What Do We Owe Each Other In Shifting Normals?

After I wrote yesterday’s fan post about And Just Like That, I stayed up late reading reviews & the subreddit of the show. Well. There is so much vitriol. I believe most of it is the punishment our overly capitalist world is wrecking on anyone who hasn’t paid the requisite influencers. Add to that good ol’ fashioned patriarchy so we have the same internet that continues to fan Johnny Depp & celebrate the release of gang-rapists but will hate anyone or anything not cis man.

It would be easy to brush it all off as targetted hate. But that’s giving in to that idea is also hate. I believe hatred like rage, rises from fear. And we are a terrified world right now. We are a mob towards anyone who doesn’t present the way we want them to, be it gender, sexuality or well, fan opinions. Yesterday I also had a conversation with a very bright & sensitive young friend who nevertheless was attached to sweeping statements against capitalism (typed out on an iPhone over Instagram). I pointed the fallacy but that went ignored as the frantic vitriol grew. I decided to bow out of that conversation because what is the point adding acid to acid? Or losing my perspective, my ability to seek nuance because other people have killed their own? So yes, I return to the show keeping in mind that there may be ways it falls short and that’s okay.

Che Diaz was instant love for me when they appeared on screen. Sara Ramirez’s Callie Torres rescues Grey’s Anatomy long after it has sunk into the mid 2000s morass of maudlin melodrama. (OMG they have also performed in The Vagina Monologues) I was thrilled to see them in this 2022 avatar. But I learnt yesterday, that this character is the most divisive part of the show. I’m willing to bet Che is to And Just Like That, what Samantha Jones was to Sex & The City – outrageous, shocking, scary & hence the heavyweight in a show about breaking barriers. Some of the reviews had spoilers without warning so I’m afraid I know some of what is coming & I had a shield around my heart. But just five minutes into an episode now, I’ve paused to come write this post.

Che’s face registers absolute shock on realising that the person they’ve been sleeping with is NOT in fact, in an open relationship with their longterm partner. “I never said I was” is the other person’s feeble excuse. And Che says “You never said you weren’t”. This subtle moment registers something. If we are trying to normalise gender fluidity and consent awareness, we have to stop treating heteronormativity & rape culture as the norm. By the same logic, to normalise sex positivity and freedom in relationships, we have to stop treating ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ and ‘committment = exclusivity’ as the norm. Until we do that, we have people in exclusive relationships surreptitiously surfing Tinder, gaslighting their partners who think they’re exclusive and also the other people they date or sleep with. All with a whopping dose of patriarchy & slut-shaming female presenting people.

I remembered an incident from a few years ago. A friend of a friend (married and a parent) was rumoured to be bisexual. The common friend told me this in a fit of disgust as she quoted “She says her husband and she are more like friends now”. I didn’t comment as I didn’t even know the person being spoken about, other than registering the hidden homophobia in my friend. Some time later, the gossip corrected it to “No, I said she’s polyamorous, not bisexual.” Okay, then, I said, still none of my business though I noted that my friend seemed to have no problem with this. Much later, I was introduced to the subject of the gossip though this never came up. At some point, I invited her to an event that I was organizing. She showed up with a man who was not her husband, on her arm. Fine, then. She proceeded to outrageously flirt with a different friend of mine who was enduring a trial separation from his marriage & whom I’d invited to take his mind off his worries. She vanished for some time with yet a different man. And when she returned, reeking of smoke & other things, she set her sights on the man sitting with me & for the next few weeks proceeded to publicly come on to him on his socials. This is where I drew the line because the man in question was my partner. The common ‘friend’ shrugged it off like I was being uncool, taking zero responsibility for bringing such a person into my orbit. The man I was dating pretended he didn’t know what was happening, while enjoying the attention. I finally reached out to the woman and asked her to stop flirting with my partner. Her reaction was “Oh my god, how can you even suggest such a thing?”.

It has taken me all these years to realise that whatever label that person was adopting, her behaviour was toxic for a simple reason. Her behaviour lacked respect. Whatever her life situation, she owed the men the courtesy of being honest with them. As a self-proclaimed feminist, she owed it to the world to be ethical about her choices, instead of using convenient labels to hide her predatory behaviours. And most of all, she owed me the consideration of asking my permission before helping herself to my partner. All of these are forms of respect for other human beings. Neglecting these is to lie, a fundamental form of consent violation. Without respect, a person is being an asshole, regardless of what label or frame of reference they subscribe to.

Currently we are in a flux of identities, sexual preferences and relationship needs. We do not have a consensus on what love, committment, attraction, sex or even identity mean. And maybe we don’t all need to agree on this. But we do need to communicate who we are and what we intend to do, to each other. Much more clearly. It’s arrogant, violent & toxic to assume that our normal is the only normal there is. It is an act of brutality to defend our right to hurt other people. It is a consent violation to highjack a label or or an ideology to justify treating other human beings badly. And there is nothing feminist, ethical or progressive about violating consent.

Confusion is acceptable to me; hypocrisy is not. As I see it, hypocrisy is people taking their sources of shame and bragging about them. But this is not pride, it’s not embracing hidden parts of yourself, it’s not healing your hurt. It is weaponising what scares you and using it to hurt other people.The incident I mentioned happened years ago and it has taken me till now to reach an equilibrium of what it meant. I am not with the man anymore, not friends with the person who connected us and I have blocked off the predator across platforms. But the world continues to be full of people who are scared and use that fear to justify being less to the world. Understanding this nuance helps me not become one of them. Because being weak or hypocritical would be shameful for me & there’s nothing stronger than kindness & respect for people who won’t show you the same.

Maybe after I finish this show, I’ll do a rewatch of ‘The Good Place’. Of all the great lines from that story, the one that I’ve been pondering the most has been Chidi Anagonye’s question – What do we owe each other?

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