So I work at my school as, basically, an RA. Last year, there were a lot of COVID restrictions in place, including a mask mandate. I was lucky enough to have someone on my hall who refused to wear a mask in any setting. Long story very short: they got kicked out, hid out on campus, and went on a hunger strike.
Now that was all horrible and was pretty sad for folks on both sides. But that’s not quite what I want to talk to y’all about this month. No, what’s more relevant this month is what happened after. What happened after was I got terrified.
I was scared of this person. Perhaps not for any real reason other than I knew them to be very intense, and they looked quite intimidating. Tall and Gothic. Also around this time, someone — later found out to be just sleepwalking — was going into people’s rooms at night, sometimes even crawling into their beds.
Now here’s what you need to know about me: I am a huge scaredy cat. Like, the biggest. The girls I babysat once brought me into their laundry room, turned out the lights, and proceeded to tell the most cliché ghost stories I had ever heard. They were like eight and nine, maybe. And I got scared wayyy before they did. I made them turn the lights back on. I once watched a Doctor Who episode about things under the bed, and now sometimes I have to stay perfectly still at night. I went on a backpacking trip in the winter and stayed behind alone in the pitch darkness to heat up hot water bottles while everyone else went to hang the bear bag, and I had to tell myself, Keep looking at the fire, Phoebe. OK, Phoebe, if they’re not here by the time you count to 100, you can scream. Sometimes I just remember that some people have night terrors in which they wake up, paralyzed, to an old hag standing at the edge of the bed, and I can’t let myself fall asleep — even though I have never once had night terrors.
So, yes, I’m the biggest, most paranoid weenie that ever did live. I still often use a night light at 21. And, you can’t forget, everyone my age has grown up in an era of mass violence. I was eight months old when 9/11 happened, so I have grown up with the constant threat of terror attacks, of hyper-violence, of mass shootings. So the next week, after the ex-student was very vocal about their anger at the college, the house residents, and the administration, after I had spent the week checking under my bed and in my closet — after all that, the fire alarm went off at 2:30 in the morning. My first thought was of the Parkland shooter, of how he pulled the fire alarm in an attempt to corral more victims. My co-worker later told me she had thought the same thing.
I also go to a women’s college, and a gay one, at that. Our tour guides often get asked, “How do you feel safe at night without men around?” It is, of course, the absence of men that makes us feel safe. Yet, especially after all the coverage the school got last year, when an ex-staff member claimed reverse racism (which, Jesus, it seems the Supreme Court is about to cement into legal precedent in the case concerning the Indian Child Welfare Act), I can’t help but be a little paranoid about the threat of targetted, hate-motivated violence.
On Nov. 19, a shooter killed five people at a gay club. It is hard for me not to be scared in public settings — in movie theaters, concerts, class rooms. It is particularly hard not to be scared for people in marginalized communities that face greater violence already. Communites that have hate spewed against them all day, every day, on Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, and Alex Jones’ InfoWars. Communities that are targeted by hate speech and hate crimes.
It’s not fun to be gay in public. I don’t like the looks, and I’m terrified of violence. But I can change the way I present myself. I can wear more feminine clothes. I can not hold my girlfriend’s hand in public. I will turn my pro-abortion shirts inside out when I stop at a rest stop in particularly conservative rural areas.
But folks can’t change the color of their skin. They have to piss in sundown towns. Those six dead Walmart workers couldn’t have quit what were surely shit jobs because they surely needed the money. And they surely couldn’t have predicted they would be shot dead during a work meeting by their manager. And if they had had an inkling of what their boss was capable of, even if they had complained, they would have likely ended up dead. Something’s gotta give, at some point. Gun laws need to change, obviously. But more than that, we need a big old culture shift.