“Some women get erased a little at a time, some all at once. Some reappear. Every woman who appears wrestles with the forces that would have her disappear. She struggles with the forces that would tell her story for her, or write her out of the story, the genealogy, the rights of man, the rule of law. The ability to tell your own story, in words or images, is already a victory, already a revolt.” Rebecca Solnit, Men Explain Things to Me
A pattern is emerging: the dads in my life seem to find The Not Sorry Project confusing. Though they are less forthright with this criticism, I’m pretty well convinced that they find it angry and abrasive, too. In response to the submission that states “I’m not sorry I didn’t shut the door when I peed,” a friend's father says: Why would you want to say that out loud?; after reading my post about reclaiming my dyke identity ("Visibility and Invisibility"), my dad is concerned not with my experience of erasure, but that I am publicizing inappropriately sexual facts about myself on the Internet. He has also told me that he finds what he calls the “negative” lens of the Project perplexing; it’s hard for him to grasp the very idea of proclaiming a Not Sorry, and here’s why: he has never really had to.
The issue here, as it so often is, is privilege. The particular privilege that I am debating with my father, and with folks like the author of a recent piece about the Project on TrendHunter which proposes that some Not Sorrys are “arguably less valid” than others, is the privilege of not having to constantly legitimize our bodies, emotions, and desires. Rebecca Solnit, in her fantastic essay “Grandmother Spider,” quoted above, speaks specifically about the ways that women are denied space for their voices and corporeal selves, but this concept could and should be extended to include the experiences of other marginalized groups as well. (The hundreds of submissions that we have received since we launched the project in mid-January also speak to a more universal experience of this phenomenon.) The point is: many of us are told that certain fundamental pieces of ourselves are bad/wrong/unworthy, and this effectively amounts to erasure. We are erased by others and eventually we take on the work of erasing ourselves. We spend years, lifetimes even, trying to regain some of those pieces, through the grueling, unglamorous, and often lonely work of cultivating self-love in a society that profits from self-hatred. (See Alison's powerful piece from earlier this month, "Resisting the Body Negative Empire," for more on this.) As we start to reclaim the pieces of ourselves that were ours to begin with, we are told that we are too much. Too angry, too assertive, too confident. These themes come up over and over again in your submissions, and this problematic sentiment- that some of us need to apologize for who and how we are- is why we started the Not Sorry Project in the first place.
Because they are white, and male, and host to a slew of other privileges, space for The Dads’ ideas, whims, and emotions often comes pre-claimed. It is and has always been readily given, so much so that they seem to find the idea of claiming space almost fundamentally unintelligible. It's hard for folks who have not been constantly told that they need to apologize for the most basic pieces of their identity to understand why some of us need specific space to reject those narratives. I can’t necessarily fault The Dads for this gendered barrier to perception- patriarchy is just holding up it’s end of the bargain- but their inability to grasp why it might feel so vital for me to loudly, visibly claim space is frustrating to say the least. The existence of this barrier also means that when I talk with my dad about the Project, we are having two separate conversations: he can only read my assertion that I’m “not sorry for being a dyke” as an affront, as misplaced, overly sexualized indignation. He wonders why I am so angry: Gay marriage is legal these days! He has never felt the need to assert his sexual identity because it has always been a given, and his understanding of the specific micro- and macro-aggressions that I face on the daily as a queer woman is superficial at best. There’s a feedback loop, and it’s been painful to realize that I might not be able to reach across it and make my dad get it. This is especially disheartening not just because I love him, but because in so many ways my dad is one of the good ones: a tremendously kind, loving human who brought me up to think critically about race, gender, and sexuality. I have the drive to articulate my Not Sorrys because he taught me to trust the power of my own voice. Now that I'm running with that, he seems to be feeling left out. Ultimately though, having my dad "get it" is not the point. The Not Sorry Project is not for him, or for anyone who needs convincing about it’s basic premise: that we all deserve the space we need to be our messy, glorious selves.