So Tonight that I Might See

After seeing virtually every comedian I follow on Instagram rave about Hannah Gadsby’s standup special, Nanette, I watched it. It’s powerful, essential viewing. Go watch it. Now.

But.

I totally get that white male privilege is a thing, and that white male privilege is A) absolutely toxic to women and minorities, B) all around us and totally inescapable to those who are the victims of it, and C) something this lazy, marginally talented white dude has definitely benefited from. I don’t dispute any of that, and as someone who spends most of his day working with women, I’ve tried hard in the last few years to make sure I’m listening to and doing what I can to privilege the voices of the smart, strong, passionate women in my classes.

But on a purely personal level, generalities are weird things. I know I’m unavoidably part of the straight white male power structure. Again, I get it. But locally, individually, it’s weird to be condemned for that by Gadsby and other women when I practically bathe in inferiority every day of my life.

My default setting is that I’m always wrong. My insecurity runs so deep that I haven’t been able to hold an authentic conversation with anyone in years because my brain is always trying to second-guess what the other person is thinking about me. I actively avoid mirrors and photos because seeing what I look like ruins my day. I wonder every day if I’m going to return to work tomorrow because it’s only a matter of time until everyone realizes just how incompetent I actually am.

I didn’t ask to be a straight white dude any more than Gadbsy asked to be a lesbian. I hate that this is the legacy I’m unwittingly a part of. While I may not always succeed, I make a conscious effort to live a life that distances me as far as possible from the mansplainers and the Bernie Bros of the world. But I also know – and Gadbsy’s special makes it abundantly clear – that I’ll never be able to completely distance myself from their toxicity precisely because of the inevitability of biology and the privilege it automatically grants me. And that’s something that’s hard to reconcile. That’s something I don’t know what to do with.

It’s impossible for me to square how I see myself with how Gadbsy and other women implicitly see me.

Of course – the previous seven paragraphs notwithstanding – I’m in no position to complain. And it’s just illustrating Gadsby’s point that I’ve made her special all about me. But I fully recognize that my tribe has been generalizing about and marginalizing anyone not straight and white and male for centuries. Now it’s my turn. And that’s fine. On behalf of the assholes who came before me, I get it.

But that doesn’t make the generalities sting any less. I suppose that’s Gadsby’s point. And the fact that an hour-long standup special can elicit this kind of reflection and analysis is all the more reason why you should watch it immediately.

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Time for the Rest of Your Life

After thinking about Anthony Bourdain and seeing what other people have posted about his suicide, one theme emerges time and again: despite what’s happening on the outside, you just never know the pain someone’s experiencing on the inside.

As I think about this and its connection to my own life, here’s something we all can do, and it’s simple: the next time we ask someone how he or she is doing, mean it. The question is almost always used as a meaningless pleasantry that serves as a conversational placeholder until we can get to what we really want to talk about. For that reason, the response to that question is also usually cursory, superficial: “I’m fine” or “I’m good” or, for the grammatically savvy, “I’m well.”

I’m guilty of this on both sides of the equation. My “how ya doin’?” is meant to convey general interest, and its slangy familiarity is an attempt at casual friendliness. But how often do I ask it and listen – I mean REALLY LISTEN – to the reply before blowing past it and onto whatever we’re talking about next?

And when someone else asks me this, my response is almost always, “I’m good!” But the truth is simple: I’m not good. I’ve gotten skilled at hiding it, but I’ve been dealing with my own stuff — job-related depression and anxiety, mostly — for almost two years now. An honest answer to this question would be something like, “I’ve been struggling for a while” or “I’m feeling kind of lost” or “I’m not sure what my value is anymore.” And who has time for that? Why would I burden anyone with my own issues?

But maybe we need to make time for each other. To ask and listen. To share and respond. If we want to do our small part to prevent more Anthony Bourdains and Scott Hutchisons and Robin Williamses – as well as all the other unnamed people who might not be famous but whose loss is no less important, no less painful – maybe we need to make more of an effort to learn how people are doing on the inside, even if they seem good on the outside.

To ask, “How are you doing?” and really want to hear the answer, whatever it might be.