Today I performed at the Fraser Valley Music Awards, which were part of AbbyFest, a celebration of diversity in Abbotsford. I won an award for best Experimental Artist. And I had an experience the likes of which I’ve had many, many times over in my life. But today, I viewed this experience differently than I would have in the past.
Allow me to put this handy screenshot from a conversation with my friend in context. When I perform, I wear white face paint. I feel more comfortable that way. And as you can see, my weirdo appearance seemed to make more than one older gentleman feel like unsolicited physical contact and a gently condescending remark was the thing to do.
I didn’t feel “distressed”, “violated”, or “put down” when this happened. My Left Brain shrugged and said, “Yup, that’s an older man for ya.” And then, suddenly, my Right Brain, which has been soaking up #metoo posts and think pieces about Louis C.K. and Harvey Weinstein for weeks on end, said, “You know what? I absolutely HATE being touched by strangers, and I know this wouldn’t have happened to a dude.”
This isn’t a post to complain. I actually want to express gratitude.
I’m GRATEFUL that in this time of nauseating cultural expectoration, men are not the only ones receiving an education. Equally, I’m being sensitized, instructed, and enlightened. I’m learning to see things differently. I’m learning to see MYSELF differently.
For most of my life, I’ve been the queen of brushing things off. Things need to get gnarly before I will “make a big deal” of them. My bottomless capacity for never making a fuss is part of what kept me entrenched in psychologically and emotionally abusive situations in the past. I always bought into the idea of myself as a “tough lady” and an entire system of predation and dehumanization was happy to leverage that.
A dumb-ass joke and a dumb-ass shoulder squeeze are among the more innocuous and survivable acts of gender-based disrespect I’ve experienced in my life. Believe me. But today, I allowed myself to actually register that disrespect and FEEL offended.
I’m grateful for that feeling. I need that feeling. I’m going to rely on that feeling from now on. It’s the only thing that’s going to fuel timely confrontation in the future. Next time, instead of the deer-in-the-headlights, dopey, fake-smiling passivity my numbness has always engendered in me, I want to respond by asserting my boundaries. I want to feel offended rather than numb and say, “Don’t touch me unless you have my consent.”
I also want to say thank you to the organizers of the FVMAs and Abbyfest. I was grateful to be part of the proceedings. The rudeness of a few participants doesn’t detract from what you’re doing.
Men, don’t be afraid to let your hearts wake up during this time of investigation and accountability. Women, trans folk, POC, marginalized people everywhere, don’t be afraid to let your hearts wake up during this time of investigation and accountability. How we FEEL—when we are disrespected or abused by others, or when we realize that we have disrespected or abused others—could be a life-saving, revolutionary force. Numbness never did shit for me. It won’t do shit for any of you either.