Coincidentally, “Better” was the only half-decent track from the legendarily delayed Guns N’ Roses album Chinese Democracy.

CW – Rape, rape culture, entitlement #notallmen-tality

Hey guys (and I’m talking to the men here. I have nothing valuable to teach women that they don’t already know), still listening? Lest anything in my tone yesterday came off as self-congratulatory, I’m here to hopefully expunge the thought that I have things to congratulate myself for. We saw countless women come forth yesterday and bravely divulge what they’ve been through. Siting back and say “I’ll try to be better” rings a little hollow without divulging any of my own shit. So here’s a thing. Strap in, this is gonna take a while.

I was 100% on course to become a full fledged, trillby tipping #notallmen-onist. Late teen/early 20s Leon would’ve been all over that shit. Many of you haven’t known me that long. Many of you have. Apart from all the commonplace egregious shit (feeling like women owed me anything at all, judging women based on how they dressed, befriending women largely with the hopes that it could lead to sex/intimacy), I sure did love some Devil’s Advocate or tossing out rape jokes. Grade A genius edgelord shit. Of course I thought rape was abhorrent, but I did love me a good rape joke. Why? Because to me (and I’m pretty sure I used these exact words many a time) rape was an abstract concept. It was a stand in for the worst of the worst. Comedy came from the chasm between expectations and delivery. Accordingly, if I was looking to spice up an innocuous set up, rape was an amazing out of nowhere punch line. I didn’t want anyone to be raped, but I did want people to be shocked.

Yep, I’m reading how fucking stupid this shit is as I’m typing it out. You don’t have to bear with me here. It’s the logic of a moronic twenty-something who knows it all while simultaneously has barely experienced the world.

Thing was, to twenty something Leon rape was an abstract concept. It wasn’t something I had to deal with in my everyday life. I could walk the streets at night without fear, but my life sucked because nobody wanted to fuck me. Yep. Super proud.

It’d be nice to say that I just grew out of it, but I wasn’t (am not) that smart. I got frequently taken to task by more intelligent Women who’d tell me how problematic my behaviour was. I’d engage in endless Devil’s Advocate arguments in an affort to prove some kind of intellectual superiority, then when my shitlord tactics provoked an emotional response, claim the intellectual high ground. This went on for years. Cracks in my bullshit appeared slowly, but let’s not overstate things. I still acted like a total piece of shit.

At some stage, a close friend of mine was raped. I didn’t know what to do. I felt stunned. I was heartbroken at what she’d been put through. I’d never been an angry person, but I had nothing in me but rage. I wanted to kill whoever it was that did it, but had no idea who he was. I physically trembled with no way to manifest the fury inside of me. It just stuck around and with no choice, I sat with it. I had literally no idea how to handle those feelings. I was fortunate enough to have access to a work supplied counsellor who talked me through it. It took time, but having sat with this foreign feeling, it was impossible to see the world in the same way.

Please please PLEASE, no sympathy. Why wasn’t I already blindingly furious? It’s shameful and abhorrent that this is what it took for me to stop seeing rape as an abstract concept. The “know it all” persona didn’t last for long after I discovered just how little I knew.

I started listening more, arguing less. At some stage I started learning. The older I’m getting, the more I’m understanding how little I know. As time goes by, I’m trying to listen even more. I’m trying to learn, but there are still so many little things I’ll never truly understand, because I don’t have to face them constantly on a daily basis.

I’m so sorry for all the shit women have had to put up with on my behalf. I’m sorry for the years of emotional labour to pull my shitty lizard brain to a place of burgeoning understanding. I’m sorry for the shit that I still put women through, even unwittingly. I’m sorry that apologies don’t make things better half as well as action does. I’m sorry that I don’t act nearly as often as I should. I’m thankful that so many women somehow never gave up on me. I should not have been your burden to carry. I still shouldn’t…

 

I don’t know how many men are still reading, but there’s something I want to talk about. I saw a lot of bullshit from self-righteous men yesterday when women were coming forth with their manifold admissions of trauma. There’s some bullshit regressive stereotype still permeating our society that logic is the domain of men and emotion is the domain of women. If this is still relevant to your life, maybe ask yourself why. What’s wrong with being emotional, having the capacity for compassion and empathising with others? Why is it more important for you to try and score “points” at the expense of someone else’s emotional wellbeing? When you’re engaging in these arguments, is it causing you to relive painful emotional experiences? Or are you just doing it out of some self-imposed duty to be “right”? Why do you think it’s #sobrave to poke and prod at the traumatic experiences of others when you haven’t had to repeatedly deal with the shit we men put women through. Because so many of us still believe that women owe us anything. That women exist for the purposes of our pleasure. That a woman’s humanity is secondary to what she can do for us. What is the value of this apparent logic that’s so obsessed with the notion of “winning” through technicalities and loopholes.

In what way is this “right”? It’s right in the way that both Bill Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi were not guilty in the eyes of the law, because the trials were predicated upon discrediting the testimonies of these brave (but unfortunately “emotional”) women. Do any of us really doubt they did it? Does that sound like justice to you? Does that seem like the “right” kind of society you want to live in? One that protects predators and makes victims relive their trauma in the hopes that when exposed to scrutinising light, the most miniscule loophole might shine through?

Men, we still have so an unfathomable amount of work to do to dismantle the bullshit biased society we’ve assembled. If that pressure is too much, let’s start small. The next time you’re about to start/join an argument about something a woman has gone through/is going through, ask yourself some questions: “How much of a personal stake do I have in this argument?” “Do I have tangible lived experience with what she’s talking about?” “What’s the worst that will happen if I don’t engage?” “If I listened instead of talking, could I possibly learn something from a point of view that’s outside of my own?” If any of the answers to the above questions are remotely affirmative, try sitting that one out. See what happens.

I know you’re certain that you have a totally unique point of view. I can assure you that nine times out of ten you don’t. I see the same arguments from men again and again. Why did #notallmen gain such groundswell? Because with no exaggeration, every day I see some supposedly well-intentioned dude pop into a discussion about shitty things that men do and say “yeah, I support what you’re saying for the most part, but I’m not like that.” If you’re not like that, she probably wasn’t talking about you. If she wasn’t talking about you, why would you pop in and make it about you? Do you think that any of your female friends talking shit about men think that you’re the scum of the Earth? Why then would they be your friends at all? If you’re so assured of your logic and intelligence, use that big brain and think about it. You’re not helping.

You can though. You can help. Instead of pouncing into an argument and loudly taking up space, listen and learn. Read what women are saying. Re-read it until it sinks in. Consider how these things make them feel. Do they sound frustrated? Angry? Why do they feel that way? Try putting yourself in their shoes and seeing things from their view point. Would you be angry in their situation? Would you just get over it if it was happening constantly? If you didn’t only have to deal with this shit, but when you expressed your frustrations, people told you that your feelings weren’t valid? Would that make you angry? Would it be possible to see their experiences as more than an abstract concept?

Listen… Learn… Repeat…

Take note of how other men treat women online. Does any of their behaviour seem strange to you? Do they seem like they have personal experience with the matter at hand? Or do they just seem like they’re trying to prove a point in order to prove a point? Does that seem strange to you?

Listen… Learn… Repeat…

Does the way that men carry themselves online still make sense to you. If a guy says something about a woman’s experience that shows little to no empathy, question it. If you know him and feel like he’s a decent dude, call him in. Send him a private message asking why feels that his opinion is more valid than hers. If you can’t call him in, try calling out that behaviour. Tell him that it doesn’t make sense for him to be telling a woman she’s wrong about something he doesn’t experience. Because that doesn’t make sense, right?

Listen… Learn… Repeat…

These are ellipses, not fullstops, because this is an ongoing thing. There’s not gonna be a point where you know everything. The more you learn, however, the more you can educate other men. If we’re gonna get anywhere, we’ve got to get there together. It shouldn’t be the job of women to make us work on our own shit.

Because we need to own our shit. Nobody else can. Be better. That’s your job, not theirs.

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Are you complicit? #metoo.

Any of you been on social media today? It’s sad that this #metoo campaign had to exist, but the hope is that the bravery of sexual assault survivors (A.K.A. every woman ever) in coming forward both highlights the alarming frequency of these assaults and provides solidarity for those whom it’s an all too common occurrence. I mean, there should be little argument that any occurrence is all too often, but let’s be real. We live in a world of shitty gendered bias. There are many reasons it sucks to be a woman in our society. Whereby so often these assaults went unmentioned or understated #metoo seems to have changed those ellipses to exclamation marks. Good. I (naively?) hope any who’s been wilfully hiding under a rock starts to take notice.

I’ve seen an avalanche of invaluable conversations. I feel stuck in this weird rally back and forth. It’s not the least bit surprising to hear of how widespread this behaviour is, but that doesn’t make it nice to hear. It’s fantastic to see these aforementioned conversations being raised, but disheartening how commonly the #notallmen brigade jumps in to recuse the statistical validity of calls against men to do better.

I don’t know if any #notallmenonites are reading, but maybe try looking at women calling on men to do better a little¬†differently. It’s another way of saying “the exception proves the rule”. If a woman is talking about her mistreatment at the hands of men and you don’t think it applies to you, maybe you’re the exception that proves her overall rule. If that’s the case, try not jumping in and making it about you, because it probably wasn’t about you in the first place.

The thing is men, we’re all complicit in this societal bias whether we realise it or not. I’d be very surprised to hear otherwise. It’s pervasive enough to be unavoidable. Over the years I’ve said and done a ton of things that contributed to the culture without understanding the insidious ways in which I did so. I’m sure I still do. Acknowledging past faults is important in seeing the path towards better behaviour. Here’s a short list of the stuff I have done and/or may still do unintentionally:

  • Rape jokes. In my teens/early 20s the concept of punching down wasn’t even a blip on my radar. It was all about being as edgy as possible, to push the boundaries to reassert some misguided sense of bravery. Oh no, of course I didn’t think rape was funny, but using it as an abstract concept showed, I dunno, my unwillingness to adhere to rigid social structures? Fuck that. How brave I was as someone who didn’t most likely would never have to face the act firsthand. Fuck off forever, this mentality.
  • Devils Advocate. Forcing people to argue something that caused them emotional strife. Never mind that I had no emotional stake in the subject, I just wanted to argue and flex my intellectual muscles. Or I just liked being “technically right” or some other shitty nonsense. Once again, fuck off forever.
  • Placing my desire for sex above the autonomy, needs and wants of women. Even if I’d never physically pushed anyone towards any sexual activity they weren’t actively seeking (I may well have), so much of this stuff is insidious and ingrained. Did I wilfully misinterpret or ignore “no” signals and keep pushing for a “yes”? Did I objectify women and see them for how their sexuality could benefit me rather than as a person? Befriend women purely because I wanted to sleep with them?
  • Judging women on the way that they looked or dressed. Way to discount someone’s humanity. The clothes that I wear do not fully express the person that I am. Why would anyone else be different?
  • Ignored or spoken above women because I innately didn’t value their opinion? Of course. I’ve spent my life as a loudmouth and it feels like I’ve only recently learned the importance of listening. I have no doubt that I constantly did this and likely still do without thinking.
  • Constant use of gendered language. I’m sure a ton of people mock this kind of specificity, but I feel like there’s something in the way that we talk. Language is an important tool in conveying both meaning and intent. The number of times I’ve referred to large groups of mixed gender as “guys” doesn’t sound like much, but it also sends subtle messages about gender based hierarchy. It’s something I’ve picked up unintentionally throughout my life, but there’s no reason why we can’t unlearn unhelpful patterns. Nobody is truly ever too old to change.

This is not even the tip of the iceberg. Like it or not, all men contribute to patriarchal dominance and oppression. If you’re interested in changing this, maybe examine your behaviours and decide which of these contribute to the kind of world you want to see. Listen to women, not just when it’s trending. If they’re not talking, become the kind of safe space where they feel they can confide. If women are confiding in you, don’t just be horrified. Act, change, grow and help embolden this change in others. Call in shitty behaviour when you can. Call it out when it’s necessary. We can all be better and we have no reason not to continually work towards whatever shape “better” takes in our lives. It’s not a destination, it’s a journey.

It seems like Life and Liberty are at odds.

Honesty time. My true, unfiltered reaction to the Vegas shootings was “aw geez, not again”. Seriously. That’s the appropriate response to a kid getting into the cookie jar. It fits with a dog drinking out of the toilet bowl. It’s wildly inappropriate for a gratuitously armed aged white terrorist killing 50+ people and injuring over 500. I don’t know what your first reaction should be to the worst mass shooting America was ever faced, but I figure at least more than mild surprise.

I do know that “Thoughts and prayers” is also the wrong response. Thoughts and prayers go out to acts of God, to matters that are so far out of our control. Thoughts and prayers are suitable for tragedies we can’t prevent. Thoughts and prayers are for hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes. You know, those disasters that aren’t man made. God can’t help curb gun violence in America. If there is a God, he sure as shit didn’t make guns. God most definitely didn’t weave this love affair with armaments into the national consciousness. Save your thoughts and prayers for someone they could help. What America needs is policy and action.

The proliferation of firearms in America is indefensible. There is no reason any individual should require access to semi-automatic weapons. You don’t need a semi-automatic to hunt anything but pedestrians. Why are women seeking to have an abortion put through the ringer, but anyone looking to buy a gun is treated like they’re shopping for a couch? Money, of course, like everything else. Powerful lobbyist groups putting copious amounts of money into the back pockets of politicians in order to protect and serve their ability to keep their product on the market. It’s unbelievable. Their conscience gets in the way when a woman wants to “kill” her unborn foetus, but it’s fine if she has access to handheld weaponry and inconceivable amounts of ammunition. There’s clearly nothing wrong with this picture. What if she needs to defend herself and her family?

It breaks my heart that good people raised in a culture of fear could think that guns are necessary for self defense from… Well… Other people with guns. Really though, much like rape culture, they should be taught not that self defence from guns is necessary, but that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the notion that owning an efficient killing machine is a basic right. Take their guns, take them all. People will cry that their freedom is being taken away, but they live in one of the most heavily surveilled countries in the world. Any real freedom they have is an illusion. Why aren’t they up in arms (pun intended) about that? Because they need their guns to hunt? Why not create specific hunting sites where they can have access to guns for hunting purposes, but they’re expensive and heavily taxed?

Better yet, why not just outlaw gun ownership by men? How many terrorist shootings have been perpetrated by women? I don’t have the stats, but I’m willing to bet it’s pretty near to zero. You know the mantra of one guy ruining it for the rest of them? Well many men have ruined it. People crying out for the loss of their freedoms? What about the loss of freedoms for the victims of gun violence? The freedom to live? To not be at the mercy of a madman with a gun? Also why are people so against gun control while also being steadfastly opposed to universal health care? How many victims of this latest terrorist attack will go bankrupt in hospitals? Some of them probably wished they were dead so as not to leave their family in debt. Tell me there’s nothing fundamentally fucked up about that.

I don’t have all the answers, but neither does God. If these politicians can’t look past the money lining their pockets to find workable solutions, they’re sure as hell not serving their citizens. More will die as they pointlessly look to the sky, wondering what could ever be done.

Mansplains trains and automobiles.

Do you ever create a monster? No, this isn’t about that time you grafted bear arms onto a Shetland pony. I mean building someone up to be evil incarnate. It’s so easy to do. We’re increasingly living in a black and white world and simple disagreements can quickly become gaping ideological chasms. I haven’t learned how to deftly cross that divide yet, to build a bridge to common ground. What am I babbling about? Story time!

I was looking for a seat at the Jen Kirkman show. I saw two seats open next to this old beardy dude, which was perfect. I had a friend coming and I could hold her a seat. I asked “is this seat taken?” “Well there’s some guy sitting in it now.” He replied. Oh right, he was making a funny. We were at a comedy festival. My grasp on reality at this point was tenuous at best. I smiled. I saw that his JFL42 app was open and that he’d seen 20 or so shows, had 12 credits. Seemed like a comedy fan. I’d never seen Colin Quinn, but I’d had him pegged as my Friday 9pm act. Thing was, Todd Barry had opened up a 9pm Friday show. I’d seen Todd the year before, but I was pretty tired at the time. I thought he was great, but couldn’t remember his jokes. I could see Barry again. Still, Quinn was an unknown quantity. My friend said he was ex SNL. Had a one man show. I love one person shows as an exploration of character and themes. Still, if this guy had seen a bunch of comedy, maybe he could weigh in.

I asked if he knew Colin Quinn’s material or style. “New York” he replied. I inquired further, as New York was a city (and I guess a State Of Mind, depending who you ask), not necessarily a style. “Like Bill Burr, but more of an asshole. Do you like Bill Burr?” He asked. I paused for a second and gave my usual tired “hot take”, that I thought Bill Burr was an excellent stand up who should be doing much better material for someone with his skills. Lots of straw manning, etc. “Well if you think Burr is an asshole, Quinn is more of one.” I sighed and pushed for more. Someone can be an asshole and do clever, thought provoking stand up, right? What kind of material did he do? “He’s New York, that’s all you need to know.” I considered this branch well and truly fruitless, so I moved on. We chatted about what else we’d seen at the festival. He’d loved Gina Yashere, which I wholeheartedly concurred with.

“See” he started “she didn’t do that thing I hate. You know when a gay comic gets up and all their material is about being gay? You can be gay and still have thoughts about other stuff. Like Gina. Your sexuality isn’t your entire personality.” I said I knew what he was getting at. Like when a comic smokes weed and that’s all they talk about. It’s for sure a big part of their life, but they still have a life outside of that. “Exactly. We saw this comic the other day at The Drake. She was Non-Binary something something, but she had sex with women. So I thought to myself ‘you’re just a lesbian’. You don’t want to be defined, but you’ve spent your entire act doing just that. We don’t care about what your identity is as long as you’re making good comedy, right?” I sighed, it was gonna be one of THOSE conversations.

I’m not gonna repeat the conversation verbatim, but it was a perfect exercise in frustration. I tried to open a platform on this concept of non-binary, while also navigating the original treatise on making your identity the whole of your comedy. I explained how I wasn’t there so I can’t have a full understanding of their act, but also knowing how someone identifies can certainly help add flavour to their comedy. It didn’t go well, but if there’s a silver lining, I think I got a greater appreciation of how mansplaining feels. I’d listen to what he said and start to respond, then after about five or six words he’d counter with his ideas without listening to me or hearing mine out. He was incredibly patronising, flat out assuming that he possessed a level of knowledge I couldn’t come close to matching. It was frustrating, considering I do see quite a decent amount of comedy. I quite probably spend more time watching LGBTQ+ stuff than he does (and no, I didn’t get the sense he was really homophobic or transphobic, but rather didn’t understand and wasn’t making the space to) and likely was coming from a platform of knowledge. Because of our age disparity, he assumed the position of wisdom and ignored the notion that I could actually know what I was talking about. I was frustrated and ended up telling him that since we were mostly arguing the same thing but there was still a lack of listening/compromise, we were probably better to cut it there and watch the show. I was sure he wasn’t a bad person in general, but progress was pretty unlikely to be made.

Then 20 minutes into Jen Kirkman’s performance he started chewing gum with an open mouth like a goddamn neanderthal. Fuck that guy. I’m sure he curb stomps newborn kittens recreationally.

Or I could go astral travelling. Might be a nice vacation.

I only saw one JFL42 last night in an attempt to catch up on sleep. A combination of unseasonable heat and the cat being an anus made that decision null and void. So now I’m validating the lyrics to Katy Perry’s¬†Firework. I feel like a plastic bag floating in the wind. Except it’s been previously used to hold rotting meat. Plus there’s a hole in the bottom, leaking the putrescent juices everywhere. Oh, and the meat was heavy, so the handle got stretched out till it broke. I think I may have accidentally suffocated a dolphin too. The burden of weariness is a grim load to bear.

I was thinking today how much it bums me out that “Influencers” exist. People whose job it is simply to be popular and shill on social media. It’s disturbed the natural order of being. The high school socialites weren’t meant to have viable careers post high school. They were supposed to peak at 17, then dwindle away into insignificance. Now they get free products and a shitload of money to exist and be admired. Maybe I’m just jealous. Of course I’m jealous. Sigh. I think selfie skills might legit be a more important life skill than algebra now. Too bad I’m awful at both. What viable career path is left to me?

I was also thinking today how weird it is that soft skills aren’t really taught in schools. It was oft spouted rhetoric that kids should be learning budgeting in high school. So many people don’t come by it organically and it’s pretty damned important. Knowing how to balance income against outgoings and forecast your needs is huge. Aside from this, teaching social skills would be a massive help to so many. Reading facial, tonal or conversational cues and hints could drastically change everyday interactions. Understanding how to be considerate to other viewpoints, to better interact in public or in the workplace would be a boon all across society. We’d hopefully see a ton less invasive/stalker-y behaviour. I’ve heard that at least here in Canada, consent is becoming part of the curriculum (which is amazing). This seems only a sidestep from that. Imagine how much better virtually any fandom could be. No more vicious nerds stabbing one another in the eyes with pens. What a wonderful world.

Ugh, even this paltry offering of writing has been a chore. I don’t know how I’m gonna manage to stay tethered to this plane of existence tonight. Perhaps I’ll have to bribe myself with a plate of nachos. Geez. Midnight Alt Comedy shows begin tomorrow. How long before I’m a mere shadow passing through this realm? At least plastic bags have some substance.

Driving is a hard bargain.

At times it’s easy to forget that I like learning. I know that seems like the dumbest, most backwards sentence you could read outside of POTUS’ twitter, but there’s something in it. We live in a world overflowing with information. It’s almost harder to be wilfully obstinate than it is to update and grow intellectually. Maybe with everything shoved in our face, it’s about being more discerning, choosing what to take in and what to ignore. Still, opportunities to understand everything outside of ourselves abound if we look or keep our ears open. I even got one last night for the low, low cost of $17.

It was late and we’d just finished watching Vampire Clay at TIFF’s Midnight Madness. We could’ve risked the beloved Vomit Comet, but getting an Uber was so much easier. We all piled in and set off. On the way home, I noticed something for the first time. The taxi in front of us had two license plates. One being the usual Ontario plate. The other was a much smaller Toronto plate. Here’s an example. I asked the driver what the smaller plate was. He told me that they were specific plates for registered Toronto taxi cabs. I figured that kind of made sense. Like it was giving assurance to passengers that they were with a registered cab or something. Plus the city would no doubt rake in tax credits (tax-i credits?). He laughed and said I had no idea. That those little cabs went for upwards of $85,000.

I paused. Huh? $85,000? Was that a cost that could be amortised over a number of years, or had to be paid up front? Up front, he said. I thought about it. Drivers in Toronto were often immigrants. Would they be forced to drop all of this money on a license just to be able to get a job? How would they pay it back? How much did they have to earn a week just to break even, let alone start making money? Exactly, he said. Or else they sometimes had it leased to them by the company. Maybe $1000 month or something. So they had to pay $1000 a month for the license? Then they had to pay the company for franchising and all the taxi gear (light, meter, etc)? How did they make money? It was hard, the driver told me. It was a corrupt industry that was cruel to the people at the bottom. Why were licenses so expensive then? I asked. He told me that the city works out how many taxis are needed and creates new licenses accordingly. They may put out 400 licenses or so annually for $6000, but the majority of the licenses are owned by people who made a bunch of pseudonyms and bought out a ton. Plus when new licenses went up for grabs, those who owned many licenses already would likely buy up a bunch more so they could lease or artificially inflate the price. It was basically ticket scalping applied to a different market.

I was shocked. Why did people continue to buy into the taxi market then, if it was like some kind of mob protection racket? Because people didn’t know anything else, the driver said. Or they’d invested so much that pulling out seemed like a waste of what they’d already put in. Good ol’ sunken cost fallacy. There was also a mass market vs local market mentality, he said. Uber was this big Wallmart style corporation. You know how in small towns all those local stores got killed by Wallmart? Uber was threatening the same thing. But if the local stores were leaving the local people worse off, then what was the point in sticking to their guns? Wouldn’t it make more sense to let that local industry die and have the larger corporations fight it out if it meant fairer wages for those at the bottom? That immigrants weren’t being taken advantage of? Letting them choose their own hours? Not having to pay into some cruel system that used them?

Who knows? He answered. But why else did I think he drove for Uber?

Counterpoint: The world is a genuinely shitty place for many, many people.

In a truly unexpected turn of events, it was harder returning to Toronto than I thought. Emotionally, that is. It’s not like I got held up at customs for excessive contraband suppositories or anything. It was strange, because I genuinely love this city. Toronto has a capacity to surprise me. It often takes a lot to deal with living in a busy city, but Toronto often gives more than it takes. So after all that fellation, what’s my deal? I’ve had one large gripe, with no idea how to structure it. I’ve been searching for a way to lay it out that doesn’t make me sound whiny, entitled, or privileged to the brim. It’s been hard to succinctly state it and still come off as a reasonable person. So instead I’m gonna own that fact that I often live in a cartoon world of whimsy and barrel through it. Here goes.

People in Toronto don’t smile.

It sucks, and makes a wonderful city feel oppressive and unfriendly. You can see how this reads, right? Straight white cis dude upset that his path isn’t paved with yellow bricks? I expect people to smile because it makes me feel better? I’m expecting strangers, irrespective of the machinations of their life, to cast off their frowns and bring my Toontown fantasy land into reality? To serve my interests because I don’t want to admit that there’s darkness, inequality and suffering in these streets? Or am I just one more dick in a landfill of bros telling women they should smile more?

I’m not an idiot, I get how this sounds.

It’s such a contrast from Portland, where almost everyone I smiled at on the street would smile back. If I saw someone heading out of a cafe, I’d smile and they’d nod or wave. Drivers that stopped so I could cross the road would smile at me. People walking past would wish me a good day. Kids would beam at everyone who crossed their paths. It was unreal. The more smiles I’d see, the more I’d give, until we were all swapping sunshine and joy like Oddbodz cards. There was this alluring small town charm that was impossible to resist. Would you stand in the way of strangers spreading happiness?

In Toronto if you smile people automatically assume ill intent. It’s a time poor city and everyone’s in a hurry. If you’re smiling and making eye contact, it probably means you want something from them. They’re late for a very important date and you could be an unwelcome distraction that digs them in deeper. Or you could be a legitimate threat in a physical or emotional manner. I’m by no means mitigating this. Just because I rarely have to put up with harassment, that doesn’t change that fact that it’s rampant. If I smile at a child, parents often assume I’m bad news. Like I want to molest their kid instead of just thinking kids are funny and cute sometimes. If I smile at a woman, I’m sure it triggers a response built up over years of encountering unwelcome encounters. If I smile at a guy, I dunno, he thinks I’m into him, which makes me unwanted detritus. If I smile at most anyone they think I’m unstable in some fashion.

Please understand, my disappointment isn’t with the people who don’t reciprocate. It’s a systemic issue. The structure of our society tells us that we need to be cautious of those around us. That people have the capacity to harm or threaten us. That if we’re not vigilant we’ll be punished for our carelessness. We’ve been enculturated into a mentality of fear that tells us not to let our guard down. It sucks. I don’t know how to let people know that I’m harmless, that I come bearing no ill will. I wish there were a way to salve those rampant worries and culture of defensive behaviour. I wish that Toronto’s denizens had good reason to assume the best rather than the worst. Most of all I wish that people wouldn’t have to feel the way they do, because mostly it’s likely a learned response to past shitty experiences. I want to let go of all of this and smile, but Toronto isn’t giving me much reason to.

Can’t everyone just chill out and buy a coke?