Today I’m going to repeat a story from the blog Alas! and discuss it, because…well, the author does not seem to have grasped the actual implications of what he wrote. It’s what I think of as a “holy victim” narrative, but the actual lesson is not, perhaps, what the author intended.
There was one girl I spent a lot of time with. A pixie-like joy of a person, Dawna, who wore her blonde hair almost totally shaved, and strung chains on her jeans. People who saw her knew there was something unusual about her. They didnâ€™t take joy in her oddness, in her willingness to sing in the middle of the street, in her humor, in her desire to leave strange and beautiful things in public places for strangers to find and puzzle over. They shouted â€œdyke!â€ at her from car windows; they deployed store guards to follow her around; they sneered and snarled.
When I was 17 and Dawna was 15, she went out with me and started acting very strange. â€œIs she on meth or something?â€ a friend of mine asked. I said, â€œIâ€™m sure she isnâ€™tâ€ â€” but I was wrong. She was on meth. She called me that night, crying. Sheâ€™d been taking a lot of drugs for a long time â€” to try to deal with the pain of her isolation, the pain of how people pricked and pained her, and othered her, and told her she was nothing.
I told her Iâ€™d help. I arranged for her to be transferred to my high school and set her up with the teachers whoâ€™d been best for me. Nothing worked; the teachers who were more than happy to deal with my casual attitude toward authority had no tools in their kits to handle a girl who was too depressed to go to class. Iâ€™d thought they would recognize in her, as they had in me, independence and intelligence. I suppose they did. But even if they wanted to, there was nothing they could do.
I always worried Dawna would die. I thought she would overdose or commit suicide. When I read a few years ago that she was dead, and the obituary hinted at a cause of death that couldnâ€™t be announced to potentially scandalized ears, I knew I was right.
She was twenty-two.
Dawna lived twenty-two years in the toxic hatred of our homophobic, gender policing, joy-killing world. And then it murdered her.
We are supposed to react to this story with pity and loathing at the death of the holy victim. Sorry, but my reaction was that Dawna was clearly asking for what she got. If she didn’t want the local monkeys to “other” her, why did she dress funny?
Important rule of living: you can be weird, or you can look weird, but you can’t usually get away with both.
Clever deviants – like, for example, myself – make a point of not looking like an obvious threat to the mores of their time. I’m a neo-pagan anarcho-capitalist gun-nut who talks about my way-out-of-the-mainstream beliefs and often gets the press to cover them sympathetically. I fill auditoriums! I am much more successively subversive than J. Random Punker in his chains and studs exactly because I don’t look weird. I could be as gay as a treeful of parrots and it wouldn’t slow me down a bit.
The world did not kill Dawna. Dawna’s bad choices killed Dawna. Bad choice #1: taking a visibly oppositional stance without having the inner strength not to buckle. Bad choice #2: taking nasty drugs to cope with bad choice #1.
It’s going to sound harsh, but I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the girl. She played stupid and lost – wasted her potential on mere display. If she had really wanted to change the world, rather than staying stuck in shock-your-parents mode until she died, she would have dialed back on the presentation and been an articulate but relatively normal-looking advocate for sexual freedom, or whatever.
Costume or substance. Posturing or efficiency. Looking like a threat to “the system” or actually being it. Choose exactly one….