by Donna Minkowitz
I’m on Facebook. Some of my friends are posting their fury, as artists and radicals, about something that’s just happened: A few art students have complained to college administrators about their professor. He’s made them watch, as part of a regular class session, an experimental film he made. It shows, among other things, his erect red penis again and again, at one point going into a woman’s mouth and later, her vagina.
These friends of mine are furious the students have interfered with their professor’s work by complaining. On their pages, commenters condemn students for their “fragile sensibilities” and “fragile feelings,” for how “delicate” they surely are.
Oh reader, I am fragile, I am delicate, in fact I’ve often wanted to write a book entitled Sensitive. Because spectacularly, insatiably, annoyingly, unbearably, I am.
I am not saying that everyone who doesn’t want to have to watch their professor fucking a woman on camera is someone who is Delicate, like me. But I thought I would tell about my own experience.
I am sensitive in almost every way a person can be. And most of my sensitivities come from disabilities. I have a couple different ones of those (physical, psychic), but the disability that has made me the most sensitive of all, the tenderest, perhaps the choicest meat to the touch, is the abuse and neglect I experienced as a child.
But the tender meat is tickled all day, and sometimes it’s// unbearable
“Grow up,” says one Friend of a Friend, and others echo, “Yup, they should grow up.” A woman comments, “One would hope that they’re mature enough to take care of themselves and leave.”
None of us has read the students’ complaints because they are not public, so we don’t know what they told administrators about being made to watch the film. But a man mocks them for having what he writes in capitals as, “Triggers. Oof.”
Oof. I am able to be triggered, yes indeed, and definitely not always able to take care of myself in a situation of harm and just leave.
About that last bit, no human being is in fact so powerful that we are always able to remove ourselves from what we can’t endure.
My friends’ five thousand fans condemn the students’ “latent puritanism,” their “learned helplessness,” their “censorship, punishment, and scapegoating.” Says a man, “The conflation of discomfort and harm is a truly bizarre phenomenon that I believe can be attributed to a vocal minority of bourgeois, sheltered millennials.”
DONNA MINKOWITZ‘s magical realist memoir, Growing Up Golem, was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award and for the Judy Grahn Nonfiction Award. Her first memoir, Ferocious Romance: What My Encounters with the Right Taught Me about Sex, God, and Fury, about being a lesbian journalist who went undercover with the Christian right, won a Lammy and was shortlisted for the Quality Paperback Book Club’s New Visions Award “for the most promising or distinctive work by a new writer.” A former columnist for the Village Voice, she’s also written for the New York Times Book Review, Slate, The Nation, Tablet, and Salon, and currently reports on the white nationalist movement. She has taught memoir writing independently for 20 years, currently in the Hudson Valley.