Tag: toxic masculinity

An Open Letter of Apology

In a previous post, I endeavored to explore and explain the root cause of the damaging, self-sabotaging, and toxic behaviors that lead me to my most recent hospitalization and the ramifications still being felt by those who were once partners, friends, and associates. I opened with a general apology, but did not dig into the specifics. That is an oversight that must be corrected, and that is the purpose of what follows.

It is not my intention to appear disingenuous due to the fact that I will not be naming names in what follows. The reality of the situation is that not everyone who has been on the receiving end of unjustified behaviors of mine is going to be receptive to an apology from me. There are those who will feel that apologies do not matter; that they are empty words. I can understand that perspective. That does not make it any less necessary for apologies to be offered when harm has been inflicted. Whenever possible, said apologies should be direct and, ideally, in person. And above all, apologies must be rooted in the facts and evidence regarding the incidents that are the topics of discussion.

Rather than lean into old habits of hyperbole and conjecture, my goal with this letter is to stick to the facts, examine what evidence I have available, and address my shortcomings and damage that I have caused to the best of my ability.  An editorial note before I begin: the journalistic and straight-forward approach I am taking may come across as cold or detached. However, to present these facts in any other way would, in fact, be a disingenuous way of going about doing so. Coating what follows in language like “believe me” or “with sincerity” would lean into an old, ineffective behavior rooted in a perceived need for validation. Fuck that. Facts are what matter, here.

And the basic, fundamental fact of the reason these apologies are necessary in the first place is this: the nature of self-sabotage, especially if the ultimate goal is self-destruction, means that damage to other individuals and relationships are inevitably left in its wake. This damage is the result of choices. Deliberate choices were made, in word and in deed, that harmed other people. Some of them were people with whom I was very closely associated — friends or romantic partners. Others were people one step removed from those close associations. These are choices that I made that go back decades. And as much as I might want to, as much as any of us might want to, we can’t go back to the past to correct our mistakes. Things will never be the way they were before, and it is unhealthy to strive for such an impossible goal. What is possible, and healthy, is to look at those past mistakes and take action that is necessary now to actively engage in an attempt to make things right.

I’d like to take the time to run down some of those mistakes I’ve made, and apologize for them specifically.

It is a fact that I contain a great capacity for love. But rather than be up-front about that capacity, learn how to healthily share it, and take the capacities and comfort level of those to whom I was attracted into consideration when communicating it, I hoarded love. I actively practiced deception, breaking promises and cheating. Be it due to that fear of abandonment, a lack of education and self-awareness regarding the nature of the structure of polyamory that’s best for me, embarrassment or another nameless dread, simply not knowing how to love myself or accept the love of others, or a combination of the above, I willfully and knowingly deceived my lovers. For that, for breaking hearts that I did and still hold as precious and even sacred, I am sorry.

It is a fact that I have been questioning my own sanity and the foundation of my actions for a long time. I have, in the past, encouraged others to do so. It can be healthy to check and correct ourselves when it is appropriate. To my great regret and shame, I have on occasion leveraged that language to avoid an honest discussion about my behaviors. I did so in a way that made others, usually women, question their own viewpoints or even sanity. That is gaslighting, by its textbook definition. For that, for not imagining people complexly enough, I am sorry.

It is a fact that those who are uncomfortable with their own behaviors can project those behaviors on to others. Knowing that many of my toxic behaviors could, and in some cases did, constitute as abusive, and unwilling to admit even to myself that I could act in abusive ways, I would project. I accused others, those directly involved with me and those who are friends or lovers of close connections, of being abusers themselves. I projected outward, rather than looking inward. I made the problems I was facing into problems of someone else. I transformed my internal disease and its symptoms into external enemies. Rather than face what was within, I said “This person is an abuser,” when I should have been recognizing and correcting those behaviors within myself. For that, for these false accusations and the pain and doubt they caused, I am sorry.

It is a fact that those who bear insecurities can seek attention or validation from others. As important as it can be to check oneself and receive validation as well as correction, to rely overmuch on the attention and validation of others is neither responsible nor constructive behavior. It puts too much weight on other people to do the emotional labor of the individual. It’s never a bad thing to ask for help, but one must be committed to doing one’s own work when nobody else is around. I failed to do that, and counted too much on others to lift the weight that is mine to carry. For that, for making far too many conversations all about my problems, I am sorry.

It is a fact that human minds can often reach for the simplest solutions to a problem or question. Too often an individual will Occam’s Razor their way into a conclusion that does not include all of the facts, or does not take the perspective or experiences of another individual into account. Especially when it comes to thoughts born of anxiety, jumping to conclusions can lead to ineffective or even toxic decisions or behaviors. When your anxiety tells you that everyone secretly hates you and is eventually going to abandon you, you may jump to the conclusion that you might as well accelerate that process to get it over with. That was a conclusion I jumped to on more than one occasion. For that, for making assumptions rather than seeking clarification and facts, I am sorry.

It is a fact that a codependent or “people-pleasing” individual may not know when to say “no.” The over-reliance upon others mentioned above, as well as unhealthy attachment or expectations, may prompt an individual to be more permissive than is healthy when it comes to the requests or needs of others. They will step over their own boundaries, should said boundaries be defined in the first place, and move into ultimately damaging territory to meet a perceived need, or fulfill a commitment that is somehow implied where none might exist. For my part, I would too often adopt the notion that I had to please a primary partner and see to their needs “no matter the cost,” even if something I was doing to fulfill that was hurting me. I would act as if my needs or wants did not matter. That became a gateway for many of the behaviors I have already addressed and apologized for. I weakened myself, perhaps deliberately on a sub-conscious level, in the name of doing perceived good. For that, for not defining my boundaries and harming myself with a thousand small well-intentioned cuts, I am sorry.

I have, in the aforementioned previous entry on this platform, delineated the explanation and motivation behind these shortcomings and sins. That information is still available. They are relevant facts in the matters at hand. Yet, without the apologies and the commitment to get and be and do better going forward, it is mere bloviation, weightless words on the wind. In the past, I have offered apologies and stated a commitment towards recompense. While these sentiments were sincere, I failed to follow through, choosing to scratch the surface rather than dig deep. Instead of repairing damage done, it pushed me towards deeper recesses of self-sabotage and self-destruction. For that, for merely appearing to do the work and ultimately making things worse, I am sorry.

Every one of these mistakes that I have laid out was caused by damage and shortcomings within myself. No other individual bears the blame for them. While there may have been triggering situations or interactions that involved others, the ways in which the individual responds to triggers is solely the decision of the individual. It is through experience, education, and examination that an individual can cultivate better and healthier responses to triggers, and that has been and will continue to be the focus of my therapy and my work. I can no longer be satisfied with scratching the surface to deal with immediate emotional crises, let alone congratulate myself and prompt others to congratulate me for such shallow work that evidence has shown is detrimental to true progress. I must instead dig deep into the root causes of my flaws to discover the means to bring joy into the lives of those around me, rather than endanger them through my hubris and self-hatred. I want to learn to love myself, the way I love others.

My intent in all of this is to deeply explore and repair my internal damage for my own sake. While making the apologies above is an important part of contributing to my healing process, as well as the healing process of those affected by my actions, the fact is that you might not care. It might not matter to you. That is understandable. Feelings of hurt and betrayal and shock and disappointment are justifiable in the face of my previous, toxic behaviors. The fact that my explanations, and my apologies, may never reach their intended audience is unfortunate, but it is part of the consequences of my actions. I do not have the right to make the decision regarding the reception nor the acceptance of these apologies. I am sorry for my behavior, but I do not get to make those apologies to certain people for one reason or another. I just hope that those people are okay.

Trauma is not an excuse for toxic behavior. There is no excuse for abuse, full fucking stop. Even if one is abusing oneself, it is an abhorrent behavior. And there are always ramifications. I began this writing by saying we need to stick to the facts and examine the evidence. The fact is that when we set out to harm ourselves, we inevitably harm others. The evidence of those hurt and shocked and disappointed in the social circles on the other side of the bridges I burned directly speaks to that fact. I am unable, nor do I have the right, to walk up to each and every individual in those circles and say I’m sorry. But if an opportunity presents itself to do so, I will. Because I am sorry. I feel guilty and remorseful. And I’m working to ensure these things never happen again, to myself or to anyone else, to the best of my ability.

Penance does not have to be some grandiose public display. It does not have to be self-flagellation or self-isolation. Penance can, and perhaps should, take the form of rehabilitation, the difficult and deliberate work of kicking over the rocks of one’s soul and confronting that which crawls out from underneath. I will never ‘defeat’ the ‘enemy’ that is my trauma and the aberrant thoughts that dwell in my Shadow as a result of that trauma. I must learn to live with and above those constructs. And I will spend the rest of my life doing so. While those harmed and alienated by my previous behaviors may never forgive me — while you may never forgive me — the fact remains that I owe it to you, and to myself, to ensure that my life is not ultimately “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Thank you for your patience. I hope this finds you well.

The Lessons Within “The Last Jedi”

Be advised: there will be spoilers in this treatise. I can’t discuss what I want to discuss without getting into detail about the plot and the arcs of the film’s characters. Fairly be ye warned.

Before I saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I heard about all of the negative takes on it, all of the review-bombing, all of the neckbeard hatred getting spewed all over the Internet. It made me more than a little angry; the troglodytes and trolls who march to the drum of GamerGate and the myth of misandry and the Nazi party simply can’t take a hint, which is frustrating. I resolved to avoid spoilers as much as possible before I finally saw the film.

And now that I have, the vile vitriol of these chuckleheads is just downright amusing to me.

The whole point of The Last Jedi is that we need to let go of our pasts. In order to truly move forward, to be better versions of ourselves, we have to do away with preconceived expectations and deal with the now, in order to build a better future for ourselves and those we love. Above all, we have to learn from our mistakes.

And everybody in The Last Jedi makes mistakes.

Courtesy Lucasfilm

Let’s not mince words, here. The mistakes made by Poe get a lot of people killed. From the very beginning, Poe’s “take the fight to the enemy” attitude costs the Resistance the bulk of their fighting forces. He goes one step further when he disobeys Admiral Holdo’s orders to support her and hold their course. She knows Poe is reckless, that his macho never-say-die swagger and desperate plans are an unknown factor she cannot trust. And that lack of trust got under Poe’s skin so much that he sent Finn and Rose on a wildly dangerous mission and lead a mutiny against Holdo’s command. Poe made his mark in our lives, and in the life of Finn, by being an ace pilot and a bit of a maverick; it is these aspects he must face and overcome in order to grow. He — and we — erroneously believe that those things are always good things, when the reality is that it pays to dial back the recklessness and seat-of-the-pants ‘handsome rogue’ routine when other people are counting on you. That sort of thing, in times of crisis, can be downright toxic or even deadly.

Finn makes plenty of missteps in his own story. He is “a man who wants to run,” and that’s still his first instinct. Granted, it’s to undertake a desperate plan to get the First Order off of the back of the Resistance, but it’s still running away, on his own. Rose intervenes and finds a way to go with him; this does not stop him from continuing to fail. Even after he finally decides to stop running and dedicate himself to the cause of the Resistance — which, incidentally, is why the sequence in the casino matters — he keeps making mistakes. At the climax of the story, he puts himself in a position to make a “heroic” sacrifice in a suicide attempt to destroy a First Order weapon; Rose denies him that, doing serious damage to herself, but “saving what we love” is a better way to seek victory. She’s right, Finn screwed up one last time, and you can tell from the expression on his face that he’s going to learn from this mistake.

Courtesy LucasFilm

Learning from failure is something Luke Skywalker needs to do, as well. He got ahead of himself and operated under the assumption that the old Jedi Order was something that needed to be preserved. In his hubris, he completely mishandled the training of his nephew and gave rise to an individual who ultimately becomes the Supreme Leader of the First Order. He is so struck by the completeness of his failure that he removes himself entirely from the rest of the galaxy. It is only through Rey, her determination to carve out her own place in the scheme of things, and her unflagging belief in the idea of the Force as something that guides and protects, that Luke is shaken out of his depression and forces himself to come face to face with his mistakes. It is only through Rey — whose lessons are reinforced by Master Yoda — that Luke learns from those mistakes and manages to make a difference, saving lives in the process. Even perhaps, in the long run, the life of Kylo Ren.

Few characters exemplify toxic masculinity as completely as Kylo Ren. His power and potential are regarded with fear by his parents and his uncle. Snoke takes him in only to abuse him and exploit him. His alienation and isolation cause him to turn to the memory of his grandfather and the fascist scheme that created Darth Vader. Moreso than Armitage Hux, a power-hungry despot who fetishizes the Empire’s military might and comprehensive brainwashing, Kylo longs to be relevant and powerful. Since so much of his life has been out of his control, he wishes to seize control, and the only way in which he’s been shown to do so is by force. He and Hux both want to be bigger, badder, more powerful, and more famous than their predecessors. If that’s not a manifestation of the alt-right zeitgeist, I don’t know what is.

Courtesy LucasFilm

Is there a redemptive path for Kylo Ren the way there is for Luke, Finn, and Poe? It’s difficult to say. He comes across to Rey as someone who wishes to help her, to become her ally. Partially due to seeking a relationship that is not abusive, and partially because he merely wishes to posses her, he reaches out to her, coming dangerously close to being ‘seduced’ by the Light. Rey, for her part, feels the pull of the Dark Side, the quick and easy path to power that promises to fix all of the problems in her life and in the galaxy. These are two characters who have been tossed about by tides of life far beyond their control, and who wish to make their own way forward. Kylo’s biggest mistake is in trying to tell Rey that his way is best. He both offers her insight and mansplains the Force to her. He does everything he can to win her over — not necessarily in a romantic sense, but to prove that even in recruiting a follower, in using methods other than abuse and force, he’s better than Snoke.

Rey, for her part, holds onto her belief in herself. She’s always been a person who reaches down into the depths of her own being to find strength, power, and answers. She turned to Luke because the Force was something she barely understood, and he encouraged her to feel it on her own terms to find her own purpose, as he did when he was young. It occurs to me that if he’d taken this approach with Ben, rather than adhering to what Jedi Order teachings he was trying desperately to preserve, things might have been different. But having made that mistake, he tries to learn from it and gives Rey the instruction she needs — the answers lie within oneself, in our own light and darkness, and it is we who must make the choices that decide the course we take. To Rey, discovering that the Force is not unlike the path of self-reliance that’s guided her until this point is the sort of epiphany we all seek — it’s as simple as it is empowering.

Courtesy LucasFilm

I know that I’m not the first to see The Last Jedi in this way, but I hope that in taking things point by point, character by character, I can illustrate why I feel this is a better film than Empire Strikes Back — it has more to say. To me, the best science fiction, even a fantastical space western where people hack off each other’s limbs with laser swords, says something about our society at large. If anything, Empire Strikes Back is a time capsule that latches onto the fears of its time. The characters are betrayed by friends and crushed by enemies. But these are things that happen to them, not because of them, with the exception of Luke’s decision to try and rescue his friends. The Last Jedi gives us active characters across the board whose choices, especially their wrong choices, shape the story that unfolds, rather than allowing it to unfold around them. If the story of Empire Strikes Back is one of fear, The Last Jedi is one of determination. And that will always be more empowering and more meaningful than fear.

Poe, Finn, and Luke all become determined to learn from their mistakes, to turn their failures into lessons that can be applied towards making the galaxy a better place. That’s what makes them heroic, not the explosions they cause or the sword fights they have. Kylo is blind to his flaws and failures, for the most part, and that’s what makes him villainous. The film is not merely saying “here is what toxic masculinity is”; it goes on to say “and here is how you can be better than it, if you stop and think and learn how.” Our heroes need to fight themselves just as much as they need to fight their enemies, and as exciting as their face-offs with their enemies might be, their struggles to overcome themselves and their pasts is, to me, far more meaningful.

Courtesy LucasFilm

I love this film. I love that its female characters are strong, determined, and supportive. I love that its male characters are flawed, insecure, and emotional. Nobody’s dumb, and nobody’s a caricature. These feel like real people. You can understand them, empathize with them, and desire to see them improve and grow — even a character like Kylo Ren. “You can be better than this,” I want to say to Kylo, as much as to many other people that have been in my life. “Why aren’t you better than this?”

The Last Jedi, in addition to being an exciting sci-fi adventure, a well-shot and nuanced film, and a worthy continuation of one of the greatest sagas of our time, is a living example of how we can learn from our failures and overcome our flaws. It shows us people, men in particular, who have fucked up and possess the strength and wherewithal to learn from it, to do better, get better, be better. This isn’t just something that applies to us now, even if the film is cast within a certain encapsulation of our current socio-political climate. It’s a timeless lesson, one that I myself have had to learn, and that will never lose its edge or its power as we move into a future that, one hopes, is better and more prosperous than the past we will, and must, leave behind.

Courtesy LucasFilm

That’s the whole point of it. Learning from our mistakes means letting go of our past. Stop fetishizing those things you hold dear, stop falling back on old habits and lines of thought, stop trying to force the world to conform to your point of view. Instead, look within yourself at your failures and flaws, learn what you can from those choices, and dedicate yourself to overcoming the obstacles you’ve created for yourself on a path to being a better person. Only then will you make the world a better place. You won’t do it by screaming at everyone else how wrong they are about things and calling them names.

As much as I laugh at the enraged fanboys, I can’t help but pity them. They completely miss the point.

That, to paraphrase Master Yoda, is how you fail.

Learn from those failures, or be defined by them.

It’s your choice.

The White Knight

Templar

He dons the armor polished to a mirror shine.
He sharpens the sword he draws without prompt.
He mounts his charger and takes off to battle.

He does not think of relying upon others.
He does not allow contemplations of defeat.
He never hesitates, never questions, never retreats.

His thoughts are on one thing, and one thing only:

The Maiden.

She did not anticipate his arrival.
She barely hears his declarations of fealty.
She is not necessarily interested in his courtship.

Her citadel is strong in and of itself.
She is a nation of her own making,
Neither needing nor wanting a suitor who pines.

Yet the knight persists.

He draws his sword, shining in the sun.
He holds it aloft, his voice raised.
“My sword and heart are yours!” is his cry.

He does not wait for her response.
He knows his actions will win her.
He turns the steed towards the mountains.

He rides, undeterred, towards his intended foe:

The Dragon.

It shifts slightly in its sleep.
It sits atop a hoard, a clutch of eggs.
It protects its home as it slumbers.

It is awakened by a shouted challenge.
It opens an eye to see the figure at the mouth.
It blinks in confusion at the accusations.

The knights lays into the dragon with fury.

He hears the cries of pain as roars.
He sees blood from scales and presses on.
He feels righteous in his searing anger.

He plunges the blade home over and over.
He ignores his arms turning to lead with fatigue.
He does not stop when the dragon wheezes a final breath.

He spits upon the corpse of the parent and protector.

His chest swells with pride.
His body returns to its steed.
His spurs catch flesh and prompt the return.

He goes, now, to claim his prize.
The maiden to whom he is entitled.
The heart of the bepedestaled woman he adores.

He has no idea of what he has truly left behind.
He’s ignorant of the cost of his actions.
He cannot and will not see how toxic he has become.

He does not care.

That dragon was his to slay.
That maiden is his to bed and wed.
These things are his to take for himself.

He is entitled.
He is righteous.
He is The White Knight.

And he is everything the world tells him a man should be.

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