It may not have appeared this way, but I’ve been pretty guarded in my writing here for quite some time. It’s really hard not to be guarded when one feels unsafe—be it physically, emotionally, or legally—being in public view. And I am pretty unabashed about being in public view.
I pored over my words countless times, agonizing about the various interpretations I knew people would have to what I had to say, struggling to make sure my intent would be communicated to others with the highest probability of success. And I think I did a decent job of that, actually, because when I had something to say I always had reason and evidence to go along with it. But no matter what I said, there were always some people who did not hear what I meant, either because they would choose not to or because they could not hear it. And I believed—and still, in some cases, believe—that when I felt like others didn’t understand what I was saying, it wasn’t their fault, it was my fault.
Or if not my fault, my responsibility. Want to be heard? Communicate better, damnit. I don’t get to control what other people hear; I only get to control what I say. But to some, no amount of reason or evidence, no style of communication, no conceivable expression of facts or emotions—or at least, not one I can manifest—is one that will penetrate their filters. If what I have to say doesn’t already fit some aspect of their worldview, then to them it’s just not worth hearing. And since so much of what I have to say is so “radical,” so unfamiliar, so foreign, or so deeply challenging, I often felt like no matter what I said or how I said it, I just wasn’t being heard at all.
And then things reached a head, because despite the fact that working against injustices (be they big or small) does, indeed, make the world better writ large, that work does have a personal cost. That cost isn’t necessarily financial—in fact, I feel like I’ve done more Good Work in just a few years with less money in relative comparison to what most others often do in a lifetime—and it isn’t necessarily social, although both of those are areas where many on whose shoulders I stand have paid a terribly dear price. Sometimes the cost is personal.
And while I do feel it’s important to be public about both my work and how I do my work, I am a remarkably private person. My demands for transparency are not in conflict with my demands for privacy. I am—and you are—allowed to have your life be your own, you are allowed the right to privacy, even if I feel the work you do—and the work I do—absolutely must be accessible to others and for which we need to be fully accountable on principle and in practice for that work to have the value we are so eager to claim that it does. Because the road to a just future is not paved with good intentions, it is paved with good deeds—and I view that standard as entirely non-negotiable.
So, after taking the absolutely fucking terrifying step of making my personal life far more public than it has been in years through my comments on Kink On Tap last night, comments underwritten with subtext I’ve been discussing for years and yet felt unable to articulate well in relation to my personal experiences, I’m heartened to know that a lot of you are feeling sympathetic to, and in some cases even protective of, me.
We don’t really know one another, but I still appreciate feeling made-protective-of by others, because it offers a mental comfort aligned with how I want to feel: taken care of, because I still need that. And I don’t care if that makes me sound like a baby, or even if it makes me a baby. I’m lonely, and I’m scared, and I’m hurting, and I’m angry and if that gets interpreted as a childish tantrum, then I will take that to mean somewhere deep within me the wonder of youthful possibility has not, in fact, been killed. We all have a right to be weak, as well as strong.
And if there is one thing I hope people take away from my meta-remarks on Kink On Tap yesterday, it’s this: the most powerful thing in the world is personal integrity. Be you—all of you; the good parts, the bad parts, the nice parts, the mean parts. Because there is more good in you than there is evil and if you embrace all of what you are in everything that you do you will prove to others that living wholly and authentically can be done.
Many people—myself included at times—struggle to do this for fear of the costs they are sure they will pay. And, yes, if you take this advice, you’re going to face them. And I can tell you, they’re going to hurt you. A lot. But I believe you’re stronger than that, because I am stronger than that and we are not so different, you and I, and although you shouldn’t fucking have to be stronger than that, you are, and since you are, you might as well make it possible for future generations to live in a world where they don’t have to be as strong as you are merely to survive.
When it comes to personal strength, I don’t think the opposite of strong is weak or vulnerable. The opposite of strong is corrupt. Show me a generation raised this way and I’ll show you a less lonely planet.
So, I guess I wanted to say thank you (again) to everyone who has engaged with me. Many of you have offered to help, and I wanted to make clear that if I knew what to ask each of you for individually, specifically, that would help me, believe me when I tell you I would have done so already. As I said, a lot of the subtext of my personal remarks was a rejection of the advice I’ve been getting over the past year and, coupled with that, the pain of feeling in-my-own-way-different than others and of feeling lost because of it. I really don’t feel like I have many role models (particularly when it comes to sex and relationships), and being deemed a role model for others makes the lack of role models I feel I can look up to even more poignantly painful.
Some of you wrote me emails, which have been really helpful. I didn’t always respond, and I’m sorry about that. Many of the emails are like this one from Sam, which I thought was…really nice, and thus worth sharing here. (And although I consider unencrypted email fair game for public consumption, it’s probably worth noting that I got Sam’s permission to publish this here before I posted it, anyway.)
To be honest, I’m not really sure why I’m writing to you. Maybe just to say hi.
I’ve been reading maybemaimed for a long time as well as listening to KinkOnTap, right-click-saving most of malesubmissionart and generally thinking that you’re awesome. I never bothered to let you know that because, well, I didn’t feel like I had anything to say. And you look like someone who is very busy, so why would you want to waste your time reading emails from strangers? So I’ve been pretty much admiring what you were doing in silence and thinking that you’re somewhat of a hero to me.
But then I started reading Maybe Days and realized that my hero wasn’t actually living happily ever after. I’m so sorry to hear that. It literally makes me want to cry, because I think you’re amazing.
I still don’t feel like I actually have anything to say, but reading and hearing you say that the difference you make is what keeps you alive made me think ‘maybe I should tell him that he’s a hero to me’.
So there you go. Feel free not to send a reply. I wouldn’t know what to do with an email like this either. :p
I don’t know how to explain (in short) to you that you’ve changed my life, given me strength and understanding, and encouraged me to become a sexual freedom activist (one step at a time). I don’t know how to explain all that. I just wanted you to know that you have changed my life, so much. If I could do anything in the world to make you feel a little better, I’d do it in a heartbeat, but I’m afraid I’m oceans away and running out of words quickly. I guess what I want to say it, thank you. thank you. thank you.
I will throw a party in your honour the day your life gets better.
All the best,
It took me a little while, but here’s what I wrote back:
Sam, this was one of the most awesome emails I’ve ever gotten my whole life.
The day you sent it to me, I read it as I was just waking up and I smiled so wide. And then I got to the part where you say you are oceans away and I cried so hard. (But don’t worry, that’s nothing you have any reason to feel bad about.) And like you, I didn’t know what to say, so I marked the email unread and dared not look at it again for several days for fear of feeling unfit to answer in whatever mood I was in.
I am so glad that your life is better because I’ve been talking about mine. And I guess, although I haven’t many words either, I have enough to let you know that the few words you sent me last week were read, and appreciated, and matter very much to me.
Now, as ever, not all the feedback I see is positive. Some is quite fairly critical, some is simply negative, some is downright hateful. And when it comes to my person, rather than my work, the same pattern holds. Here, for instance, is what Kendra Holliday (aka TBK or The Beautiful Kind), a former Kink On Tap panelist, had to say:
Not surprised KinkonTap is coming to an end. That’s what happens when you burn bridges. Nowhere left to go.
And, for the record, here’s what I had to say in response:
@TBK365 Your misunderstanding of my situation is epic & predictable and “Burn bridges” describes your roadmap even more fittingly than mine.
And rather than say much more about that, I’ll simply point out this: I use the fact that Kendra felt it suitable to erase my words from her website to judge her motivations for what she does as patently deficient to manifest the value needed for the better future I think we all want. I hold my work to different standards, ones that mean I won’t erase her (quite valuable) words from Kink On Tap shows.
Anyway, all this variation in response to what I put out there in the world brings me back to my core belief. That the only things in my life that are really about me are the things intrinsic to my own life. That this other work I do is not for me, can’t be for me, shouldn’t be for me. Because the fact is I don’t get to partake in what I make in the same way that others do. But it’s still good work, and it still needs doing, and I’m still going to do some of it (when I feel like I can).