I remember a time when meeting someone who was just as damaged was a bit of a relief. Everyone walking…
Tonight, Bruce Jenner went on television and made his (he did say that until he emerges as a woman he would still like to use the pronoun “he”) announcement that he was transgender. It’s 2015, if you offended by this you really need to take a strong look inside you and ask why you’re so upset. People are different. It has always been like this and it always will. So you can either choose to be upset by people you don’t understand or you can learn to appreciate the individuals who are brave enough to come out and be themselves. I have been on both sides of this debate and I can tell you that judging people on their character, and not on their looks, is actually very liberating. But that is nothing you shouldn’t already know and that isn’t what this is about.
During the interview, Bruce repeatedly mentioned how difficult it was pretending to be someone he wasn’t. Whether you agree with what gender he identifies is irrelevant. I don’t think there is a person out there that could deny how tough it has been and will most certainly be for her once she emerges. But that isn’t what this is about either.
What this is about is that Bruce Jenner made it. Navigating social pressures and conventions and at 65 years old had the courage to use his spotlight to be a voice for the unheard because he knows people are watching.
Earlier today, I was thinking about an interview I did a few years ago. At the end, the interviewer thanked me for my time and told me how strong I was to have survived sexual abuse and had gone on to write books and articles on the subject. My initial reaction was to deflect the compliment because I didn’t feel like I earned it. What I wanted to say was that I only wrote what I did to get it out, a purely selfish act. The great purge from my brain to a screen. And the only reason why I put it out into the world was that once people know your secrets, personally, it feels as if it disarms the nukes. I gain strength from the vulnerability. In the way that you become stronger from a punch to the gut when you realize you can still stand up and walk away because you know you can take it. And fuck them for thinking you couldn’t, you know? I know it might sound odd to some, but I know there are a few out there that can identify with that kind of mentality. But I simply said, “Thank you.”
I guess what I’m getting at is that for as invisible as we all might seem, there is someone out there watching us. Whether it is your friend or your niece or your neighbor you only see at backyard barbecues – someone is watching you. Someone is watching how you respond. How you handle yourself. Someone out there is subconsciously following in your footsteps. While I know that Bruce Jenner has millions of followers and I have a handful sprinkled across a few countries, the amount of people isn’t as important as what you leave them with. Because your perceived strength is inspiration whether you like it or not.
I never set out to motivate anyone with my stories of abuse. I wrote them so I could sleep at night. And I almost didn’t release 4AM Friends. Those stories would have died in a manuscript in a dumpster in some back alley and I would have been just fine because my fingers did their job of mashing out the pain. But I needed to take it a step further and share my pain because that is my job as a writer – to consistently produce art that is challenging and vulnerable. Because if I’m not challenging myself, I might as well avoid my insecurities and go work at McDonalds… hell, I would probably make more money, but I do what I do because apparently I like being continuously punched in the gut.
I began getting emails. They started slowly but have remained relatively consistent over the years. So many wonderful people who write and say how my story has helped them in one way or another. And it’s funny, because with each email I read I think, “I didn’t write this for you – I wrote this for me. If you only knew how selfish that endeavor was.” But I don’t say that. I say, “Thank you.” Over and over, I say it in the best ways I can because I had no idea people were watching that closely. Most people who write to me I have never met, we are not Facebook friends, and odds are, I will never hear the sound of their voice. But I do know what I left them with. And sure, while it was initially a selfish motive, I had no idea that it would have blossomed into something even more incredible. Because people were watching and listening and paying attention and somewhere along the line I learned to at least attempt to make my tiny corner of the world a little less shitty. And that has always been my goal since the beginning.
You never know who is watching. Someone out there is waiting for you to inspire them, even in the smallest of ways. Someone looks to you for answers or inspiration. And sure, you don’t owe anyone anything. None of you are obligated to behave in any specific way – but wouldn’t it be awesome if you did? What if you did act like you were influencing someone? What if you did “become the change you want to see in the world”?
Sometimes we don’t realize the power we have. In the same way that neglectful parents or sexually abusive family members have the power to negatively impact a childhood, they have equal power to make them amazing. I’m not telling you how to live, that’s not my job. But wouldn’t it be such a good use of your power and influence if you did live like someone was watching?
Because they are.