Christian progressive darling Anne Lamott said something pretty damn horrific about Caitlyn Jenner (and consequently, about women who present as feminine) on Twitter this week. She followed it up by calling the critique of her tweets “vicious hysteria” and said that people “know her heart.” She has, as of this writing, refused to apologize.
But this post isn’t really about Anne Lamott, not fully. I think what she said is wrong, and I said so to her face (as much as one can say something to the face of a person with 100,000+ followers on Twitter. I’m much more interested in the defense mechanisms of the people who have been populating my twitter replies since the tweet, urging me to forgive, to give her the benefit of the doubt, to let this one slide.
Being a blogger with thousands of readers each month, thousands of followers on twitter, and people who fangirl over meeting me is a strange thing. I’m just a 29-year-old woman from South Dakota who has decided to share my life in this strange way. I’m in that weird precipice where some know me and others have never heard of me and so I have these weird humbling and uplifting experiences all in one day. I’m intensely grateful for the readers who follow my work and who consume what I put out into the world, even if I don’t know their names.
I like having your readership.
But I never want your loyalty.
Loyalty is something that somehow became a virtue, though it seemed to be a way to ensure an army that would serve its commanders without question. This fealty to a commander king became virtuous as warriors were canonized as heroes and loyalty to a nation-state became a matter of survival. Loyalty to a ruler was a means to an end, a development necessary to revolution and government.
But individuals are dangerous people to be loyal to, as they will always force the loyal to make a decision. Loyalty, in this realm, discourages the critical mind, encouraging, instead, an acceptance of the idea that an individual has the best in mind for you.
Now don’t mistake me – loyalty has the ability to be and become virtuous. A marriage to a loyal spouse is no small thing. But such loyalty must be attendant with trust and grace and love and a mutually beneficial relationship.
Which is why loyalty becomes a vice when it is applied to brands, to celebrities, even to national governments. There is no knowing of the Other. There is only the commander and the loyal subject. There is only the star and the fan and no mutually beneficial relationship can develop from a situation in which unquestioning loyalty is given without mutual, shared interest and trust.
And yet, we find ourselves giving others our loyalty every day, particularly if that person’s work in some way changed us. In middle school, I was fiercely loyal to my favorite boy band, to the point of absurdist defense and crying when friends teased me about them. This band did not know me, but I felt I knew them. They had changed my life, after all, and I needed to defend that as part of my loyalty to their brand.
But I’m no longer in middle school and unquestioning, ferocious loyalty now breeds cynicism and skepticism in me instead of honor. Loyalty that refuses to question that to which it is loyal is vice instead of virtue.
We must examine our loyalties, especially if those creatives to whom we are loyal mess up. Anne Lamott messed up, and our loyal defense mechanisms automatically rise up when one of our favorites fails so majestically and so awfully. It is a reminder that we cannot know the heart of the other without the other also knowing us.
Do not hand over your fealty lightly; do not allow it to remain unchallenged. Do not remain loyal to me above and beyond all else. I will inevitably disappoint you because I do not know you.