I have every right to be public. In fact, I am public about my life not only for my own freedom of expression but for the safety of others.
I am public about being queer. Statistics have proven that if I am safe enough to be out of the closet to cis-gender heterosexual people, the less likely those same cis-gender heterosexual people will harass other LGBTQ2S folks.
I am public about my struggles as a brown woman. I know being forthright about my daily frustrations helps build awareness for people on a journey of allyship towards racialized communities.
I am public about my belief in body positivity. Thanks to tens of thousands of people seeing my naked body in NOW Magazine and in this blog, I have received countless messages from people who felt for the first time that they too were beautiful.
But there is a price to pay for this activism. It has meant that I am vulnerable to stalkers and harassment daily. I know I am not alone in surviving such things. In a panel discussion at the Naked Heart Festival this past November regarding celebrity in the Canlit scene, one audience member brought up the subject of stalking. The panel suddenly wilted, each author sharing their experiences and fears, and none of them having a solution for stopping this behaviour.
I do not have a solution either. But I ask you, dear reader, to ask yourself if you are a stalker. I say this because I have been astounded at how little awareness stalkers have of their own behaviour, of how their actions leave us survivors scared for our safety.
I have had perpetrators wish me a happy anniversary every year. I have had stalkers harass an ex of mine as an act of dedication to me. I have had people caress my body without my consent. I had one person orchestrate a hate fest against me within the LGBTQ2S community after denying them contact. Stalkers have used their children, used their industry prowess, used my family to force a connection with me. And what amazes me is that oftentimes stalkers will denounce the actions of other stalkers not knowing it is them that I am running from.
Well, I am not running any more.
I am appalled that after my mother’s death the rate at which I have been stalked has actually increased. Despite drawing clear boundaries with folks about my inability to foster mentorships, attend events, assist in community projects etc. due to the loss of my mother, I have had people contact me with their disappointment in me for not being generous at this difficult time. I have also received messages from people pestering me wondering if I am done with this mourning thing and am I finally ready to give them what they need.
You might be reading this, clutching your chest, wondering how anyone could be so awful. But I need you to go one step further. I need you to ask yourself if you are a stalker. Maybe not to me specifically. You might stalk others. Be honest. I want you to consider the following questions:
Do you search a particular person on the internet and obsess about them?
Have you ever reached out to them? If they did not contact you back, did you feel hurt? Do you feel entitled to their time? Did you try and reach them again?
If they did contact you back and they drew a boundary with you or brushed you off (through words or actions), did you feel hurt? Do you feel entitled to their time? Did you try and reach them again?
Did you ever try to share space or touch this person without consent? Did you feel disappointed or angry by their reactions? Did you feel entitled to their body?
Do you find yourself scheming to figure out ways to share space, to share conversation or touch this person?
Do you find yourself ceaselessly offering to ‘help’ this person, pay this person, employ this person, despite them being very clear through words or body language that they do not want contact?
If you are denied contact do you find yourself considering ways to shame them, negatively impact their career, their friendships, their relationships?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, I need you to stop. Just stop. Take a deep breath and stop your actions.
You are not entitled to anyone’s time, to anyone’s body, to anyone’s life. Whatever it takes to understand this, do it. This is your homework, not mine. Whatever you need to do to fill the holes in your heart, do it. I have had to ask myself these same questions and have had to do the same work to ensure the safety of celebrities whose work I respect.
Just recently, I tweeted the Emmy award-winning Lena Waithe asking her if there was a forthcoming soundtrack I could download from her new show The Chi. She responded with, “I’m working on it.” While I was delighted she responded, I understood the time she took to even tweet at me was her time. Am I entitled to anything more from her? Hell no. Out of respect for her ground-breaking work in the television industry, I left her alone. I am an AD of a theatre company and an author, so my schedule requires me to work from 6am-2pm on theatre administration, then taking evenings and weekends to write. I shudder to think of Lena’s schedule with several projects, travel and a press tour to navigate.
I ask you now to have that same compassion for me or the person you are stalking. The next time you consider reaching out, I need you to take a breath and stop. You are not entitled to anyone’s time or body or life. We owe you nothing.