She said, “Have you watched Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette? I’m like five minutes in and a little in love.” Normally, I’d file this suggestion away and come back to it later, but last night curiosity won out. As a queer woman I wanted to participate in my community, which I fear I may not do enough. However, having my world shifted due to an hour long Netflix special was not how I planned to end my night; and yet last night, way too late for a woman who loves her sleep it was.
What started off as humor and a lesson in art history, turned into a serious dialogue on what it means to be different in this world; to not be society’s prescribed version of normal. Gadsby speaks about her story, her experience, and her anger. She says, “Anger is a tension. It is a toxic infectious...tension. And it knows no other purpose than to spread blind hatred, and I want no part of it.” She continues her story by sharing with her entranced audience about how she was assaulted by a man for flirting with his girlfriend. Initially, he refrained from hurting her because his girlfriend pointed out that Gadsby is a woman. Sadly, rage won the battle when he realized she was a “lady fag.” She did not fit his vision of the female norm so physical violence became the answer to settle his conflict.
Gadsby then directs her next statement to the men of the audience; “Power belongs to you … and if you can’t handle criticism, take a joke, or deal with your own tension without violence, you have to wonder if you are up to the task of being in charge.”
She ends her segment by explaining to the audience that “the only way I can tell my truth and put tension in the room is with anger. And I am angry.” She goes on to say that while she has every right to be angry she does not want to be the cause of its advancement within society. The specific anger she references here is such a prevalent emotion in my daily life that I, myself, am also constantly exhausted by.
I grew up in a broken home and the blame for that rests on the shoulders of my father. My mother was verbally abusive, but thanks to therapy, I have worked through most of that trauma because her words were the result of a lifetime with a man who repeatedly hurt her. I’ve forgiven her for this; however, I cannot forgive my father. A manipulative, toxic, delusional, violent man who uses his undeserved power to control his family.
Gadsby said it best by stating “I’m not a man-hater but I’m afraid of men.” My fear most definitely began with the man my father decided to be and continues to feed. I grew up in fear for my mother. I’ve shielded her from his physical assaults. I’ve watched him do things I don’t want to speak of, but will tell you that I’ve been a major proponent for stricter gun regulation from a very young age because of men like my father.
Now, it’s easier to talk about what he’s done to others, but talking about what he has done to me is so difficult and, for some reason, embarrassing. Obviously, it’s difficult to talk about the time your father threw you on the floor and kicked you repeatedly while you were down. Or how he wrapped his hands around your throat. But reader, I’m honestly not sure why this is embarrassing. Maybe it’s because I let it happen. But how could I have stopped it? He’s my father, I have to obey him because I live under his roof. Maybe it’s because letting others know, opens me up to their judgement and I don’t want their pity.
At this moment, as I write this I am rife with emotion. I am angry that he can do this; that someone with so much power can wield it so abusively without consequence. I crave justice but it is not my place or job to deliver it. I can’t let anger’s toxicity take over.
When I first started therapy at the end of a toxic relationship I developed a mantra. It was to let go of that which I cannot control. I cannot control a man as unpredictable as my father and I could not control a woman as unpredictable as my ex. It is not my job to fix or correct them.
They say your destined to become like your parents. I never want to become my father. Yet, in a way I became my mother; somehow capable of still loving the person who is destroying me. I began to realize so many parallels between my parents’ relationship and the relationship I once had. While she never laid a hand on me, the emotional damage felt familiar.
I also find that this specific anger seeps in to how I feel about those I care deeply for. It manifests as envy that I’ve learned to repress; a part of me that is still very much broken looks at those who are well adjusted, or know privileges that I will never see, with resentment. How dare they be so happy in front of me like that? Don’t they know how I suffered and how I will never share in that joy? I will never know what it’s like to have emotionally supportive parents who have always had my best interests at heart. I will only know how to be alone with my misery.
I guess you could say that I am a victim; but I don’t like that word one bit. Like Gadsby, my anger is justified and I know that now. However, as she says, “just because I can position myself as a victim, it does not make my anger constructive.” So, instead I choose to write stories that offer hope. I chase love even though there’s a voice in me that says “you don’t deserve it.” I seek value and fulfillment in the things that make this world beautiful.
I’m healing myself; and for a time I used that anger as a tool. It was a keepsake, a reminder to never again let myself be hurt. I don’t need that anger anymore after seeing the way Gadsby carried herself with the utmost confidence. It moved me. She ends her time by speaking to me, saying “there is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself.”
(Edited by Jessica Pinkley of The Pinkley Press)
(Photo is clearly not my own.)