Sunday, June 28, 2015

I Just Discovered a Fear of Mine! And You Can, Too!

I had a dream a few weeks ago where I fell into the ocean and was surrounded by giant jellyfish, floating blobs of inevitable yet random death by stinging. I was caught in the waves and trying my best to avoid the tentacles, although who was I kidding? I am a land creature, ill-equipped to handle the density of water in any meaningful way, except to flail about fruitlessly. The dream came to a close just as the largest of the jellyfish rode a wave right into me, and I woke up in a cold sweat.

Fast forward to last week, and Three and I are visiting Sullivan's Island, one of our favorite beaches in Charleston, SC. Everything about the day is absolutely perfect: not too hot, sunshine with some clouds, cool but not chilly ocean, the tide is high, etc. I'm playing in the waves and then feel something hard hit my leg. I turn and see this jellyfish, just floating aimlessly next to me, and I freeze. Well, freeze is not necessarily the word. My brain freezes, completely terrified, but my body starts to back away and I'm panting and freaking out. I scan the rest of my immediate area and notice that there are at least three jellyfish close to me, and I nearly have a mental breakdown. Three guides me back to the shore, with me apologizing the whole time ... because reasons. He's left the water before because he saw a fish jumping frantically - a definite sign of a shark's presence* - and he is deathly afraid of sharks. However, I still felt like I'd ruined our time there. We made our way over to a cove where there were no jellyfish, but I kept apologizing.

Back when I was a kid, my mom told me about jellyfish stings and how much they hurt, mostly out of precaution, because I was a pretty adventurous little thing. I was the girl who'd pick up nearly any creature that would let me, and I was lucky that most of them were too small or too terrified to do anything when I did. Turtles, fiddler crabs, kittens, snakes, baby goats ... it didn't matter. Naturally, my mom assumed I would be thrilled by the idea of a gelatinous goop on the beach and end up getting my ass stung, and she wasn't necessarily wrong here. But afterward, every time we were on the beach, I'd follow in her footsteps - like, literally - just to make sure that I'd avoid the dreaded jellyfish blobs. She thought it was pretty cute as I jumped along after her, carefully scanning the immediate sand for any inkling of this silent, translucent evil. For me, though, it was about survival. Which is actually hilarious, because I was, like, three or four.

I guess I never really thought about jellyfish that much until we started going to Sullivan's Island. They're a pretty frequent sight on the beach, washed up and mostly tentacle-less, especially after a storm, but for the most part, they're easy to spot and avoid, even in the water. I'd had close encounters with jellyfish before last week, and I'd been appropriately freaked out, but not enough to go all fight or flight ... mostly flight, actually. That's a lie; it was all flight. Maybe it was the dream activating that deep-seated fear of mine, one that was formed when I was a single-digit.

Now, this whole ramble actually serves a bigger purpose, I promise. I firmly believe that the micro reflects the macro, like an atom is just a very small version of a solar system. I've been facing a lot of my fears over the past few months: jellyfish, pitching a comic idea to Oni Press, talking openly about my bisexuality, etc., and it seems like, in the United States, at least, we are being forced to look at many of our own issues, especially in terms of race, gender expression, and sexuality. I could write separate posts for all three of these, but that is definitely for another time. Because right now, it seems like there have been two major responses to each.
  1. NUH-UH, I WON'T LOOK AT IT. 
  2. OMG, HOW CAN YOU NOT LOOK AT IT?
Of course, there are definitely more nuanced opinions and combinations of the two, but that's not really the point of this post.

We don't want to look at the institutionalized racism in this country. It would mean that we would have to actually listen to those who are oppressed, even if it doesn't affect us directly, and then we would find ourselves living in a world where black and white (and I don't mean this in racial terms) do not really exist. I recently watched Champs**, a documentary about boxing that included the life stories of famous boxers Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, and Bernard Hopkins. At the end of the film, you feel a deep compassion for the men, who honestly talk about their upbringing, which was clearly affected by the oppression of black communities. Does it excuse away their actions - Tyson joined a gang at a young age, Hopkins began his boxing career in a prison as a very young man - in any way? No. But it does help paint a clearer picture of the struggles that those who are not born into a privileged position in society must overcome, or sometimes continue to fight, even after their days in the ring are over.

We don't want to think about the nine known murders (in 2015 alone) of trans women because that would mean leaving behind our surface support of celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox, both of whom are powerful statements for the trans community and have received so much more love and respect than I initially expected, and recognizing that trans people are marginalized and persecuted for just trying to be who they truly are. We have such a hard time not lumping people together into easily recognizable groups that we don't see the individuals, those who don't adhere to a gender stereotype. I mean, I'm all for Ruby Rose and I think it's wonderful that she's bringing the idea of gender fluidity into the spotlight, but she is just one person, one individual who does not speak for everyone who identifies as neither male nor female. Part of her*** acceptability as a spokesperson for gender fluidity is because she's beautiful and white, and I don't think she would disagree with me on this point. But what if she were not as attractive? I can't say that I would expect her to receive such attention, at least not in the positive light. I would love to be wrong about that, obviously, because I like to think that people are better than they let on.

We want to believe the Supreme Court decision to bring marriage equality to all 50 states is that final step, that now we can stop talking about the discrimination the queer community faces on a daily basis. But it isn't. When taking down the Confederate battle flag****, we aren't suddenly cured of racism country-wide, and so it is with "allowing" same-sex marriages failing to rid our nation of homophobia. Mississippi is already threatening to cease the issuance of marriage licenses altogether, and Louisiana is dragging its heels in implementing the law, based on "religious freedom." Conservative leaders like Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and James Dobson are signing pledges, stating that they will fight against gay rights, and it's still legal in many states for a non-hetero person to get fired from their job because they are not straight. There is just so much to think about and fight for, and this is only a snippet of what my community must deal with.

Uphill battles give you tunnel vision: you can only see one jellyfish at a time. But if you glance to your side, to your back, another pops up, then another, and another, and then you're just overwhelmed. I get that. Hell, I froze, both with my literal jellyfish and when I think of all the things that need to be examined in full. Retreat may be necessary, to regroup, to dissect the situation, but to flee totally and stay in your own bubble of privilege (I'm speaking to myself here)? You don't learn anything that way. Keep venturing into that ocean. Look at your own biases, your own reactions, your own feelings: know your fear.

Does this mean that I'm going to venture out into the Atlantic and try to reason with a creature that doesn't even have a brain and just floats with the currents? No. Statistically, jellyfish kill eight times as many people than sharks do (take that, Three!) and injure a ridiculous number more. I'm not going to bury my head in the sand and hope eventually they'll all go away, because, who am I kidding? According to Science (TM), global warming is actually producing environments that are perfect for increased jelly populations. That is horrifying. As U.S. citizens become more and more aware that the majority opinion is less of a rule and more of a "whoever has the power" sort of thing, we will have to approach sensitive topics like the ones I mentioned above. We won't be able to tackle everything at once, but dammit, we have to start somewhere. And that means that we have to be honest and open with what we fear most: going backwards.

* Well, kinda. It could also be a bigger fish or a dolphin, both of which we've seen in the area. Or hell, the fish could have just been happy to be alive or wanted to show off for his other fishy friends. We'll never know.
** I highly recommend watching this film. It's currently available on Netflix and will definitely leave you thinking.
*** Ruby Rose uses feminine pronouns, so until she states otherwise, I will be using them.
**** The flag that flies over a lot of the South is not even the official flag of the defunct Confederacy.
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