The things that we do: on mistakes, on apologies

In a way, I have always been waiting to write this post.

Perhaps this is belated. Probably it is – but I wanted to gather my thoughts, collect myself; I wouldn’t say anything in haste.

One thing I’ve learned is that if you believe the world speaks only a language of force, then that syntax is all you will negotiate the world with. And it warps, thoroughly, how you think.

But I want, at least, some measure of a chance to explain myself. I’m not owed this chance. You aren’t obliged to read beyond the line. You don’t have to, at all. But please know that, if I’ve hurt you, I’m sorry.

I made another apology elsewhere, but for this entry, I’m going to make them to a specific group: those who believed I was someone they could really, really like, as a friend. And those who discover that I’m not quite exactly that, and feel betrayed and manipulated. I don’t blame you for this. I am at fault, I don’t believe you were gullible; I believe in your decency, and that’s why it’s so full of thorns. This must be difficult for you in a thousand ways. I am sorry that I did this to you, damaging your ability to trust and your boundaries. You do not deserve this. I don’t know how to make it up to you; I’m not sure what is the right thing to do. I hate that I disappointed you; I hate that it was a sort of fantasy, the thing which I presented. You might find it hard to believe, but I wish it wasn’t.

(It was a way to experience a world where you negotiate through a different language – not one of force and rage, not one of attack and pushback; it was a discovery).

But one very certain thing is this: I will never violate anyone’s privacy. I’ve lived for years in fear of mine being violated. Why would I ever do it to anyone else? Privacy, to me, is sacrosanct. No one deserves having it taken away from them, and no one should feel they have to forfeit it.

The rest of this isn’t offered as justification. It’s an explanation, which I think some people wanted.

Turn the clock back to 2011, 2012. It wasn’t the height of anything in particular – as with all things, it is a process; it is a wearing-down. It is exhaustion. It was also the time when I started getting contacted by stalkers. Comments showed up in my moderation queue saying ‘Nice view from so-and-so street’. I have several stalkers. I’m not going to talk about them in detail – some of you know about and have seen it personally – but to discuss it openly is to escalate it. It’s ongoing, right now.

Beyond that, there were anonymous threads devoted to speculating on my sexuality, ethnicity, personal life. You can call it harmless – they didn’t call up my house. Here’s one of my long-time obsessives who showed up everywhere anyone talked about me. Not dangerous, not really. Not scary, at all; mild, if anything. Part of a pattern, yes.

Then there was this attempt to sic Vox Day on me, from someone I blocked on Twitter and banned from my blog, but who kept trying to contact me and obsessed over me for more than a year (still does). Amusing, until it isn’t.

I’m tough. Very tough – for a long time I was about nothing but tough. Tough enough to roll with the punches, to take what I dished out. Tough enough to take the heat, because that’s what you are supposed to do. Backing down shows weakness. Reacting to harassment or stalkers shows weakness. It says I’ve admitted defeat. It says I’ve let them win. And to overcome all this – to be nothing but relentlessly tough – you have to shed your humanity. No feelings. Impregnable.

In public, anger became all I was. Public identity is performance and that was mine. I wasn’t allowed to have anything else but anger, because after a certain point that was the image, the thing. The all.

In private – I’m not going to talk about that, am I? Because it shows I’ve been defeated.

I was tired of having my privacy invaded again and again; I was tired of being subjected to intense public scrutiny, all out of proportion. My wrongs were what they were, verbal and emotional, but they were not this: attempted murder and sexual abuse. That man kept his career a long time after admitting to those things, that’s the way things are. The politics of who can do what is evident: no need to belabor. (That politics informed my anger when I thought that anger could affect change; it couldn’t – but nothing can).

It’s not about rebranding so much as wanting to take control of my personhood. I wanted to shake my stalkers (and avoid something like this – which did happen to me regardless, a lesser Kathleen Hale of my very own). That was my priority: what I did, it was toward this one goal, for my own safety. It’s not a perfect reason. But it is a reason, and I give it to you now, to do with as you will.

(‘Oh, it can’t be that bad. Oh, she’s exaggerating it. Oh, she’s making it up. Oh, she deserves it, anyway.’ So it goes, the GamerGate rodeo, the vigilante logic: ‘Oh, but she did this thing, and that thing, and that awful thing, so she deserves it and has no right to privacy’).

Here’s something, though, when it comes to people who have felt betrayed and deceived: I had no idea.

I didn’t expect to get very far or to make contact with so many. My vision was one of being very unknown, very quiet. It’s not that I didn’t believe in my writing; I just didn’t think anyone else would. I thought the acquaintances I made would be on a purely professional basis, courteous but not close, though I was surprised by the atmosphere of generosity. Inevitably – but to me, against expectations – I made friends. And I lied to them, and put them in hideous positions. To them I have made apologies in private; they are not obliged to take it, I am not entitled to their forgiveness or grace. But by and large, they aren’t howling for my blood, for my life or career to burn. Which they could have, really.

I hurt them because I didn’t realize I was capable of this kind of hurt.

I respected them and enjoyed their company, but I didn’t realize this was mutual to any extent; I assumed I was liked well enough, nothing more. I assumed I was simply tolerated, not least because so many of them are successful and experienced – being neither, I didn’t (and don’t) see myself as their equal. This sounds naive, but I truly had no idea.

And still, many of them extended me charity and generosity. They didn’t have to. They could have joined in the howling for my blood, and they didn’t. I’m left breathless for this. For someone who believed the world could only be negotiated by the language of force and the syntax of rage, this almost didn’t make sense. I didn’t know people were capable of that much compassion. I understood censure, how to respond to it; I understood violent pushback, and how to tear that apart. But I didn’t really understand anything else, and expected nothing else. Grow a thick skin; take what you dish out; grow a thicker skin again as things escalate. Brute armor as code for existence, brute terror as guiding parameters.

Understand, I didn’t all this time lie to people and laugh at their foolishness, chortle that I was so clever to have duped so-and-so. I was too busy worrying about my safety, about the potential for returning to the hell I was facing. Every interaction was fraught with ‘what if they already know? What will they do to me?’ Yes, that made me very self-centered. My vision narrowed to this one tunnel, this one possibility, this one nightmare. I wanted to avoid that at any cost. People I should have reached out to long ago I didn’t. I had no idea whom I could trust, if at all.

There’s a precedent for this distrust, but that’s almost beside the point.

Some of you, still, give me your kindness. Even now. Such an impossible thing, kindness. Mercy. It means the world to me that you remain willing to treat me as a human being. It says more about you than me; it says that you’ve survived life with empathy intact, developed a staggering capacity for forgiveness. You’re better people than I could ever hope to be. Two years ago I wouldn’t have believed that people like you could exist. My apologies aren’t worth much, least of all to people who are so – so human, so humane. So impossible. But I’m sorry.

It’s taught me to be very different. It’s taken me away from the place I was. I know I have a lot of work to do to evince that’s the case. I’ll do it, whatever it takes, because I don’t want to go back to the brute armor and the constant anger.

I’d like to negotiate the world through a language other than rage and hate and force. I’d like to become someone who deserves even a tenth of the compassion that’s been shown to me. And in any case, I thank you all for having given me a space in which I was able to see, after all, the better side of humanity.

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