A couple of weeks ago I participated in a panel to benefit the lovely folks at Exhale, who helped me a very great deal during the production of my documentary. I was asked to be on the panel because of the documentary (explained here), as, having put it out there and since it’s been doing pretty well, already won a couple of awards (/gloat) I was something of an expert on what it’s like to put an extremely personal story in a public space. I hadn’t really thought of that, but the truth is, it is enlightening.
A lot of people ask me why I did it, why even bother doing something so personal so soon after it had happened, and especially letting the whole Internet in on your little secret. Well, I suppose I had a lot of reasons. I’ve had a few accusations of attention-seeking, a comment which I find awkward considering how mind-bendingly painful the whole process was; my TGWTG co-contributors can attest, I hardly spoke to anyone for the year between Kickassia and Suburban Knights because I was so wrapped up in production, and so overwhelmed and run down when I had down time. Of the new folks this year, the only people I had ever interacted with in the slightest was Lupa, and that only right before the shoot because by that point, the doc was done and I could finally decompress.
But it is painful; awkward, it makes me cringe. I can’t stand to watch it. There are sound problems with the DVD I need to fix that I haven’t gotten around to because I just can’t stand to look at the thing. This pressure is NOTHING compared to the pressure of the production; if being so vulnerable and open wasn’t enough, then there was the friction with the producers, the difficulty dealing with some of the subjects, the constant arguments with the babydaddy (we’ll call him Vindaloo, cause I’m racist like that). It’s not that I’m ashamed of it; far from it, I think we did pretty well for the time and budget we had. But I can’t stand watching it; there’s just too much me in there.
Pile all this on top of knowing how genuinely unempathetic some folks can be. In a way, this really reinforced my resolve in terms of “why even do it in the first place?” – some people see vulnerability and attack it just because it’s there; I’ve had people say nasty things about me that clearly don’t give a fuck about the subject of abortion; they just see a vulnerability, and they attack it, because it makes them feel good. They aren’t sociopaths, I might go out on a limb and say they aren’t really even bad people, but they are just that sad. And they definitely throw this vitriol at ladies who are much less thick-skinned than I.
So, why even do it in the first place?
Well, at first, it was to fill a gap; I saw a bunch of documentaries about abortion, none of them were from the point of view of someone who had one. They had all been made by men. And sorry, men, it’s all well and good for you to have an opinion on the matter, but you can’t really understand what it’s like because it’s a situation that will NEVER apply to you. I did eventually find one called “Speak Out: I Had an abortion”, but it was less a documentary and more a series of testimonies. I wanted to make a documentary with a beginning, middle and end, so I did.
But bringing it back to that concept of “ethical storytelling” which I learned more about at the panel, I think it was more that. I wanted to do it to tell a story; I wanted people to see all sides of what it feels like, people who regret it, people who don’t, why they feel how they feel, etc. This was important to me because it’s so common. I’m not exceptional; most of my closest female friends have had abortions, too (even the lesbian. wtf!). It’s like when I hear friends saying “Well, I don’t know anyone personally who’s had one” (You do. Several.) or similarly “I don’t know any rape victims, thankfully” (again, trust me, you do). It’s a common thing that no one feels comfortable talking about. That is why you don’t know.
The lady at the panel described “ethical storytelling” as sharing a story, perhaps a charged personal story, like one of rape, domestic abuse, abortion, in a truthful way, without a slant for an agenda. Sure, I suppose “understand this thing better” could be considered an agenda, but in the case of abortion, without the intent of being on either a “pro-life” or “pro-choice” side. Of course I think abortion should be legal, to me that’s not even up for debate. That is the farthest thing from my mind; if there’s any agenda, it would be to demystify these things that people feel so uncomfortable talking about, and that’s why I’ve been so open about it. Yes, I’m kind of a public figure. Yes, I’ve got an audience and a future to consider, all of which will react differently and not perhaps favorably. But this is something I don’t really wobble on. I think knowing you’re in the right, regardless of what society or the weaker of mind might say, gives one some resolve that they might not feel otherwise, especially when speaking of something so sensitive.
The scary thing about it is once your story is out there, people will do with it what they will. Some will be inspired by it, others disgusted, others still will use it as an object of ridicule. When you put your story out there, you have to be okay with this. No one will see your story in the same way, or even in the same way you do, and if you can’t accept that, then perhaps you’re not yet ready to share it. I think I shared a part of my story (and only a part) as a method of coming to terms, and to be honest, I think it works. I don’t carry the pain with me that I did a year ago, or the regret. I’m at peace with pretty much everything, the production, the outcome, the reception (did I mention there might have been awards? /gloat…) even how my relationship with Vindaloo ended up.
I feel worlds away from that place now. New city, new relationship, I feel like a completely different person, with this thing behind me but not in that same place. I don’t think I could say that had it not been for the story sharing. The relationship is still quite new, though he certainly knew about all this madness a long time before I met him because of my blog. A long time before I even knew who he was, in fact (life is weird like that, at least for me). This was something that made me nervous in bringing up with anyone I might date, it having very much to do with painfully toxic relationship that was not with him. What a fun thing to get into, huh? You know about this, I know about this, plus God knows how many strangers!
And what can I say about him, or anyone else who is a decent person? For every one venomous insecure little asshat there are dozens of open, caring people out there. That isn’t to say that he thinks this (or any of the other little unsavory life experiences I have behind me) is awesome; just that he’s open to hearing it. He doesn’t shame, he doesn’t judge, and that, I think, is the best you can hope from anyone, and is also the best thing they can give.
(gloat the third; he is awesome. He makes me so goddamn happy. /end gloat)
It took my mom a long time to screw up the courage to watch it, but I was careful not to push. When she did, she was surprisingly calm about it, stating that it wasn’t at all what she expected (and meant that in a good way) and that she was glad that I did it.
In the doc Vindaloo and I don’t really go into specifics- we explain that it happened, when it happened, that it sucked, that we both felt differently about it, but not really what went down. A part of me considered putting down in words what actually happened, and include that in the public space, but I think I realized that part of the reason I felt alright with the doc, no matter what people do with it, is that I didn’t give any more than I felt I could lose. And the real details of what happened, our relationship, those are the parts I don’t want to let go. This, I think, is an important lesson of story sharing; always keep something for yourself. Always. But do not be ashamed, do not push it on people lest they react in a way that you might not be okay with, and don’t give more than you can afford to lose.