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January 16, 2013 2:42 PM   Subscribe


 
Between this, the moon landing "hoax," the Samoan linebacker's non-existent girlfriend, the Redditor outsourcing his work to China, and the Sandy Hook "truth" freakazoids, I am starting to feel a sense of paranoid suspicion descend over me.

/glares at fellow Mefites
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:49 PM on January 16, 2013 [12 favorites]


Huh, i never did this, but most of my friends where girls and I got the " your kid is a little ....off" more then I got " your kid is a little ...faggy."
posted by The Whelk at 2:52 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Good title.
posted by bq at 2:58 PM on January 16, 2013


I wish I had been gay and pretended to have a crush on a girl in school. Instead, in 5th grade, I bought a 25 cent ice cream sandwich for a girl every day for about 8 months, then thought valentines day might be worth a trinket of some kind, in the saddest kind of hopefulness ever.

Years later, she turned out to live in the sorority down the street from me in college. Probably became a PR girl in some capacity.
posted by C.A.S. at 3:01 PM on January 16, 2013


From the sidebar:

"The problem with posting your personal essays on Facebook is that they get read by people who are in them."

No shit?!?!?
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:03 PM on January 16, 2013


Between this, the moon landing "hoax," the Samoan linebacker's non-existent girlfriend, the Redditor outsourcing his work to China, and the Sandy Hook "truth" freakazoids, I am starting to feel a sense of paranoid suspicion descend over me.

Quick, someone do an FPP about La vida es sueño!


But what a sad story. I didn't talk about girls in school. My father tried to goad my brother and me into something like conventional male bonding, but he only made it look pathetic. I can only imagine what it would have been like to have been forced into playacting the role by my fear of being outed.

I suspect sometimes that that's what happened with my brother.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 3:08 PM on January 16, 2013


"The problem with posting your personal essays on Facebook is that they get read by people who are in them."

Is the name accurate, or a pseudonym? I can't seem to find this woman online.
posted by Greg Nog at 3:08 PM on January 16, 2013


Wow. I love a story that gets me inside someone else's head like that.
posted by bunderful at 3:16 PM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


There's a lot in this essay. I pretty much fucking hated middle school (who didn't), and the way that Mike became a bully as a self-defense mechanism really resonates with me.
posted by muddgirl at 3:18 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


So I wrote this book that's coming out next year and I've started to get a few early reader reviews. And one of the plotlines [spoilers] is that there's this boy, sweet and earnest, and he's the first boy my MC likes, and he says he likes her but won't kiss her. And it turns out he's gay, but he just desperately wants to get along, to be normal.

And one review, by a pretty young reader, was all about how she didn't understand why anyone would lie about that, and whether I was saying gay guys are immoral. What I didn't say (would never say--I don't respond to reviews, and even saying this much here on metafilter might be a misstep, but I think it's relevant and you guys understand) was that a similar thing happened to me, when I was a teenage girl. And the boys (two of them! in a row!) weren't immoral at all, but sweet, earnest, trying their best; they remain some of my closest friends to this day. It happened, it probably still happens.

But I can't say I don't envy the teenagers for whom lying about something like that makes no sense. I would love to live in their world, where people can just be themselves, especially during adolescence, without fear or judgment. I think that's a better world than the one I knew, at least.

Anyway, this is a beautifully written essay, very raw and emotionally honest.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:20 PM on January 16, 2013 [32 favorites]


I can't even remember grade 8.
posted by Stagger Lee at 3:24 PM on January 16, 2013


It kind of bugs me that it's OK for this kid to have been a bully but not for all the other people who've posted "sorry I was a bully" type essays that made it to Metafilter.

I mean I'm happy he's out of a toxic environment that made him feel he needed to act that way, but I think that's the case for most bullies.
posted by sweetkid at 3:32 PM on January 16, 2013 [9 favorites]


Wonderful. This guy has a great future as a writer ahead of him.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:32 PM on January 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


It kind of bugs me that it's OK for this kid to have been a bully but not for all the other people who've posted "sorry I was a bully" type essays that made it to Metafilter.

All 'sorry I was a bully' essays are OK with me. I admit that I bullied kids, and I was bullied in turn. In my experience, the line between bullies and victims was not clear cut. I was a victim because a classmate and her friends threatened to beat me up in 5th grade. I was a victim when the older kids on my street threatened to beat the uppity out of me every day for months and months on my walk home from school. None of that excuses the fact that I ostracised my supposed friends for not being cool enough. I insulted girls behind their back and taunted them to their face. I don't think Mike is looking for absolution, either.
posted by muddgirl at 3:37 PM on January 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


I can't even remember grade 8.

Yeah, I had a similar thought when I realized in 1995 I was starting my first serious relationship.

Unfortunately, I do remember a lot of eighth grade but fortunately the older I get, the more I forget. This was hard to read.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:52 PM on January 16, 2013


Wow. This was really weird for me to read, because I was Tracy Dolan. Not literally, of course. I'm not the girl he's writing about (or to) and there are some key differences in what happened. But I had this guy who was very publicly and vocally obsessed with me in middle school, basically wore me down until I agreed to go out with him in the eight grade. We were "boyfriend and girlfriend" for a few weeks, during which time we went on exactly one date and maybe hung out at school like 4 or 5 times, and then he broke up with me.

I was never really that into him, but I liked him as a person, and when he broke up with me I was more baffled than hurt or angry.

Anyway, many years later, I got curious about what had ever happened to him, so I looked him up on facebook, as you do. Turns out he's now openly gay. And all of a sudden it made total sense! I was his beard! And honestly, it worked out ok for me, because I was getting a lot of pressure from my friends to have a boyfriend and even though I was straight, I wasn't really ready for a real relationship yet.

It's still kind of amusing to me, now, that of all the guys I've dated or been interested in or had interested in me - to this day, no other guy has pursued me as hard as this guy did. I think there's a good truth in there - someone only pursues like that if they've got something to prove.
posted by the essence of class and fanciness at 3:56 PM on January 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


That's not her real name and real details of her life, right? He changed her college and job and stuff, right?
posted by discopolo at 4:01 PM on January 16, 2013


Yes, I totally did this.
posted by mykescipark at 4:01 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


That was a brilliant piece of writing on so many levels. Has me thinking about all sorts of events in my life, my friends lives, and of course his life and the people around him. Good writing should do that. Really glad you posted this, thanks.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:02 PM on January 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


I wonder why this particular "I was a bully and I'm sorry" story seems so much better and less self-serving than the one earlier this month.

So I wrote this book that's coming out next year and I've started to get a few early reader reviews. And one of the plotlines [spoilers]

Ack, I'm actually planning to buy your book (which is coming out this year, right?) and I do not want to be spoiled. So you should send me a review copy which I will read so I can read your comment. I can even offer to review it on Goodreads for the 13 people who follow my reviews.

posted by jeather at 4:04 PM on January 16, 2013


Oh man, I feel like I am having a totally different reaction to everyone else, because of the way he chose to frame this essay. And I'm left wondering why he framed it the way he did.

Ostensibly this is a letter explaining to this girl why he spent a few years being a super active participant in sexually humiliating her and other pubescent girls. Creating an atmosphere they had to go to school in every day, at the ages of 12, 13, 14, where they had to hear their breasts and "haunches" being described in detail, drawn, listed, ranked and rated, hear what sexual acts they would be good for, and a variety of other degrading things.

In a letter like that, you would expect some empathy for the other person, some acknowledgement of what it might have felt like for them to live in the environment you created, and what the consequences might have been for them, but there is none of that at all here. I mean, he talks about what the consequences were for *him,* how people treated him, and how that made him feel.

He describes his own feelings and experiences very well. And I am happy that he did it and I think it is valuable for us to read.

But shit, the way he chose to frame this muddies it for me. This letter to the girl, full of his experiences and feelings - what does he mean her to get out of it? That she will understand him better. That she will understand his feelings. That she will understand his experiences. Is any of that reciprocated?

That she will be more understanding about what happened to her. That she will be more okay with it, despite the self-effacing line at the end. Wouldn't anyone, after reading something as powerful as that? Ultimately, that the rest of us reading it will be more understanding and okay with it, and forgive it readily and wholeheartedly.

The girl is, a second time, only a tool to use in order to do what he is trying to do.
posted by cairdeas at 4:11 PM on January 16, 2013 [71 favorites]


Ack, I'm actually planning to buy your book (which is coming out this year, right?) and I do not want to be spoiled. So you should send me a review copy which I will read so I can read your comment. I can even offer to review it on Goodreads for the 13 people who follow my reviews.

If I had any more review copies I would, sorry! And yes, this year. I forgot it was 2013. Damn you, Father Time.

posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:12 PM on January 16, 2013


damn, cairdeas, you're spot on about all that. Hmmm, much more to think about here.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:14 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


In a letter like that, you would expect some empathy for the other person, some acknowledgement of what it might have felt like for them to live in the environment you created, and what the consequences might have been for them, but there is none of that at all here. I mean, he talks about what the consequences were for *him,* how people treated him, and how that made him feel.

I agree.
posted by sweetkid at 4:23 PM on January 16, 2013


I knew I could have gone down this path - but I could not bring myself to fuck up another person because I was feeling fucked up. I even gently pushed away a few girls. I am no hero - but even my chicken shitness has limits.

Despite not having a girlfriend - I was still super active in high school (student council and all that). Half my school were self policing Asian kids who NEVER drank, smoked or skipped school. Not doing your homework was the source of much social shame. So it was easy to fly under the radar on the whole sex thing for me.
posted by helmutdog at 4:27 PM on January 16, 2013


In a letter like that, you would expect some empathy for the other person, some acknowledgement of what it might have felt like for them to live in the environment you created, and what the consequences might have been for them, but there is none of that at all here.

Which is something I appreciated, actually, instead of the rending of garments and the "Oh how terrible they must have felt and how bad I am!" that you often get.

Ultimately, that the rest of us reading it will be more understanding and okay with it, and forgive it readily and wholeheartedly.

I understand it, I'm not exactly okay with it but I understand it, and it's not up to any of us to forgive him (unless one of us was in his school).

If I had any more review copies I would, sorry! And yes, this year. I forgot it was 2013. Damn you, Father Time.

Oh well. If you get more, or something. I'll still buy it, I just always am jealous of people who get ARCs. I'm just pleased I didn't get the year of its release wrong.

posted by jeather at 4:29 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just because I’m doing this doesn’t mean I’m the kind of person who does.

Actually, it does mean that.
posted by dubold at 4:30 PM on January 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


I didn't read it as a story in which he is asking for forgiveness. In fact I'd speculate and say that I don't think he wants "Tracy Dolan" to read this. His discovery of her Facebook page is just an indicator that she's "moved on." Though that puts it too strongly, because I think he recognizes he was just a blip on her life.

Instead, it's just a sharing of his experience. One that to me wasn't centered on his being gay, or him being a little shit because he was gay, but rather just him being another little middle school shit, albeit one in a particular context (bring gay) instead of an innumerable amount of different contexts. It was about his actions in middle school, and having a chance to reflect upon his actions after having matured.

I very much enjoyed it. I think this is the first time I actually read through an entire article of this sort (first-person memoir).
posted by SollosQ at 4:39 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


What a self-absorbed jerk. It's nice he made her a laughing stock to avoid coming out and now wants to talk about how he wishes her well without a trace of awareness about how his behavior might have affected her. She is just a cipher for his purposes then and now as cairdeas said.

At least I didn't mistreat the guy I used as a beard during middle school and high school. I just pined in a public manner.
posted by winna at 4:40 PM on January 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


I agree with jeather: I'd much rather read this author's scathing indictment of his mindset and actions as a middle-schooler than a hypothetical attempt on his part to empathize with a girl he knew 20 years ago. "You must have been so hurt by my actions, I can only imagine how objectified you felt..." – ugh, it would be terrible. As it stands, he is telling us the best story he can about that time: he's almost certainly a better reporter of his own shitty feelings and actions than he is of the effect they had on others.

Now, my feelings would be different if this was all 'I was so put upon, feel bad for me', and trying to elicit sympathy. But as I read it, this was the redemption-free story of a kid learning to conform, ignore his true friends and act like a shitty person in order to hide his secret shame and become popular – which I think is pretty compelling.
posted by ordinary_magnet at 4:42 PM on January 16, 2013 [11 favorites]


Though that puts it too strongly, because I think he recognizes he was just a blip on her life.

How could he know?
posted by sweetkid at 4:44 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, god, one summer I told everyone at camp that I had a crush on this (imaginary) guy Joe. I actually had a crush on our swimming instructor, Jo, who was Australian, and had the most beautiful accent and brown hair.

Damn, I haven't thought of that in forever. Thanks.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:46 PM on January 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


It looks like this guy's written a few embarrassed essays about his adolescence. This passage, from this post, rings absurdly true to me (and informs the piece under discussion here, somewhat):

If the past is a foreign country, the person you were when you lived there is a stranger.

It’s been more than 10 years since I was a teenager, and the older I get, the more incomprehensible I find my younger self. I look back on the period between puberty and legal drinking age not nostalgic or remorseful, but baffled. Who is this guy? What the fuck is he doing?

posted by eugenen at 4:50 PM on January 16, 2013 [11 favorites]


This is the same guy who worked as a narc in high school, featured previously on Metafilter.
posted by mokin at 4:54 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I enjoyed the essay, and in its defense, I think it's fairly clear from his writing (and I can say from my own experience, though I was too shy to even admit crushes on the girls I did have crushes on)...this is what boys that age do, considered as a group (there are always exceptions, of course). It's shitty and it would be nice if we could raise boys in a way so they didn't treat girls (and each other, for that matter) like shit, but that was how it was when I was in middle school in the late 1970s, and I suspect it's still true today.

Back then, being labeled as a "fag" was the worst possible thing (and it's not clear to me why, now--there wasn't any moral component to it). Even hetero boys were/are horribly insecure about their sexuality at that age (and beyond, sadly) in the best circumstances; in peer groups it's horrible and being a misogynistic ass is an easy way to try and make sure everyone knows you're a stud.
posted by maxwelton at 5:12 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, this has me wanting to write an open letter to the two guys whose crush-beard I was, thanking them for only being a little awkward and not actually sexually harassing me in the process. Jeez.
posted by clavicle at 5:23 PM on January 16, 2013


But I can't say I don't envy the teenagers for whom lying about something like that makes no sense. I would love to live in their world, where people can just be themselves, especially during adolescence, without fear or judgment. I think that's a better world than the one I knew, at least.

I wonder how my son would respond to that essay.

I found out he was gay when I found a note he had written for another boy in his middle school class - I was doing the laundry and he left it in his pants pocket. Anyway, I confronted him about it (paraphrasing) :

Me : Is this your note ?
Him : Yeah.
Me : So, you're gay, then ? Is he ?
Him : Yeah. No.
Me : Do you want to talk about it ?
Him : No.
Me : Do you want your mom to find out ?
Him : Please no! She'll flip the fuck out.
Me : Cool. But you need to be more careful, then. If you want to talk let me know.

And that was that. I did kind of wonder what I would say if he wanted to talk, because A. I didn't date much in high school, being a geek and all, and B. What do I know about gay teenaged dating ?

Anyway, he never did want to talk to me, rather confiding in some other people, so that worked out. He seems to be pretty well adjusted so far. So, that's a win.

But I have to say - some of the boys he dated were in pretty rough shape, emotionally - especially the ones deepest in the closet. It just breaks my heart to see what some of those boys had gone through. I just don't understand how parents can do that to their kids.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:31 PM on January 16, 2013 [14 favorites]


Superb story.
posted by waxbanks at 5:34 PM on January 16, 2013


dubold, I think that's something he naively thought as a kid, not something that was supposed to be taken at face value. Later, the author says: "Only later did I realize that there’s no such thing as hiding who you are, there’s only becoming someone else" which I thought was a pretty haunting line that directly subverts what he said earlier.

I agree that Tracy's part of the story is conspicuous in its relative absence, but I also think this is not meant to be a public apology as much as a meditation on the fractal nature of sexual oppression. And in terms of the mechanics of the story, I think that outlining Tracy in the negative space actually makes it more powerful, because it emphasizes the chasm between her and the author. It underscores how what he thought of as his pretense of objectifying her became, or really, was from the beginning, actual objectification: he can't write from her point of view because he didn't really know her, because she was an object to him. I think that was done intentionally - we're supposed to find that jarring and sad.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:43 PM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


you’re the girl who told me, on the last day of school, to go fuck myself. And I’m the guy that deserved it.
too bloody right mate.

cairdeas, ex bloody actly.
posted by glasseyes at 6:07 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't get the feeling this guy was a particularly rotten kid. He was just confused and desperate and lonely and horny and ashamed, like a lot of kids, and he did some shitty stuff he would later regret. A lot of us can relate. (I was a lot less shitty and mean than my peers, and I was still a nasty piece of work. Generally speaking, kids suck.)

I certainly didn't get the feeling that he was ignoring the girl's feelings in this essay. He was writing his story, and about what she meant to him then, and what she means to him now. I think we can infer what she was feeling, based on her behavior. Maybe some people wanted him to just spell it all out more, but that probably would've just made this artless and preachy. She seemed like a good and kind and interesting person, and he fucking blew it. He hurt her badly. He's not asking for forgiveness as much as he's telling how it all went wrong and why he made the mistakes he made.

Also, if you haven't been a kid with a Huge, Shameful Secret, maybe you should cut him a little slack. If you didn't spend every minute in school feeling you were living a lie, desperately afraid of anybody ever knowing what kind of sick monster you truly were, knowing that if anybody ever did find out you could get your ass kicked or worse, you don't know what that can do to a kid. (I was a closet tranny lesbian creature, not a closet gayboy. I can't imagine having a crush on any of the boys who bullied me. That sounds like a special kind of hell.)

"And one review, by a pretty young reader, was all about how she didn't understand why anyone would lie about that, and whether I was saying gay guys are immoral."

I wonder, was she gay? Because it's one thing to have your opinions about gay people when you're a straight teenager girl in 2013, and it's another thing to be a gay kid. And even if she's a lesbian, she's probably not dealing with the same kind of internalized homophobic American aggro bullshit that a gay boy's dealing with. I say probably because I've never been a lesbian or gay teenager in 2013... But I do have a lesbian co-worker who was a teenager fairly recently, and she's far more cynical about the status of gays in American than I am. I keep telling her that things are changing so, so quickly, that they're so much better than they were even when I was a teenager, and she just kind of rolls her eyes. She seems to regard the country being increasingly in favor of gay marriage as not meaning all that much, compared to how gays are treated in other ways. Like, it's just something straight people say to be PC, when they're really as homophobic as ever. It can get frustrating to argue with her about it... But then again, just because Obama was elected president, that sure doesn't mean that we have racial equality in the US. It's possible to win one huge battle, even as you're fighting a war that's a long way from being over.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:26 PM on January 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


This is the same guy who worked as a narc in high school, featured previously on Metafilter.

Ah, thank you! I thought the url sounded familiar! God, I loved that narc story.
posted by Greg Nog at 6:36 PM on January 16, 2013


I've never been compelled to fake a crush, but middle school onward, I've felt the pressure of manufactured objectification. Girls weren't a thing for me, a shrimpy, glasses-y kid who had unrealistic expectations about making the NBA. I never noticed; I had books to read, man! But girls were hot on the mind of my neighbor and later, my friend Jeff.

Suddenly, the new normal was fantasy. "You know what I'd like to do to her? How fast would..." I knew these things would never happen, but at the same time I hoped that I lived in a little porn-world where sex would just happen. Granted, my attempts at flirtation felt like riding a bike upside-down and if a girl was anywhere near me I was suddenly wildly aware of every nervous sentence I vomited. But, I learned the language, and suddenly I could talk to the guys about guy things.

Still, it felt unnatural. So many high school conversations had the thesis "Here are famous women who are hot." I sat back and watched, both out of discomfort and feeling wildly out of touch with pop culture. "Why would I bother nursing a crush on Reese Witherspoon? I'll never meet her and we probably wouldn't get along. This is pointless."

I've since made friends with people who don't talk like that. It's so refreshing to talk about things I care about, to have comments about one's appearance stay at "I like your shoes". I feel human.

The further I leave the orbit of my macho, all-boys high school, the more alien it feels to return to that world. A few years ago, I met up with a high school friend at a bar to catch a Red Wings game. It was nice to see him and reminisce, but he spent so much energy ranting about steroids in baseball, and made a few remarks about a Sports Illustrated swimsuit special on one of the TVs. It was strangely exhausting. I like watching sports, but the moral anger of sports talk radio is so deflating. And I had no idea how to respond to him ogling women on TV.

"Hey, I wouldn't mind bending that over."
"Uh, yeah, she is an attractive lady."

I feel bad that, despite reading Guyland, despite learning to speak to and handle my emotions, that I don't know how to speak honestly to something like that. I feel like if I keep it cheeky or meta it doesn't count, but that's still a tacit vote for the status quo.

Situations like that leave me feeling like an impostor in an ill-fitting man-suit. I don't think it's an uncommon experience; the book Guyland is entirely about men not feeling at home in the world of macho. I know I'm not alone, but the world seems so tilted against it that I think "Why bother?" I want to belong to the world, to find commonality with people, but if that's the price of entry? Man.

I think the author really gets at what it feels like to learn the language of that world and fake it until it becomes the norm. Yeah it's a bigger deal to be gay in a land where that might mean a slow, painful death. I totally empathize and validate that, in some way, it is (or at least feels like) a necessity to play the game. But I think so many men play the game and adapt to the language of pornografied violence. It sticks, and suddenly this faking ritual is the rite of passage for another generation of men. It's so sad and scary to think that maybe everyone will fake it, and that will make the world awful for a lot of people.

I never heard my dad make a sexual comment about women, so I feel like I somehow let him down. He doesn't talk about his feelings often, so I don't know what he actually thinks, but he set a great example. In some way, that makes it worse: no matter what I do or how hard I try, my hypothetical kid too will be subject to that black hole and may tumble into it, further perpetuating the manhood ritual.

What a great essay about a stupid world.
posted by Turkey Glue at 6:39 PM on January 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


He was writing his story, and about what she meant to him then, and what she means to him now.

Yes, I totally agree that is what he was doing.

He was just confused and desperate and lonely and horny and ashamed, like a lot of kids, and he did some shitty stuff he would later regret.

Totally agree here too, though I would take out the "just."

Also, if you haven't been a kid with a Huge, Shameful Secret, maybe you should cut him a little slack.

And as a result of the above I agree that this is exactly what a lot of people are going to walk away from the essay feeling, which is the part that I think is total bullshit. Would it be enough of a Huge Shameful Secret, in your estimation, to have been pinned up against the lockers by a bunch of boys and have them force their hands into your underwear? What about "just" being restrained by one of them and having your chest grabbed by another, while riding home on the bus? Would it be enough of a Huge Shameful Secret to be pressured into sex acts by guys you thought you were your friends, and then have them boast about it as the whole school called you vicious names? That is the sort of thing that happens to young girls all over the world, every fucking day - many of whom then cut themselves, develop eating disorders, commit suicide, or just flail for a long time - just because they are girls and because it's just what all boys do because they are confused, desperate lonely and horny and we should cut them a little slack.

Or not. I am glad that he wrote his story but I'm not going to accept a takeaway that includes ==> therefore we should cut him a little slack. To me it misses the point. We can't trade one bad thing for another.
posted by cairdeas at 6:51 PM on January 16, 2013 [18 favorites]


That is the sort of thing that happens to young girls all over the world, every fucking day - many of whom then cut themselves, develop eating disorders, commit suicide, or just flail for a long time - just because they are girls and because it's just what all boys do because they are confused, desperate lonely and horny and we should cut them a little slack.

I have to agree. I was horrified when my friend told me that this guy she liked invited her over to his house to work on a history project together when she was 15 and he took it out and forced her head into his lap to perform oral sex.

Since then, I've been hearing so much similar stuff that happened to girls at the hands of teen boys. It's sick and awful.
posted by discopolo at 7:01 PM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


It’s been more than 10 years since I was a teenager, and the older I get, the more incomprehensible I find my younger self. I look back on the period between puberty and legal drinking age not nostalgic or remorseful, but baffled. Who is this guy? What the fuck is he doing?

He's in for a time when he hits his fifties and he tries to figure his twenty-something self out, too. It's ongoing.
posted by jokeefe at 7:05 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I totally agree with what you've posted here about the sickening acts young women and girls are routinely subjected to, cairdeas - but it also sounds like a couple of different things are getting conflated in the last paragraph. I think a more direct analogy would be, if a girl who had been made a target because of her gender went on to do or say some fucked up things that propagated the cycle of sexual oppression, should we cut her a little slack?
posted by en forme de poire at 7:12 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I guess I have a hard time holding adults accountable for the gender oppression they perpetuated at the age of 13. Maybe instead we can focus on holding current 13 year olds to a higher standard.

It's not about cutting Mike any slack. Or cutting myself any slack. It's accepting that the past is the past - we can't change it, but we can learn from it.
posted by muddgirl at 7:30 PM on January 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


Or heck, holding current adults to a higher standard.
posted by muddgirl at 7:31 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


if a girl who had been made a target because of her gender went on to do or say some fucked up things that propagated the cycle of sexual oppression, should we cut her a little slack?

I wasn't trying to draw any kind of analogy. I was directly objecting to the idea that boys who are more oppressed than average in one way or another should be given some extra slack for sexually harassing young girls.

But to directly answer this question - no! Of course not! Look, the point is to stop looking for what is a good enough excuse for people to treat others as subhuman, and just stop doing it.
posted by cairdeas at 7:31 PM on January 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


Maybe instead we can focus on holding current 13 year olds to a higher standard.

Maybe instead we can focus on helping them meet a higher standard.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:31 PM on January 16, 2013


Or yeah, whatever terminology you want to use. I thought my point was clear.
posted by muddgirl at 7:32 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was directly objecting to the idea that boys who are more oppressed than average in one way or another should be given some extra slack for sexually harassing young girls.

I agree with this point, but I think the use of the word "young" here is a little inflammatory, since the asshole guys are also young. Doesn't excuse it, but there are reasons we don't hold 13-year-olds as accountable for the shit things they do compared to adults who act similarly.

I never physically or mentally harassed girls, but I saw it happen--and didn't do anything. Which makes me an accessory, really, and it's pretty crappy to look back on my 12-year-old self and realize I just wasn't that great a person. Of course, my classmates, boys and girls alike, rationalized it away whenever it happened: "That's just what Chris does, he doesn't mean anything by it!" Message being "Chris stuck his hand in your pants? Happens to everyone, don't sweat it."

(If I had to explain why I said nothing, I'm nearly 100% sure that it was because I feared being beat up. As an adult, I don't like getting beat up, either, but realize there are worse things, like having to live with not saying anything/stopping the assault. But another part of that is, as an adult, you know you have channels to deal with physical assault, whether it's at the time or later, via the law; as a middle-schooler, it's all too clear that you likely are setting yourself up to being perpetually beat-up, for now and evermore. It's, again, shitty to be so self-centered, but I suspect I wasn't alone in that, it's one of the hallmarks of being a teenager.)
posted by maxwelton at 7:50 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


This isn't trying to be journalism - this is a personal essay. He doesn't say how she feels because he doesn't know; he didn't ask then, he hasn't asked now, and though he thought about her as more than just a sex object, he certainly didn't refer to her as such out loud, because he cared about fitting in and was too preoccupied with doing that.

But that's the whole point. It's a confessional, not a plea for absolution, written from the only perspective he can truly state - his own. If he were to attempt to extrapolate how she was feeling, he wouldn't be talking about his personal struggle, he would be speculating about his impact, and it could (and would) be said to be putting words and emotions onto her. The only person he can truly speak for is himself. This isn't her story - he doesn't have the right to tell that. He's doing what he can do, which is say 'I was often a bad person in school, and this is the how and why of it.' He's telling his story. And telling it well.

Sometimes, you write something because you need to express what happened in the best way you know how. Again, this is a personal essay, not reporting - there's no expectation for balance of perspectives.
posted by gadge emeritus at 7:53 PM on January 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


But to directly answer this question - no! Of course not! Look, the point is to stop looking for what is a good enough excuse for people to treat others as subhuman, and just stop doing it.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I believe seeing the traumas that have led someone to behave in a certain way (especially pre-adulthood) can make you see them more sympathetically without needing to then also excuse their behavior or rationalize it away. I don't see empathizing with someone and thinking they acted wrongly as necessarily being in conflict. Probably "slack" was a poor choice of words - I think muddgirl articulated that much better upthread.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:18 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I read the article, and I'm glad I did. But, god, it really makes me fucking depressed, and angry. I kind of expected that, given the subject matter. I got out my axe when the comment was made about the young boy "assaulting someone for no reason" and I was ready to grind it until he started explaining how he chose to hide his gay.
Fucking. Shit. I did not expect to end the article being pissed off at the author.

I'm really glad you spoke up, cairdeas.
the point is to stop looking for what is a good enough excuse for people to treat others as subhuman, and just stop doing it.
Exactly. I feel like this article isn't really "An Open Letter to the Girl I Pretended To Have a Crush On in Eighth Grade", but more like "I Was a Piece of Shit Teenager and I Need to Feel Better About Myself, Listen to Me Half-Heartedly Self Deprecate".

I don't remember much of middle school, or early high school. It sucked and life sucked and everything was terrible. It was bad enough without having to deal with jerkwads like this guy. I developed early on, and there was one kind in particular, in middle school, who never called me by name- he referred to me as Melons. He talked frequently and loudly about the sexcapades he'd like to do to me. 12 years old and treated like a sex toy. That doesn't even cover the random groping and advances and callouts that I had to deflect. A different kid liked to sneak up in the cafeteria and grop and/or stab my boobs with a fucking safety pin.

But I don't think I'm being too biased when I say this guy is a piece of shit. Period. I do agree with en forme de poire that, yes, it's possible to empathize with someone while also thinking their actions wrong. But I have no pity for him. He didn't have to go about it that way. He could have chosen a hundred other way to mask his homosexuality, but no. He actively chose to do so by openly and publicly himilating and sexually harassing young girls. And that makes him a piece of shit.
posted by FirstMateKate at 8:36 PM on January 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


But I don't think I'm being too biased when I say this guy is a piece of shit. Period.

Was, anyway. I don't think there's really any wiggle-room on that either, but I don't know if I'd feel terribly comfortable extrapolating it into the present. If nothing else he seems to fully recognize how fucked up this was, and how it had changed him, and from other pieces he's written how he looks back and cannot understand what the fuck he was doing as a kid.

I feel like judging this article as nothing more than some kind of plea for absolution is a little tenuous. It could just as easily be an exercise in self-flagellation (which I guess you could argue is often undertaken to make oneself feel better, but I didn't feel like that was the sole purpose if it), and that's sort of how it felt to me. But then, I've only slept 3 hours in the last 48, so my current grasp of it might not be the best.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 9:28 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


This guy has a great future as a writer ahead of him.

Possibly, though he writes like a compulsive liar.
posted by fleacircus at 10:50 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Cairdeas, I'm not excusing what the guy did. And neither is he. He did a really shitty thing. But he didn't rape anybody, he never held anybody against a locker or any of the other horrible acts you bring up. I'm talking about what he did, not crimes committed by other people.

I never lied about anybody like that, but I did some shitty things when I was young. I bet you did, too. Kids are fucked up and crazy, and almost everybody did something to be ashamed of, when they were young. Being a stupid little shit is part of growing up. He told nasty lies about a girl, and he kind of knew it was wrong at the time, but it wasn't until years later that he realized how awful it really was. And now that he has finally understood what he did wrong, he's talking about it. That is not a bad thing.

I was trying to give his behavior some context, which (again!) is not the same as excusing it. If he had been a straight boy telling these lies about a girl, that would've been one kind of awful. But he was gay, and his shame about that twisted him up and made this a different kind of crime. He wasn't lashing out at her out of anger or frustrated lust or any of the reasons a straight boy might claim to have. He was using her as a prop in a desperate attempt to make himself look straight, because he was a self-loathing gay kid and he had the utter selfishness and the callousness of youth and he didn't stop and think (back then) about how what he was doing could hurt somebody else.

"the point is to stop looking for what is a good enough excuse for people to treat others as subhuman, and just stop doing it."

In order for people to stop doing this stuff, they have to really understand what it is, what it means, and why it's wrong. That means talking about it honestly, with all its individual complexity. I think that's what this guy did. He told his story, without excuses and without making himself out as the victim.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:10 AM on January 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


The story begins and ends with the girl who said "go fuck yourself". He's not writing about how she might have felt, nor should he. But to not even acknowledge that his continued action actually repeatedly hurt this woman (and others) — this woman he exalts, owing her stunning beauty and greatness — actually deserving those words and not simply that it hurt to hear them...it does come off a bit self-absorbed, to say the least.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:21 AM on January 17, 2013


Iamkimiam, he does say up front that he deserved it when she told him to fuck himself. I don't know that he could have talked more about how his lies affected her, without him having to make up stuff he didn't witness. He saw her acting angry and cold toward him, and in a private conversation he heard another guy say she was a slut, based on something he'd said.

(Note that it doesn't sound like he ever said he'd done anything sexual with her, or that he knew anybody who had. He spread lies about her enjoying the fit of a schoolgirl uniform, and going to see While You Were Sleeping with him. And he said he wanted her to wrap her thighs around him like a python, not that she had.)

It sounds like he never saw an instance where somebody treated her badly based on his lies, and he never talked to her about it.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:55 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


What? He literally says he deserved it. He uses the word "deserve" even. It's the whole point of the piece, clearly and explicitly stated at the beginning and end.
posted by Nattie at 3:37 AM on January 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Gah, you're all right. I stand corrected. I need to think more clearly about what I'm objecting to, obvs. I'm super conflicted about this piece, based on my initial impression of it + the comments in this thread. All over the place...
posted by iamkimiam at 3:41 AM on January 17, 2013


Can essays like this be written, then? I mean, there's no going back in time to change what happened...if people cannot talk about their shitty pasts, relating only the stuff they actually know, how can anyone learn, change or try to get the kids in their lives to not follow paths like this? I didn't think he was asking for forgiveness, or looking for an excuse for his behavior.

I have been jolted out of a pleasant reverie by thoughts of the only physically violent act I ever committed against another person--I threw sand in a kid's eyes when he was bugging me on the playground. In the fourth grade. 35 years ago! I still regret it, along with a slew of less violent but still shitty behaviors. I don't want forgiveness from that kid, I'm not going to track him down and see if he remembers and say I'm sorry. (As we've also discussed, that apparently isn't cool, either. Plus he was also being a shit, pummeling me with a rolled up magazine for reasons I never knew--I suspect I just happened to be closest--a shit-fest all the way 'round.) If I had kids, I would like to think the continued haunting of my act would prompt me to try and give them better ways of dealing with kids who are bugging them.

But without reading this essay, I'd have no exposure to this type of crappy behavior (honestly, I hadn't really thought about gay boys harassing girls to keep other boys in the dark; I knew that young gay folks often dated the other gender out of denial or confusion, but had always thought of that as an earnest thing, not an active sham). So without this, I'd have no way to try and pass along lessons from it to any kids in my life that might help keep another girl (or, I suppose, guy) from being crapped on in this manner.

If this had been published in maxwelton magazine, as editor I'd probably want to run an accompanying piece which pointed out just how shitty this is for the girls involved; this essay would be really interesting paired with a similar story told from the other side, as it were. But on the author's own blog, penned as a personal examination? It's fine.
posted by maxwelton at 4:29 AM on January 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


A great number of people, especially here, think of themselves as bullied or picked on, and I imagine that even for the "blessed" popular/jock types, that time of human psychosocial development is pretty terrible. While it's interesting to read the motivations of bullies, and how they get that way, but I think the reason essays like this rub people the wrong way, is because of what comes across as a form of greed: He makes a good point about introverts covering by hunching over notebooks, or hiding behind novels at lunch or whatever, keeping to themselves, something most people who felt similarly socially awkward can relate to. The point at which the sympathy stops for most readers, is when it stops being a way to just survive the day, and instead begins thriving on ill-gotten social capital. I think it's a matter of degrees: everyone understands how money works, and no one faults a poor person for cutting corners or pinching pennies to get by, but when it escalates to grifters, con-men, and bankers, it stops being noble, and then it becomes hard to be glad for someone who made it out, if they did so by stepping over your bullied, marginalized, suffering, etc frame to do so.

That's not how *I* read it anyway, but I can see why it seems to get this kind of reaction.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 10:30 AM on January 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think as long as girls are routinely used as sexualized, terrorized figures in stories about male personal development, I will have very little interest in a mediocre personal piece admitting to all the shitty fucking things he did to a girl as a kid. Stories don't have to be hidden and repressed, but there is a message in which stories you choose to tell and how.

Actually I am just so tired of hearing this stuff from guys-- in real life, in fiction, as a form of harassment-- that reading the piece was tedious work. It's possible to spin many a cruelty into something touching and heartbreaking and sympathetic without being self-absorbed, and I really don't think this guy did that. He's got a talent for a certain type of effect but this story didn't tell me anything I didn't know or show me something in a way I'd never thought about it before. I could write a lot of stories about regret and people I've treated badly were there something truly contemplative or revealing in them, but this guy is plainly just talking about himself to me.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:45 AM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think what strikes me is there is very little perspective in this story-- we're only getting a very simple, contrived version of the monologue in his head at the time, with very little sense of realistic personal conflict within the frame that it was happening. I don't feel like I'm hearing this story through the mind of a teenaged boy, and I don't feel like the adult version of this guy is pitting himself against objectivity very often or with much aplomb. The sense of reflection is very shallow and the girl is, as cairdeas mentioned, being used as a lazy rhetorical device to make a confession he thinks is sufficiently treated by a bit of cliche regret and an unelaborated promise that he never did it again. We're supposed to feel bad for her, but she's mostly a cipher-- really we're supposed to feel bad for him. It's all so very pat. I'm all about personal essays, but this ends up in such an unsatisfying, unprobing place.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:56 AM on January 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think what strikes me is there is very little perspective in this story-- we're only getting a very simple, contrived version of the monologue in his head at the time, with very little sense of realistic personal conflict within the frame that it was happening.

I actually agree with this, but I took that to mean he really wasn't that conflicted while it was happening, and I think that's not an accident but one of the things the story is trying to highlight. The teen narc story he wrote has a similar sense of sort of acting on a self-interested, privileged auto-pilot - repeatedly failing to exercise his own moral agency, or misapplying it, even when he can see that he's hurting people - as well as the same flatness of emotional range. So I think that's one of the themes he's trying to engage with.

I'd certainly love to hear something in the same vein written from Tracy's perspective, though.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:37 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe he's trying to engage with it... but then the kind of saccharine "A Letter to That Girl" and "I'm so sorry Tracy, never ever again" stuff is just kind of flat and unnecessary. Like, I don't see what purpose that stuff serves. Probably would have better luck just writing the ambiguities without weakly trying to tie them up that way.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:50 PM on January 19, 2013


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