i. hey, i wrote a new thing on my blog, want to read it?
This was not the essay I set out to write today. It was supposed to be about reality and illusion, theory of mind and loneliness and the unknowable. It’s not about any of that. But this one? It’s still important. It’s a collection of words that are two years overdue.
Out of all of the posts on this site, this is the essay that truly bares my heart. It’s about victimhood and villainy, the problems with social justice and the problems with anti-social justice, and above all it is about silence and invisibility and living a story that has no space for you in it. But it’s also about visibility, because writing this is an inherently visible act. I am refusing to be silent, I am sharing, I am making myself visible, I am taking the narrative they gave me and tearing a hole in it wide enough to give me space to live happily. I am not lashing out or self-destructing. I am not staying quiet. I am sharing. I am communicating, in a way you can understand.
Will you listen?
ii. because she was the victim and i was the villain
I used to like fantasy books. They followed a specific formula: Girl discovers she has magic powers, girl befriends unicorn (or finds a family heirloom or goes on a quest with her best friend), saves the world. And it was easy enough to see myself as the girl. I had straight mouse-brown hair, glasses, and was very studious; I was mostly a loner but I had a few friends; in other words, I seemed to myself to be a good candidate for an elementary school fantasy plotline. I waited impatiently for my magic story to come along. I was careful to follow all of the fairytale logic that abounded in these stories: be kind and selfless, stop and help strangers, help animals, because you never know who is going to pledge a life debt to you or reveal your powers or curse you if you aren’t kind to them.
And then I met a girl, and for a long time I thought I had come across my magic story at last. She revealed stories in secret, of my magic, of cats and fairies. Her eyes were deep brown and earnest.
And then she hurt me, and I found out she was lying, and I stopped believing in magic. The stories I had once loved twisted themselves around, became blackened and cruel versions. If I had done everything right, then why was I being punished while she bloomed? So I came to the only logical conclusion: I must not have done everything right. When you believe that life is fair and that bad things happen to evil people while the heroes get happy endings, it is easy to see yourself as a villain if bad things happen to you. I couldn’t understand why she would hurt me if I was nice to her, so I must have been mean. I couldn’t understand why I was the one hurting if I was the good one, so I must have been the bad one. All I had to do was follow the rules: be kind and selfless, be a good little girl, nod and smile, be small and quiet, be graceful, don’t impose, be polite, let everyone do whatever they want, and always apologize. And I realized, when I looked close enough, that I was so very, very bad at the rules.
I stopped reading fantasy. My favorite book for years was Wintergirls, a story of an 18-year-old anorexic girl, who seemed to be trapped in the same borderland I lived in, the same liminal world–torn apart by guilt, haunted by ghosts, floating through life, trapped in a world where wishes come true, lost in the forest of her life, abiding by fairy rules in the human world–because it was a fairytale but it was also real, stripped of magic powers and curses and unicorns and all of those things that weren’t true. I took strides farther and farther away from fantasy as I hurtled towards adolescence, and often I didn’t read at all except for internet postings. Still, I could not shed the fantasy mindset, no matter how much I hated it. I hated the notions of bravery, kindness, self-sacrifice that led me to punish myself daily, self-flagellation for rulebreaking: a cut for interrupted someone in conversation, a cut for talked without being talked to first, a cut for accepted help I didn’t need or deserve.
Sometimes they’ll still try to tell me that she was the victim, that I was the villain. I am too well-trained, most of the time, too good at selflessness even now, struggling under self-imposed bondage made from past scars. I see a positivity post telling me that all girls are kind and that female friendships are so much safer than friendships with boys, and I want to say something, but accusations of derailing and misogyny flash before my eyes, and years of training myself–a cut for talking out of turn, a stab of self-hatred for not agreeing with someone else–tie my hands down. I am immobile, speechless. I scroll past the post. I am involved in internet activist culture that tells me that harm can be measured through the tallying of respective privilege and oppression points, and she wins (Jewish, parental abuse victim, bi girl, depressed). So that means that she can’t be a predator, it means that she has to be a victim. And if she’s the victim, then I have to be the villian. So I keep quiet.
(But not being able to talk is not the same as not having anything to say.)
iii. I know I know i know, ive been trying and trying
They say that invisibility is a privilege. I wonder if the people who say that have ever been invisible. Because I have, and it is not privilege, it is work.
Working to be invisible is weird. You don’t get recognition for your work. Your work is, by definition, invisible.
Here is the work that is involved in making yourself invisible: have a mental breakdown in school, ask with shaking hands to go to the bathroom, loiter in the bathroom until it is empty, bang your head against the wall over and over, cry until snot runs down your face, and then clean yourself up and go back to class. Know that, with your long bathroom trip and your bloodshot eyes, your teacher probably thinks you got high, so make sure to sniffle and sneeze, ask for a tissue, work extra-hard in class and make sure that each and every one of your sentences is razor-sharp, full of logic and calmness, but stay quiet, off the radar, unimposing. Smile and smile and smile. By the time you get home you’ll be exhausted, but saying anything would make you visible, would make your mom freak out over you and ask a million questions and never leave you alone in a room, and not doing your work would get you yelled at, so you do that. Get in the shower and vomit and don’t tell anyone, and you’re not even sure why not, just that it’s better not to talk. Let everyone walk over you, and smile and be polite and jump through all of the hoops. If you happened to get into a debate about why you deserve to live, be sure to smile and stay rational so that you don’t hurt anybody’s feelings, but it’s much better to just avoid the debate altogether by agreeing with them or just staying quiet and out of the way.
When you get angry, don’t tell anyone. Let your anger fester and then turn it back on yourself, when you’re alone, so that nobody knows.
When you want something, don’t tell anyone. Want it until your body aches with longing, cry, get suicidal, sure. As long as you do it out of the way. As long as nobody finds out. See, that would prove that you are alive, that you have needs and wants, preferences and desires and necessities, and you are doing your best to be seen as much as a ghost. When somebody else gets what you wanted, tell them you’re happy for them, and smile with your eyes as well as your mouth, to seem genuine. Hoard your envy like a secret.
I’m not supposed to want to be visible. I’m supposed to want to be invisible, because then they don’t even have to do anything, then I’ll do all the work myself. I’m supposed to want to be invisible, because then I won’t be inconvenient, I won’t want things or have opinions or lash out, I won’t be violent or militant or hurt anybody’s feelings. Everyone tells me that, really, being invisible is good, being invisible is better than the alternative, I should be happy that I’m invisible, I should want and work to be invisible, I shouldn’t want to be visible.
I know. I know. I’ve been trying my hardest to be invisible, I promise. I’m sorry that I can’t always want it.
iv. and now im APOLOGIZING to her and its just like, i shouldnt have to fucking apologize, but i do, over and over, and so do my friends, and its just for being OURSELVES
I want to lash out sometimes, but I also don’t. I want to be visible, but I know I shouldn’t want that, I should want invisibility, I should want to disappear, so I tell myself that until I believe it. I tell myself over and over how bad it is, for me to want things, but I cannot believe it.
I should be glad I am neurotypical-passing, glad that nobody knows who I am, glad that I am not a target for violence anymore. I should be grateful. I am privileged. But I am not grateful.
In fourth grade, my best friend abandoned me, and she got everyone else to do the same, and I didn’t have any words for it. It was like this: asking over and over, why won’t you talk to me? what did i do wrong? i’m sorry, i promise, i’m so so sorry, please, i’m sorry, i’ll do anything you want, just talk to me, i don’t know what i did wrong but whatever it is i’m sorry, until your voice grows hoarse with the asking, and still not getting an answer, as she laughs with her new friends and doesn’t even throw a glance in your direction to show that she heard you. Giving up on the asking, because it is useless, because they’ll never hear you. A girl looking past you, as if you are not even there. A boy throwing a ball to his friend, and having to duck out of the way, because nobody noticed you. Spending recess wandering aimlessly along the field, sitting and talking to trees for 15 minutes because they’re a better conversation partner than your friends are. Wanting to lash out, to hit them or scream at them, so that maybe they’d finally notice you, but deciding not to, because that would be mean, that would be selfish, that would take up space and time and thoughts, and you don’t deserve to be noticed anyway. Wondering what you did wrong. Wondering if your existence is the thing that is wrong.
No, wait, that’s wrong. That wasn’t just fourth grade. That was every day of my goddamn life until this year–people talk past me. People talk to Casey. She doesn’t exist. She never did. She’s a mask we put on so we can disappear, so we can stay in the closet. I can count the number of people who talk to me on one hand, I add another hand for knowing I exist, and I am so incredibly grateful for them, for the most taken-for-granted scraps: having people who see you as a person, who know that you exist, who call you by your name, who like you for who you are instead of who you pretend to be. “I” am a superfluous symptom of Casey’s existence, and I exist but nobody sees me. I am still, most of the time, invisible.
People online ask me if I’m out of the closet, or if I’m open about some aspect of myself, and I want to laugh at them, because it’s not that simple, it’s not tell someone once and then you’re done. It’s whispering “call me Sofia” to a friend and bracing myself, but then they ignore me and call me Casey anyway. It’s asking my parents, staring at my food, mumbling, if I can go to a vigil for the Orlando massacre. It’s not saying anything in class when the person next to you talks about how he wishes that it was still socially acceptable to beat up gay people. It’s nervous laughter when people ask you about a crush. You don’t come out once. You come out a thousand times in a thousand moments with a hundred different people, and you stay closeted a million times in a million moments with everyone else.
The hardest thing was coming out of the closet to myself. They never told me, growing up, that this was a way that people could be. I didn’t have the words, the access codes, of gay or mentally ill or aromantic or neurodivergent. I didn’t know. They never taught me. And when I didn’t have words for who I was, I chose my own: broken. selfish. confused. wrong.
But they say that hypervisibility is worse than invisibility, they call passing–staying closeted, staying invisible, blending in, not knowing who you are–a privilege, and I cannot say anything because that would be talking over people with problems worse than mine, and I cannot say anything because I never learned how to say things, because to say things is to be visible.
Invisibility is neglect, and neglect is abuse, and it’s not better because it makes you hurt yourself instead of hurting you. Invisibility is not kind, or privileged, or easier, invisibility is violent.
But they say that visibility is worse, and so I apologize for being invisible. Or they say that trying to be visible is making people uncomfortable, and I apologize. I apologize over and over, because I can’t do anything else.
v. i have treated wounds that needed stitches with cloth tape and bandaids and kept my mouth shut so that my friends wouldn’t fucking FEEL BAD and i am SO FUCKING DONE with that
I am tired of being selfless. I am tired of putting everyone else before myself. I am tired of trying to be the hero. I am tired of being quiet, polite, forgettable.
(I’ve wanted to be vegan since seventh grade but I only told my parents last week, I’ve wanted to go to a pride since sixth grade but I went to my first community event two weeks ago, I told my friends in eighth grade that I existed but I let them get away with acting like I didn’t until this year. I’m here and I’m queer and I’m not going away and I won’t let anyone shove me back into the closet again.)
I am so fucking tired of being invisible.
I exist. I matter, too. And fuck anyone who tries to tell me that I don’t.