How Shocking It Is to Be Believed

Content notice for ableist slurs, food-policing, and gaslighting.

A while back, I critically commented on a friend‘s post; I brought up how some people seemed to sincerely believe that racism wasn’t a problem with Ferguson and that all things could be resolved via body cam use. A friend of his commented and called my statement into question. I replied to him by saying that I didn’t have the energy to compile direct quotes and citations and was accordingly leaving the conversation (and I did, as I’m not one for the false flounce).

A few days later, I was curious and decided to peek at the thread. The friend-of-a-friend had said that if I could confirm that I knew of at least three people who truly thought what I said some people did about Ferguson, he would be satisfied. After all, he joked, he had seen me around the Internet and I seemed to pass the Turing Test.

I realized that I had expected him to consider even the evidence that I didn’t have the energy to gather to be inadequate. I had expected him to demand a peer-reviewed scientific study on the matter. I had expected him to call me a liar, in some way or shape or form.

Oversensitive. Overreacting. Crazy. Making things up. Provoking. Prove it. Your proof is the wrong kind. Shut up. It’s nothing. It never happened. You’re wrong.

I hadn’t expected him to believe me based on something as flimsy as my mere humanity. This is not an exaggeration.

I am not used to being believed. I am not used to having my perceptions trusted on their face value. Not by family, not by friends, not by acquaintances, and definitely not by strangers. It surprises me when I am taken at my word.

My cousins told me that I was wrong about everything. Who would believe a stupid baby who went to a school with no principal and didn’t know how to read properly? I was four years old and in preschool. My age and school level couldn’t be changed, but I did ask my mother for help improving my reading skills. The next time I showed up at a family gathering, I treated everyone to a flawless reading of Bears on Wheels, after which I was accused of having memorized it. I asked them to pick a book for me, a book that my mother could confirm we didn’t have at home, and they mocked the slight stumbling that naturally occurred as I made my way through unfamiliar sentence structures and words.

In later years, after I became deeply religious, I would tell my cousins about things I had learned through my readings on Islam. They took an especial disliking to my pointing out which things they liked were haraam and denied what I said every step of the way. When I proved what I said with the textual citations, they doggedly persisted in telling me that I was making it all up.

I was one of those kids that was always excluded at school. The girls thought I was a bit too grubby, a bit too rough-and-tumble, while the boys thought that I was a girl. When I came home and sobbed about being bullied to my mother, she asked me what I had done to provoke them, if I had been bossy or mean to them, if I had bullied them.

I liked ketchup a lot as a kid. My father preferred other condiments and frowned on what he saw as my excessive Heinz habit. He would insist to me that ketchup was “fattening” and darkly hinted that it was why I was fat. Showing him the label, which proved otherwise, didn’t matter to him. Ketchup wasn’t the only thing he didn’t believe me about. He also never believed me when I recounted his exact angry words to him the day after one of his frightening temper tantrums.

When I was 13, the brattier of the two children of our short-term tenant touched my budding breast out of the blue, then declared “I touched her boobie!” I was utterly mortified and gasped as well as looked as hurt and as scared as I sincerely felt. Two other people were in the room. Neither acknowledged what had happened. Neither of them would even look me in the eye or directly interact with me for the rest of the day. It didn’t happen, as far as they were concerned. It was nothing. I was upset by nothing.

Because there was no winning with anyone, the just world fallacy taught to me via religion told me that they were right. I must be untrustworthy. There must be something wrong with me. I must be wrong. Why else was I never to be believed?

I may have lost my religious faith, but my belief in my own lack of credibility followed me as I extricated myself from Islam and fell into the skepto-atheistsphere. The sexism I nearly immediately faced reinforced it, as did the reactions to my speaking up and out against the sexism: Oversensitive. Overreacting. Crazy. Making things up. Provoking. Prove it. Your proof is the wrong kind. Shut up. It’s nothing. It never happened. You’re wrong.

This time was different. This time, there were others, just a few at first, who agreed with me. I was no longer a lone Cassandra madly crying in a shrill, solo voice into a world barren for one such as me. The other voices swelled to join me, creating a chorus — and if there’s anything I know about Greek tragedy, it’s that the chorus functions as a sort of omniscient narrator, an I-told-you-so. Alone, we were raving madwomen. Together, we were eyes-of-god.

It’s been years since I was a cowed child, a tentative teen, or even an appeasing adult. I am believed. I am sometimes even respected. Yet old habits die hard, and it’s all too easy to forget that it truly is so, that my life has shifted so much and so quickly.

When something I say is questioned, I have to labor to act like the person I am. I am the child no one wanted to believe and the young adult everyone seemed to have a vested interest in not believing. I don’t assume my word will be enough, especially on a matter that is anything approaching contentious.

How very shocking it is to be believed.

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How Shocking It Is to Be Believed
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7 thoughts on “How Shocking It Is to Be Believed

  1. 1

    Wonderful article. You touched so many open wounds, I nearly cried. I know exactly what you’re saying. Thank you for this; I always thought there was something wrong with me, expecting and accepting that I was wrong at every turn. It always helps to know someone else who can understand.

  2. 2

    I’m glad you were able to enjoy this experience for once. As a woman working in high tech I get a lesser degree of this a lot. I always go into meetings expecting skepticism from people who haven’t worked with me before, and it’s always a relief on the occasions when my input gets treated just as “input” and not “women’s less believable input”.

  3. 3

    Another well written post.

    I think it’s important and fair to note (which I think you do allude to) that at times it is valid to ask for proof, but it shouldn’t be an absolute disbelief either. And shouldn’t be used to invalidate the original question.

    And I certainly wish more people would be convinced by facts. Ironically between reading your post here and commenting, had a friend correct me on something regarding toll-roads. She was right, I was wrong, I’ll have to update my beliefs. Keep up the great writing.

  4. 4

    Did you also get the surprised looks and backhanded compliments when you achieved something? Like “I’m really proud of how you handled this, I didn’t think you could!”
    Just for the record, you can get that whole shit from completly secular parents as well. I’m always amazed by how much I have in common with women who were raised in very religious families.
    My mother is also very sure that there is only ONE way to happieness and if I just stopped being me and did what she says I would see.
    I grew up believing that fish fingers are of the devil. Fish fingers are what horrible people serve their children instead of actual fish*. Funny enough, even after I broke with my parents that belief lingered on for a long time.

    *Isn’t it nice when you
    A) can afford fresh fish that’s about 5 times as expensive as fish singers
    B) have a stay at home mother yourself who will cook said fish for your family?
    Clearly morally superior to those poor people who have no time and who therefore serve fishfingers. You’re welcome to bring ketchup 😉

  5. 5

    I am not used to being believed. I am not used to having my perceptions trusted on their face value. Not by family, not by friends, not by acquaintances, and definitely not by strangers. It surprises me when I am taken at my word.

    That’s… incredibly sad. I’m so sorry. At the very least, I’d hope that your friends would believe you without a very good reason to not do so, like direct contradictory evidence. To not be trusted by default by everyone around you? That is, in essence, literally everyone around you gaslighting you to some degree. I can’t even…

    As you DO finally find people who won’t automatically dismiss you, I wish you all the best in coping with the years of social-psychological abuse those around you inflicted on you. Ditto for you, iknklast.

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