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(Yes, the title of this post comes from John Lydon, better known as Johnny Rotten, whom I usually find to be a jerk. But sometimes, even jerks can have good advice.)

As candid as I am, and as much as my candor can prove to be provocative, I’m not really a very angry person at all. It takes something huge to get me fuming mad. And I admit that if someone is angry at me to the point of yelling, my first instinct is to shrink away and cry. In many situations, I honestly fear anger. But the events of the past year with me have caused me to reconsider my familiar old positions on the emotion. It’s been extremely hard for me, especially when at points being angry has caused me to spiral off into tormenting obsessive thoughts, which has caused me to feel excessively guilty for my anger, since at those points I used to think that being angry necessarily produced irrational, torturous OCD-related mind-static. But ultimately, the rupturing of my emotional “shell” that followed the start of my mental health issues has forced me to confront even those emotions that make me rather uncomfortable. As it turns out, even though I don’t think I could ever be what you could call a hothead, in the past I’d often felt an emotion similar to anger at points, but it was really more like pessimism, frustration or bitterness, and instead of letting it out in some way, I let it stew, which only left me feeling worse. Not only was I afraid OF anger, I was afraid to BE angry. Yet those substitute emotions came to me more frequently than I would acknowledge to myself, particularly when I butted up against a particularly gross injustice in the world.

But just as with my intolerance of violence culture following my anxiety attacks, having been through the mental hell that trapped me for so long made me less willing to hold in my anger. To paraphrase Dee Snider, I wasn’t gonna take it anymore, and it was time for me, when the moment presented itself, to follow the sage advice of the splendidly savage Harpies and be a bitch. In this case, the opportunity arose in regards to a boy living down the hall from me (against whom I’d admittedly borne a grudge due to his being an ignorant, bigoted loudmouth) who was saying taunting things to a girl while she was yelling “Stop! Stop!” in a high-pitched voice. I’d heard these noises before but not done anything about them, yet they’d haunted me all day and I felt horrible for not having intervened. So this time, I wasn’t just going to sit on the sidelines. I marched up to this guy’s door, asked as a preliminary precaution, “Is anyone in pain in there?” He grunted, “No. Go away,” but I didn’t believe him since the girl still seemed to be protesting, so I blew the whistle I always carry with me for the first time. This immediately elicited a “What the fuck?! She just blew a fucking rape whistle!” reaction from him, and he went outside with the girl, who, according to him, was just the subject of a tickle fight. I still didn’t believe him, though, and I said in my firmest voice, “This is your first warning.” This caused him to shoot back, “What did you say?!” I almost didn’t say anything, but I was sick of being a coward: “Listen, this is your first warning. If I catch you making sounds like you’re raping someone again, I’m going to call the cops.” Then he yelled at me, “Well, that’s only going to backfire on YOU if you get caught making false accusations. YOU’RE the one who’s gonna get punished!” and then stormed back into his room. I was shaking when I got back to my room, and I nearly cried. I didn’t regret what I did at all, but as the incident occurred right before I was going to go for a run—where I usually leave my room unlocked since I don’t like taking my keys with me when I run—I delayed the run for about an hour since I was terrified that he’d want to get revenge on me by vandalizing my room, or worse. Later that week I had tormenting paranoia that I might’ve “put ideas in his head” and might try to assault me or someone else. But through all that time, I told the other people in my hallway about what had gone on so I made sure my side of the story was the one that got told—and after that, the boy has just left me the hell alone. I don’t know whether I genuinely scared him or whether he just thinks “that psycho bitch isn’t worth my time,” but I feel extremely lucky that this worked out well for me. (By the way, I talked to the girl later on and thankfully she wasn’t indignant at me, and she said that she would do something if anyone actually did try to assault her. Whew.)

However, I don’t know if I’d feel so confident in standing up to a bully if I were in a less controlled environment than my own dorm. Reading several feminist blogs about how obscenely underreported rape is as a crime was what stoked my fury into action when I thought such a crime was occurring in my own living area, but would I have had the same anger and courage on a dark street in an unfamiliar neighborhood? What’s more, since my intervention turned out to be a false alarm, I’m now worried that a crying-wolf phenomenon will arise and nobody will believe anyone who genuinely claims to have been raped or sexually assaulted, since the accused could try to write it off as a tickle fight or similarly chaste horsing around. (Ironically enough, when I first got my whistle nearly three years ago, I confronted another “tickle fight” that I’d mistaken for assault, but that incident seemed infinitely more innocuous to me than this more recent one. All my alarms and red flags were going off in this past week’s occurrence.) Although I believe that women should never feel scared or ashamed to take action when they feel as if they themselves or someone nearby is in danger, I can completely understand why they would feel scared—even I feel hypocritical for my last statement since I now have serious qualms about self-defense because of my tendency toward violent obsessive thoughts; I’m not yet at the point where I can learn a self-defense maneuver without panicking that I might inadvertently use it against someone I love. And if women have been assaulted in the past for being honest, I do not blame them at all for reticence, even if a lack of intervention can lead to more crushing guilt and misery on their part. I credit the feminist blogs I read for helping shift my mindset from “women, don’t get raped,” as if rape were an inevitable and sad fact of life, to “men, don’t rape,” but I believe that to be a subset of a more general phenomenon: the anger that rapists feel when deciding to assault women is ignorant anger, a rage stemming from wrongheaded feelings of entitlement and denial of women’s personhood, while the anger that women, rape survivors or not, feel toward men who assault women is righteous anger, a potent fury that seeks to redress an inherent wrong at all costs, yet without resorting to the tactics of their oppressors. Too often in these cases, ignorant anger is used as a silencing method for righteous anger.

My problem with anger was that until very recently I didn’t know the difference between the two different kinds of anger that I’ve now classified, and even now I have a hard time separating them when, as I said in my last entry, righteous anger over wanton acts of violence makes me spiral off into vigilantist thoughts. But my getting involved in social justice movements has been the best thing for me to learn the difference between those kinds of anger—the problem with so much of the mainstream media is that the main force for anger is ignorant anger at the hands of people like Glenn Beck and the Tea Party, while righteous anger is written off as “whining” or worse, “jealousy.” Indeed, on social-activist blogs, commenters’ claims of “Why are you so angry?” “This isn’t a big deal, get over it!” “Chill out already,” etc. are prime derailing techniques, that is, efforts, whether conscious or not, by the privileged to silence the disenfranchised since the privileged are too cowardly to examine the consequences of their privilege so they project ignorant anger on others. Yet as a person who has a lot of privileges to confront—I’m white, American, straight, cisgendered, able-bodied if not able-minded, slim, not unattractive, middle-class and attending one of the most prestigious universities in the country—and a notoriously impatient person, I know that confronting one’s privileges is hard. Listening to the anger of someone who doesn’t have one or more of the privileges I have can make me feel humbled, guilty, sad and appalled. But angry? No, not at them, only at myself and the groups I belong to. Or at least I try not to be, but I fuck up all the time and have no pretenses of claiming that I’m a Good Ally for Not Being A Bigot, when of course I have lots of hidden bigotries to confront, not least because of where I grew up. (I admit, though, that sometimes I want to swing too far in the opposite direction—I just finished a Southeast Asian history course and I always sympathized with the Vietnamese for what they went through in the 60s and 70s, but this made me forget about the draft and how many were sent over against their will. God, that was just a bloody grim chapter of history on all possible levels.) I know that being female and autistic, the main two axes on which I lack traditional privilege, do not give me the right to be anything more than an ally to social justice movements other than feminism and neurodiversity advocacy. The more I read about social justice, the more I try to listen and absorb the messages of those who don’t have the privileges that I do, since listening to the disenfranchised is the only way to begin the slow and hard process of redressing grievances. And the disenfranchised have absolutely every right to be righteously angry—anyone who has been scorned, taken for granted and ridiculed by the powers that be deserves the right to be furious. Righteous anger, I believe, is the best way to separate the real allies from the fake ones—real allies respect this anger and respect the disenfranchised’s need at times to have spaces to themselves, while fake ones fly off the handle and become indignant, taking everything as a personal insult and feel the need to defend themselves against these supposed charges of libel, all while spewing bile at the disenfranchised. As for when I myself lecture about the things I feel I have the right to lecture about—feminism and neurodiversity—I pull no punches. The only limits of my anger are logic and when my throat gets sore, ha. And I don’t serve to “educate” the privileged about what they’re doing wrong…if they want to learn from me, it’s going to be when I choose to unleash an angry rant, not when they do.

What saddens me, though, is when righteous anger is not respected within a social justice environment, or worse, when ignorant anger infiltrates it. The most notorious examples of this have been transphobia within some radical feminist factions (grounded on the essentialist argument that transwomen are not “real women”) and silencing of transwomen as well as women of color and disabled feminists on mainstream feminist blogs. I can’t believe the kind of hypocrisy it takes to fight one form of oppression yet to be so cowardly to not recognize your own privilege and how it oppresses others when you’re called out on it. I’m not suggesting that we all put aside our differences and come together in a Kumbaya moment—far from it, as our differences need to remain intact to put up a good fight against the kyriarchy. In other words, if a social justice movement doesn’t address intersectionality of the myriad axes of privilege/disenfranchisement, I want absolutely nothing to do with it. Righteous anger, when amassed and directed against a certain target, is an extremely powerful and positive thing, but ignorant anger does nothing but destroy.

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I do promise to update The Ink Donor more frequently (it’s just that I’m still getting the hang of this whole process and making time for myself to type out my long, verbose rants instead of just thinking them), and I do intend to get out that pronoun article I promised a while back sometime this week, but I have to delay that today to talk about an issue that’s been a pressing matter on my mind for a long time now, and something that disturbs me immensely: violence culture. “Rape culture” is a popular theme in feminist criticism, and indeed, it was an article on rape culture that inspired today’s entry, but I’d personally like to see that as a particularly abhorrent subset of what I term “violence culture.” By “violence culture” I mean the pervasiveness of violent acts in both real life and popular entertainment, and what that says about American culture as a whole. This has been a rather problematic issue for me to write about since I loathe censorship and don’t want to come off sounding like a Tipper Gore, bubble-child advocate type, but the overall desensitization to violence in the public mind is one of psychological importance to me personally, and doubtlessly to many others, and I believe it is creating a crueler, more constricted and more reactionary world among us.

I can’t be desensitized anymore. I used to, throughout high school, as a reaction to the cruel betrayal I’d had at the end of middle school from those whom I had thought to be my friends. Following that weakest and most abject moment of my life, I thought it would benefit me to become cold and unfeeling as a means of self-protection—I remember in my world history class as a high school freshman we were watching the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan and I prided myself on not flinching a bit at the gore. (Ditto The Patriot two years later, although we watched the whole thing and it was a horrible movie.) But this led to severe self-denial and repression of emotions on my part, and as soon as the combination of going away to college and entering into a close romantic relationship hit me and filled me with unfamiliar and often scary emotions, my shell shattered. Suddenly, occurrences of violence in the world set off horrible thought processes for me; during the worst of my OCD-related anxiety attacks I was paralyzed with the fear that the fact that my mind was flooding me with appallingly nightmarish images of suddenly assaulting my loved ones meant that I was turning into a soulless psychopath, and it was only a matter of time before an infamous mugshot of me, staring blankly with no trace of regret, would show up on TV and in the newspapers. Since it’s been over a year since such attacks occurred to me, I’ve been able to manage these kinds of thoughts much more effectively and interpret them as irrational and nothing more, but that doesn’t mean I’m no longer susceptible to bursts of panic brought on by flashbacks and triggers. In particular, a local story about a Cornell grad student who killed his wife has proven particularly chilling to me, not only because of it occurring at my university, but also because many of the defendant’s delusions are not entirely dissimilar to mine (and the murder was committed with a knife, by far my most triggering object) and sometimes such stories make me sink back into spirals of “No Caitie, this isn’t you, you’re not psychotic…” as a means of reassurance. Similar stories gave me pause throughout last year when I was back in Springfield on my leave, particularly the Annie Le murder (am I safe even in the Ivy League?), the Binghamton, NY immigrant center shootings (am I safe even an hour away from where this occurred?) and the Fort Hood shootings (can I even trust my therapist?!)

There are times that such news stories cause me so much torment that at times it seems tempting to try to build myself another shell of desensitization, even though I know full well that I’ve lost the naïveté that permitted me to do that in the past. And what does desensitization get you, anyway? Violence is so pervasive in our culture that it’s impossible not to be influenced by it. Innumerable crime and gangster movies, especially those of the past two decades, toss corpses around like so much garbage and glamorize killing as just another way of life. Music videos, even those of artists I like, often explore similar territory. (While the feminist blogosphere’s general reaction to the “Telephone” video of criticizing its initial transmisogynistic angle was definitely valid and valuable, it disappointed me that nobody seemed distressed by the bloodbath later in the video, or the similar casual violence in the “Paparazzi” and “Bad Romance” videos; thus proving that even the most enlightened among us aren’t immune to desensitization.) And to me, a poor urban boy caught in the violent rituals of a street gang and an affluent suburban boy playing a video game that seemingly idealizes such a life are two sides of the same coin, only the latter gets to go on with the rest of his comfortable life with nary a thought as to the ramifications of his vicarious actions, while the former is virtually destined for an early death.

This process may not be as clean-cut a cause-and-effect relationship as some politicians and parents support groups would want the public to believe, but there is a definite effect from the inundation of our youth by violence culture. The Richmond rape case I linked to at the beginning of this article is a perfect example of this: as utterly inhuman as such an act is, it is the logical consequence of a patriarchal culture that treats women as objects of conquest with no valuable things to contribute to society of their own, and a lack of positive role models, be they adults or peers, to teach young men how wrong—no, more than wrong, completely fucked up—such a mindset is. And this really is nothing new. This desensitization and dehumanization was also at the root of the phenomena of lynchings being public spectacles in the American South in the first half of the 20th century, and daily outings to insane asylums as a source of amusement and ridicule in Victorian London. Most people would consider themselves more enlightened than those who perpetrated such incidents in the past, but when confronted with the Richmond rape case, they would probably say that it was a case of the onlookers being trapped and too afraid to take action for fear of reprisals, or worse, a case of “boys being boys.” What kind of enlightenment is THAT?!

And what continues to humble me about all this is that I’m still trapped within violence culture. I’m no saint and will never claim to being completely free of any sort of injustice, but this is something that strikes me particularly deeply. In response to a story like the Richmond rape case, my inner vigilante comes out and I start thinking things like, “God, I wish that girl would grab a knife and personally, publicly castrate every single one of her rapists.” But I’m saying this as someone who can’t even begin to fathom what that girl might actually feel like, and so by thinking such things while knowing admittedly very little about the situation, I’m falling victim to violence culture. Such vigilantist desires come out in me and others no doubt because we as a nation have lost faith in the concept of diplomacy as a deterrent to malevolent forces. I very much like the idea of sitting down for international diplomatic talks with Middle Eastern countries notorious for terrorism (but then again, I also like the idea in theory of 1,000-year-belated reparations for the Crusades, since those are what really started that whole mess in the first place) but it’s impossible to know how the leaders will react, and if they cooperate, nothing guarantees the disarmament of renegade terrorist groups. This is logic enough for right-wing hawks to claim to justify continued assaults with bombs, thereby continuing the cycle of violence, but diplomacy has largely become equated with “appeasement” and Neville Chamberlain’s fatal mistake towards dealing with Hitler—it’s a sad catch-22, damned if you do, damned if you don’t. (I realize now that I’ve been switching scales dramatically in these last two paragraphs, but that’s as much a testament to the pervasiveness of violence culture as anything else, its ubiquity in microcosm as well as on a large scale.) Such vigilantist thoughts provoke great shame in me since I utterly abhor violence, yet some cases just seem too tragic and complicated for me to know how to deal with—such as how to deal with psychopathic serial killers. Negotiate with them and try to rehabilitate them? That’s often too risky as psychopaths are pathological liars. Imprison them? Easy enough, but that seems extremely unfair to put a serial killer in the same place as garden-variety robbers and other, more “harmless” criminals. Euthanize them? No, that would lead to witch-hunting and the execution of non-psychopaths who have only committed the “crime” of having an anomalous mental configuration. Or (in my most vigilantist mood) let the families of their victims kill them? No, that would satisfy temporary revenge but would undoubtedly leave even deeper scars than the ones they already have. Vigilantist thoughts are just as irrational to me as my former fears of psychopathy, but I can’t help being angry at stories of horrible crimes…I just wish I knew a way to be angry without spiraling off into immature revenge fantasies.

What’s more, I don’t know what the proper middle ground should be between the current deluge of violence culture and restriction thereof to the point of repressive censorship—that is to say, horrible things that happen in the news should not be withheld from the public so as to make them feel better, particularly when they could make a difference in the resolution of or recovery from such tragic events. But the degree to which tragedies are exploited in this nation is obscene. Even before I started having anxiety attacks, when I was working as an intern in a Senate office in the summer of 2008, right before I went off to Cornell, I was bombarded by information about the Caylee Anthony case on a nearly daily basis, and it just made me want to scream, “LEAVE THIS POOR FAMILY ALONE!!! They’ve gone through enough grief as it is, so don’t add exploitation on top of that!!” This pattern continued when I was at home on leave last year and I was subjected to similarly unnecessarily drawn-out news tragedies as I went to the health club frequently. Does every missing small child or young life tragically cut short have to become a cable news story for weeks, only dragging everyone who knew that person into further despair? (This has been going on for quite a while, actually, as when I was growing up and would constantly see blurry pictures of kids on TV who had been killed in school shootings or died in car crashes I internalized such images, and I still, unfortunately, have no trouble at all envisioning myself dying young.) My Springfield therapist and I have been talking for a while about getting together a survey of the psychological effects of violent and exploitative news stories on the public, but the problem is that I don’t want to sound like I advocate censorship. What I advocate is knowledge—as far as I’m concerned, violence is merely ignorance made manifest (I can’t think of a single act of violence that does not ultimately stem back to ignorance) and violence culture cannot be destroyed until ignorance is.