I do this thing with the internet where I read way too much about one thing–a news story and the flood of responses to it, usually–and then spend days filled with disjointed rage at whatever happened and what it says about society and culture and i sputter on and on to c about it, trying to explain both the event and the cultural context (he’s lived in Denali a long, long time, and it’s only kind of America) until, exhausted, i just go back to pictures of cookies or flowers or something that i’ll be able to talk about in public without feeling completely weird, and feeling guilty about the degree to which i’ve chosen isolation and denial over engagement and participation.
But then sometimes i think, you know, that’s a silly thing to think, and really oversimplifies my community as being somehow separate from the rest of Society (and when i say that, i say it like a teenage stoner wearing shoes scribbled with anarchy symbols…do kids still do that?), as if that’s even possible. And just to get to my point, the latest internet black hole i’ve fallen down is #yesallwomen, and the platform the internet offers to the new generation of misogynists, and the women and men who are sharing stories of assault and harassment in an attempt to demonstrate just how common, even universal, it is for women to live with fear and anger about the societal expectation that men will feel entitled to their attention, at the least, and that violence will be a likely result. Fucking society, man. And as i read my friends’ Facebook posts about harassment on campuses and streets and bars, my first thought was bitter and simplistic: and that’s why i’m glad for the lack of public places and populated streets and bars with strangers in them in my life. But then I started realizing what bullshit it is, the way i’ve separated myself from the problem, the way i’ve forgotten.
As many of you know, I used to be something of a regular at the Denali summer dive bars. I’m not gonna say I regret it, or claim it was a waste of time–it was fun, a lot of stuff happened there, i’ve got some good stories. But I was thinking today about apologists, and the way transgressions are spoken of in a place thought of by many as NeverNeverLand, Denali/Denial, and the way actions are separated from context everywhere, and, perhaps, even more so in a place where context is often separated from context. So you do a shot with a guy, someone everyone likes and you think you should too, and later he asks you to kiss him, and your first strategy is to remind him that he’s married, which he declares irrelevant, and persists, until, on a shuttle ride home, he dives over a seat and latches his teeth on to your shoulder, through two layers of clothing, and there will be bite marks in the morning. Ha ha, silly drunk man.
Another night, another man, someone i knew struggled with addiction and general awkwardness, and I felt for him, I wanted him to be healthy and feel comfortable, because that seemed like something a human should want for another human. Once, he told me I was “the best intellectual we’ve got,” and that meant something to me, then, so i’d talk to him. And he thought that meant eventually I’d go home with him, and when I made it clear that I wouldn’t, and that, that night, I was going home with someone else (yeah, i played that card), he turned to leave, and then turned back and kicked me, hard, in the shins, and if not for the drunkenness would have taken me with him when he slammed into the wall behind me.
So I’d mention these incidents, and be met with an eye-rolling, “oh, _____ (insert name of legendary Denali drunk), what do you expect. Depending on the charisma of the drunk in question, there would be an affectionate grin or a disgusted snort. Those were the first moments I thought of today, and then others, and they bore me, and they make me angry.
I remember reading out loud in high school my “autobiography as a writer,” which at the time fit on two sides of one sheet of lined notebook paper, written in pen, because even in 2000, that was how school sometimes worked. I wore shoes scribbled with anarchy signs. And I remember summarizing the stories I’d act out with dolls and sticks and stones as a child, sort of the gestation of my writerly self. There were complicated stories of women’s kingdoms in the sky, where Totally Hair Barbie reigned over a group of flying horses and women who had arrived there via a portal in a closet in a terrestrial shelter for abused women, and they would swoop down to earth on occasion to exact vengeance on their oppressors. “Everyone knows the Ken doll is a rapist,” I remember reading. The girls in my class kind of laughed, and my teacher smiled. I was proud of that line; I knew I’d entered into a more complex relationship with the audience by including it, and I liked the approval. I’m right, I thought. They do know.
And i think now, how the hell did I know? I was and am now surrounded by good men, enough of them that I rarely saw good men as a luxury, but the norm. And yet, I knew to watch out for the Ken doll.
Last i heard of my Ken doll, he was strung naked from the ceiling of a kid i hung out with in high school, who’d taken him home first to film a portion of a group project for English, and then kept him, and then described his fate as a morbid art project, and eventually I stopped asking. The biter retired, is featured on a t-shirt. The kicker hitchhikes a lot. I used to pick him up, but I don’t anymore.