Giving all the fucks and none of the fucks.

Emma Gonzalez MFOL.jpg

First of all, I'm on the incredible storytelling podcast RISK! this week, talking about my experience of becoming a birth mother. They did such a beautiful job creating a soundscape around the story and I'm really proud of it; please please give it a listen if you're so inclined.


I haven't stopped thinking about Emma Gonzalez for like a month.

Ever since I saw her shot-heard-round-the-world "we call BS" viral gun control speech, I have been busted open. "Shewk," as the kids say. She kicked me out of my complacency. Disoriented me, in a way that I needed to be disoriented.

I had to look up that speech to link to it in the above paragraph but even just watching the first 15 seconds, I had to pause it because I was about to cry, and I need to write this instead of crying.

Then she stood onstage in silence at Saturday's March For Our Lives, and busted me open AGAIN. Without warning, she stopped speaking in the middle of her speech, standing still with her eyes forward (or occasionally closing them as tears streamed down her cheeks) until a timer beeped. The timer had been set for 6 minutes and 20 seconds - the amount of time it took the gunman to kill 17 of her classmates.

If you haven't seen one or both of these speeches, I want you to go watch them now, then come back to this post. I'll be here.

OK, and now that you're back, actually, there's just one more short speech I want you to watch, by Sam Fuentes, another Parkland survivor. Sam still has shrapnel behind one eye and was shot in both legs. In the middle of her March For Our Lives speech, she threw up onstage, then bounced back immediately: "I just threw up on international television and it feels great!" she laughed, to cheers and applause. Then she finished her speech, leading the crowd in singing "Happy Birthday" to her dead classmate.

It's the most punk rock fucking thing I have ever seen. Go watch Sam right now, then come back here. I promise this is the last speech I'll ask you to watch in this post.

OK, hi. Welcome back.

All the Parkland/March for Our Lives kids are incredible, not least for how they keep passing the mic and calling out their interviewers for not talking to black students. They keep clapping back, with a sense of humor and nerves of steel. (Hey, and while I've got your attention, do me a solid and go donate to one of these gun control organizations? Even five bucks helps.)

These teenagers give no fucks. Like, absolutely zero fucks. They do not care if they cry or scream or vomit on television. They do not care if they piss off the NRA or the President of the United States; in fact, they want to. They do not care if they have the grown-ups' approval for what they need to say.

And, at the same time, they give ALL of the fucks. In fact, giving all the fucks is their superpower.

For most of my life, I've wanted to be someone who gives zero fucks. I'm someone who was told a lot as a kid that I was "too sensitive." I wanted a coat of armor that would keep me from obsessing over the interactions I had with other people, from caring what other people thought of me, from being so fucking hurt all the time. I was told that, if the other person didn't mean to hurt me, then my only option was to change how I felt. So I tried.

It didn't work. That coat of armor, that rock-solid foundation of confidence that would make other people's actions and opinions just roll off me...yeah, that just never happened.

Some people think, based on my behavior, that I give zero fucks. How wrong they are. I give 100% of the fucks.

For instance: I'm extremely good at reading vocal/rhetorical patterns, and I can tell several sentences in advance when someone is going to give me even the tiniest bit of criticism. The minute I detect that this is going to happen, fire alarms start going off in my head. "Oh God, I did something wrong. Oh God oh God oh God." It doesn't matter how gently the feedback eventually comes, or even if that feedback doesn't turn out to be "criticism" at all. My limbic system just knows one thing: I've failed, and failure is an emergency.

I give a fuck. I give all fucks. You could say I'm "extra." I want to be liked, to please people, to do "the right thing." And it's taken a LOT of self-monitoring (and therapy!) for me not to turn my desire to be liked into other people's problem, especially as an ally and someone with multiple intersections of privilege.

But there's another, beautiful aspect to this Giving Of Fucks.
Which brings me back to Sam and Emma.

Look at them. They might give zero fucks, but you cannot deny that they also give ALL OF THE FUCKS. They give all the fucks about their friends dying; they give all the fucks about politicians not doing the right thing; they give all the fucks about our country being a literal battleground.

(Here, again, is where I will plug those gun control orgs that you can donate to.)

They give all the fucks about the shit that matters.

And when I'm at my best, this is the way in which I give all of the fucks.

  • Example #1: My mom loves to tell the story of how, when I was a tiny little kid, I cried at the movie Milo and Otis because the kitty got a crab stuck on its lip, and I was so sad for the cat that I cried.

    That's three-year-old empathy right there. Empathy = giving all of the fucks. And, at the same time, zero fucks; I was too young to care whether crying over a fictional cat was "stupid" or not.
    And these high schoolers are on fire with empathy.
  • Example #2: On November 9, the day after the election, I sat glued to Facebook all day, screaming through my keyboard. I apologized for my shitty understanding of history; I told white people that our good intentions didn't really matter right now; I set all my posts to public so that as many people would see my rage and grief as possible. When I looked at my Facebook memories a year later, I thought, "Wow, I wish I could always be so unfiltered and honest." I gave many, many fucks about how fucked we were (thinking big-picture); I gave zero fucks about appearing melodramatic or pissing people off (small-picture).

    Thinking big-picture = giving all of the fucks, AND zero fucks.
    And the Parkland kids are thinking big-picture enough to believe that the NRA can be defeated.
  • Example #3: As I sit here and write this, I fear that talking about my own experiences will look like virtue-signaling or arrogance, when in fact I'm just trying to show what this can look like on someone other than these superhuman-seeming teenagers. And I fear that talking about gun control and the election on my professional blog or newsletter will look like I'm using current events for personal gain. It's important to me not to be someone that manipulates an audience that way.

    But I've also been told over and over again that other folks get so much out of it when I talk about how I've processed something in my own life. To put a lid on that because I feel self-conscious would actually be more self-centered than talking about myself is.

    Telling your story even though you're scared = you guessed it: giving all the fucks AND none of the fucks.
    And I do not believe for a second that these young activists aren't scared. Listen to their voices shake. I mean, Sam Fuentes threw up. But they speak up anyway.

There's one more piece, though, and that is this:


I'll say that again, because it's important:

Giving all of the fucks... how you give zero fucks.

I mentioned before that some people think I give zero fucks. They think I am fearless, when in fact I am scared all the time.

They probably came to that conclusion because I've done some pretty wild shit, like:

  • Jump out of an airplane
  • Perform burlesque in front of my parents
  • Place a kid in an open adoption, and tell the world about it (see: podcast at the top of this post)
  • Quit a stable day job to write full-time
  • Start my own theatre company to produce my own plays, even though I had no money and had to do my shows in apartments
  • Talk about sex, really frankly, in public
  • Talk about what makes me angry, really frankly, in public
  • Make very sexual, very angry, very queer art

And so on.

But here's the thing: I am able to do those things precisely because I give billions of fucks.

My sensitivity, my thin skin, my every-fuck-given disposition that never got trained out of me? THAT is what gives me the resilience to take enormous risks. (Well, that, and a decade of therapy, plus white privilege. But also the sensitivity thing. #wecontainmultitudes)

It lets me forge ahead even if I'm also worried what people will think - which, from the outside, looks an awful lot like giving no fucks.

  • It means I can't NOT do something I really care about.
  • It's led to forging deep, vulnerable bonds with others, letting me feel supported when I leap without a net.
  • It's allowed me to synthesize my painful experiences into art and growth, because when I honor and feel my pain, I find out what it has to teach me.

And it's the same thing with these teenagers.

They care about justice so deeply, they don't have the bandwidth to give a fuck about the small stuff. They don't have time to be inauthentic or to people-please or to wait; THEIR FRIENDS ARE FUCKING DEAD.

What they're grappling with is huge, of course. Not all of us are personally taking on the NRA.

But then again...I don't see any reason why that should be off the table, either.

Where might you let yourself give zero fucks AND all the fucks? 

Where might you nurture your own empathy?
Where might you look big-picture instead of small-picture?
Where might you use your voice, even if it scares you?

It might be as big as taking on the NRA...or it might be as small as being terrifyingly honest with one person.

What feels important?
What feels doable?
And how might you start right now?

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