Justin Cascio’s life has been changed by the writers who reveal their own lives—and the taboos of our society.
I write all day long. Why don’t I publish anything? I complain to my publisher. She’s a good person to work for: she praises me for my craft, finds a way to remind me that I don’t just tie together ten sets of scales to make a song. Then I go to work.
I nurture my writers. It’s part of my calling, as I see it, to take care of people and give them advice. As an editor, that means writing to my writers. When regular contributor Tim Brown sent me his review of “Django Unchained,” the new Quentin Tarantino movie that saw its premiere muted by tragedy, I told him about the first time I saw “Pulp Fiction.”
I haven’t seen the movie yet … not only have I [not] worn any tread on my tires, but I’m flat on my back and will, as usual, wait for it to come to Netflix. I just about never go to the movies these days, even for a blockbuster in 3-D. I walked out of “Avatar” because I was bored and appalled by its racism. I don’t think I’ve been back to a theater since.
That said, I’m a fan of Tarantino. It seems that his theme is violence as it is portrayed in movies, and that when he takes on racism and sexism, he does it with what I can only describe as a brutal sympathy for the oppressed.
I was dating Ken, a Black man in his early 40s when Pulp Fiction came out, so we went to the theater to see it. (At the time, I was a White woman in my 20s. Have I got stories.) It was my first Tarantino movie: I hadn’t seen Reservoir Dogs and wouldn’t for years. When the young man is shot in the back seat of the car, the way he lingers over the carnage, and the way the disposal of the grisly remains dominates the plot were, I thought, a novel and effective way of reversing the audience’s desensitization to violence.
But when Tarantino starts talking about “dead n—– storage,” you could have picked my jaw up off the floor. I was so mortified. What would Ken think? When I could turn to see his face, he was laughing, and I was relieved, but I always remember my first time seeing that movie, and the intense White shame I felt. I hadn’t known what to say. All I could do was helplessly laugh, too. Sometimes humor is just so brutal, that it’s life changing.
Some of the writing I do that doesn’t get published, is in contribution to the conversations we have about the stories we tell on the GMP, the criticism and attacks we’ve received (and they are different), the themes of those stories and of their critical response, and how to repair the world by addressing the taboos of silence in our culture. Jeff Swain describes taboos in his column this week as “negative superstitions.” What don’t you think you should talk about? Who’s supposed to remain invisible and unheard? These are your taboos. The reason I was so shocked by Tarantino’s treatments of both violence and racism were that he broke taboos: the media is supposed to glamorize violence, not linger on the damage done. And Good White people do not say the N word. I’ve argued that the one circumstance in which we may is to explain why we shouldn’t, similar to Atalwin Pilon’s argument “In Defense of Psycho Bitches from Hell,” in which he uses the word to argue that its use reinforces paradigms we want to replace. Yet we live in gray areas; I’m not going to tell Young Jeezy not to rap about his “niggas,” but I am going to put it in quotation marks.
As a technical writer, I would interview the engineers who built the product, but also the intended users of the product. There’s more than one side to every concept, and to understand it, everyone must be allowed to speak. And everyone owns their own stories, even the unrepentant.
A year ago, I defended Hugo Schwyzer on my personal blog from his banishment from certain feminist communities, over the revelation that, while he was still an active addict, he had had sex with a woman while they were both under the influence of drugs, and then tried to kill them both in a (thankfully) botched murder-suicide. It was a horrible story of a man who did terrible things. Important to the story, particularly to its writer, is that Hugo is a recovered addict who repented. Today he is a gender studies professor, and he continues to probe some of the same taboos that we do on The Good Men Project, with what I believe is the same intent: of dismantling rape culture and every other pernicious aspect of the patriarchy, and replacing it with something better, as is each generation’s obligation and right.
As a White man, I think it’s my responsibility to use my privilege to right the injustices, with whatever power I possess. My privilege has made me literate, and given me training in precision of speech and thought. If only I could explain it perfectly, I’ve often thought, I could break through every last stereotype people held about me and people like me: transgender people, queer people, gay and bisexual men, young mothers, welfare recipients, criminals, feminists, atheists, humbled believers, crazy people, and white middle class people from the suburbs (if there’s a difference between those last two.) I’ve had braces and public school and public libraries, bullies and rapists in my life. Like I told Tim, I’ve got stories, and I think they’re powerful. If I can only tell them well enough, I could change the world.
This isn’t only a fight I wage on the internet, but everywhere in my life. Most of the people with whom I have had these breathtaking conversations, about ourselves and how we’ve struggled, usually alone, against the taboos of the our society, have been people I met online, and have never met in person. But this one was different.
My husband doesn’t talk with me about what I write about, or anything we publish on The Good Men Project; he has his reasons for keeping these boundaries. My girlfriend, however, was a political person and fervent feminist, and enjoyed sparring with me on matters of social justice. We would talk so fiercely that at times I thought of her as my feminist moral compass, an old-timey Victorian goddess of the hearth, like I ingested with novels, and later learned about in women’s studies classes. I think of her sitting on the clothes dryer in my kitchen while I make lunch, talking to my dog, calling him a “horse crossed with a dinosaur” because he’s so big and red and fierce-looking, with primordial, amber eyes, while the two of us talked about rape culture and MRAs and how to be a good man before spending the afternoon making love. We’ve disagreed before, but never so strongly as we have over the GMP’s decision to publish the account of an anonymous drug user who wrote, I’d Rather Risk Rape Than Quit Partying. I defended this decision, saying that we must listen not just to the victims, but to the perpetrators, if we’re ever going to understand and spark change. I said it when I defended Hugo a year ago, and I am saying it again now:
I know and have loved people who have done terrible things. I have done terrible things. Without forgiveness of one another and ourselves, there’s no way forward out of any of the evil in the world, no way for us to dismantle the patriarchy and build a better world for our children. We need to understand the pain that leads to tragedy, and have sympathy even for the Devil.
Satan was once of the Creator’s most beloved. And there is still horror, decadence, and torture in the world. We cannot hope to eradicate them by only understanding those who are righteous victims that uphold our most treasured beliefs about how utterly wrong crimes like rape and genocide are. In Rwanda, survivors of the genocide all live together. This is the model of justice and mercy I would prefer to follow, that understands there are other forces at work: that people don’t just roll out of bed and decide to murder their neighbors and girlfriends.
My girlfriend withdrew from me over our disagreement. We’re not seeing one another any more, and I am heartbroken. I’ve tried to remove any chance of accidentally seeing her picture, because it tears my heart out all over again to remember that she believes I am a rape apologist. When I see my dog and think of him as a dinosaur, I remember her.
We were in love, a taboo kind of love: we are polyamorous and I am married, and we are all hurt, me and everyone I’m involved with, is scarred. There were times when I hesitated to bring her up, because it meant coming out again. Against the odds, the love we had was gentle. We treated violence like a knife that has cut us and which we have taken as ours; we loved to play with it together. I could never play with her again.
What way to my forgiveness and healing? It’s not by hiding. This is my way of facing it: writing makes it real.
I know that it’s not just me. I know that, as unique as my life story is, so is the story of each human being alive today. The people I’ve met, the words they’ve written, have changed my life. The internet is not a dream that is forgotten when I close the laptop lid and go off into my real life. We learn, but as we do, we also live and incorporate what we’ve learned, changing as we go. Whole cultures change like this: a little at a time.
Nothing is as simple as the sanitized versions of our media would have us think. There are stories few of us tell because we are afraid of the consequences. And there are stories that some of us cannot open ourselves up to, because we’re not ready to let them change us. These are our taboos, and magic will not keep us safe.
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