Farewell to my friend

Hardeep Singh Kohli on co­me­dian Sean Hughes

Sunday Herald - - NEWS - An­gela Hag­gerty An­gela Hag­gerty is edi­tor of the Com­monS­pace on­line news and views web­site, which you can find at www.com­mons­pace.scot

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.

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