A plea for coffee more than anything else.

I went out for dinner with family last night. It was nice and some parts of it have stayed with me. Namely the parts blocking up my digestive tract. We ate a lot of meat. More than that, it was a good chance to catch up and chat extensively. EXTENSIVELY I say. We all got there earlier than our 7pm reservation and left at 10:30pm. Then we did late night ice cream for dessert. I think the only reason we ceased our catching up and extensive chatting was that the ice cream joint was shutting down and my girlfriend needed to use the bathroom.

I’d say shit happens, but I’m gonna need a coffee before anything’s happening in my system.

Anyway, we shot the shit, chewed the fat and talked ourselves to death. It was a great chance to discuss all manner of issues with people at a different stage of life than us, who have experienced the world in a different manner. I don’t want to make it sound like they’re eternal vampires who’ve witnessed the turn of many centuries. They’re not that old, but I’d wager being on the other side of having borderline adult children gives you a different perspective from disillusioned avocado toast munching snake people who’ve abandoned this cesspool of a world in favour of retiring to Never Never Land.

I dunno. I got worked up and ranted a little bit. Not like this is a huge deviation from the norm. At one stage I was asked something about coping mechanisms. In short, if everything seems dark out, how do you lighten up? I thought about it for a while, then went to the domain of thought: the bathroom. I certainly wasn’t doing much else there, the dinner had been lacking in dietary fibre (though overflowing with some manner of moral fibre). I considered it and later reflected. Escapism was my answer. Drinking, eating, watching endless TV shows, deep diving into video games. Many hours of mindless internet perusing. Basically all numbing behaviour. The response to a world in which seems to be circling the drain.

I posited that this kind of mentality had coloured the humour of this generation. I thought back to Generation X and the rise of sarcasm as humour in response to feelings of discontent. I considered this generation’s reliance on memes. Sarcasm, irony, meta narratives where the joke is on larger structures that society enables. Nihilism as common parlance. An understanding that we’re all fucked and if we don’t laugh about it, we’ll have no recourse but to cry. Frankly, we can only cry so much in a day.

I wanna point out that I’m not naive or ignorant enough to steadfastly believe that absolutely everything in the world is on fire. Small victories exist all over the place, it’s frankly just hard to see them through the smoke sometimes. Of course social media and groupthink play a big part in it. Disasters draw more notice than wins. We have rubbernecking on a global scale at a frequency that’s causing whiplash. I’m sure there are amazing scientific discoveries and advancements occurring every day. I’m sure that there’s probably more good in the world than bad. Thing is, you can only walk two steps forward, one step back for so long before you start focusing on how much further ahead you could be.

I mean, didn’t we all think we beat the Nazis over 70 years ago?

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Something’s awesome in the state of Denmark.

I was checking Facebook memories this morning as I always do and saw an interesting link pop up. Past me seemed to find it compelling and present me went along for the ride. It was about a 1938 conference called the Évian Conference. Established by the United States, it called together a bunch of countries to tackle the growing Jewish refugee crisis in Europe. I’m not much of a history buff, but I read on.

The most salient point piquing my interest was that Hitler was there too. Before the thrust of his final solution, it was pretty clear that he saw the Jews as little more than meddlesome stray animals. His pull quote was thus: “I can only hope and expect that the other world, which has such deep sympathy for these criminals [Jews], will at least be generous enough to convert this sympathy into practical aid. We, on our part, are ready to put all these criminals at the disposal of these countries, for all I care, even on luxury ships.” Unfortunately, most countries decided that there wasn’t much they could do about taking in refugees. The US and Britain both took around 30-40K per year for three years. Australia took about 15K and the Dominican Republic took in around 100,000. Canada was conspicuously silent. It’s both mind-blowing and heartbreaking to me to think of the massive loss of life that could’ve been averted. All the suffering that amounted to history’s most infamous genocide.

So there I was at the bus stop getting pretty emotional reading about all this. Holding back tears thinking about how monstrous humanity can be. The ramifications of this huge event still being felt all these years later. Not just the death and suffering, but the callous reduction of human beings to lesser life forms in the eyes of those who rounded them up. It struck a personal note as my own heritage that, while not a massive cultural part of my life, was certainly warped by the Holocaust. Not only harrowed that this could happen in the first place, but that, even with this kind of racial persecution widely considered to be at the foremost of humanity’s atrocities, the resurgence of Nazi mentality exists in these times. How is it possible to hate an entire culture of people enough that you don’t consider their claim to life to be valid? It’s heavy stuff and it burns a hole in my soul to consider that there are obviously people out there who wish it had fully succeeded.

My dark haze was lifted somewhat by learning of the lengths to which Denmark went to in order to get refugees to safety. Apparently 99%, or roughly 7,800 Jews were safely evacuated to the safe haven of neutral ol’ Switzerland. Denmark, at the time, was gripped with a fierce national mentality of a close knit lifestyle. Of treasuring one’s community and neighbours. They took in those who hid, went out of their way to search up anyone who sounded Jewish in the phone book and warn them, offering asylum and passage elsewhere. Officials opposed orders from the Nazi regime and a number of Nazi soldiers stationed locally were encouraged to turn a blind eye. Members of the upper class contributed of their own fortunes to help contribute fare for travel. Locals put themselves at great personal risk to hide and ferry Jews across boarders under the watchful eye of the Nazi regime. Reading all this, the strength of human spirit and courage in the face of adversity was unbelievable. The citizens of Denmark could’ve rolled over like so many, but instead chose to fight for what was right. It gives me hope that, should another inhumane regime rise once more, the world would not stand for it. Not now, or ever again.

But then again disasters and genocides seem to happen every other week and the Western world doesn’t give two shits. Let’s not break a rib trying to blow ourselves here.

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.

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.

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?