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“i’ve been in the lowlands too long”

March 13, 2008

Reading The Closet Musician’s guest post on Sugarbutch, “responding, a la Lorde,” i realized something almost unfathomable about my own tough skin: i’ve got one. To define this,

This is that thicker skin that queers, people of color, disabled people, anyone different from the “norm,” have been wearing since the dawning of time. The one that at some point, we all have to learn to throw on at the drop of a dime, at any moment, for an immeasurable amount of unpredictable moments of attack.

…but there are some of us that ran into this post and got hit in that soft unarmed place, where our true and fragile identities are trying to bloom, for the first time. (from The Closet Musician’s post)

I am, for the most part, an open book. If you asked my friends if i am thick-skinned, they would probably laugh, first reaction. They might tell you i’m (too) trusting, (too) passive, (too) idealistic. And they’d be mostly correct. But despite all that, i am not easy to hurt. I am harder to hurt than nearly anyone i know.

There are two things i always say when someone is concerned i might be offended: “you’ll have to try harder than that,” with a laugh, or, “i don’t care what he (she, it, etc.) thinks; i have to like you a hell of a lot before you can offend me.” And it’s true; i pretty much have to give you permission to hurt me, and you have to know where i’m fragile, because i really don’t give a shit about generic insults (and i am fragile, once i’ve let you in). Indeed, i give so little of a shit that i tend not to notice: “Me? No, i’ve never dealt with much shit for being gay.” I know that is partly true – i have been fairly lucky – but i’m never sure how true, because i simply don’t notice that sort of thing.

That is my thick skin. Perhaps that seems obvious, but it had never occurred to me that i had one until i read The Musician’s post. My armor is so good i didn’t know it was there. And i didn’t know it was there because i don’t remember making it. I don’t remember because i started building this armor when i was so small, but also because constructing it didn’t hurt – one remembers things that hurt when other things don’t stick. It wasn’t queer armor when i started. Well, it wasn’t queer like she meant in that quote – i may not have known i was gay ’till i was 20, but i’ve been queer, in that Victorian sense, my whole life. I cut my hair short when i was six. People thought i was a boy for nearly the next ten years. That aside, i was a weird kid; by god, i was working at it. I never minded; i seldom felt bad about it, or was hurt for it, by it. But maybe that is because i was already building my armor. Unlike so many of my queer friends, building up that thick skin to hide behind didn’t hurt because (other than those fights with my mom over wearing dresses) my family helped me, i didn’t have to toughen up all alone, and i didn’t have to throw that thick skin on around everyone.

So mine is different. I don’t throw mine on when i need it. I just wear it all the time, and give some people the key to get through it.

And my soft unarmed place? It’s not my underbelly – my armor is well-crafted, it covers me over. What it can’t cover is everyone else. It can’t cover all the people i care about, and so it tears me up when they are attacked. Where i am vulnerable is, well, not me. I’m vulnerable everywhere else.

…i love the imagery of all this, the thick skin people throw over themselves, a cloak, an armor. And, while i say armor, i really imagine mine as a grungy, baggy t-shirt with “i don’t give a fuck!” written in magic marker. Very punk rock, you know? What’s yours look like?

Lady Brett
“Lowlands” – Gillian Welch

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