Thursday, April 16, 2015

I Have an Opinion—and Yes, It Is Brave to Share It

image © Wong Mei Teng, used per the terms on

I never planned to write this post.

I was just sitting at home alone yesterday evening, playing some Alchemie on Kado Kado to unwind a little before delving back into some non-fiction work or fiction writing (I was planning to do a little of both), and listening to some pop punk and post-grunge rock on Grooveshark.

There I was, mulling on the emotions in Fall Out Boy’s “Alone Together” and Breaking Benjamin’s “Failure”, and Linkin Park’s “Rebellion” came on.

My thoughts went through something like, Oh, Linkin Park—wait, that sounds like Celtic/folk, but I don’t remember putting that on the list—oh, that is Linkin Park, after all. Hmm. Which one is this? I checked the song title, thought it interesting, and listened…and was struck by the chorus, which says any “rebel” who hasn’t experienced oppression via gunpoint is fortunate and is only imitating rebellion.

That message reminded me of Kameron Hurley’s recent blog post that ultimately says it really isn’t all that dangerous or brave to voice an opinion on the Internet—which itself reminded me of a counterargument against that post that I cannot remember the author of or how I’d found it, to be able to find or link to. (Sorry. Please consider it a casualty of me not expecting to write this post.)

I’ve been following Kameron Hurley pretty much since her Hugo award-winning blog post essay, “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle, and Slaves’ Narrative”, which always sticks in my memory as “that essay with the llama analogies about women as combatants”.

(To be honest, as interesting as I found her post itself, more of me geeks out about how she won a Hugo with a blog post essay. A freaking essay, folks. Like the ones you probably hated writing for school—unless you were, like, the class know-it-all, and then you probably read her post and sigh happily about it being so interesting…but I both digress and have earned your askance stares).

Anyway, I read her recent blog post promptly after she posted it. I have a feed reader I use for just that purpose, for all few-dozen blogs I follow. At the time, I understood her point, but it left me feeling vaguely uncomfortable. I felt as if I agreed but disagreed with her, but I couldn’t pinpoint where or why. That counterargument post I can’t find helped me isolate what bothered me, but I felt as if something was missing from the discussion.

Not really having the time to sit down and puzzle through what discomfited me, I didn’t comment and didn’t plan to. (Besides—this was Kameron Hurley, who’d won a Hugo for her freaking essay. Whatever was niggling at me probably wasn’t all that significant.

Aaaand then that Linkin Park song, “Rebellion”, had to smack me in the face with what’s bothering me and thereby kick me into writing this post.

See, the song’s point is that it’s the folks oppressed at gunpoint who know what rebellion truly is. Those of us fortunate enough to not experience it are just imitators.

Problem: Oppression doesn’t need a gun.

Not all that long ago, I lived at the risk of losing my car, my cat, and my computer at any time. There was actual precedent for a computer I had paid for, completely by myself, being taken from the adult me at least once—a computer that I needed to be able to do my job, which was how I paid the bills and even managed to eat, more often than I want to admit. I’d given my parents money for the car, but it was still in my father’s name and treated as his, whenever one parent found it convenient. The cat had been verbally gifted to me and I’d been paying for it, but because she was under my parents’ roof, they started speaking of getting rid of her. (My parents were upset that QTpi loved me but outright fled them.)

When the Harry Potter movies came out, I was told point-blank that watching them would get me kicked out.

Among my allergies and health issues and forced-on-me limitations, I seriously doubted I could support myself on my own. I spent about a year homebound from my grass allergy and not-yet-identified tomato allergy. I was frequently unwell, to the point of having to decide if I would cook for my parents or for me, and I couldn’t understand how the doctor’s test had proved that I actually had a really good immune system.

(…I’ve more lately been learning the many ways hunger can manifest when you’ve been conditioned to feel guilty for eating, because it’s taking resources from others in the family. And, of course, any family who reads this is going to have no clue what I’m talking about, but that’s their prerogative.)

That background leads into another reason I was reluctant to say anything contrary to Kameron Hurley’s post: How dare I say anything? I have no right! I’m so untrustworthy that even as a kid, folks frequently assumed I’d made up my own given name, believing my nickname was my actual name!

(I seriously didn’t know that was strange until last year.)

I’ve never looked down the barrel of a gun, but I’ve looked at someone and known that they would hurt my reputation, friendships, relationships, and even finances if I dared voice my opinion. [That person is likely having someone read this and/or is reading it themselves, by the way.]

I finally started spoke up and refused to stop, even when the consequences started rolling in.

Family hasn’t really spoken to me, since—and there have been so many more repercussions of that, it isn’t funny. I’ve even faced prosecution from within my denomination of Christendom (though I suspect those involved would insist I’m overstating matters…I do have witness + written record).

By the standards in Kameron Hurley’s post, I was not brave, because there was no direct threat to my life.

You wanna know why I decided to finally speak up?

Because I am dangerously allergic to strawberries, where even airborne exposure results in difficulty breathing, and my parents hadn’t bothered to tell my friend that I was coming with them to her baby shower. If my friend had known I was coming, she would’ve alerted her mother to keep the strawberries—which my friend loves—in the fridge.

That friend has been able to remember my allergy ever since her well-meaning husband stuck a plate of fresh strawberries in my face, to ‘help’ me, because my family had made him think my strawberry allergy was psychosomatic. (To be fair to him, he was apologetic for months. My family, when called out on their part in the fiasco, just protested both “Well, we thought it was!” and “We didn’t know he’d take us seriously!” and never seemed to notice how contradictory those two were.)

But my friend hadn’t been informed that I was coming, and so I got to experience, again, air with strawberry in it and experience the ensuing difficulty with breathing.

And then I was scolded—again—for making others feel bad and not just coping with my allergy.

(All I’d done was alert some folks present that I was having difficulty. Friends have actually teamed up on me to say together that I am not nearly as vocal about my allergy as I should be.)

I am also allergic to grass, trees, shrubs, flowers, and cacti, but that was the lesser of two evils that day. I was sitting outside on the front step, body itchy and eyeballs hurting, already feeling ill from the Benedryl I’d had to take. I was trying to figure out how I was going to handle the chores and work I had to get done and how I was even going to eat for the next few days, because it would take that long to recover from allergies and I’d probably still be required to cook dinner for both myself and my parents. (Differing dietary requirements were involved.)

I realized that the way things were going, I was likely going to end up hospitalized (and who would be paying that bill? not them) or dead, and my family would consider it all my fault.

I was oppressed.

I was brave.

And me saying anything now, in a space that those involved know about and are likely reading? That’s brave, too.

I don’t go into all that to make you feel sorry for me. (If you do… well, sorry. Can we try to focus on my point rather than on poor me, please?)

I go into all that to point out how oppression is more than the barrel of a gun. It’s more than the threat of physical harm to you and your loved ones.

Oppression isn’t just immediate fear for your life.

Oppression is when any person makes you feel trapped.

(That definition comes from a friend of mine, who could add dimensions I don’t even touch on in my post.)

Don’t believe me? Okay. Let’s pull out the dictionary (links go to Merriam-Webster):

1.a : unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power
1.b : something that oppresses especially in being an unjust or excessive exercise of power
2 : a sense of being weighed down in body or mind : depression
: the possibility that you will be hurt or killed
: the possibility that something unpleasant or bad will happen
: a person or thing that is likely to cause injury, pain, harm, or loss
: the quality that allows someone to do things that are dangerous or frightening
: the quality or state of being brave

In light of those actual from-a-standard-dictionary definitions…I think Kameron Hurley’s post is—unintentionally, to be sure—cruel and even outright dangerous for people who are experiencing gaslighting or other forms of psychological abuse.

I’ll go one step further and even call it dangerous for people experiencing verbal abuse.

Maybe Kameron Hurley doesn’t believe that things like online threats of rape and murder can or will manifest into real-life actions. Maybe she doesn’t believe that cyberstalking can have real-life consequences (impersonation, identity theft, and real-life stalking are three I can think of off the top of my head). Maybe she isn’t bothered by people she assumes she’ll never see or hear from in her everyday, real life, because her online and offline lives are separate.

At one point, one of my former neighbors was among my Twitter followers—someone who had no clue that I was the girl she’d once known. (“Misti Wolanski” is a penname.)

Voicing an opinion online is by no means the same thing as voicing an opinion while looking down the barrel of a gun. They’re different situations entirely.

One of the two scenarios has the promise of a specific form of short-lived violence. The other has the potential to trigger various forms of violence that could last a short or a long time, depending on how vitriolic it gets.

It’s far easier to get help when you’ve been threatened with immediate, in-person violence. There are things like restraining orders and body armor and personal weapons (and emergency services).

Verbal and psychological abuse, though? Far harder. You have to get people to believe that yes, it really was that bad—that you aren’t just overreacting to the normal well-intended stuff most people do. And no matter how much evidence you have in your favor, there are people who will still believe that you’re angry and bitter and making things up and overreacting. Not infrequently, the very people you ask for help will refuse to believe you—or they’ll make assumptions and unintentionally encourage you to do things that are ultimately harmful for you.

Online abuse does tend to have a paper trail…but that doesn’t help as much as you might think. Online threats are even dismissed by law enforcement, so a person who is threatened online often has to wait for it to manifest offline before they can get help…and has to live with the stress that the first reportable incident might be the last one that they’re alive.

For a victim of online or offline abuse, their eulogy could end up being “Oops; guess those threats weren’t a joke.”

Some people make outrageous threats that are bluffs or “venting”, which they won’t actually carry out.

Some people make outrageous threats because they know that others will assume they’re joking.

And then there are the people who stick to indirect threats or things that aren’t threats unless you know the context, which oh-so-difficult to be able to clearly explain to anyone, much less to be taken seriously about.

Dealing with an immediate threat versus dealing with a potential threat require two different sorts of bravery, but both are brave.

(Note that I am entirely ignoring the potential for Internet lynch mobs, though those can and have destroyed entire businesses. I personally witnessed the destruction-by-online-lynch-mob of LendInk, a website that, once upon a time, dealt with perfectly legal e-book lending. Some authors mistakenly thought it a pirate site, and their ensuing response damaged LendInk so much that the owner decided to close down the service.)

Bravery is more than just facing down fear of immediate death or physical harm. Bravery isn’t ignoring the risks of something or pretending they don’t exist.

Bravery is knowing the danger and acting anyway.

I’ve been physically hurt—in ways that didn’t show and couldn’t be reported—for saying something another person doesn’t like. I’ve been verbally eviscerated and had my very sanity and reliability repeatedly denounced, for saying something another person doesn’t like.

Maybe others decided they could treat me that way because I’m female. Maybe others decided they could treat me that way because I look so young. Maybe you’re neither or only one of those things, and therefore nobody’s laid a hand on you or sought to convince you that you have a neurodevelopmental disorder (that doctors say you can’t possibly have).

But I know the dangers of voicing an opinion, both online and offline.

People like Kameron Hurley deserve the thanks they get for their boldness, because boldness requires bravery…or ignorance, be it witting or unwitting. Perhaps they’ve forgotten the bravery needed to keep their confidence before they stopped caring what bullies said. Perhaps they don’t realize that speaking out when you know people will target you for what you say requires bravery in itself.

You may consider a danger negligible or not worth fretting over. That does not make it any less objectively dangerous. Different people have different values for what constitutes an acceptable risk.

It’s possible to experience offline consequences for online statements. (Some people have entire careers online, so even online consequences can cause lasting harm.)

Some people speak up anyway, saying things we know can and likely will someday be used against us.

If you don’t think that requires bravery, I have to wonder…what dictionary are you referencing to define the words like brave and danger?


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