Just Say Yes

 


Yes folks, it’s that time again! It’s that time to pull out my dusty old copy of the Gay Agenda, turn to page 246 of sub-section 39b (the Bi Agenda) and wax rhetoric about marriage equality! Yay, that old chestnut.

Australia, while a wonderful country in many ways, is a little bit backward. Besides the rampant racism and xenophobia, the alarming domestic violence rate, and the existence of XXXX beer, Australia is the land of the seemingly homophobic government. Tim Minchin puts it best in his latest online offering, so I won’t go into why it’s ridiculous that marriage equality isn’t legal. But let me just explore our options here.

In 2004 John Howard’s Liberal government introduced the Marriage Amendment Bill, changing the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act 1961 to state, “Marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life. Certain unions are not marriages. A union solemnised in a foreign country between: (a) a man and another man; or (b) a woman and another woman; must not be recognised as a marriage in Australia” (source). What that means is that the government pretty much sanctioned discrimination based on sexual preference and it was done without consulting the Australian people.

In 2013, however, the High Court found that the Constitutional standpoint of marriage included same sex couples and that basically the federal Parliament has the power to decide to whether same sex couples have the right to marry. Instead, good ol’ Malcolm Turnbull has decided that we should have a plebiscite, even though his government can pass the law if they choose to.

What’s a plebiscite? Well, time to get my nerd on. A plebiscite (ˈplɛbɪsʌɪt,ˈplɛbɪsɪt/) derives from the mid 16th century: from French plébiscite, from Latin plebiscitum, from plebspleb- ‘the common people’ + scitum ‘decree’ (from sciscere ‘vote for’). The sense ‘direct vote of the whole electorate’ dates from the mid 19th century (source, Google dictionary). The word is a noun and its definition is:

  1. the direct vote of all the members of an electorate on an important public question such as a change in the constitution.
  2. a colossal waste of time and $122 million (second definition is the author’s).

Why is it a waste of time? I’ll let australianmarriageequality.org take this one: “… a free vote costs nothing. A plebiscite will become a platform for hatred and division. We elect politicians to make laws, not handball them back to voters. Issues that raise religious and moral concerns are almost always resolved by free votes in parliament, not plebiscites. A plebiscite is not binding so the issue will have to return to Parliament anyway, at which point there should be a free vote. There is more community support for a free vote than for a plebiscite, especially when voters are aware of the cost of a plebiscite.”

Kinda a no-brainer, huh?

Of course, the majority of the LGBTIQ+ community has rallied around the issue, stating that all love is equal, that it’s a human rights issue, and most importantly, that there are other far more pressing issues to put that time and money towards. We are the last developed English-speaking country in the world to legalise it. It’s embarrassing.

But there’s another facet to this issue, a less buoyant, positive, fluffy facet. Yes, love is love. Yes, we should have the right to marry whichever consenting adult we like and be happy. Yes, marriage is not about gender. But on the other side of that truly beautiful coin is the sobering reminder that things can turn shit. Marriages end, dreams die, break ups are horrible and can be really messy, and the unfortunate thing is that in Australia, there’s not a whole lot of legal support for same sex divorce. Our marriages aren’t even recognised for one thing, so it’s stay married forever, or go back to the country you got married in and become domiciled, and then apply for a costly divorce. Break ups are disruptive enough, but the added insult of not actually being able to legally divorce the person one legally married in another country means that closure is deferred, the connection to one’s ex is still active, and salt is rubbed in the open, suppurating wound.

As it stands, my marriage was not taken seriously by some members of the communities I am a part of (much in the same way that my sexuality isn’t taken seriously, but that’s a different post). Therefore, by extension, my divorce is not taken seriously, and that adds to the devastation. My need to cut ties, move on, perhaps even marry someone else is thwarted by this myopic view of a relationship that was very real (if I want to marry a man in the future, I can’t, as I will be committing bigamy in every country in which same sex marriage is recognised). It’s a cruelty on top of an already hurtful situation.

Divorce rituals are important for healing. Many cultures and religions around the world have rituals that are designed to break the bond and ease the suffering of both parties involved. People throw divorce parties. A temple in Japan allows visitors to literally flush their failing relationship down the toilet. I could do all the rituals in all the world, but still, the country I live in doesn’t give me or my ex the option to make it legal. And that’s shit.

I hope that this plebiscite will not go ahead, because there are many, many people that I love (including myself) who will be affected by the inevitably hateful ‘No’ campaign. The anti-marriage equality lobbies that we have in Australia are champing at the bit to unleash their homophobic vitriol upon my community, and this plebiscite will give them leave to do so with relish.

However, I fear that it will go ahead, so I’m throwing everything I have into campaigning for an overwhelming ‘Yes’ vote – even if it isn’t binding, even if the government continue to be a pack of cowards, even if it doesn’t lead to an immediate legalising of same sex marriage, I will still vote yes. I hope all my Australian readers will do so too (mind you, if you’re a regular reader of this blog and you don’t vote yes, my mind boggles as to what you’re doing here).

Once upon a time, I campaigned and protested to have my love recognised. Now I’m campaigning to have the end of it recognised. Equality is equality.

I lost myself, defining myself by my grief and by the mental illness which is a result of events beyond my control in my childhood. I lost belief in my self, in what made me who I am. I became stuck in my limitations, trying to validate myself through pouring my energies into others.

Being with someone younger seemed only to remind me that I am older, and that became a limitation. The more limited I became, the less secure she became. How foolish. In trying to be everything she wanted, I forgot to be what I needed. Her security was not my responsibility any more than my validity was hers. But I understand now. I understand that I failed to see the beauty in that difference between us. I see it now and I am grateful.

This does not define me. This failure is a gift. It has reminded me of my worth and that worth can only come from within. I am my own power. I am my own worth. I am my own success. Of all the lessons she taught me, these are the most valuable.

I have no need to prove anything to anyone, or even myself. I am content to sit in the moment and be present with what and who I Am. This does not discount my pain, this does not decrease the value of my experience. It is what it is, and I am who I am.

This is my lesson.

Beginning Again

Born to Love, Cursed to Feel

I can be on my own. I’m actually quite good at it. I enjoy my own company. I think I’m funny, smart and a good conversationalist. I could talk to myself for hours. I can be silent by myself for longer. I function better, actually, on my own. I have more money, I eat better, my career thrives, I’m thinner. I’m better on my own.

I never expected forever; I wasn’t brought up in a family of forever, but I must admit I got used to the idea of it. I felt like I could relax. I had no fear of making future plans.

I’ve been in love before.  I have loved keenly and powerfully, but with you, I don’t know, it was different. I can’t even say why it was different. I mean, I can give you reasons, like my eye was never turned (except once by an old high school friend who lives in New Zealand so there was no chance of anything coming of it and I wouldn’t have done anything anyway because I was so ridiculously in love with you). Like I could be myself around you, my full mentally unwell, ageing, thickening, witchy, farting and burping self. Like my family loves you. Adores you even. Like I could be wrong and you still thought I was cool. Like, I married you.

And then you lied to me. You did something that hurt me and you lied about it. I was angry and betrayed and I did what I knew I was allowed to do and I felt that anger and betrayal and I didn’t let you slide away from it softly. But I was prepared to forgive because I have been forgiven. I was prepared to love you anyway because I have been loved anyway and to be honest, I couldn’t help but love you. I always knew that I would with you.

It was hard, don’t get me wrong. Everything you did triggered (I hate that word) what had happened with my ex, and all that distrust, that black, sticky doubt came creeping back in, but I wouldn’t let it infect me like it did back then. It was a struggle, but I was determined. Sometimes it overtook my thoughts and strangled them because my BPD doesn’t let go easily, but I was working through it and trying to find ways around it. Understanding myself and my own hand in it. Understanding you and where this behaviour comes from. I understood. It didn’t take the pain away, but it would have eventually. If you had just held on.

But it was too hard. Facing up to not being perfect, owning that sometimes you’re an asshole – just like every single member of the human race is sometimes an asshole – was too hard for you. The fighting that is inevitable after a bond has been tested was too hard for you. The work that had to be done was too overwhelming because you believed you couldn’t do it. You believed you weren’t worth it. So you left. And again, I understand. But my God, it cuts deep into the depths of my soul, a place that I have kept wrapped up and hidden away from the world. The path to that place was something I allowed only a very few of you to discover. A wiser person would grow vines around that path, obscuring it, allowing no one to ever again stumble upon it. But it appears I’m not wise, because I would let you find it once more. You left your mark there. It wants you back.

I was put on this earth to love. I am a nurturer, a guide, a gardener. I am a welcomer and a helper. A healer. But I forget that I need those things too, and I am cursed to feel all my experiences and all of yours and yours and yours and yours and I am left empty and broken but I still feel. I cannot stop feeling.

I am not perfection in any way other than my imperfection. I am a child, stumbling around in the dark, pretending I know the way, faking it until I make it. Life taught me that I must be prepared to make mistakes in order to grow, so I have made them gleefully at times, ready for the wisdom that comes with it. I am a hermit, I am insular, I block people out because I feel too much, I isolate myself because the voices in my head are too much company. I’m a terrible friend one minute and the best person to be around the next. I am selfish and selfless, I am strong and fragile. I am beauty incarnate and the hag of your nightmares. I am the queen of the Universe and the muck on your shoe.

This is who I am. And I will walk this trail again and again until the day I die. I’d just prefer to walk it with you.

Two Years of Phenomena

I haven’t written much of late. I haven’t really had much to say. Well, I have. I had a whole rant fest about the plebiscite and Trump and racism ready and waiting to go, but I wasn’t saying anything that anybody else hadn’t already covered.

My mum died two years ago tomorrow. Two years is a relatively short time in the scheme of things. It still doesn’t seem quite real, although I know it very definitely is. I can look at a photo of her without crying now, although occasionally I get a flash of her face when she was dying, and my heart drops down into my butt, and I can’t breathe, and there it all is again.

My life changed inexorably when she died. I have had a leaden pall over my head since then, a feeling of greyness. My therapist calls it grief, and it is, but it’s also something else. It’s fear. Mum was my safety net. I may have hated her in my youth, but as I got older her value became more and more apparent to me. It’s that thing, you know, when you’re feeling like absolute shit, and all you need is a hug or a word from your mum and you suddenly feel better. I know not everyone experiences that with their parents, and despite the wounds of my childhood that still seep blood every now and then, I am distinctly aware of how lucky I was to have mended my relationship with Mum so I could have that.

Now I miss it. So, I’m afraid. I’m afraid of life without my emotional safety net. K tries, she really does, but she’s young and scared too. And really, let’s be honest, a partner is no replacement for a parent.

But, yeah. I’m scared.

Like, really actually scared. All the time.

I’m scared of being wrong. I’m scared of being not awesome. I’m scared I’m actually an asshole and no one told me. I’m scared of getting older. I’m scared of getting fat. I’m scared of losing my hair. I’m scared of randomly meeting my wife’s ex in public somewhere because I think I might not be able to stop myself from punching her. I’m scared I’m full of shit. I’m scared that people don’t like me. I’m scared of being pitied. I’m scared of my own anger. I’m scared that I’m not writing for me but for others to see how “human” and “awesome” I am. I’m scared that my marriage won’t last. I’m scared that BPD will ruin everything. I’m scared that my wife will wake up one day and decide I’m not all that because I’m too old/fat/lazy/stupid/ugly/fucked up. I’m scared that my Dad will die soon. I’m scared that I’ll never get over Mum’s death. I’m scared of never making it as an actor. I’m scared I’m damaged goods. I’m scared that sex work has left a smear on me that I can never get rid of. I’m scared I’ll never be well. I’m scared that I’m lazy. I’m scared of being stupid. I’m scared of men. I’m scared of women who are stronger and smarter than me. I’m scared of being wrong – have I said that already? I’m scared of being alone. I’m scared of expectations being placed on me that I can’t fulfil. I’m scared I’ll never love myself. I’m scared of injustice. I’m scared of change. I’m scared of demons. I’m scared this spirituality thing I’m into is bullshit. I’m scared I’ll never be able to have a child. I’m scared of not knowing things. I’m scared of people. I’m scared of needles. I’m scared of ambiguity. I’m scared of pain. I’m scared of being judged. I’m scared that women will never be equal. I’m scared of secret governments and big corporations. I’m scared of guns. I’m scared of being raped again. I’m scared of violence. I’m scared that I’m self-indulgent. I’m scared of you.

Here’s the thing: You are scared of me too.

And all of that other shit that I just purged all over the page.

At the end of the day we are all the same. We are all scared. Terrified. Of everything. No one is better than anyone else because we are all the same. The only things that separate us are constructs of our own design: wealth, privilege, education, race, etc. Put a cross section of us on a deserted island and sure, some of us will be cannier than others with ideas of how to survive, but we all need the same things: food, shelter, water. Therefore it’s kind of silly to be scared because we’re all in the same boat and we’ll all die one day, so stick a geranium in your hat and be happy!

Yeah, okay.

Fuck, I don’t have the answers. I turn 40 in a few weeks and I’m still coming to terms with the fact that I actually made it to this point, to be honest. There’s a term psychologists use for the feeling someone gets after they’ve attempted suicide, but they’re still alive: it’s called phenomena, apparently. I’ve felt it before because I’ve tried to die before. I feel it now, not because I’ve tried to die lately, but because in spite of everything I’ve subjected myself to, I’m still here. It feels … odd. What’s even odder is that I’m alive and Mum isn’t. I still can’t quite get my head around that one.

I miss my mum because I knew, despite everything, that she was always on my side. I said at her funeral that the stuff I have done in my life, the things I’ve thrown at her, could have caused her a great deal of shame. But it didn’t. She took it in her stride, she understood that shit happens, and she told me as often as she could that she loved me. And she did.

She visits me sometimes. I’ll smell her perfume, or a song she used to sing will come on the radio somewhere, or – as happened this time last year just before I was about to go on stage – she’ll just be in the room, and I and the people around me can feel her. A medium friend of mine did a reading for me recently, and she said that Mum has been unwilling to come forward very often because she was ashamed of what she did to me as a kid. She could see my mother, standing to the side, looking abashed. I’ve never seen my mother look abashed in my life, but I believed my friend because I’ve been feeling it. I never told Mum that I forgave her. I do. I do forgive her.

This is getting easier, this life-without-Mum thing. Actually admitting that I’m afraid has helped. Time has helped. Getting rid of awful, unsupportive people from my life has helped. But there’s still that piece missing; that scar that will never quite go away. Phenomena. This is life now. It’s never going to be what it was again.

Dancing With Orlando

I’ve sat on this post for a while, not knowing what to say, but knowing I had to say something for my own healing. As a friend and fellow blogger noted, there are plenty of blogs and articles and think pieces out there by people more informed, more connected, and more articulate than I. But I have to write. So, here goes.

Early in the morning of the 12th of June, a heavily armed gunman entered Pulse, a gay bar in Orlando, Florida, and opened fire. 49 people were killed, 53 people were injured, some still in a serious condition. It was Latin night at the bar, so many of the victims were Latinx or coloured. Most of them, as has been reported, were members of the LGBTIQ community.

Australian television reported the event as breaking news. Not once was it reported that Pulse was a gay bar. I didn’t discover this fact until the next day as I was trawling Facebook. An already horrific event just became all the more terrifying.

I am a cis, white, femme woman. The way I look invites assumptions that I’m heterosexual. The only time you would know I’m bisexual is if I tell you, or if you see me holding hands with my same sex partner. I came out to family and friends 20 years ago with little fanfare. I have never experienced random homophobia unless I am holding hands with my same sex partner. My ability to “pass” as straight has afforded me the privilege of living relatively free from fear. I’m also tough and opinionated, so the times I have been met with stares and looks in public whilst with my partner, I have defiantly returned the looks and stares. Homophobic epithets yelled from passing cars have been laughed at because I think it’s ridiculous.

My wife, however, is a cis, coloured, androgynous lesbian woman. She screams gay. To look at her, you could safely assume she’s gay. She has had a different experience all her life. She does not feel safe holding hands in public. She has to check who she’s with before she refers to me as her “wife” rather than her “partner”. She has experienced discrimination, hatred, thinly veiled contempt, and violence in the form of homophobia. She has felt a fear I haven’t.

We have both, however, taken refuge in our community. In our clubs and bars we have felt safe. Surrounded by LGBTIQ people we have felt at home, free, able to be ourselves.

Now, in the wake of Orlando, for the first time in my life, I am afraid. I know I shouldn’t be. I know that I shouldn’t allow the hate of that act to change who I am in the world, but it has. Because it could happen to me. It could happen to my wife, my friends, my dad, my family. In that one place where we go to take off the armour of staunchness against society’s view of us – us queers, the gays, the lesbians, the bisexuals, the transgendered, the intersex, the ones questioning, the ones uninterested in labels but who know they aren’t straight, the “others” – we are no longer safe. And it scares me.

The day after the Pulse shooting happened, I was on a train going to rehearsal. A man and his girlfriend were sitting next to me, arguing loudly. As they left, the man yelled out to an Asian man opposite us that he was a “filthy fucking chink pig”. Usually, I’d call out this behaviour. Usually, I’d apologise to the person abused for being subjected to that. This time I didn’t because I was afraid. There was too much hate that weekend for me to stand up against this.

Our community has had enough. This is not to say other minority groups haven’t; we have all had enough of hate. But the LGBTIQ community have been fighting for decades – for generations for our rights, to be treated equally, to be recognised as human beings who are as we are, not as degenerate, or mentally ill, or perverted, or criminal. We have fought not to be brutalised or “corrected” or killed for being not straight, for being born “different”. We have fought for our freedom to marry our partners, and to walk down the street holding hands without being heckled, abused or bashed. It seemed like it was getting better. It seemed like we could relax for a little while. Then this happened.

Not only has this act of the worst mass shooting in America’s modern history slammed the fact in our faces that we’re still not safe, the refusal of the heteronormative mainstream media – and some of our country’s leaders – to recognise the homophobic element of this crime has made us feel that we are invisible.

Yes, this was a crime against humanity and a crime against our freedom to be as we are – all acts of terror are – but this was also, unequivocally an act of homophobic hatred. There have been reports that Omar Mateen, the perpetrator of the shooting, was a regular at Pulse and a closeted homosexual. It is still a homophobic act. Growing up gay in a world that tells us being gay is wrong and evil will, in some cases, elicit feelings of self-hatred so intense that they explode in violent acts against others.That’s homophobia.

Oh, and then there’s the hoaxers – the people who believe the shooting was a false flag to further the “gay agenda”, Islamophobia, gun reform and Obama’s “black politics”. You know, the people who post videos, vehemently insisting the victims don’t exist, demanding photos of gun shot wounds from survivors to prove they aren’t “crisis actors”, giving “evidence” that the whole incident didn’t happen. You know what? I’d probably take these opinions more seriously if their videos and opinion pieces weren’t littered with homophobic tags (e.g. “aw, look at the poor grieving faggot”), racism (“it was only them spiks that were killed”), and general insensitivity.

Look, I’m not going to deny anyone their right to express their opinions however abhorrent I find them. I’m not a big fan of blindly swallowing whatever the mainstream media feeds us, but for fuck’s sake, people are dead. Those who are using Orlando as a platform to vent their anti-government/authority/big corporation/whatever viewpoints aren’t serving the greater good. They’re just augmenting the hate.

People are dead.

Fuck, it hurts. It really hurts because I’ve realised that I haven’t seen myself in any of the terror victims of the past. I haven’t recognised the fellow fallen humans in Baghdad or Paris or London or Syria or anywhere at all. It’s not until my community – MY community, MY identity, MY place of belonging – is threatened that I am affected. That saddens me. I may not have been at Pulse. I may live on the other side of the world in a country with gun control. I may not be connected to any of it other than the ownership I have as a queer woman. I may not know any of the victims or survivors, but I see myself in them. And it’s made me aware that I see myself in all victims of violence, and that’s overwhelming.

Enough. Enough hate. Please.

Having said that, having admitted my fear, K and I have been going out to our local gay bar for the last couple of weeks because she is competing in a drag competition (she’s a drag king, and she’s hot as a guy, and more on that later). There was so much love, so much acceptance, so much the gathering of like-minded and love-minded people that all my fear dissipated, even if it was just for a few hours. I love our community. I love the supporters of our community. In spite of all that’s happened, we will keep on dancing. We are dancing.

 

The Weight of the Cross

I hate Sydney. I’m up here touring a lesbian show for Mardi Gras, and I’m trying desperately to make peace with the city that stole whatever innocence I had left. This city with its cockroaches, rude drivers, homelessness and drunken backpackers. I’m here at a time when I should be celebrating my gayness, where the rainbow flag waves with pride in the humid breeze, where my wife and I can hold hands with confidence in the busy Newtown streets. But all I’m doing is trying not to be broken.

I lived here for a very short time more than ten years ago. I lived here to attempt to move on from my failed relationship with my ex girlfriend. To be more accurate, I lived in the Cross, in a brothel where I worked. The Cross – Kings Cross – is Sydney’s notorious red light district. It’s been cleaned up considerably since I walked its pavements and ate in its dingy restaurants. It’s still a tourist attraction, but maybe for different reasons now. In my day, there were streetwalkers every few metres, interspersed with junkies, strippers, and organised crime bosses. It’s where I witnessed an Aboriginal man, high off his head, being brutally manhandled into a paddy wagon, and when I say manhandled I mean beaten across the head with a baton and thrown – literally thrown into the van. It’s where I witnessed a woman being slashed and stabbed by whom I assumed was her pimp in an alley by the brothel where I worked. It’s where I walked passed a teenager dying from an overdose in the gutter. I saw all this, and I kept walking. I told no one. I pretended it wasn’t happening. I was too afraid. I kept walking back to the brothel where I let men pound me for $110 an hour so I could forget. The Cross is where I lost myself.

Being back here is like paying penance. Every time I come to Sydney I have a headache. It feels like a tight band around my head, just behind my eyes. My mental health deteriorates more the longer I’m here. I thought that touring here, doing something I loved here would create new, better memories. I’m all for facing my demons head on, but I think this is one dark part of my life that I can never make up for.

Sydney broke me. I realise that now. I forget the effect it had on my life until I’m back here. I was walking up Darlinghurst Rd with my producer and a few cast mates the other day, hanging up posters for our show because our theatre is just down the road in Woolloomooloo. We turned left onto Bayswater Rd and I couldn’t keep going. I couldn’t walk past a particular street. It was an odd sensation, feeling trapped in my shoes. It’s like being stuck in tar. I started to cry, the tears prickling in the corners of my eyes as the band around my head tightened. My wife asked me what it was that hurt me so. I couldn’t tell her. That fear was back, laced with a sprinkling of shame. This is the place where I learned not to care. This is the place where I hardened my heart and my soul. This is the place where I fell apart, bits of me scattering everywhere, and I still can’t put the pieces back together again.

Never before has my mental illness affected my ability to perform, but tonight it did. My head was scattered, my thoughts disappearing into black holes. Being here a week, trying to keep it together, dealing with missing my cats and my home and my ordinary love-filled life finally dealt its blow and I gave one of the worst performances of my career. I came offstage and burst into tears, so embarrassed, so mortified that I couldn’t get my shit together enough to actually do my job and act well. This place is threatening to tear me apart again. Thankfully, my cast and my producer are a tight knit group of understanding and compassionate people. They deserve a better me than the one they’re getting.

I am tired. I am beaten. The weight of my experiences and decisions is heavy on my heart.

I am trying not to be broken.

Anatomy of an Arsehat

I think we human beings have a big problem. We spend millions of dollars every year in search of this problem, it is taught to us as children by our parents, by our religion, by our politicians, and it causes more psychological and emotional grief than any of us realise. It is the pursuit of perfection. For some reason, there is an unnamed paragon of virtue that exists somewhere in the world that we are supposed to live up to at every moment of the day, every day of the year for as long as we live. Some people call this paragon Christ, which is cool, except he was a human being just like the rest of us. Others call this person Gandhi, or Mother Teresa or some other such public figure that is held up to be superhuman in their goodliness. That’s the thing. We are supposed to be “good” all of the time, and one slip into not-goodness means we are crap human beings who should be forever vilified and tarred and feathered and left out to rot and be fodder for vultures and hyenas.

I’m sorry, but that doesn’t make sense. In fact, it’s a bunch of bullshit. We are not Prometheus tied to a rock. Our livers are not to be consumed on a daily basis by a Chianti-and-fava-bean-loving eagle because Zeus said so. I defy anyone to put their hand up and declare that they have never in their lives snapped at someone they love, or lied a little, or pushed in front of someone in a queue, or not let that car in that’s been waiting to pull out into traffic for 20 minutes, or any number of little not-good things. Okay, let’s raise the stakes a little. Who can say that they haven’t cheated on a partner, or treated a family member badly, or embellished a sickness for attention, or called someone names, or behaved cruelly or like a brat or like an immature douche bag? Seriously peeps, look deep inside yourselves. Every single one of us has done something – usually to someone else – that we feel bad about. If we allow ourselves to look back on that act, we feel a sick, prickly sensation behind our sternum, blood rushes to our face, we feel hot and twitchy. If you don’t feel these things, you’ve either come to terms with your humanness and therefore deserve some sort of delicious biscuit, or you’re a sociopath and don’t care. No judgement there. Good for you.

Something I hear from a lot of friends is this notion of “deserving” things. I don’t like this idea of a rewarding Universe/God/whatever, as if ticking all these boxes of good deeds will earn us the spiritual equivalent of a free toaster oven. The Universe gives us what we ask for. Period. It doesn’t care if we’re “good” or “bad” or indifferent because the Universe has no ego and neither will it get a free gift if it recruits more souls. Our behaviour is our responsibility, no one else’s. Whether we are “good” or “bad” is entirely our choice, and our accountability for that choice is what means something. As I’ve said to my partner, my friends, and anyone who cares to listen to me pontificate, I don’t actually care what you’ve done as long as you own it. And because we all have the capacity to be an arsehat for various reasons we all know the feeling of embarrassment and shame in the admitting of it. I have moments of looking back at my behaviour towards past partners and cringing at my assholery. The fact that I was very sick at the time holds no water as I still feel responsible for my actions – as I should. But bashing myself in the head because of past behaviours that I have admitted to and apologised for (when given the chance) serves no purpose except for ensuring I feel shit for longer and giving myself a headache.

Of course, there are people who actively abuse others. This is something completely different from people just being arseholes. Abuse happens more than it should and if it’s emotional abuse it’s difficult to prove. There is no excuse for abuse and those who abuse others for whatever reason, in my opinion, are people who desperately need help themselves. The definition of abuse is thus: to treat with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly; to speak insultingly, harshly, and unjustly to or about; revile; malign; to commit sexual assault upon. As someone who has experienced all of these things, I can tell you that abuse has the propensity to seriously affect and/or destroy lives.

However, there is a trend at the moment on some social media sites (tumblr, I’m looking at you) in which arsey behaviour from a partner, workmate or family member is being labelled as abuse, specifically a form of abuse called Gaslighting. Gaslighting is a term used for a form of emotional abuse. As a fellow blogger Alfred MacDonald states: “There are several definitions of this term, but in a nutshell it refers to the act of trying to deceive someone into a false reality by discrediting their emotions. Like most mental health terms, it describes something serious; also like most mental health terms, it is ubiquitously misused.” I’m not going to go into this too much as it’s a detailed and complex issue, but accusing someone of abuse when their behaviour is not abusive is as much of an arsehole act as anything else. Having said that, the accusation in itself is a cry for help, so like everything arsey that we do there should be a measure of understanding in how this behaviour is dealt with.

To recap: being an arsehole is not being an abuser. Being an abuser is waaaaay more serious than being an arsehole. Learning the difference between the two is advantageous for happy life-living.

Back to the issue at hand. In my little world view, if you are sorry for hurting someone, if you acknowledge your accountability in a toxic relationship, if you can raise your hand and say “yep, it was me, I fucked up”, then no one should use your behaviour as evidence that you are a horrible person. Because no one is infallible. No one really has the right to point the finger at any one else and make a judgement on their character because, let’s face it, everyone’s an arsehat at some stage of their life. Everyone. We’re supposed to be because we’re not perfect. And truthfully, as much as we’re all connected and have this shared knowledge of emotional responses, no one really knows what anyone else has experienced. We’re all equipped with different tools for dealing with these experiences, and some are better at dealing with this shit than others.

Of course, this knowledge by no means should be used as an all-access pass to the arsewipe expo. Running around being a dick on purpose and then saying “oh, I’m sorry. I’m just being human” is not cool. The point is, try not to be a dick. If you are a dick despite all your best efforts, own it, accept the consequences of it, fucking apologise, and move on. Here endeth the lesson.