I was raised in a culture of hate. Surrounded on all sides by angry people who didn’t know how to express their feelings of helplessness or rage or regret, when they lashed out at every impetus I was taught to be afraid and be vigilant. Whether my father was bellowing in physical or emotional pain from his many failures, or my mother was slapping me as she screamed insults because I waited too long to finish a school project, or my brother was just siphoning off smaller portions of the hate he had to absorb for my protection, I internalized the message that I was hated, and I deserved their hatred. When they forbade me from watching television shows about white people raising black children, and didn’t let my theatre-kid friends in my house because “all gay men are pedophiles”, I learned other people were deserving of hate, too. I was raised by monsters to be a monster myself, and more importantly: to recognize other monsters.
When I left home, I thought I was escaping the hatred, that I would go out into a world where people were “normal” and understood that the things I lived through were wrong. I knew there would be other survivors out there, I even imagined I would find some and we might help each other shed our monster skins and become people. Those things were almost true, but instead of revealing a human inside, we found we had to make masks from experience and pop culture to try to look like we belonged. The downside of that is that hurt people hurt people, and using them to cobble together a mask resembling a human didn’t work too well. The rage and hate I feel 20 years later about not being free from my rage and hate is simply overwhelming.
I will admit it, I am filled with hate.
True hate is disgusting and ugly — and hard to mask — it consumes the hater and damages the hated significantly. Every day I have to gather every ounce of energy I have to actively fight the cancerous thoughts that devour my consciousness: that I was born mean-spirited, that there is something inherently evil inside me that attracts and deserves the hatred of others, that these things make me worthless to “real” people. I have to face a world that can’t understand that I’m a monster trying to be human, but sometimes I slip up. (Despite what Disney tells you, hardly anyone has the capacity to forgive a monster, and that’s understandable.) I suffer the consequences for both spreading my hate and internalizing it, because even anger-turned-inward expresses itself in my body language, my word choices, and skews my perception. It intangibly drives people away even before I get a chance to explain. It makes me a bad friend, employee, and writer, despite my best efforts otherwise.
Still, I have to live in this world, so I have tried to get along. Wednesday, I woke up and again faced the challenge of putting on my human mask. For the first time ever in my life, though, I questioned whether I should. Tuesday night, hate won. As so many memes are pointing out: as a country we chose sputtering, blind, untethered xeno-, homo-, Islamo- and gynophobia to lead the country. Regardless of how many pundits and journalists pointed out, called out, or even derided Donald Trump for his behavior, we put aside his personality and elected him to the highest office in the land. The primary voice, the representative of our country, the leader of the free world is a man who calls for limitations on liberty, hurls insults on social media, and throws observable, recorded temper tantrums.
What’s my motivation to try to be human today?
I have never been a fan of Trump’s, I will say it openly. He creeped me out when I was a kid, as an adult I have never been tempted to watch The Apprentice —in fact I often turned the channel— and the past year of campaigning has been a parade of nausea-inducing days. Words from his mouth have triggered me, causing flashbacks to the homelife that created me. Physical gestures, facial expressions, even postures he holds have reminded me so significantly of my abusers and myself that I have been laid flat and helpless, reliving memories. I recognize him, and his behavior.
This man is filled with hate.
We all know who he hates, he’s provided us with a running list. I’m not going to make any comparisons to dictators, I’ll lose the internet if I do. I’ve never lived under a fascist, so I have no basis for comparison, but I can compare him to myself: your everyday, run-of-the-mill monster. We make everything about ourselves, even when we’re trying to use it as an example or allegory, suddenly it’s all about us (like this op-ed, see?). We both say shit without thinking, often deeply wounding people in earshot. We both tweet things that can be misinterpreted, or that are easily discerned as motivated by hate, often actively attacking people within screenshot whether or not we mean to, or just see it as “brutal truth”.
I see his hate, and I’ve felt it. I know what it can do. I have lost good friends to it, and I’ve been fired over it, I’ve harmed my own body and soul due to it, and I’ve permanently damaged long-suffering partners because of it. But I’m just folks. I don’t have nuke codes, I am not “the leader of the free world”, I can’t light fuses that lead to piles of dynamite that have been building up for decades between major world powers. And those are just the huge things.
I can’t incite a majority of America to threaten the well-being of others. I can’t put people who annoy me or oppose me in jail or internment camps, or deport them to countries they’ve never seen. I can’t cut funding to programs that only affect the people I don’t like. And those are just the big things.
I can’t even inspire monsters like me to stop wearing their masks. Oh, in a moment —a good moment when I am full of righteous rage and have been triggered or worse— I can make another monster take off the mask for a moment. Maybe if I yell loud enough or act aggressive, a fellow monster’s mask will slip. But as a self-aware person who is making an effort at recovery, I still felt the pointlessness of it this week. Our country has 300 million people, and if just 1% of them are monsters, that’s a Chicago full of people who can feel like me: that maybe it’s just not worth putting on the human mask. That’s a significant chance that someone’s going to feel indulged by our leader and decide that today there’s no reason to make the effort to do the small things that make living with each other tolerable. Big decisions have little consequences, too.
I know, I know, it’s all speculation at this point. Even with a stacked Congress, I don’t know that Trump will be able to fulfill his campaign promises, or even if he will try. I do know, however, that he had to have his Twitter account forcibly taken from him in the three days leading up to the election. I feel strongly that his acceptance speech was emphatically marked with “no ad-libbing!” notes. I have a sinking sense of dread that his human mask, a Phantom-esque half-mask at the best of times, will not stay on his face every moment of the next four years...or more.
We told ourselves that we could ignore his personality if it meant change from politics-as-usual. We ignored his rants and dismissed his “locker room talk”. What I can tell you, though, is ignoring it doesn’t destroy its power. Rising above it doesn’t mean it goes away. It is always there, and it will influence us even without us making a conscious decision to follow his example. It’s the little ways this changes individuals that scares me the most, and the big effects they will have on us as a people. All of our masks will slip, monsters or not.
I’m not sure I’m prepared for that.
rebecca knaur is a monster who has been living among you for 20 years of her nearly 40. Some of you are aware of her duplicity, while others have been able to mostly ignore it though you harbor suspicion. Don’t worry, she doesn’t bite every day; feedings happen about once a month.