Get a Spine!

I recently listened to This American Life’s episode Get a Spine! which deals with ghosting, apologies, sexual harassment and other a whole host of other complex nasties that the 21st century is excavating in our behavior. I was an activist before I had my son: an anarcho-socialist (socio-anarchist? sociopathic narcissist?) one of those ‘woke’ white people who rallied against police brutality and the deaths and harassment of black folks before Black Lives Matters came along. Someone who camped out every Friday on Skid Row with thirty other college-educated people with consciences to support our fellow houseless activists who were being harassed by punitive, petty laws which criminalized them for sleeping on the sidewalk even after Jones Vs. the City of Los Angeles was won in 2006 (incidentally one of the attorneys who represented Skid Row residents was a lawyer called Carol Sobel who we later came to know from our time as anti-capitalists). I still stay in touch with some of those Skid Row residents, the infamous TC, General Dogon, the amazing organization LACAN run by the dynamic Pete White. I still talk to my activist friends, many of whom have changed genders, gender pronouns, sexual identities and had some great hairstyles along the way (myself included).

My point is when the world finally started listening to us ‘fringe lunatics’ directing people to go read White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack and calling out all kinds of unremarked upon behavioral norms which were perpetuating systemic oppressions (the habits of men to talk over women, white people to talk over minorities, minorities to express concerns which were habitually dismissed by those with more social status and power etc) it was briefly kind of amazing and wonderful and beautiful…. before it descended into the kind of leftist infighting and bickering and finger pointing which leads to deafness, defensiveness and often alienation. About this time, I had a baby, and spent many hours watching social media erupt into outrage over [perceived] racism / sexism / oppression of any kind. As I struggled with severe poverty, CPTSD and the inhumane family court system throughout my son’s infancy, I was in no mood to listen to other’s complaints that I’d used the wrong gender pronouns or oppressed someone by my use of the word ‘fat’ to describe America. I felt like I’d gone from the frontlines of the battle to being yet another asshole armchair activist with people who weren’t out there pounding the streets when we were - and yet had the gall to call us out as if they had some authority. And perhaps they did. Being wrong, is after all, being wrong. You don’t earn a pass by getting activist brownie points - or even by being poor and having a shit time as a new mother.

It is far easier to be sympathetic and forgiving when one’s life is going well and you are the person making a difference in society. It is harder when you become the recipient of much needed charity and a drain upon other’s resources: when you, in short, resort from being the privileged, to the oppressed. I have had the unique and lucky perspective of being both, and of now being offered an opportunity to dig my way out of the horrible financial hole which has blighted most of my life as a parent. I have finally, after thirteen years of endless development and selling scripts which never went away, had a TV series greenlit. I series I wrote and created. A series which I will write, alone. A series I loved writing, which deals, very much, with some of the issues I’ve touched on in this post. I’m very excited and thrilled for it to come alive. I am even more excited and thrilled to finally be able to return some of the charity and material kindness offered to me over the last few years and to become a political person again, not simply a terrified, struggling, single parent in a state of massive, ceaseless anxiety.

The main reason I wrote this post though, is to make an apology. It’s an apology I tried to make back in 2008 when I wrote what I considered a “funny” article for The Guardian entitled crudely, ‘Flab isn’t flab’. Embodying all the worst parts of my cutting edge nastiness, it took a massive swipe at fat people. At the time there was, understandably an uproar of indignation and disgust about what I wrote. The Guardian turned the comments section off pretty quickly. I emailed my editor and asked could I write an apology and a response detailing in a less irreverent way why I had issues with overweight people. The Guardian declined my explanation/apology and refused to take down the post, saying it would be against their editorial policies. I could never really figure out what to do about it after that.

I grew up in a family which has, for the most part, struggled with their weight and accompanying health issues in very painful and unpleasant ways. As a seventeen year old I remember waking up at 3am one day to find my father banging into things having gone blind from medicines taken to treat his weight related heart problems. I had to drive him to the hospital and then start a 4:30am shift at a local hotel where I was a waitress. His sight came back but I watched most of my family struggle with their weight for years: strokes, heart bypass(es), hip replacements, high blood pressure, knee replacements… the list goes on, and it is, perhaps, no surprise, that I internalized this and became severely anorexic for most of my teenage years, and well into my early twenties. I recovered (predictably perhaps) when I moved to America, discovered yoga and trained myself to fill up on healthy foods, breaking the cycle of binging and purging which had characterized most of my early life.

Bullies are often the bullied. Those who attack others often do so because of their own pain. I am often a harsh and uncompromising writer, but I like to think that when I’m wrong, I admit it. Sometimes I’m a bitch just because I’m a bit of a cunt. A lot of the time it’s because of some deep pain it might take me several years to be able to articulate. The Guardian never allowed me to publish an apology, and it weighed heavy on me for many years. Weirdly since the article was published I’ve never had any blowback from it. By rights I should have: we are in the era of public shaming. Yet I’ve remained unscathed. This makes me feel even worse. Nonetheless I embarked on a career of reckless opinionating even after this article which only stopped when someone compared me to Toby Young. Wtf? That was a sobering moment. I had become so left wing I’d nearly gone full circle and ended up on the right.

For all those who have ever been harmed by my words in any way, I am deeply sorry. Words have power and I’ve often thrown them around unaware of the impact of my bull-like demeanour. There are probably many things out there which, acceptable at the time, are now rampantly horrific. If you find them, call me out. Send me an email and let me know. Let’s educate each other with compassion and kindness and some fucks and cunts thrown in carelessly along the way.

And for those strippers and strippers who, in 2013 a day before my son was born, took offense at the chapter in my book which referred to a transwoman as a “tranny” and dissected me in a long and particularly vicious and unpleasant post - my book was written in 2004 when I was 24. “Tranny” was the commonly used moniker amongst transgender people, later to be replaced by transsexual, then transgender, then trans. And the dancer whom I implied to a client was trans…. wasn’t actually trans. I was taking the piss out of the guy’s gullibility, transphobia and the fact this girl was way more stunning than me. If someone was trans I certainly wouldn’t be the one to jeopardize them by revealing it. Older and wiser, I also wouldn’t find that particular ‘joke’ appropriate or funny, and I realize it is pretty goddamn offensive, and yet there it is, written in my book for all to see, and unless it gets a reprint, it will stay there.

Perhaps it should stay. Perhaps all of these flaws, mistakes, bigoted comments, unconscious biases, defensive racism and more should stay for all the world to see how much we can all change and learn in one lifetime, because it is not OK to never change. It is not OK to ignore who or what we once were, even when what we once were was “accepted” and “acceptable” in mainstream society. After all, Hitler was pretty mainstream. Mussolini was too.

I am an activist and a writer and I learn everyday how to be a better and less obnoxious white person / ex stripper / former political Op-Ed asshole.

I hope y’all can forgive me, and we can learn to confront the worst parts of ourselves together, because this is one hell of a time. The world is burning and we need to get the fuck over ourselves and wrest this beautiful planet from some evil motherfuckers intent on fucking it up for our kids, who are braver and smarter than we ever were.