“Our first dance was held in the Middle School gymnasium on a Saturday night. The overhead lights were off and a disco mirror ball was on. Streamers and balloons hung from the rafters. A DJ played pop. And every time a slow song came on, a giant chasm opened up in the middle of the gym. Girls on one side, boys on the other. You know in that movie, The Ten Commandments, when Charlton Heston parts the Red Sea? It was like that. On the girl’s side, we were giddy and expectant. We chased and teased each other in the way that we wished the boys were chasing and teasing us. On the other side were the boys. I don’t deign to know what it’s like to be a pre-teen boy, but what it looked like to me was a strange combination of smugness, goofiness and heart.
I wasn’t popular. I was short, flat-chested and shy. But I really, really wanted to dance. So, towards the end of the evening, I decided to cross the chasm. All alone, heart pounding in my training bra’d chest, I walked across the gym floor towards the boys. They were terrified. We were all terrified. The adult chaperones were amused. Which is embarrassing; it’s embarrassing when your genuine fear is amusing to others. Anyway. I went right up to Sam Sablone*, a boy I had never spoken to but had a crush on, and said…
“Hey Sam, wanna dance?”
“Yeah,” he said, without missing a beat.
He put his hands on my waist; I put mine on his shoulders. My first slow dance. Within a minute, everyone was slow dancing. My lone journey had let everyone dance.
It might not have turned out this way. It could have been traumatic: me, rejected, walking back ashamed, everyone jeering me. Instead, Sam said yes and it was a triumph. But people don’t always say yes. We celebrate this story as triumph rather than trauma because we know its ending. But when I was crossing that gym floor, I didn’t know the ending. It was the middle of my story. I hadn’t carefully considered the situation (Sam had never talked to me! Girls weren’t supposed to ask boys!). If I had been careful, I never would have done it. I was walking into the unknown without a roadmap. Alone.
And that’s what I remember when my peers call an outspoken woman problematic. I try to consider her loneliness. The more problematic she is, however valid the criticism, the lonelier it is out there for her. Sometimes, getting through loneliness is its own type of courage. I’m not defending problematic women, nor am I trying to silence her critics – in an environment strife with hypocrisy, vigilance matters. But purity is not a condition of courage. We are meant to fail, to err – to be human. Extreme vigilance doesn’t leave much room for that. And the reason we fight at all is, well… for humans. So when a woman tweets her foot in her mouth, is blind to her own privilege, gaffes repeatedly…remember that she’s in the middle of her story. Give her time. Lots of it. None of us knows what’s gonna happen yet. But at least she’s out there, walking across a gym floor. Maybe she’s just a girl who really, really wants to dance.”
*Names have been changed for privacy
Crazy Rich Asians is out August 17
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