Farewell to my friend
Hardeep Singh Kohli on comedian Sean Hughes
I’M conflicted about my column this week. The latest viral story on social media has been the #MeToo hashtag. It’s not new – it periodically raises its head, with the aim of drawing attention to the sheer scale of sexual harassment and violence experienced by women. Harvey Weinstein was the catalyst this time. It encourages us to break the taboo of never speaking publicly about upsetting or traumatic experiences. Women are no longer speaking out as lone voices; they are coming together collectively, globally, to shed light on how embedded violence against women really is in our society. Yet that’s the bit that makes me uncomfortable. The thought of sharing my experiences in a cyber-world of amplified noise, for them to barely be heard, fills me with horror. It doesn’t help me to know that such an incredible number of women have faced the same traumas that I have. I can’t stomach the truth of it all: that, for want of a better word, sexual harassment, rape and abuse are more than just common, they’re normal. It is an essential truth, of course, and one that we must all face if we ever hope to change it, but it’s painful. Despite the safety and security my wonderful family worked so hard to give me, my experiences of violence at the hands of men are built into the very fabric of my being: they are so numerous throughout my life that my psyche is left in a permanent state of high alert. For me, it’s not a case of if, it’s just a case of when. I’ve come to expect it. These experiences for women, for me, create disordered thinking and feeling that is impossible to articulate. We’ve come to rely on clichés about how we’re supposed to feel. Fear, guilt, shame, terror, sadness. But those words don’t even scratch the surface of it. It creates a darkness so intense that it fragments your sense of who and what you are. We carry it around with us, because we have no choice. It affects relationships, self-esteem and quality of life. It damages us in ways that we don’t even really understand. All we can do is manage the fallout.
As I watched women speak out on social media over the last week, I wondered whether I should, too. I wondered what I might say, and how I might feel once I’d said it. I imagined how people would react, and how much it could change their perceptions of me. I wondered if I could speak up and say that I wasn’t afraid when I knew I was terrified.
Then I imagined the sympathy people might offer, the kind words that would flash up on my timeline, and it was then that I felt that stomach-churning conflict again. I couldn’t bear the thought of my experiences, which have been so utterly defining for me, being lost in cyberspace, of people offering sincerest sympathies, but forgetting all about it as daily life resumed.
I felt that it trivialised and belittled the enormity of what I have to live with. I didn’t want to be just another number, another statistic. I needed people to truly understand the anguish, I needed them to really care about it, to try just for one minute to live in my world.
But I knew they couldn’t. That’s the lonely reality of violence when it is so pandemic. Our experiences, life-altering and all-consuming as they are for us, are merely a drop in the ocean. That’s what the #MeToo hashtag relayed, in all its terribleness.
At the moment when women were speaking up to say that we are not alone, I’d never felt so lonely and distant. The thoughts weighed heavily on me. I can’t change what has already happened, and I can’t even bring someone else into this darkness to help shoulder the burden. The legacy of violence in my life, of my own unique experience, can only be felt in its fullest force by me.
Empathy and compassion are wonderful things, and they can ease some of the burden. I applaud all of those women who have spoken up, and I hope it can bring some comfort to them. For me it brought conflict and a fresh period of reflection as I tried to make sense of evil.
For me, it just wasn’t enough to say “me too”, but perhaps I should. I have suffered some of the most sadistic violence imaginable, and maybe it’s time to say it out loud and defeat the fear.
Maybe. But not yet.