In Case I Die: Some Thoughts on Rainbows and Fistfights

Hey buddy, 

I turned 41 a few weeks ago, which feels very old. It’s definitely older than I want to be. Oh, if only I could send my middle-aged mind back in time and allow it to occupy my younger self! But I imagine that the desired outcome of making better decisions would prevent me from learning anything to begin with and thus create a time paradox in which I’d end up stupider in the present (or something). Whatever. I’m alive and wiser, if much less handsome. 

You gave me a really good present. Here’s a picture of it: 

It’s pretty great. My name is on there, two of the beads glow in the dark, and, above all things, I get to know that you’re comfortable with and excited by jewelry and rainbows and this means a great deal to me. 

I’ve been wearing it non-stop for over a month and a couple of weeks ago I noticed a correlation between this and the fact that I’ve been walking like a thug. 

I don’t have a lot of good words to describe this particular way of walking, but I think the best way to describe it is that I look like I’m ready to fight. I sort of round my shoulders like I’m getting ready to tackle someone and I roll my upper body around on top of my hips. It looks and feels aggressive. 

I see other men doing this and they all look like dicks. 

The relationship between the bracelet and the walk is a proxy for the relationship between homophobia and rage. I’m wearing something bright and eye-catching that is a signifier of support for and identification with LGBTQ people, and I anticipate that some mush-mouthed Long Island ‘Tony’ is going to say something to me about it and I want to broadcast the fact that I can and will throat-punch a person if they cross any of my lines. 

This isn’t a great way to be.

It is the case that many men are raised to meet conflict, judgment or hostility with rage, and I’m one of those men. I think that those of us with the capacity for this uncontrollable anger try to justify it as virtue, as if we’re delivering justice and keeping people polite, but that’s not actually what’s happening. 

What is happening is that the inadvertent training that goes into building the emotional life of an American man is kicking in. When another human being threatens my fragile sense of dignity, my go-to response – in fact, the only response that feels appropriate- is to court violence. 

I think that this says a number of things about me, and also about the society that made me. 

The first of those things is that I’m scared. 

Elements of this fear are warranted. Being different can be dangerous. Being victimized is a possibility. 

The second thing that this says about me is that I am a person who, at a certain point in my life, saw mutually assured destruction as a strategy I could deploy to protect myself. I wanted to broadcast to the world that I would throw my life away in response to a threat. You can imagine how well this worked out. 

This sucks, and is a cliche. It’s a feature of male life as I experience it that we make all sorts of stupid promises about just how bad we’ll fuck somebody up if they dare to do ‘x’. It’s concerning when people do this, and mostly bullshit, and more concerning when it’s not bullshit.  

The third thing that this points to is that my sense of self is quite fragile, and that a lot of my sense of self is still tied to my willingness to fight. It’s less that I am concerned about an insult, and more that I am concerned about what it would say about me if I were not to hit someone in the face with a napkin holder if they insinuate that I’m gay. 

I don’t want to say that there aren’t times when force is necessary, and it would be a lie to tell you that comeuppance isn’t an amazing thing to observe, but on the whole I think the balance sheet says that this is a losing strategy. Because you’re going to end up spending a lot more of your life in the company of people that you absolutely should not be violent towards than those who deserve violence, and these people will need you to support and nurture them. And if your answer to tension, slights, judgement and recrimination is to freak the fuck out and scare the shit out of them, you’re going to end up distrusted and at arms length from people you need. You can’t survive on your own, or protect yourself on your own, or live a dignified life on your own, no matter how tough you might be.  

There are some other things that I think this bracelet and my readiness to fight serves to communicate. 

Principally, it says that being different requires a great deal of courage, and the feeling of exposure that I experience… I can take the bracelet off if I have to. 

There are people who don’t have that luxury, and who have had to learn how to navigate a hostile world without the many benefits that accrue to those of us with dicks, white skin, standard bodies and a generally male presentation. I would say that there’s no group of people more fragile than white guys, but that requires a caveat, and the caveat is that there’s a lot of training that goes into making people. People who grow up exposed to various forms of bigotry aren’t just being encouraged. They’re also being threatened. If they don’t get with the program they’ll be treated like those people, and those people get beat on (at best). 

What I’m saying is that men who are too ready to fight aren’t fragile, because in a number of important ways we’re already broken. Some of us know it, and many of us don’t. 

Beneath this I hope you can intuit that I think that someone who can be different and feel safe is a great master (I’ll get around to the Tao in the future- for now just know that a great master goes with the flow, doesn’t sweat the small stuff, and is decent to other people) , and that someone who can weather an insult with grace is worthy of admiration. I hope you get to be such a person, but as long as you’re not a complete shithead I’ll be satisfied. 

Keep making those bracelets.

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