“Tenderness is a weakness.” – Marc Almond
Pop culture portrays sensitivity as impotence. Selfishness is chic and tenderness is weak. I say they have it backwards. Being sensitive is a strength and an asset. Without it there would be no Dolly Parton or Dali Lama or Salvador Dali.
When I say sensitive, I don’t mean political snowflake sensitivity found on either side of any polarized argument. I mean the kind of sensitive that weeps with you when you talk about how you tried to jump off the balcony when your ex barricaded you in the apartment, that flushes when you finally rip open your chest and confess you really do have a heart hidden behind all that blackened bone, that cringes when someone makes insensitive comments about how you’re way too clumsy and should plan ahead since you already know you’re accident prone and will spill that club soda all over the carpet a third time. The sensitive that runs hospitals. Adopts battered dogs. Volunteers at jails.
Society cultivates indifference. It mocks us softies. I refuse to let it snuff my innate sweetness. I won’t allow the world to harden my heart.
Songs on the radio depict love as criminal, asinine, and insane. One must play the game, lest ye be played, fool. Meme culture propagates side chicks and side dicks as the status quo, because accursed be to the romantic moron who actually cares about their partner. They tell us it’s just not cool to catch feelings. I’d rather be uncool in the eyes of the spineless than uncomfortably numb any day.
I’ve been shamed for being sensitive since I can remember. By my mother. My brothers. My friends. My boyfriends. My colleagues. My bosses. Strangers, even.
If I cried because my brothers tied me up with socks and forced me to watch the Exorcist as a preschooler, I was a cry baby. If I came home crying because the two popular blonde girls at school who pretended to be my friends made fun of me for being a chubby third grader and locked me in a bathroom stall – I’d get some sympathy but inevitability my mother would urge me to stop being a cry baby. By the time my best friend Brooke – yet another Florida blonde — sucked my boyfriend’s dick in seventh grade, I developed a violent sheath to protect the squishy cry baby within, and I smashed her rodent face into an open locker door half a dozen times until she ate metal and was doused in her own blood. Sure, I got grounded for weeks and went on detention, but no one called me a cry baby that day.
Three years of therapy showed me that my anger and aggression veils a life of tumult, much of which is rooted in habitually being ridiculed for my emotional response to horrendous situations. Now, I refrain from pummeling faces and instead let the waterworks flow.
Recently, at my day job, a presumably mentally unstable person yelled at me. I saw his clenched knuckles whiten in the rear view as rush hour traffic piled around us. I kept my cool while driving, spoke in a soft voice, but also asserted that I was not going to tolerate his hateful onslaught. Despite his unrelenting insults, I politely dropped him off at the store.
When I told my boss about the hostile incident over the phone, I uncontrollably burst into tears. She assured me she had my back. We rehashed what happened in person. She handed me tissues and hugged me as I cried again. But the next day, she looked at me with cold eyes and said, “You need thicker skin.”
She tricked me into being sincere and open only to be called a cry baby yet again.
I screamed inside. It’s not like I was locked on a short bus with an elderly madman who kept calling me a dumb bitch and threatened to make sure I lose my job all because I didn’t take the route to Fred Meyer that he wanted me to drive. I didn’t fear for my life or anything while wearing a mask of tranquility to ensure I don’t fuel the psycho fire in front of me. But, yeah, maybe I do need a thicker skin to deal with a corrupted society that punishes the heartfelt. How about: fuck that.
It’s not my problem people are mean-spirited or that the world can be malicious. If anything, it’s society’s problem for being an asshole. Quit judging and join us.
Cry, baby, cry.
This essay originally appeared in Exotic Magazine, May 2017.