A few nights ago, I couldn’t sleep and I wanted to watch something that might help. I had been watching True Detective and then ST:DS9, and I needed something I already knew, something that would distract me but also not keep me so invested I couldn’t drift off. Scrolling through Netflix I found “V for Vendetta.” I remembered it as being an interesting political thriller with a few plot points I strongly disagreed with and more violence then I’d like, but probably perfect for my needs. Entertaining, distracting, and not so likely to hold my attention that I’d stay awake even longer. I turned it on, crawled into bed, half watched for about 20 drowsy minutes and then fell asleep.
I found myself still thinking about the next movie the next few days, chasing errant thoughts about its depiction of a fascist state that comes to power on a tide of fear of homosexuals and immigrants, particularly Muslim ones. Then I read this powerful article that put the connections I was struggling with into words. The first half is a long discussion of how true a movie does or does not need to be to its source material, and while its interesting and an argument I don’t entirely agree with, the real heart of the article is when she draws the connections between V’s world and our own, especially in the wake of Orlando, and her reactions to both as queer woman.
Reading it inspired me to finish watching the movie yesterday, and it led me, as so many things do, back to these pages. At first I was going to write a response to Emily Asher-Perrin’s piece but I quickly realized there was no need, her piece speaks for itself. Then I was going to write a long post about the movie itself, the things I loved and the things I hated (the glorification of V’s non-consensual treatment of Evey being top of the list) but again, that didn’t feel right. I may write that later, but not now. Instead I just want to highlight what really struck me from the article, and the movie. The link between fear and apologizes.
She writes: (the italics are her quotes from the movie).
Talking about this film in a removed fashion is a trial for me most days of the week because it occupies a specific place in my life. I saw it before I read the graphic novel, at a time before I had completely come to terms with being queer. And as is true for most people in my position, fear was at the center of that denial. The idea of integrating that identity into my sense of self was alarming; it was alien. I wasn’t sure that I belonged well enough to affirm it, or even that I wanted to. Then I went to see this film, and Evey read Valerie’s letter, the same one that V found in his cell at Larkhill–one that detailed her life as a lesbian before, during, and after the rise of the Norsefire Party. After her lover Ruth is taken away, Valerie is also captured and taken to Larkhill, experimented on, and ultimately dies. Before she completes this testament to her life written out on toilet paper, she says:
It seems strange that my life should end in such a terrible place. But for three years I had roses, and apologized to no one.
I was sobbing and I didn’t know why. I couldn’t stop.
It took time to figure it out. It took time to come to terms with it, to say it out loud, to rid myself of that fear. To talk about it, to write about it, to live it. To watch the country that I live in take baby steps forward, and then huge leaps backward. My marriage is legal, it’s Pride Month, the city that I live in is full of love and wants everyone to use whatever bathroom works best for them.
And then this weekend, an angry man walked into a gay club in Orlando and killed 50 people.
But for three years I had roses, and apologized to no one.
I know why I’m sobbing now. I can’t stop.
I read that and was ugly crying too. And I wanted to apologize.
I shared it with a friend who told me it made her cry, and my first instinct was to apologize.
Like many people I know, I spent a lot of my time apologizing. The joke about the person who says sorry for saying sorry too much is a good one because it hits home for so many people- I know I’ve made that particular apology many times. I apologize for many reasons, but one of the foremost is fear. I’m afraid of bothering people, afraid of being too much, afraid of my disabilities making things harder for people, afraid of angering people I know, or people who have power over me. I’m working hard to overcome it, but its still a fundamental part of who I am.
And that from a straight white cis-gendered man with all the privilege that entails.
Fear isn’t just a byproduct of oppression, it’s a fundamental weapon in oppression’s arsenal. If you teach someone that they are less than everyone else because of their race or their gender or their sexuality or anything else, you teach them to spend their life apologizing. This is why the Pride movements taking place all across the country this month are so powerful and so needed, why it mattered when Malcolm X stood up to say he was proud to be black and James Brown echoed him in song. Pride is a refusal to apologize, a refusal to accept that there is anything about you that is wrong or less than or that needs to be apologized for.
Pride is having roses and apologizing to no one.