there are no paths to penance. there is no conversation. no trial. your needs do not matter. your voice does not matter. the only identity you can claim is the one we’ve given you.
i don't remember much about the actual conversation. don't know that any resolutions were reached. that there was any sort of accountability plan beyond my scorching. i'm still not sure what the goal was. i remember reading dozens of comments telling me to die. reminding me that the world would be better off without me in it. watching people i considered loved ones call for my head on a stake. even after pouring out all the truths once held in my chest. after 3 years of taking all the steps available to me to enter the gates of accountability. even still, here i sat in a humid white jeep, angling my phone to steal wifi from the mcdondalds next door while a woman who called herself an abolitionist asked me to commit to social suicide.
will you shut the fuck up forever? will you agree that you are too evil to be trusted with any kind of platform ever again? will you hand over your account with all those delicious followers? will you give away all the money you’ve earned, not for community support or to the dozens of gofundmes being shared daily, but to me for the labor of publicly executing you? will you remove yourself from community spaces and live the rest of your life in solitude? will you call yourself a rapist out loud for hundreds of thousands of people to see and hear? will you serve as a projection for everyone that's ever hurt any of us? will you accept and atone for all of our pain?
in that parking lot i felt fear, then sadness and finally a storm of anger and confusion so potent, my only response was a thick, disgust-laden scoff that bubbled out of my chest. i remember laughing out loud. thinking of the hilarity of choosing to attend my own capital punishment. the sheer comedy in really believing that an instagram live could be a proxy for true transformative justice. these same people fighting for abolition and emergent strategy were just as happy to see me dead if it meant not having to endure complex conversations. no grey areas allowed. people are bad or good and there is no overlap. no forgiveness. no growth. the clear contradictions of the “community’s” claimed belief systems and its actions were so apparent in that moment. all i could do was laugh.
i have tried to die more times than i’ve admitted to those who have asked. i could not see a path through the burnt bits in my head. i spent months toying with the idea of opting out altogether. actively planning the end. everyone would be happier if i just stopped trying so hard to breathe. things would be so much simpler if i could finally be allowed to rest.
there is no happy ending here. only enough healing to take a few steps back and understand that nothing about my exit from community was humane. it was not regenerative or healing or a positive model for community accountability. it was actively destructive, and dare i say ‘harmful’. it was an assault on my spirit and an attempt to snuff the light from my eyes.
i get a little better every day. i replay those comments a little less every week. i am rebuilding my self image and building a real-life community comfortable with shades of grey. i spend less time in virtual spaces and more time with my toes buried in dirt. still, sometimes with no obvious triggers, that instagram live, those comments, those words; they come back to life and my chest tightens, my lungs empty and i’m back in that parking lot, sweating through my t-shirt, gripping my partner’s hand, willing my body not to give up on me.
i’m reading an email from someone trapped in another community-fueled hate storm. they want to know how i survived. how i’ve been able to continue drawing air into my lungs. how i haven't crumbled under the weight of all the losses. they ask for a plan. a list. something that boils accountability down into ten easy steps. something to teach them how to love themself again. how to make friends in real life. how to stop replaying the worst of it in your head. the official guide to ‘a better way.’
i have nothing to offer. i am all out of content. drained of helpful infographics. exhausted by the thought of pretending to have it together. so i respond with the only truth i know. ‘just stay alive, friend. eventually it all comes back to you.’
* more stuff here...eventually.