I’ll never forget talking to a friend — a former supervisor, actually — and telling her about my atheism, my activism, and my writing specifically. She only ever knew me in person — and fundamentalist me at that! — someone who was just starting to ask questions, someone who was soft-spoken and quiet and afraid. As I told her the topics I tend to write about, she was surprised. I told her, “Well, I’m much stronger with written words than with talking.” She started laughing uproariously. At my confusion, she explained, “Don’t you see the irony? You’re just like the Apostle Paul!”
So…I mean, yeah. I kind of am like Paul. I’m soft and timid even in person oftentimes. The strength and fire I possess live so deep in my spirit that almost the only time they ever see the light of day is through my writing.
After all, I am inherently a people-pleaser. A bridge-builder, peace-maker, a find-common-ground-with-everyone kind of person. I hate confrontation and I hate controversy.
So it’s with not a little bemusement that in the past few years and in many facets of my life, I’ve suddenly found myself in this role of The Bad Guy. The Bad Guy who just can’t keep quiet anymore, who has to say something, who has to ask a question, who has to see something I’ve never seen before.
And I hate being The Bad Guy.
I was The Bad Guy when I first started writing about the negative experiences I’d had within Christianity, even while still being a Christian myself. The more I deconstructed my beliefs — about God, about gender roles, about my role and purpose in this great big wide world — the more I found myself being forced into the role of The Bad Guy. “Why do you have to talk about this?” people would ask. “What happened to the Dani I used to know?”
So when I publicly declared that I was no longer a Christian, I practically became a super-villain overnight. Or at least you’d have thought that from the responses I got from friends and family alike. (Thankfully, my immediate family, online community, and closest friends are supportive enough to cut some of the pain away from that.)
And now, once again, I find myself in this role of Bad Guy, because I’ve broken off my marriage.
I don’t want to go into any detail whatsoever here. I have no wish to turn anyone against him, nor do I want to delve too deeply into my private life. Suffice it to say that while we did both agree in the end that separating is the best decision, I’m the one who instigated it by saying that it was over.
When I am perceived as The Bad Guy, my knee-jerk reaction is to quiet myself, make myself small and compliant, de-escalate the tension as quickly and efficiently as possible. But I’m an INFJ, and I’m nothing if not transparently authentic in everything I say and do and think. I can only hide my struggles for so long before they burst out of me all at once, and once they’ve burst there is simply no stuffing them back inside.
I don’t know how to feel about all of this. What to do with it. How to reconcile others’ perception of me with the strength of conviction that runs through the very core of my being. Not to say that others lack this conviction, not at all. But sometimes paths diverge and simply cannot be converged again, no matter how badly they may wish to be.
I could explain my thought processes for every step of these various journeys. I’m very prone to explaining and dissecting and hoping beyond hope that I can just make you see why and how, make you see cause and effect, connect dots for you, connect dots for me. I want to feel justified, validated. I don’t want to be The Bad Guy. I don’t want to accept that to so many, I am petulant and over-sharing and running away from problems that could be fixed if I would just try harder.
But I can’t change, even if I tried. Even if I wanted to.*
And so…here I sit. The Bad Guy. It’s not comfortable. I don’t like it. But if this is who I have to be in order to be me, then so be it.
*Yes, this is a direct quote from Mary Lambert’s “She Keeps Me Warm.” No, I’m not saying anything by quoting this. It’s just a line that has stuck out to me lately about who I am as a person. I’ve spent so much of my life trying to change to make others happy, and I just can’t do it anymore.