I don't like bullies.
This is going to irritate some (if not all) of my regulars, and some (if not all) of the people who have reached out to me over the last few months. I'm sorry if it does. I'm saying this because I feel I need to. I've been looking at it for, like, a week, struggling with what to say. I've also been deeply afraid of what this statement will do to everyone involved. I fully expect to get hammered for saying it.
I still think it needs to be said.
Benjanun Sriduankaew (AKA Requires Hate, AKA the Unnamed Friend) and her supporters are providing her side of the events that began last November. Unfortunately the conflict around her happened to involve me. She and I had a conflict several years ago--ironically enough, also in November--and the fact of that conflict--not the subject, just the fact that it happened--became a part of the story against her. (If you're not familiar with this, go here and here)
I'm cool with that. Her statement...thing.
In fact, I'm a little more than cool. See, as much as I don't like bullies? I do like people.
No. More than that. I love them. Every time I think that I understand what they are capable of, they surprise me with something wonderful. People change. People grow. People are capable of such extremes, and at our worst we are unforgivable. But at our best...oh, God, my dears, at our best we are amazing. Every one of us has the potential to be as good as we are bad. Destroying people accomplishes nothing.
I've been blathering on my blog for the last few months on the concept of agape--the greek word for unconditional love that gets flung around in Christian circles like it's paint in a lidless blender. (I find it to be a very valuable word that's been cheapened by overuse, but I suspect most secular readers aren't familiar with it.) I don't like bullies because they create divisions that don't have to be there. They destroy relationships before they start. They limit what others can do. They hurt others. They make life more difficult when we humans really don't need the extra garbage. They add conditions to something that shouldn't have them.
But the thing is? (And here's another trite-yet-valuable saying) Hurt people hurt people. When we have pain, be it acute or chronic, we tend to lash out and get it on others. Active attempts at damaging others is rooted in something deeper, something that can't quite make it to the surface. While this does not justify the pain we cause others, it explains it. Piling more pain onto the bully just drives the hurt deeper, and escalates the bad behavior. Not only will nothing get fixed, everything will get more broken.
November of 2012 was not a good one for me, something that would be true if Benjanun had not contacted me at all. I had several real life bullies who were much nastier than she was (Trust me, a vitriolic blogger has nothing on an actual homophobic, narcissistic racist, and I was dealing with several). The extra stress of her actions aggravated an already stressful situation. She criticized me in ways I was especially vulnerable to, and reminded me of events I was not and still am not ready to process. She created an atmosphere of paranoia and double-guessing and took away one of the few areas for stress relief I had at the time. I carried some of that resentment around because it hurt. Hurt sticks, regardless of intent.
Last November, after a short and explosive burst of anger, I found myself able to forgive her. Even suggesting that I could bought me a certain amount of backlash. How could I do that? How could I forgive a person who has hurt me, and hurt so many other people?
Because she's a person. With feelings. That ought to be respected even if we don't agree with them.
That's the core issue in the original conflict between me and her. I said something she objected to. Because she disagreed with me, she attacked my words without taking my feelings or well-being into account, and that lead to damage, a few heated words on my part, and a pretty ugly episode splashed across a small corner of the internet. Eventually we left each other alone. We both moved on.
Nowhere in this equation does it state that anybody has the right to hurt her back because of what she's said or done.
I've paid attention to the debate involving her, even after I decided I no longer wanted to be involved in it, and I haven't liked what I've seen. The current harassment of Benjanun Sriduankaew has nothing whatsoever to do with the conflict that I had to do with her two years ago. It can't, because that's not how these things work. Eye-for-an-eye is not a valid judgment call. If it is true for me to say that I am not responsible for her behavior two years ago, and that I did not deserve that treatment, then it’s true to say the same for her right now. And I feel that it is true. If she deserves anything, it's our respect and sympathy.
Because she's a person.
I did contribute to the backlash by speaking out very early on in anger and hurt. I wanted the kind of treatment I experienced to stop, and that urgency combined with the left-over emotions pushed me over the edge. It's something I regret. The one thing that is not true about our conflict and has never been true is that she's harassed me because I was raped. That's kind of the implication I see whenever I find myself linked to under the less-than-sensitive title, "The rape victim" (Note: Please stop doing that). The truth is we got into a conflict over words (I called a fictional character a "bitch") and it spiraled out of control. I just happened to be a statistic at the same time.
The deciding factor for where I'd choose to fall in this debate was how the backlash against her made me feel sick to my stomach very, very quickly. Pain, by its very definition, is undeserved. The parallels between her treatment of me and others current treatment of her is very easy to see, and I do not want to be a part of causing anyone pain. Answering hate with hate is not the answer. It feels good, but it's a sick kind of good. It heals, but it creates an abscess in the process. Because if you can hurt your enemy, you can hurt a neutral stranger. If you can hurt a neutral stranger, then you can hurt your friends. Each time you strike out with the intent to damage, you hurt yourself as much as you do your enemy.
The answer to bullying is not to bully the bullies. The sheer inanity of that statement should make it self explanatory.
A lot of people will say her side doesn't matter. That she's hurt so many people, she deserves to be hurt in turn. I disagree. Not because I will necessarily agree with her side, but because the kind of resolution I'd most like to see, one in which everyone is able to come out ahead, means caring for even those we don't agree with.
That does not mean we need to let her off the hook for her errors in judgment. We do need to take steps to protect ourselves from potentially toxic people, and she needs to do the self-work necessary to state her opinions and present herself to the world without hurting others in the process. I don’t think that process will be perfect. But there's a big difference between "protect ourselves" and "batter somebody else into the ground".
As a Christian, for me everything always goes back to the Bible. Not because I think it's the be-all-end-all, but because it is the most effective language I know for social constructs like unconditional love and dealing with toxicity. And the thing I remember the most with situations like this is that bit in the Lord's Prayer that goes "Forgive us, as we forgive others. " There are no qualifiers. There's no "If I agree with their behavior" or "If I agree with their lifestyle" or "If their taste in media matches what I call good" or “If they adhere to all the rules of good behavior”. Even if you do not believe in the Christian God, or any higher power, we are still supposed to forgive as we hope to be forgiven. Full stop.
On a personal note: I've spoken with her (long after I made the decision to forgive her) and we're relatively cool with each other. We've also agreed to respect each other's boundaries, something she has been VERY respectful of. You can make of that what you will. I cannot and will not support her in negative behaviors towards others, but I absolutely will support her in any positive changes and restructuring she chooses to do in her life. The same goes for her opponents. I will absolutely support positive changes in the community to minimize the damage of toxic behavior and attitudes, but I cannot and will not support actions against the people themselves. I hope and pray that she will make positive choices in spite of the backlash she has received, and that the genre community in general can learn how to police itself without abusing violators above and beyond what their behavior calls for.
As I said, I've been terrified in how this statement with effect others, and what it will do to me in the future. I know it runs the risk--hopefully, the very small risk--of ending friendships. But there's nothing meritorious or especially beneficial to humans in general if the only people we treat with dignity are the ones we agree with. I have long believed that the only way to solve most of humanity's problems is to start treating people like they have inherent value because they do. Nobody's throw-away, regardless of their behavior.
In the end, the only person I have to live with is me. And the one thing I want to be able say is that no matter who started it, the cycle of damage stops with me.
I wish her all the best.