[The following blog contains mentions of bullying and child abuse.]
One of the things that often happens to children who grow up in abusive households is that we develop incredible sensitivity to other people’s anger, simply because we’re surrounded by it so much as we grow up that we hardly ever get a moment to relax. (This effect is compounded when, as happens to many of us, we also end up being frequent targets of bullying at school. Our difference in how we act marks us as easy targets for our classmates looking to take out their anger on other students.) Even when we aren’t necessarily looking at (or even hearing) other people around us who are upset, we seem to have a sixth sense for those emotions near us, and just being around people giving off angry energy can sometimes send us into that fight-or-flight response we had as children, even if we escaped that abuse long ago.
Dealing with those feelings from larger society can also be incredibly difficult. I’ve certainly bristled against the self-righteous fuming of right-wingers for most of my life, but when Gamergate exploded several years ago, something about the overzealous gatekeeping that some gamers were practicing, and how that played out through harassment campaigns and doxxing and swatting, took me aback. Part of the reason for that may have been how it reminded me of what I’d gone through fifteen years earlier when I was writing online about professional wrestling — the term I coined for those gatekeepers, the “Internet wrestling community,” still seems to be in use today — but as I saw how critics like Anita Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu were systematically and brutally victimized by people who wanted to silence them forever, and institutions from law enforcement to the media failed to take these patterns of abuse seriously, it became more and more difficult for me to go about my daily business without experiencing a feeling that something was going deeply, deeply wrong with our society.
Many have remarked of the rhetorical similarities between those harassers and Donald Trump, and one of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t use my meagre platform here to write more about the dangers I saw from Trump’s presidential campaign as it was going on. Having to deal with Mom’s final hospitalization in the six months before the 2016 election played a large part in that, and I’m certainly not about to apologize for paying attention to Mom during that time, but I often wonder just how much I was disassociating during those horrible weeks of October and November, when Mom passed away and then the election blindsided so many of us. (The fact that Leonard Cohen died soon after the election really felt like the universe kicking me while I was down, since he was one of Mom’s favourite musicians as well as mine.)
There’s been a lot of talk about the feeling of unreality that’s been in America these past few years. Some people place the start of that time at Trump’s inauguration, some at the preceding Election Day, and some at when he clinched the Republican presidential nomination. As difficult as it was for me to cope with Mom’s final months (and the familial fustercluck that followed), I still feel like all of this started a good year before that infamous escalator ride, when the anger of gamers who wanted to silence feminist voices in the sphere of video games erupted into one of the most obscene displays of assholery I’d witnessed up to that point in my life.
These past few years, of course, things have just gotten worse and worse. As I moved cross-country twice, and went through some of the biggest ups and downs of my life so far, I never felt like I was really tracking what was going on in our larger society in the same way that I had when I was still living with Mom in Toledo. At the same time, though, I was certainly feeling it far more strongly than I had before. My mere existence in public spaces has always been fraught with danger, but that danger spiked upwards in the aftermath of the 2016 election, and it hasn’t gotten any better since.
The irony here, of course, is that those feelings are now stronger than ever, and I haven’t left my apartment (or even seen another human being in the flesh) for twelve days. Still, that feeling is out there more than ever, and it’s coming from everywhere. I’ve got a lot to get off my chest about the responses to this pandemic, but even as my social media timelines are being flooded by other people’s screeds on this topic, I still don’t feel comfortable joining them. That will probably change sooner rather than later, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Today was the first day of the online classes that we’re going to be doing for the rest of the semester here, and even though I was exhausted when I went to bed last night, I couldn’t sleep a wink. My sleep has been erratic at best lately, and often nonexistent. I don’t fear getting COVID-19 all that much, but other people’s responses to this pandemic have been frightening me on a regular basis, and that’s only going to get worse over the coming weeks. I don’t think people realize how much more serious this is going to get, and that we’re still in the early stages of a mass casualty event that could easily eclipse the death toll of anything this country has ever seen. That would be bad enough on its own, but seeing how other people are turning this tragedy into an excuse to show (if not flaunt) their worst qualities is nothing short of chilling.
I’m still playing those old games I’ve been playing the past couple of weeks — Boggle, Uno, Scrabble, Monopoly, and Trivial Pursuit — to remind myself of playing games with Mom in my earliest years. As those years passed on, though, and the stress of starting up his own business got to him, my father’s violence against me and Mom peaked, and at the same time that I was facing more and more bullying at school. Just like back then, I’m feeling like there may be no way to escape that anger, only now I can’t dream about escaping my home because the anger is everywhere. The worst part is that we’re only getting started here, and especially with another election on the horizon, this anger is going to get a whole lot worse before it even has a chance to start getting better.