The two weeks surrounding AnthroCon have seen a storm of controversy pop up in the furry fandom. One of the fandom’s most notable voices, 2 the Ranting Gryphon, is being called out for a year-old comment made on YouTube in which he said that people who committed suicide because of cyber-bullying deserve to die. This was brought up because his husband(?), Toast the Rabbit, said some pretty awful things about transgendered and polyamorous people. The reaction has been pretty heated; there is a petition circulating to have AnthroCon — the furry convention that has the closest ties with him — to drop 2 from their schedule, and I’ve seen near-constant chatter about it on Twitter. 2 himself has released a video statement in response to all of this on YouTube, which I’ll get into later once I’ve absorbed it properly.
My feelings on this are complicated because my relationship with 2 himself is complicated. We aren’t on speaking terms, and I have very strong disagreements with a lot of his positions. For the most part, I’ve hung back and remained quiet. There are a lot of people out there who love 2’s stand-up and I don’t want to wade in to criticize or belittle the people who do. Let people like what they like, and if they get to a point where they don’t any more, then they’ll fall away on their own.
However, mental health issues are something I’m passionate about and I find that I can’t sit on the sidelines about this. I believe 2 is actively damaging the conversation with his position; he’s misrepresenting depression and suicide. I can’t watch his fans and others repeat these things without saying something. So I am. This is going to be a long series of posts about my history with 2, what I’ve learned about the way he debates people, and why it’s harmful. I’d like to propose a list of suggestions on what we can do to repair the conversation on mental health within our fandom.
I met 2 before he had taken that name, and it was during the worst period of my life. I was in college and, to put it mildly, it wasn’t going well. I was coming to terms with my sexuality, and when my mother found out I was gay she disowned me. I was in a deep depression; I thought about suicide every day, the medication I was on wasn’t helping, and most days it was all that I could do to get out of bed. I wasn’t close to any of my extended family, I wasn’t a very popular guy on campus, and I wasn’t keeping up with any of my classes. The one bright spot in all of this was 2.
I went to visit him on a break and we hit it off almost immediately. When I made the decision to drop out of college, he offered me a place to stay. His other boyfriend at the time drove to Maryland to come get me, and 2 himself put down a deposit on an apartment for me to stay in. When he saw that I wasn’t happy there, he let me sleep on his couch until a bedroom opened up. When he saw I was struggling with my job, he reduced my rent so I could work fewer hours. When he saw I was depressed, he did his best to cheer me up.
For a while, things were good. There were so many first experiences I had with 2; movies that to this day remain my absolute favorites, long discussions about the things that mattered to us, ideas about art and love that affect me even now. He was warm and generous, funny, thoughtful, kind, loving. He was a great boyfriend.
But neither of us had any idea what to do with my depression. He tried and tried to help, and I took all of that support and felt better for a while, but it was never enough. I was an emotional vampire, and this is not an uncommon state for people with depression. I was so empty, incapable of feeling anything but miserable, that I just couldn’t generate any positive feelings or motivation on my own. That is what depression does to you; it leaves you a husk that has to find something, anything, to fill itself with.
So it’s little wonder that our relationship soured. He grew distant, because nothing he did was working and I’m sure it was simply exhausting pouring yourself into someone who was constantly miserable. Eventually I had a falling out with his other boyfriend; I told 2 that I could not stay in that house any more because I didn’t feel safe or wanted. I think he was so worn down by that point. He just said, “OK. Tell me where you are when you get there.”
To this day, I don’t blame him for letting me go. I realize what it’s like to deal with someone in a deep depression when you’re not equipped to help them. It’s exhausting, and after a while it begins to drag you down. There comes a point where you have to disengage to preserve your own well-being. I believe he was at that point with me.
I packed my things into a suitcase and stayed on another friend’s couch. A few weeks later, I tried to kill myself. I went to a pharmacy, bought a lot of sleeping pills and took as many as I could. I had been hurting so badly for so long, and I didn’t see any possible way it could get better. It felt like my entire life was a procession of misery, and the only way I could end it would be to die. I had no family, no friends, and no future. I just didn’t want to be a burden any more.
This was back in 2000. I have learned an awful lot about myself and my depression in the fifteen years since then. I know what it’s like to be in that head-space, where all of space and time is the feeling you’re in and there is literally no escape except for death. Depression is something that warps your perspective so that you cannot see anything else; there is no logic or tough love or reverse psychology to pull yourself out of it. It strips you down to a few basic elements. You are someone in an intense amount of pain who cannot escape it. Everything you do is a vain attempt to alleviate or push through that pain. It’s exhausting to do anything, and most of the time there is simply nothing left in the tank.
It does not help the people in this state to be told if you’re weak enough to contemplate suicide, you probably deserve to die. It doesn’t help to be told that “killing yourself is stupid” or “it’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem”. It shows that the person saying these things doesn’t have an understanding of what it’s like to want to end your life. It’s a platitude that will ring empty for all but a few people.
In the worst bouts of my depression, I was telling myself that I was weak all the time. I knew there was something wrong with me that made it impossible for me to cope. I knew that other people could take the things that would knock me flat — including being bullied. I knew that I was broken. I didn’t need anyone to tell me that; what I needed was someone to acknowledge the way I felt, to tell me they understood and work with me on a path out of that place. That is a far more difficult thing to do because each path needs to be constructed on a personal basis. What works for someone will definitely not work for someone else; in fact, it may just make things worse.
I met 2 when he was a wonderful person, and I fell in love with him as much as someone in my condition could. To this day, it saddens me to know that my relationship with depression won out. It’s tough for me to reconcile the person I knew back in 2000 with the person encouraging people to “get off the planet and make room for others” today. I know that he has the capacity to be a really funny, romantic, loyal person. I’ve experienced it. But over the years I’ve seen him make choices and take stances that push him further and further away from that. Not only that, but I’ve seen him double down on mocking and belittling people and ideas that he doesn’t agree with or understand. I’ve seen him use rhetorical tricks to shift attention away from the substance of his argument and get people to chase their own tails. It’s not acceptable, and it’s time to stand up and say so.
I have fundamental disagreements with 2 and the way he engages with criticism. His thoughts about suicide are way off-base, but having a critical discussion with him is difficult because of the way he thinks about communication. He doesn’t believe in taking responsibility for the things he says, and he thinks that any negative reaction to his words are entirely the fault of the listener. I’m not sure it’s possible to have a meaningful conversation with someone who has constructed a belief system that allows them to simply reject disagreement.
I’ll talk more about this tomorrow; this post has already gone on for a while. This is a pretty important thing to me, and I want to make sure my thoughts are organized properly.