Shame Is The Yellow Starburst

Note: I don’t know if this post is going to have any sort of triggering material, but please consider this a trigger warning for rape, assault, eating disorders, physical handicaps, mental illness, victimization and trolling

Yep, still rocking this stomach virus-whatever. Let’s have more conversations!

Have you seen my circle of friends?

Some are men. Some are women, Some are one who identify as the other. Some are people who wear the clothes normally worn by another gender. Some are gay, some are straight, some are both, some are none of those things. Some are rocket scientists. Some are comedians. Some are parents. Some are single. Some are teachers, some are students. Some are big, some are small. Some are a picture of health, some are sick. Some are dying. Some are paralyzed. Some are bed-ridden. Some have crazy colored hair. Some have no hair. Some have survived assaults and rapes. Some have never had sex. Some have all their limbs, some don’t anymore. Some are mentally well, some suffer from terrible depression or psychosis or hallucinations or mania. Some take drugs. Some refuse drugs. Some believe in a god. Some believe in lots of gods. Some don’t believe in any god. And (gasp!) some aren’t even white.

I love them all, for a host of reasons, and in a host of different ways. I don’t always agree with some of the things they say, either to each or to the world, but I still care about them.

And to be honest, I don’t always know what to do when I hear about the things other people (people who aren’t my friends) say.

I don’t understand why it’s important for someone, when they see a person who weighs more than they do, or who weighs more than some idea that a person should only be this weight or that weight, to call them “fat” in a derisive way. Yes, they have fat. We all have fat. We’re mammals. Fat is part of our body structure. Some humans have more of it than others, for a variety of reasons that go far beyond “they must love dessert”. I don’t know what to say when I hear about fat-shaming. This negative person has pointed out an obvious thing, that this other person is indeed heavier than others, and somehow that devalues them?

I’m fat. I am technically heavier than I should be, according to my doctor. And while I do love desserts and large meals, my weight gain comes entirely from the fact that the medications I took in the past (not the recreational ones, I mean the ones I needed) goofed with my metabolism and of course, I kept right on drinking and not exercising while this happened and I have a belly now as a result. It’s not as big as some people’s, but I have one, I’m well aware and embarrassed about it, it’s the reason I don’t like my photo being taken, and the reason why I hate tucking in shirts, or wearing suit jackets. But I am not so large that people would point it out in a negative way, and in fact, I’ve been called “skinny, except for my midsection”, which was both flattering and embarrassing simultaneously.

A person’s weight is something that is sometimes under their control. Sometimes the body has a disorder that inhibits or retards weight loss. And other times, people have illnesses that arrest weight loss for a variety of reasons, medication being one of them. Calling attention to their weight, because you have some sort of expectation or desire that the world all appear a certain homogeneous way to your whims is childish and unrealistic.

Yes, they need to buy clothes in a larger size. Yes, they may need to patronize a different section of a store, or an entirely different store altogether. Yes, maybe that means they’re uncomfortable being in certain places or under certain conditions. I know I’m not a huge fan of being shirtless, and will only do so intimately or in relative comfort and privacy. Yes, their size may reduce their energy levels or mean they take up literally more space in an aisle or in a seat. Yes it may not be healthy for them to be that size, it may tax their joints or their heart. But, is it your place to tell them these things? Do you think this is news to them? Do you think they just woke up on a Thursday, didn’t look in a mirror or look at themselves and you’re telling them something new? And even if you are their friend, even if you do love them, do you have to tell them in such a way that makes some manner of their appearance more valuable to you than who they are as a person?

I’m crazy. I’ve been through a variety of mental health treatments. I currently see multiple therapists, take multiple doses of medication a day and am a member of several support groups to help me cope with the realities of my mental health. Sometimes, it’s a nuisance that hums in the background of my life. Sometimes, it’s a big deal that paralyzes me for hours, days, or weeks. Sometimes it scares me and scares other people. It’s not that how my brain receives, perceives and structures information that is wrong, mind you, it’s just that it does so in a different and sometimes deficient way. Medication and therapy help make up for the lacking areas, and help me manage the on-going symptoms so that I can productive in a job, so that I could interact with other people, so that I could live more than a life where I wake up, stare out a window for hours, then go back to sleep. I get to call myself crazy. It’s my own joke with myself. It’s not a healthful joke. It’s not a truly kind thing to say about myself, I know this. But I can say it, because I’m living it.

You, on the other hand, you don’t get to dismiss me as crazy. I will first point out that you likely have your own insecurities, your own quirks, your own things that upset you, and while yours may not always be as amplified as mine, you are in no way free from the same issues. Just because there are pills taken every day at set times, just because I live with a particular structure that keeps me from losing myself to illness, just because I avoid situations out of a fear that it will do more harm than good for me, does not make me less capable of being a friend, a lover, a colleague, a peer, a confidant or more broadly, human.

Maybe yes, you are a therapist or a doctor or a trained professional in the area of mental health, so yes you have some passing knowledge of the intricacies of the medical issues I face. Maybe you learned everything you need to know about certain illnesses from television (Because that’s never been false, right?). Maybe you’ve read a book about a famous person who had an illness, and it’s easy to say “Well if that person’s illness presented like this, everyone with that illness presents like this.” Maybe it’s time you consider that everyone is different and everyone’s experience is different, and difference does not invalidate their feelings.

I am a survivor of assault. While my assault is different than other people’s, it happened. While I am a man and they may be women, none of us deserve our experience trivialized, marginalized or used as a punchline. What happened, regardless of details, is terrible. The scars, physical and otherwise, persist and can influence any number of future decisions, and they do not warrant being laughed or shrugged off because of a perception that people “asked for it” or “deserved it” or “had it coming.” I didn’t ask for what happened, and I can’t imagine that anyone actually would deserve the fear, physical pain, injury, medical bills, recovery and shame I bear and sometimes continue to experience.

Where, praytell is the humor in suggesting someone get sexually violated? Where do you start laughing about the time you were threatened and and scared and couldn’t stop something from happening? How many chuckles can I share about scars that mark a body I am already sensitive about? Please point the “lulz” out in a situation where you don’t walk somewhere alone, or don’t dress a certain way or you don’t engage in certain activities because bad things could happen again? Please tell me, because I enjoy humor and laughter, and based on many accounts on the internet, these incidents, consequences and experiences and just gold mines for people to enjoy.

I’m a straight, white male. I engage in heterosexual intimate practices. I am an educated man, who has never experienced true discrimination due to the presence of external genitalia or a lack of skin pigment. My work is seldom second guessed, I do not receive lower wages than others for any reason I’m aware of, and I hold all rights and abilities as other citizens and people like me – I can vote, shop, own things and live how I want. I am lucky this way. Others aren’t.  How they have to amend, alter and go about their lives is different than what I have to do. Sure, yes, there are things we all can do – like go get fast food, have a glass of water, watch paint dry – but what if you were uncomfortable about going to the bathroom, because you were pressured to using one you didn’t like? I don’t mean the one with the toilet no one enjoys, I mean the one for the gender you aren’t. What if you really enjoyed wearing a nice dress, but someone told you long ago that you really shouldn’t do that because even it’s not “what you’re supposed to be wearing”? What if you really liked a person, felt strong feelings of attraction to them, but knew that when the two of you were in public in a group, you couldn’t share or enjoy anything intimate, because other people would react negatively, maybe even to the point of violence? What if you were told you were sick, with an illness without a cure, an illness that would surely land you in hospitals on numerous occasions, that may erode your sense of sanity, that may cause you to hear and see things that others don’t, and that most other people, were you to tell them that you have this illness, which isn’t contagious, would assume that you’re two seconds away from killing people or burning down buildings or harming kids?

What if you experienced all these things, and rather than being accepted as being more than these things, you were laughed it? Mocked? Ignored? Treated as if you didn’t matter?

Making people feel shame or guilt or wrong for being a certain way or for experiencing an event is terrible, and should be criminal. It should be exposed for the cancer that it is on society and expunged. Not that the speakers of these statements need to be cast off to a remote island or butchered publicly, but the behavior must be called out. Yes, sometimes it will be like whistling in a hurricane. Yes, sometimes it will be like spitting into the ocean. Addressing a problem sometimes means that you have go against the grain, but how else can things change?

Now, a caution – there is an equal danger in letting this passion and this belief in calling out wrongfulness turn into a biasing crusade, that exposure to the wrongs of people will over time poison perception, rendering this just another assumptive lens: that everyone, excluding themselves or at most a very small portion of people, and possibly none as dedicated as they are, is at fault for fomenting and perpetuating these problems and it falls to them to save or reform, rather than educate and demonstrate alternatives.

See, I don’t like yellow Starburst. I think they taste like the way Pledge smells. I think they’re particularly waxy, the shade of yellow annoys me, and when I buy a bag of Starburst, I dump out the whole bag, sort out the yellows and relegate them to a bowl that I keep next to my microwave. I used to just throw them away, but then a friend of mine said, “Oh, I love yellow Starburst.” so I began to save them. Now when I see him, he gets a ziploc bag of candy I can’t stand.

What I was doing was shaming the yellow candy. I didn’t like them, I thought them inferior, so I excluded them from my sight (since I don’t normally eat candy when I’m next to the microwave), or disposed of them. There are people who like them, and while I may disagree with their assertions, that doesn’t change the fact that there are people who do think the yellow Starburst contribute something to the bag of candy, and that they are worth enjoying.

Now, I’m not in charge of Starbursts. I am not Great High Emperor of Candy (I can’t even get on the ballot), so while I have an opinion and preference as to what I like, I don’t hold sway over what others like. And part of being an adult is recognizing that I might not like what you like and vice versa, and because of that, no one is less than someone else. We’re just different, and difference doesn’t invalidate.

I don’t cosplay. It’s not something I enjoy, but I can appreciate when it’s done well. I’m even envious that people can do it well.

I like structure and having things a certain way. When people cut or color their hair in new ways, I don’t handle it well. This is not because I’m offended they did it, but because I have trouble distinguishing people if they’ve changed their appearance (they literally don’t look like the people I know). And yes, I do have a preference against short hair, because in my partners and relationships, I prefer and am attracted to long hair. But since the whole world is not comprised of only my partners and relationships, and because there are people I’m not attracted to, I don’t get to make the blanket statement that my word is law, and I must have my way.

I’m not gay. It never occurred to me to try and be gay. I’m not aroused by men, but I can appreciate a good looking one. Not because I’m secretly gay, but because I can appreciate beautiful people and maybe go so far as to envy them.

I don’t dress as a different gender. This is both because it doesn’t appeal to me, and because I have a terrible sense of my own appearance and body image. I can appreciate it when it’s done well, because again, I’m able to appreciate beauty and enjoy people expressing themselves.

None of those things make me less of a person for not doing them, just as the people who do those things aren’t less human than I am.

Calling attention to our differences in ways that belittle or subordinate is fruitless and cowardly. What’s gained in making someone feel bad for being who and what they are? What great prize gets awarded for making someone embarrassed to express themselves? Why reduce something that happens to people (the statistic is something like 78 an hour or 1.3 a minute) to a poorly constructed joke?

What I always ask people is – if you were on the receiving end of these statements (rather than the giving end), would you enjoy it? And if the response is “Well, if that was me, I’d exercise or be less gay or fight my attackers, etc etc”, let’s suppose that the problem didn’t have a solution you could act on. Let’s suppose your weight was metabolic and not dietetic, let’s consider that being less gay is like being less blue-eyed, and let’s consider that your attackers may be larger, stronger, more numerous or done something to reduce your resistance (drugs, emotional manipulation, coercion). What then, troll?

There’s always someone who digs the yellow Starburst, even if that’s not you. There’s plenty of candy for everyone, and everyone can dig what they like.

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