I learned something yesterday that I have not previously been able to put into words. I am a person of infinite passion, but extremely finite patience.
I am frequently accused by people who perceive themselves as the target of my passion (whether it is them or their ideologies, and even whether or not it is anything about them at all or someone else entirely), of thinking patterns that either closely resemble or explicitly fulfil the criteria for borderline personality disorder. I am also frequently accused of narcissism, territorial behaviours, bullying, badgering, picking fights, being deliberately antagonistic and/or belligerent, and so on. Paradoxically, I am also frequently accused of passive aggression, though I am rarely if ever passive. Most often, when someone feels hurt or offended by something I feel very strongly about, malice and manipulation are attributed to my passion.
But the problem isn’t that I am fiercely passionate about what I believe, or that I am rarely ambivalent. The fault lies in the fact that I have limited patience.
People who are very close to me will probably be surprised by this — at least until they observe my interactions with people who are distant to me — because I often spend a great deal of time and energy engaging in work with my hands that requires a great deal of patience. They may even think that my passions simply transfer directly from a good feeling to a bad one on a moment’s notice when I’m angered about something, and may believe for this reason that I have a short fuse and am easily angered by nearly anything bad. And that’s not really accurate. I get mad about very specific kinds of things, and it is those very specific kinds of things for which I have such a noticeable limit on my available patience.
Several examples of the kinds of things that actually anger me happened all at once yesterday (e.g., racism, sexism, twisting of the concept of social privilege to use even the language of social justice to further social inequality), and even continued in a self-righteous blog comment in which a white guy actually thinks momentarily that he’s Samuel L. Jackson (and apparently that Jackson is the character he portrayed in Pulp Fiction — this entire line of thought is riddled with problems but I am just not even dealing with it), rather than, say, quoting the character.
It is at this point that I also feel the need to distinguish further between when these problems are latent and when they have fully precipitated to the surface, for it is only when they have fully precipitated that I at last begin to rapidly run out of patience. I actually have a rather incredible store of tolerance for these problems so long as they remain latent, and I identify this as a fault that I need to work daily to interrogate, challenge within myself, and overcome. My growth as a person (and my strength or weakness as a social justice ally) rests on my ability to perceive of, acknowledge, adapt to, and become better than the faults that limit me—and my seemingly infinite tolerance for latent bigotry is certainly one of those weaknesses.
In fact, tolerance of latent bigotry is, in my experience, a fault that is far too common among most people. It is my belief that when Desmond Tutu said “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor,” he didn’t just mean to refer to people who do nothing while someone is beaten, raped, maimed, or murdered right in front of them. I believe he also meant to refer to people who do nothing to challenge the bigotry present in all of the fleeting remarks or passing moments that aren’t as explicitly abusive or oppressive as standing by watching someone being physically battered, but nevertheless hit us in the pit of our stomachs with the very vague sense that something is wrong and it is very serious. These moments are called microaggressions.
Some marginalized people experience so many microaggressions over their entire lifetime on a daily basis, that when bigotry finally rises to the surface to declare itself loud and clear, it is because of those hundreds of thousands of events of latent bigotry that many marginalized people just snap. They appear to have run completely out of patience over the space of a mere moment, but it is because they have been tolerating so much of it for far too long already.
Guess what? I am one of those people.
I put up with daily microaggressions of sexism and misogyny, racism and greater over-arching structures of neo-colonialism, classism and wealthsplaining, transphobia and outright denial of the legitimacy of trans* peoples’ identities, homophobia, ableism, phobia of people living with HIV/AIDS, fatphobia and several other forms of body-policing, and even domestic abuse, whether I’m the target or it’s someone I keep close to my heart. I put up with this nonsense even though it directly hurts me or targets my extended family, because I simply don’t have the energy to confront it every time it happens. When someone finally brings these things directly to my face, out in the open, and still expects me to treat them with the respect they feel inherently entitled to, you better damn well believe I’m going to lose it.
It is because of my increasing awareness of microaggressive behaviour that I am giving the appearances of a shorter and shorter fuse. And yet, despite this, some people insist on actively seeking out conflict with me, then accusing me of picking fights with people, being belligerent, or otherwise failing to keep my cool so that we can have a nice rational discussion about how they’re acting from a position of privilege with the express intent of hurting me or my extended family—and this is actually another form of microaggression called gaslighting (one which I have already frequently experienced before and during hundreds of similar conflicts over my lifetime).
Is there any mystery remaining as to why I appear to just fucking lose my shit?
Has it occurred to any of these conflict-seeking people yet that I am going to side with my extended family over their sexist, racist, transphobic, homophobic, ableist, classist, fatphobic, pozphobic, misogynistic, and/or neo-colonialist “friends”, every fucking time, without fail?
Has it occurred to any of them that their ideas and their “friends'” ideas are the first offensive strikes, and my aggression is a matter of self-defence rather than picking a fight? Have any of them thought about how many of those strikes I should be forced to submit to before defending myself is finally considered a reasonable measure of action?
When I’m about to lose my shit, I frequently feel my heart suddenly start pumping faster and harder. It’s exactly like how I’ve felt every time someone else was about to lose their shit—on me—exploiting any excuse they can find to justify using me as their own personal punching bag. If I’m speaking out loud while I’m on the verge of losing it, the tone of my voice will often suddenly change to one I don’t even like the sound of. This is also true of when either I or my extended family is the target of microaggression in any face-to-face interaction, whether or not I have even realized it on a conscious level.
As I’m actually in the process of flipping my fucking gourd, my face will often flush as my heart speeds up even faster. My mind will flood with thoughts that have run just barely latent for some duration already, of every time I have felt this physiological response to another person’s hatred in recent memory. I may realize exactly what is happening, and may have even anticipated this moment was coming already, and as such, make immediate efforts to remove myself from the cross-hairs without escalating the abuse or inciting further conflict. It’s something I learned to do growing up in an extremely abusive household—something I learned by sheer force of another person’s will, because my survival depended on it.
Failing to remove myself, or failing to realize the need and opportunity to remove myself, my most aggressive defence mechanisms become the tools I use to defend myself from being targeted any further by the hatred I have been exposed to leading up to that moment. This is where the yelling comes from in the rare instances I actually feel the need to raise my voice. This is where the string of profanity comes from. This is where I finally start to push back, because I’ve stopped caring if my perpetrator is made of glass. This is where I’ve picked a battle and chosen to stand my ground—whether or not it’s a worthy one is a separate issue.
This is also what I don’t remember being capable of prior to the age of about 12 years old, when I finally began having brief enough dissociative episodes that I was able to notice at last that I was blacking out and missing time. Prior to that, I was missing entire years without knowing what was going on or that time was missing. I didn’t get help until I was 18 years old, when a complete stranger could readily identify just how desperately I was in need of help. I was diagnosed in that first visit to a psychiatrist with dissociative identity disorder, and for two solid years while I struggled to find meaningful help, my newly-diagnosed mental health problem was used by mental health professionals to abuse me through the mental health system. It suffices to say that when other people have recently attempted to force a repetition of this same part of my history over simple disagreements, it’s hit a big nerve, and I haven’t spared anyone’s feelings in making that known to ensure my own safety.
As much as my dissociative identity disorder plays a central role in self-interrogating the nature of one of my own faults here, the disorder is characterized in part by an exaggeration of otherwise normal defensive behaviours that every single person has the capacity for within themselves, and which they will exercise without thinking in emergency situations or when they are being targeted by another person’s hostility, regardless of their individual mental health or wellness. And yet, if it weren’t for my capacity to involuntarily shut all my emotions down before I completely black out into a full-blown dissociative state, I wouldn’t even have this perspective on who I am and why.