Valuing Ugliness by J. Wu

Content Warning: #MeToo

Today, I need you try and actively resist becoming an entitled consumer of survivors’ pain. If you have even the mildest interest in not being a passive bystander, you should offer support to people especially when you do not find their requests for help to be narratively pretty. No one should have to craft their suffering for you to extend basic human concern; suspend that shunning disbelief that trims survivors to silence.

During childhood and adolescence, I’d learned early that vocalizing my pain was futile.  People would extract from my object body what they desired regardless of my sentient interior; instructing me that I wanted it, and calling me crazy when I said I didn’t. Men and women alike.

Step back. I didn’t ask for resonance. Oftentimes, entitled audiences believe that purpose of narrative lessons is to spin some gleaming narrative out of abuse. To make the audience feel good. To put the onus on the victim to “Just get over it,” to deflect the countless societal factors of coercion as the victim’s fault. People want to pry some shiny, shocking moral out of my trauma’s shell, as though a spiritually pretty outlook is the only socially tolerable stage for acknowledging pain.

Step back. Let’s pretend that you and I, writer and reader, have more unvarnished trust in my accounts of victimhood than what it often forced to become in the public sphere: a butter-greased disposable wrapper for your peckish Lifetime Movie voyeurism.

I do not need resonance. I do not need your well intentioned streaks of piss-tepid “thoughts and prayers,” because “thoughts and prayers” did not intervene when I directly asked for multiple people to believe me, men and women alike, at various ages of childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, to just give me help in my time of need. When I asked, most people turned away. Literally. Moved their gaze away from my face, because the contortions of my panicked expressions, post-hurt, were too fucking ugly to the facade of maintaining clownish politeness; in the shattering of my own heartbeat asking for help from people who thought I was too ugly to deserve help, I didn’t have the skill and the timing to beautify my own pain so that passive bystanders would believe I was deserving of help. Worse: I was too young to know that no loving person would force me to doll up my experiences of violation as proof of my worth.

My shoulders are shaking as I type this and the muscle memory of me is inscribed with all of your names, each indifferent syllable bite of your names, cleaved in my memory because passive bystanders made it possible for the perpetrators to hurt me as extensively and recurrently no matter how many times I reached for help directly, all the futile attempts when I begged, begged, begged, begged, begged, begged, begged, count that, shaking in front of you in my plea for the tiniest piece of acknowledgment, so reduced in the low boil of shame-brewed adrenaline that I didn't even know how to beg for your incredulous belief that an ugly East Asian person like me deserved bodily consent. Forced bare as a snap flinch, I saw you look away and ignore me like my sentience amounted to nothing. Awake in my muscle memory; bristling with all of your names. Passive bystanders like you, and what your unacknowledged, unjust value of conflict aversion enabled off bodies like mine.

Transitioning into the slow restoration of my body, I do not owe any onlooker a false image of my healing. I am the difficult victim and the bad victim in that I have no interest in gratifying anyone’s urge to stick a “flesh-colored” band-aid over my marrow-deep past in your attempt to avert your eyes from the racial power imbalances that caused this. If implemented purely for viewer’s gaping relish, narrative beauty is a repulsive game that affirms the perverse prioritization of the onlooker’s judgment more than the rights of the victim to exist in all the genuine ugliness of suffering. I am accustomed to being misconstrued by dismissive onlookers as an East Asian bitch, and an East Asian slut, and a minority ingrate. Every endured epithet grants me the epiphany to resist the pull of a leash that glorifies my silence and vilifies my truth.

Survivors do not owe you a tidy resolution. If your alleged compassion for survivors is conditionally distributed based on the demands of aesthetic storytelling framing, I’ll tell you where the plastic bins are next to my house so you can dispose your name on your own time.

I was worth acknowledgment-- am worth acknowledgment-- will be worth acknowledgement no matter how ugly of an East Asian survivor I continue to be. In muscle memory, tapped along sinew and joints, I am here, here, here, here, here, here, here, count that, with every distancing barrier I put between you and I. My private pain is not here to be trot out on command for your slack-jawed fascination, roll over to belly up to hot palms, bark twice, play dead for you. Spiritually, I have always been a disobedient bitch. And that is why I am still alive, despite you.

I am beyond needing your blanched affirmation; yet our world, in the countless survivors that systemic racial inequality generates, still calls upon your fledgling ability to practice difficult compassion over maintaining a negative peace. Challenge yourself to extend belief and dignity to people who you perceive as ugly, unappealing, unapologetic. Challenge yourself to extend belief and dignity to people whose expressions are socially difficult, awkward, or unpolished. For your alleged values’ sake, believe that everyone is doing their best, even when you can’t get off on the voyeuristic sensation of being a moral authority on whose experiences gets to be “deserving” of basic social acknowledgment.

By the strain of your wincing, I know you failed. You have an obligation to grow from your failures. I hold the shape of your name in my mouth. Make it worthwhile.