Wednesday, 14 October 2015

On Being Unapologetic by E. Amato

Could Cookie be the patron saint of our unapologetic posse?

Recently, I apologized to a friend for dropping out of an online comment thread in the middle, saying I was overwhelmed. He brought to my attention the fact that I’m “unapologetic” and didn’t need to say sorry. I replied that I did have to say sorry, because I did something wrong.

I can’t say where I first heard of the concept of unapologetic - it probably wasn't because of Rihanna, at least, not directly. I know that I'm influenced by The Body Is Not anApology, and Unapologetic Bitch has won a place in my fight song canon. Not that long ago, LossLit called me an “unapologetic feminist, dulcet-toned poet, activist, film-maker, editor of Zestyverse, ” which I wish I’d written myself, and my twitter handle is currently "Unapologetic B." 

Wherever it came from, I've embraced "unapologetic." But what is it?

Here are some things “unapologetic” means to me:

Unapologetic means not apologizing for being here. Not apologizing for having been born, taking up space, existing while woman or person of color, while plus size, trans, or disabled. It means no one has to apologize for being a human being in this body at this time on this planet. Ever.

Unapologetic means not apologizing for how you feel. Ever. Even if others’ around you do not feel that way.

Unapologetic means not apologizing for what you think, or how you think it.

Unapologetic means not apologizing for speaking or writing down your thoughts or feelings. This one is hard. I just read this great piece on famous quotes if women were trying to say them in a meeting. I so used to be that girl. “I’m sorry, if I could just….” “I was just thinking, maybe…” I don’t do that anymore. I try to use kind speech, but I don't caveat myself into a corner or apologize.  A guy I met after a gig emailed me asking me for a drink. But also after the gig, this guy made a very inappropriate comment, and knew it. It made me, and others there uncomfortable. I wasn’t going to go out with someone who’d made me that uncomfortable, but as I wrote back, I kept having to delete the “I’m sorry, but…” Each time I drafted my response, it would try to creep back in. Why was I apologizing for holding him accountable for his behavior?

Here are some things unapologetic does not mean to me:

Unapologetic does not mean you don’t apologize. Being unapologetic is a way of being accountable, taking up space, being present. In order to do this, it has to go both ways. This means when you speak in a hurtful way, when you take an action that has a bad consequence, when you harm yourself or someone else, when you don’t live up to your agreements, you apologize. Not for being wrong, but for doing wrong.

Unapologetic does not mean you get to go around and say everything that comes in your head. That is having no filter and no boundaries. Being unapologetic requires more mindfulness from me, not less. If I am going to be in integrity and authenticity, if I am going to be honest in the moment, I have to bring a very strong practice of mindfulness to bear on my unapologetic words and actions.

Unapologetic means not apologizing for your needs, wants, desires, dreams, life story, personal history, weaknesses, vulnerability, identity, economic status, state of wellbeing or illness.

Unapologetic does not mean we are right. In fact, it frees us from having to be so. When I first started writing for TBINAA, I was scared. I was going to be writing about things that were hard to even speak about with friends. What gave me courage was one sentence in the guidelines they sent to new writers: “We are not afraid to be wrong.” I highlighted that and came back to it a lot. This was the most liberating thing ever. I get to say what I want to say, without apologizing or backtracking or making excuses. And if I’m wrong, or if I’m not, that’s where the conversation starts. This is how we create dialogue, which is how we build community. It might seem like the opposite, but unapologetic communication is the first step in community building.

Being unapologetic isn’t for everyone. It means there will be an end to hiding, a heightening of accountability, and especially when dealing with online platforms, it can mean a lot of friction. For me, it’s meant all that. But it’s also meant that I’m often sharing in ways that creates empathy and connection between people. It’s meant that when I do apologize, it’s from a place of making amends, rather than making excuses; it gives “I’m sorry” its real power and meaning back.

It means that I don’t spend time wondering why I’m on the planet, and can spend more time on what I’m meant to do now that I’m here. It’s also meant a stripping away the filter between what I think and feel, and what I’m willing to witness and testify to, which feels a little dangerous and like an emperor’s new clothes kind of moment, but I think that’s how we go forward.

Maybe unapologetic is just having its moment, but I think it might be here to stay.

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