you may never get yourself back. You only have one you, so value it.

There is nothing wrong with putting yourself first from time to time. There is nothing wrong with needing your own light for a bit. We put too much emphasis on giving everything we have to others, that sometimes, we forget that we need to give something to ourselves as well, and this doesn’t make us bad people. It just makes us human.

 

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The Threats and Harassment Women Face Online

Before I started talking about feminism and feminist issues on the internet, I’d heard horror stories from the women that did.

I think that we’re all aware that the internet can be a very polarizing place, and the possibility of anonymity can sometimes bring out the worst in people. People say things that they might not necessarily mean, or things that they would never actually say to someone face-to-face, just because they can get away with it when they’re hidden behind a username.

But that being said, there is a very specific pattern when it comes to the type of threats that are given to a specific type of woman.

This morning, I awoke to find a comment left on one of my articles, where I talked about the dangers that are present in over-sexualizing a woman’s body (the comment has since been deleted, for I did not want to risk the wrong person coming upon it). In this article, I mentioned that I developed early, and felt uncomfortable with my body because at the tender age of twelve, I thought that the people around me would view me as a sexual object as a result. The commenter started out by assuring me that the men in my family did in fact get aroused by the sight of me as a child. He then proceeded to graphically describe a rape scene, wherein I was the victim. I did not read the full comment, for the first half of it made me feel sick.

Now, I do not know this man, and more importantly, he does not know me. He does not know if I am, in fact, a rape survivor. He does not know if his graphic details will trigger me or send me into a panic attack, and he does not care. The commenter in question does not see me as a person, merely as an empty vessel on the other side of his computer screen, and yet he tells me that I deserve to be raped because I dared to proclaim myself proudly as a feminist.

And the funny thing about this comment is that, about a year ago, I had told myself that I would never speak out about feminism despite identifying privately as a feminist, because I knew the sort of threats that feminists face regularly.

When the online forum the Guardian examined comments that have been blocked by their writers, they found that eight of the ten writers who received the most blocked comments were women who had been harassed, mocked, and threatened for talking about gendered issues – including, yes, threats of rape.

Feminist author and columnist Jessica Valenti was forced to take a break from social media when she found that she couldn’t handle the constant threats of rape and death that were targeted toward her five-year-old daughter.

Feminist writers are not the only women who receive threats of rape or even murder for speaking out about feminism either. In Australia, the University of Queensland came up with the idea of doing a bake sale to raise awareness for gender inequality in the workplace, particularly the wage gap, which somehow prompted an onslaught of cyber bullying directed toward those arranging the bake sale, including comments such as, “females are fucking scum, they should be put down as babies” and “I want to rape these feminist c*nts with their f*cking baked goods”.

Heck, the year that I started taking classes on gender studies at my university, a university neighbouring my own, the University of Toronto, received online threats that some unknown assailant would walk into classes teaching gender studies with a gun and began shooting any feminist they saw. I still remember that first day of gender studies, sitting in my seat and glancing nervously at the door, hoping that the gunman wouldn’t decide to come to my school instead.

So, please, tell me again how rape is about pent-up sexuality, because I have heard it used, again and again, as a threat alongside violence and death to try to establish dominance over me and women like me when we speak up.

Before I started talking about feminism, I told myself that I would never talk about it in public, because I didn’t want to face these threats of rape and violence that feminists live with. But that is the entire intention behind these comments. These comments are not made because the women who receive them deserve them. These comments are made because the women who receive them have stood up and said something that they believe in. They have stated that there is a problem within society that needs to be fixed, but the thing about this problem is that there is an audience that doesn’t want to fix it. Maybe they don’t see it as a problem, or they simply don’t want to admit that they’re wrong, but the fact of the matter is they get offended whenever a woman speaks up and tries to change this patriarchal society that we live in. So their response is to try to silence them, to make them feel uncomfortable and unsafe until they shut up and stop trying to fix the problem.

These threats of rape and violence on the internet are not meaningless “trolls” just having a laugh. These are men who genuinely want women to stop fighting for equal rights. These are men who hate having their view of the world challenged so much that they would rather tell a woman that he never met that she deserves to be raped or killed.

And I don’t think I even have to say that nobody deserves that.

So to the women that receive these threats: keep doing what you are doing. I know it may be scary, or triggering, or unfair, but you are a strong woman who deserves to see the day where a women can speak up and not be threatened for it. And the only way we will achieve that day is by fighting for it.

To the women who will not speak up because they are afraid of these threats, I understand your fear. You are not wrong to feel it, but find comfort in the fact that these men are bullies, hiding behind their computer screen in an effort to perpetuate an outdated ideal of what women should be. They think that we should be silent and passive, when that is not what we are. And, hopefully, you will someday feel safe to speak up.

And, lastly, to the men who make these comments, please ask yourself why you feel justified in doing it. What is it about women who fight for their own equality that makes you so angry? What is it about feminists that makes you forget that they are people, with thoughts and feelings and families and experiences? And the next time that you go to write such a comment to a woman who you have not met, who is merely trying to argue her perspective and change the world for the better, stop and ask yourself if you would ever say this to a woman face-to-face with a sound conscience.

While Life May Hurt, You Cannot Give Up

This world isn’t a perfect place. Let’s get that out of the way right now.

No matter who you are or what you believe, there is always going to be someone out there who you disagree with whole-heartedly. Always. There are going to be people out there who you can’t bring yourself to understand, whose shoes you simply cannot walk in no matter how much you try because end of day, those shoes don’t fit. And when you come across these people, you’re going to be tempted to hate them or look down on them because they are beyond your understanding.

No matter who you are or what sort of people you surround yourself with, you are going to have moments of loneliness. You might find yourself going through a period of time where there is nobody around you, and quite literally, the only person you can depend on is yourself. You might find yourself going through a period of time where there are people around you, but you do not feel at all connected to them. You feel like they don’t understand you, or like they don’t actually love or care about you. And when this happens, you are going to question yourself and your part in all this. After all, it’s only natural to wonder if you’re the problem here. Are you wrong? Unloveable? Asking too much of people? Or is it simply impossible for us as human beings to fully connect with another in the way that we all hope for?

No matter who you are or how carefully you live, you are going to get hurt. Maybe by other people, because as I mentioned previously, people aren’t perfect. Some people are so hurt from their own life that they then set out to hurt other people, to return the favour that life has dealt them. Some people simply act without thinking, and we wind up being the casualty of that carelessness. And maybe it isn’t another person who hurts us, maybe we end up hurting ourselves. Maybe we make mistakes that we can’t forgive ourselves for. Maybe we live so carefully, so guarded and safe, that we wind up missing out on opportunities, or on life itself.

And all this isn’t even mentioning all the big problems in our world that might lead us to feelings of stress or depression – things like war, poverty, racism, sexism, and so on.

But despite all of this, despite the imperfection that most certainly does exist in the world and despite the fact that you are not going to enjoy every moment spent being alive, we cannot allow ourselves to give up.

Because life is hard. Life is a battle, and it is long and bloody and difficult, but it is a battle worth fighting. Because as much as life is hard, it is also the most brilliant thing that we will ever do.

Life is filled with people who you will not understand, people who will hurt you and be ignorant to you and not let you speak, but it is also filled with beautiful people who care about you. People who have been hurt themselves, and don’t want to see other people go through the same thing. Complete strangers who will approach you in public when you’re looking sad and ask if you’re okay, because even if they don’t know you, they care. They want you to be happy. They want you to be okay. Not for any selfish reason, but because you’re a person and you matter and you deserve to be told that, especially if you aren’t told very often. Life is filled with an endless array of possible friends, possible futures, possible saviours, while the alternative is empty and final. It is devoid of life’s possibilities.

Life is filled with loneliness and depression, but it is also filled with passion and love and inspiration, and you will have moments of both. You will lose your way and you will be confused and lost, but with that, you will find your way again. It might take you some time to find the path, and you may began to feel hopeless if you’ve been off of it for a while, but sooner or later, the path will always reveal itself. For every door that closes, another opens. For every storm that rages through our lives and destroys everything, a new bud sprouts out from the dirt. We will lose people, and we will find new ones. We will see dreams die, only to discover new dreams that make us so much more excited, so much alive.

Life is filled with pain, but it is filled with so much more as well. It is filled with hot, summer sun that bakes our skin. It is filled with good food and good laughs and loving animals. It is filled with endless possibilities that we may not have complete control over, but we do still have some – enough control, anyway, that we can decide if we want to open ourselves up to these possibilities or not. And if you give up, then you are not only giving up on the pain, but on everything else as well.

So fight. It won’t always be easy. In fact, sometimes it will feel downright impossible, and in those moments, our best strategy for fighting involves taking a step back and recouping. It involves admitting that we aren’t okay and trying to get some help. Sometimes, it may even involve putting on a smile you don’t mean and going through the motions of your life until you can get to a place where that smile no longer feels fake. And as much as doing all this might hurt, it is all part of the fight that we cannot give up on. Because if we give up, then we lose everything. If we give up, we hurt ourselves more than life ever could, because we are robbing ourselves of our chance at ever making things better. And maybe that doesn’t matter to you so much right now, but if you would give yourself some time, if you allow yourself to fight, even just the slightest amount, then you will someday reach a place where it does matter. Where you will look back on where you are now and be so incredibly proud of yourself for giving yourself the chance to reach that place.

 

 

Don’t Be Afraid to Be Yourself

I know a woman who has been in multiple abusive relationships in the past. As a result, she has been dealing with many mental health issues as well, and I did not know any of this about her until recently, when she started talking very openly about both issues and her own experience with them. There are those who tell her that she shouldn’t talk about these things, that all she is doing is hurting her previous abusers by spreading this information about them, or making herself look bad because she is publicly admitting to dealing with mental illness, and yet she continues to talk about them. And she talks about them because this is how she feels, this is her experience, and staying quiet about it was only making her life worse, only making her suffer more.

I know a woman who recently got out of a bad relationship, during which she was neglecting her health and her relationship with other people. And when asked how she was, she didn’t just smile and say “fine” like we are taught to do; she opened up and told her story. She explained what she had been though, how she was trying to reorder her life into something that would make her happy. When I heard her do this, I was a little bit taken aback, because I could already hear the comments that I have heard about people who are eager to share their personal thoughts and experiences: that no one cares, just say you’re fine and move on, everyone’s too busy dealing with their own dumb lives to hear about yours – but personally, I disagree. I liked hearing her story. I thought that she was incredibly brave to be willing to tell it. She risked being silenced, but instead she opened up, and I felt like I got to know her a little bit better because of it. I saw her humanity, not the front that we are all taught to put up all the time.

I know a man who recently lost his dog. To give you an idea about what sort of man this is, he’s a grown man who goes to the gym very regularly, and as a result he is a very large, very muscular man, and his dog of choice has always been a chihuahua. He loves his chihuahuas. And today, he was telling the story of how he his dog passed away, and as he told it, I could tell that he was very emotionally affected, even now. He told about how, the day after it happened, he went to the gym only because he didn’t want to face an empty home, and all throughout his workout, he cried over the loss of his dog. He talked about how he used to take her for walks with her sparkly, pink collar, and people would make comments about him because he’s a big man with a tiny dog, but he didn’t care. He loved her.

I tell you about these people because, today, I find myself awed by them: the people who are unapologetically themselves. The people who know that what they feel and who they are won’t always be accepted, but they express it anyway. There are too few of these people out there.

Because, end of day, we all experience things that not everyone is going to like, and this can be any number of things. Maybe you’re dealing with mental illness. Maybe you’re going through a hard time. Maybe you want to do something (harmless) that society tells you you shouldn’t because of something frivolous like your place in life or your gender identity. Maybe you’re gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Maybe it’s any number of things that we as a society are told, again and again, that we can’t do, when there’s really no logical reason for it. There’s no reason to hide who you are, and doing so is only harmful in the long run.

When you hide who you are, you hurt who you are. You internalize the idea that what you are is wrong if it has to be hidden, which can then turn into self-loathing, or feelings of guilt. When you hide the fact that you are dealing with mental illness, then you don’t ever improve – you just began to feel as though it’s your fault, as though you’re just looking for attention, you’re weak or stupid, when this isn’t the case. You’re ill. That’s all.

When you hide how you’re feeling, those feeling don’t go away; they fester. You feel as though they’re wrong, so you don’t act on them, but because you think that they’re wrong, you punish anyone who does act on them. You mock them, look down on them, tell them that they’re stupid for expressing how they feel, that no one cares to hear it. End of day, there are many people who say these sorts of things because they have restrained themselves to the point that they are not free to be themselves.

And we should all have that freedom.

But I know; it’s scary to be unapologetically yourself. I get that, trust me. We live in a society that tells us that so many things are wrong that it’s impossible for us to be completely right. And when you’re constantly told that something is wrong, it’s difficult for us to turn our minds around on that regard. But it’s worth doing, because it’s worth knowing that you are not wrong.

And when you are yourself, fully and completely, not afraid to be dismissed as stupid or selfish or silly or wrong (because when you are yourself, you will be dismissed as this by some people, and that’s okay), a wonderful thing starts to happen: you will be loved for who you really and truly are. Your relationships with other people will be much deeper, much more personal, because people will always know the real you, not some front that you put up to be considered “acceptable”. There will always be those who look down on you, but there will be those who admire you too, those you see you in all of your great you-ness and say, “wow, I wish that I could be that unashamed”.

We all long for freedom, and this is one great way that you can find it: the freedom to be who you are. The freedom to not care what others think about that. The freedom to love yourself and all you are, even if who you are is messy, emotional, hurt, struggling, outside the norm, or just trying their best. There’s nothing wrong with being any of that; the only thing that’s wrong is forcing people to suppress themselves.

Bisexual People Are Not Just Going Through A Phase

So, full disclosure here: I’m a bit of a geek, and as such, I’m a bit of a fan of trivia, especially trivia that’s related to movies and books. So it should come as no surprise that today’s rant stemmed from a little bit of trivia. Namely, a bit of obscure Harry Potter trivia.

According to an interview with Entertainment Weekly, actor David Thewlis, who played the character Remus Lupin in the Harry Potter films, was quoted as saying, “Alfonso Cuarón (the director of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), in the rehearsals, without J.K. Rowling’s knowledge, told me that [my character] was, in fact, gay. So I’d been playing a part like a gay man for quite a long time. Until it turned out that I indeed got married to Tonks. I changed my whole performance after that. Just saw it as a phase he went through.” Perhaps as a result of this statement, I have also found some sources claiming that J.K. Rowling herself claimed that Lupin was an ‘ex-gay‘ who, over the course of the series, learns to be straight when he falls in love with Tonks, a female character. However, as the leading source of this latter claim seems to be a user’s comment on IMDB, I wouldn’t put too much stock in the claim that this is something that Rowling actually said.

Now, why am I sharing this piece of trivia, you might be asking? Well, besides it simply being interesting to know from a total geek perspective, I also find it to be very telling as far as how we as a society tends to view sexual orientation.

Look at the language that was used in the above trivia. Regardless of what the sexual orientation of Lupin’s character is actually supposed to be, Thewlis decided that, if Lupin was interested in men at one point and interested in women at another, then that must mean that he was just “going through a phase”. And regardless of whether J.K. Rowling was the one who identified Lupin as an “ex-gay” or not, that is a term that some fans have come to use toward him. So then, what is Lupin’s sexual orientation? He likes men at some point, women at others… it’s almost as though he likes both… as though he might be some sort of strange, previously unknown sexual orientation that lands somewhere between straight and gay, like some sort of… bisexual or something…

Seriously though, why wasn’t this the first place that everyone’s mind went to when Lupin’s sexual orientation supposedly changed between movies? (I’m foregrounding the movies here because that seems to be where this issue is most apparent to the actors and the audience.) Why was there even this mention of “going through a phase”, of being an “ex-gay”, when we all know that bisexual people exist?

Or do we?

The issue of bi visibility has been an ongoing one for the bisexual community for pretty much… forever. In fact, there’s even a whole day in the year dedicated to spreading awareness about the existence of bisexual people, because apparently, the majority of people haven’t caught on yet. Bisexual people are frequently assumed to be going through a phase that they’ll eventually grow out of or overcome. Bisexual men are interpreted as being gay men who are simply afraid to come “all the way” out of the closet (as though coming out as bisexual isn’t coming all the way out). Bisexual women are interpreted as straight women who are looking to impress men with promises of threesomes and getting to watch them make out with other women (because it always comes back to being about men in the end somehow). Or, sometimes, bisexual people of both sexes are merely interpreted as experimenting, being curious, being rebellious, but not actually being what they claim to be.

And when it comes to real people with actual sexual orientations, we still tend to use a perspective that mirrors the one we saw with poor Lupin. When we see actual queer couples, we automatically assume that they are a gay or lesbian couple. A wedding between two men is always referred to as a gay wedding, even if it’s totally plausible that neither man is actually gay. And do you know how many times I have seen someone come from dating someone of the opposite gender to dating someone of the same gender, and the common response is, “oh, so you’re gay now?” or “I didn’t know you were gay!”

And if you do this or have done this, I’m not trying to make you feel bad about it. As human beings, we tend to want to separate everything into two categories, sometimes referred to as a ‘binary’. We want everything and everyone to be male or female, light or dark, straight or gay. And when something doesn’t fit easily into that binary, we tend to ignore it; I mean, what have we done to gender non-conforming or intersex people?

But the truth is, the world doesn’t exactly work this way.

The truth is, of all adults living in the U.S. and identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, bisexuals comprise of a very slight majority (1.8% compared to the 1.7% that identify as gay or lesbian). And of these people, not all of them can be confused, questioning, or going through a phase.

The truth is, I identify as bisexual, and I have since I was ten years old. I tried to change myself. I tried to force myself to belong on either end of the binary, because that was what I thought people expected of me, but I just can’t change who I am. I just can’t not be bisexual, because the way that I identify is very real and very unavoidable.

The truth is, we have been ignored for far too long. We have been dismissed as not even an option for far too long. We have been invisible for far too long.

And it’s time for that to stop.

It’s time for us to talk about bi visibility.