Not A Small Red Flag

Look at this jerk. Look at him smirking, smiling, scoffing, and condescending during what could be a solemn moment of self-reflection. Is there anyone in your life who reminds you of this man? This narcissistic sociopath?

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I am very reminded of someone. I am triggered. His demeanor is so familiar to me that my heart beats faster and and get physiologically nervous at his displayed lack of remorse or engagement.

It is hard to imagine that anyone who could do such wrong would be able to trick anyone into believing that they are a lovely human with whom to play house. It is almost incomprehensible to ponder that someone who has done such disgusting wrongs could respond so callously toward those trying to discuss it with him. But there are many kinds of wrongs in this world, and this particular man’s arrogance, smugness, and condescension are not terribly rare.

Individuals who can turn into this beast at a hearing or at your dinner table don’t first show their ugly sides. Their ugly sides, which are mean, hungry, and calloused, are only shown after they use their feelings, thoughts, and charms to captivate their targets into overlooking their inabilities to follow or even recognize important societal and interpersonal contracts of behavior and gentle care. We often believe that we should accept a whole person, because it is the Queer thing to do – to not discriminate against their quirks, mental health woes, or wildness. Their red flags are just normal human flaws that we should queerly embrace. It’s hard to call them harmful upon first encounters or after our heartstrings have become attached.

Imagine that someone smells good and looks good and wants you; they smell really, really good with twinkly eyes and they lean in and the giggle and they talk about the things that you like to talk about. They cater to your wants, and they smell really, really good. Maybe you’re not imagining; maybe you’re remembering. It’s not hard if you’ve ever been in love. There pheromones are present, cooking your brain. The other party is catering to your preferences, is charming you, is trying to hold your attention.

It happens to most of us. It’s very human. It’s intoxicating. I’ve fallen hard several times, mostly for the big brains and silly demeanor, always for the smell – the exact molecules that my nose and brain were looking for. So I took the charm, the wit, the sparkle-y eyes, the big brain, and I ignored the red flags. I am a compassionate, empathetic person, who mostly notices social cues, and can mostly play by important social contracts. I am nice to my servers, my heart aches for those who hurt around me, I chat with my neighbors, I give as much as I can, I attempt to unpack my baggage, to work hard, to take responsibility. I spend a lot of time managing my own mental health tendencies, and I check in with those around me for feedback about how I am doing. When I hurt someone I feel deeply sorry, I say so, and I try very hard to make amends. Because these things are true of me, a complex human being, I assumed that these things would also be true of the human being standing opposite me. I assumed that there would be flaws, but that they would not be malignant. I was wrong.

The red flags were the overlooked signs of something serious. There was not empathy, compassion or perspective taking and generosity with servers, the homeless, the neighbors, our friends, my friends, our families, my family, or me. There were no mutual attempts to handle baggage, admit flaws, and improve serious mental health concerns. There was only privilege, alcohol, narcissism, and spite. There was arrogance and condescension and neglect and accusations. There were lies, broken boundaries, and false promises, but no apologies, not more than momentary ones, nothing backed up by earnestness or attempts to change. Just attempts to keep me, and our kids. Just smug, horrific anger and contempt. When I tried to meet and resist these qualities, I was accused of beginning them.

What I mistook for a smart, funny, Queer free-spirit with average/minimal mental health issues, turned out to be someone so furious, unable to prioritize, unwilling to empathize, selfish, clueless, and vicious that I can be triggered into heart-pounding, mind-numbing fear and vigilance by anyone who acts as self-centered, pompous, privileged, merciless, or narrow-minded as he was. Now I can see him and how he treated me and almost all of his loved-ones. Now I can see his ego everywhere. People in the grocery store wear red flags on their arms where before I just saw slightly ridiculous eccentricities.

I bought all of the bullshit of a jerk because it was branded as smart, funny, and Queer. And he smelled good. But underneath was real malevolence. So let’s all look deeper. Find someone empathetic, sweet, community-minded, able to take perspectives, who gives you zero red flags. The red flags are not minor. They are serious and they may get worse. If someone looks or acts like a cat ready to eat more canaries after they have done wrong, or if they do wrong again, because they have no impulse control or ability to think of others, don’t buy it as Queer. Arrogance and selfishness are not cute, even when they are hard to differentiate from the Pride that we all celebrate. Queers should feel empowered to protect themselves against the serious self-involvement and dangerous mental health flaws of others. Don’t accept any red flags. Don’t subject yourself to unkind Queers, even the hot ones. Don’t endlessly support others through bullshit that they’re not really addressing. Don’t see greedy and cold as a charming quirks.

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