What do Taylor Swift and Beyoncé have in common?
Now, now, bear with me. This isn’t the opening line of a joke or a think piece where I’m about to whitesplain the plot of Lemonade.
“Not much” is the answer in reality. But one thing they do have in common is something I’ve been meditating heavily on the last few days. Both women have been criticized for putting people who have hurt them on blast—men in particular. They’ve been criticized for taking the very real, harmful things people did and said to them and making art out of them.
This happens all the time whether you’re famous or not. How many of us have told the story of the way an abusive ex or an abusive family member or an abusive church hurt us in the past, only to be told condescendingly by self-important religious people with wagging tongues and pointed fingers that it was gossip to tell the truth about what happened to you—that if you were really holy, you would only be angry one-on-one, in private. Or maybe it was family member, who, concerned about the family reputation, hushed or shamed or bullied you. Maybe it was a pastor, quoting Jesus’ oft-twisted words from Matthew 18 in order to cover his own ass. (I have to believe Jesus makes the eye-roll emoji face 90% of the time someone opens their mouth to recite those verses.)
I myself have spent years letting the devil of self-doubt hang out on my shoulder, whispering things like, What will your family think? What will your church think? What if everyone thinks you’re a bitch if you get too angry about what happened? What if everyone thinks you’re making it all up for attention?
These are lies of course, manufactured in a pit of anxiety and two decades of shame-based empty religiosity, but it’s sometimes hard to remember that in the moment.
And so we hush ourselves.
Try to make ourselves smaller,
Pretend it didn’t happen,
or it wasn’t so bad.
Tell ourselves that it’s just too much trouble,
getting angry about it now,
this late in the game.
The words of Anne Lamott ring in my ears frequently these days.
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
I meditate on them, roll them around in my mouth and taste the nuances of their truth. People did things to me. Things that really sucked. They really did do them. It really did hurt. Nothing can take that away. Nothing can change that.
It is okay to write about it.
It is okay to make art out of it.
It is okay to create something beautiful with it
and in that way,
in some small way,
in a way that matters to me—
to redeem it.
No one should be made to feel shame or to apologize for telling the truth about the things that really did happen to them.
That means you. That means me.
To hell with what your friends or your family or your coworkers or your church or your past acquaintances you are somehow still friends with on Facebook will think.
Also, to hell with interpretations of the words of Jesus that are twisted to mean that you should just shut up and be nice about the horrible things religious people did to you in the name of a “god” that doesn’t deserve the title.
“You own everything that happened to you.”
You really do. So do I.
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