Hannah Gadsby’s raw and powerful performance in Nanette is indelible. For anyone who is not the norm – what ever that is – who has been beaten to a pulp for not fitting in by someone else lower down the foodchain and yet somehow closer to being the norm, will resonate and celebrate her bravery and anger. This is not a review of her performance or of the content. I was effected at the cellular level and the experience of being witness to her story.
Holding onto her words about reputation and her desperate plea, her begging for straight, white, men to “pull their socks up” has me aching. I am aching for the men I know who are doing just that, pulling up their socks, being quiet, getting out of the way, relinquishing the space and celebrating the women in their lives. I am aching for the women who are pushing and pulling, and making the spaces for themselves and others and who recognise their own privilege and are getting out of the way for other women who are not the norm to fill it up. I am aching for myself, as I grow older and my own privileges change, and I am not welcome in places I was before. I am more invisible than before and I have so much privilege by virtue of my white, educated, housed, healthy, first world existence. I genuinely grieve for what I have lost but I had it to loose in the first place and I have to keep reminding myself of that. Inside of me, there is arrogance and there is shame.
Stripping back. Unplugged. Bare. The hollow space, no, hollow spaces, laying empty inside of me and more hollow and louder because they were once full.
Watching Gadsby’s performance was watching her fill up. With each breath and phrase, she added a layer of energy of power and in doing so didn’t take anything away from another else. She wasn’t emptying herself with self-deprecation, she was filling herself with the audacity of vulnerability. Persecution is not funny. Alienation is not hilarious. The stage is her safe place, no one is going to interrupt her, she knows how to hold tension. As audience, we are all witnesses, but there is no witness protection program for the white, straight men or for those who stand with them. I have colluded with many of them, made them look good by being the feisty and friendly feminist, toning down my anger to make it all a little more comfortable. It isn’t comfortable for the Gadsby’s of the world who are aching and hurt, raped and excluded. I am setting myself the challenge to be at least one or two more shades braver and will think of Gadsby’s brave choices to tell us her story (not the least using art history as the medium to explain perspective and women’s exploitation on the canvas).
It has been a week of being haunted, and watching Gadsby’s performance made sense of some of the haunting in ways I won’t share today. But I do want to say protection, privilege, reputation are taking me to humility, guilt and shame too. Brene Brown says she is ‘pro-guilt’ because it helps us stay on track and make choices to move away from behaviours and helps us align with our personal values. Gadsby showed up. All of her showed up. And as I witnessed her performance I witnessed a powerful act of self-compassion. The room was full of light and she managed to banish some of her own darkness with her anger, her begging and her relentless seeking to come home to herself. This is a quest for humanity, not power or privilege. It is a quest for us all to be each others witness, to make space for one another to be heard, to be seen, to be whole, to be healed.
We got to show up for ourselves and for our people. We got to show up for each other. There is enough room for all of us and diversity is the first step, inclusion the second. Start with the first step as David Whyte reminds us: “Start close in, don’t take the second step or the third, start with the first thing close in, the step you don’t want to take.” Close in for this white women is with the white men I am around, its easy to go to the margins, much harder to start close to home.
Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy – the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light. Brene Brown