The Universe recently celebrated the end of my school year by gifting me with free streaming episodes of Six Feet Under on Amazon Prime. I’ve missed the Fishers. So much. But I was watching the penultimate episode of the first season – the one where David comes out to his mother – and I noticed a thing. It’s a thing that happens every day in real life, a thing that we defend passionately without, perhaps, really considering the ramifications. It’s a thing that is as specific as this particular instance, and as vague as an old childhood rhyme.
In the story, a young man is beaten to death for being gay and having the gall to, you know, exist. The ramification in the story is that David begins to confront his fears surrounding his own sexuality and begins his journey out of the dark place he’s been forcing himself to live. It’s a painful but beautiful episode.
At the funeral of the young man, protesters show up. They are holding all those signs you know so well and screaming the same cruelties vocally. David, finally, is done with their bullshit and attacks them and a reporter comes up asking about a possible story.
The thing that struck me is that, had it escalated, David would have been the one in trouble for physically attacking them. But they were attacking first. And the thing about that is that sticks and stones may break bones, but words can destroy a psyche. And, yet, we support those who verbally attack a person, while condemning those who are pushed absolutely beyond what their souls can bear and, because they have only shrugs from those who should be supporting them, finally give in to the pain and physically attack.
What. Even. The. Fuck.
Obviously freedom of speech is vital to the freedom of a nation. And obviously physical violence can all too easily get out of hand and can end a life thereby eliminating any chance of healing (whereas, even a destroyed psyche has the chance to heal if given the right circumstances). So I am not advocating any changes to our actual laws. But it’s time to stop making them our own personal American religion.
Stop hiding behind freedom of speech. Your words are designed to hurt. That’s not okay even if it is legal. Stop telling kids that words don’t hurt, you’re only setting them up to accept abuse as an adult.
It’s so ingrained that two paragraphs ago I originally wrote “actual violence” instead of “physical violence” while I’m trying to make the point that emotional violence is at least as damaging as physical violence is. (This is deeply relevant to the new layer of healing that I am currently working through regarding my own childhood abuse. Even just writing that word “abuse” there is difficult. Because. I mean. I never got hit. So is it really abuse? YES. IT IS.)
We have to stop this. We have to draw attention to it and to disallow it. We have to speak openly about it. Because until we do, we’re only allowing abuse – both public and private – to continue. And worse, we’re putting the burden of it entirely on the abused, who aren’t allowed to acknowledge it and therefore aren’t allowed to heal from it.
And now if you’ll excuse me, I have more Six Feet Under to marathon.