Hardcore, Soft Heart: Positive Activism as a Die Hard Rebel9 min read

Editor’s note: This beau­tiful piece is written to the audi­ence of those con­sid­ering activism.

Judging by my wild hair, pierc­ings, tat­toos, and affinity for skulls, leather jackets, and playing the guitar, most people don’t realize that as a child, I wasn’t even allowed to cel­e­brate Halloween. That was pure evil in rural Oklahoma. But once, at a church-approved “har­vest fes­tival,” a par­tic­ular candy dona­tion slipped through the cracks.

Self Portrait by the Author, Ra Vashtar.

Skull lol­lipops.

I don’t know what it was about that white front, black backed, grin­ning piece of sugar on a stick that called to me, but I felt a pull deep in my soul. I heard mur­murs about the inap­pro­priate nature of the con­fec­tion.

“That’s death,” the pastor said softly to my father, a church deacon, holding one of the offending treats so it stared my dad down with its sweet, hollow, sockets. But some­thing in me had to have it. I left that night with one of them in my candy bag, but my prize and I were soon parted as my father took the con­tra­band and dis­posed of it.

But that skull never left my mind, and I spent the next years of ado­les­cence toeing the line of alter­na­tive fashion and dreaming of leaving home to grow my hair out over one eye, dye it pink, and get a lip ring.

Truth is, I’ve always had a deep urge to rebel. Not nec­es­sarily for rebellion’s sake, but I always needed to push the bound­aries. To ask ques­tions. To find my authentic self past the bar­riers of the tight fence I was raised in.

I’m living life now as an artist, exploring themes of mon­sters and what makes us revile the dif­fer­ences in others. I’m out as being bi/pansexual and trans-masculine, and enjoying the freedom of my uni­ver­salist phi­los­ophy by prac­ticing an as-close-as-possible recon­struc­tion of the Ancient Egyptian Religion called Kemetic Orthodoxy.

I have a fiery and pro­jec­tive per­son­ality, the quin­tes­sen­tial Gryffindor, a real fighter at heart. I def­i­nitely project a per­sona that I am willing to tear down the system at any moment, guitar blaring. Because of that, I think people tend to under­es­ti­mate the other side of my phi­los­ophy.

I am not an aggres­sive person when it comes to my ideals. Sure, I’ll speak my mind, and I’m pretty likely to tell a friend they’re doing some­thing that’s hurting someone’s feel­ings, or that they’re doing some­thing that’s hurting them­selves.

But when it comes down to my activism and goals to make the world a better and more accepting place, I typ­i­cally take a non-confrontational approach. That breaks down pretty simply– I don’t waste my energy trying to break the wrong things down, but instead I use it to build the right things up. With com­pas­sion as one of my main ideals, this works for me on a func­tional level, but it actu­ally goes a little far­ther than that.

I want you to think of a time your mind was changed, a time when you were coming from a place of igno­rance or anger, and you changed to a posi­tion of tol­er­ance and under­standing. Who influ­enced you? How did they do it? For me, I think back to a few spe­cific cases, mostly sur­rounding my upbringing.

I was raised in a cul­ture that con­sid­ered being gay a sin. It was not okay to extend the full mea­sure of accep­tance to people who weren’t straight or cis­gen­dered; because of this, I wasn’t even out to myself until my early twen­ties.

But when I was about 18 or 19, I went with my older sister to meet up with her male friend from our church. He tear­fully admitted to us that he was gay. He told us that he had always felt that way. He had tried every­thing the church rec­om­mended to “stop it,” but it never left him. He couldn’t con­trol how he felt.

He said that the church was going to take him out of the wor­ship team and no longer allow him to vol­un­teer with the youth because he just couldn’t keep living a lie. I felt some­thing that day. I expe­ri­enced the strength in that man’s vul­ner­a­bility, and imme­di­ately felt com­pas­sion for him. That was when I started to really have some tough ques­tions about what I had been taught, and I’ll for­ever be grateful to that friend for having the strength to show us his heart.

I’ve expe­ri­enced many other changes of heart and have seen others go through them as well. I’ve never seen it happen because they got slammed by enough memes and clap­backs about the ludi­crous­ness of their opin­ions, or were argued into sub­mis­sion. But I’ve con­sis­tently seen people change through con­tact with vul­ner­able, open people being willing to meet them where they stand.

I’ve seen real heart to hearts make a dif­fer­ence, and that is what I strive to cul­ti­vate. At the end of the day, you can’t fight fire with fire, and you can’t fight hate by being louder and angrier than the other side. You have to fight fire with water, and hate and igno­rance with love and under­standing. Sure, you may not change everyone. You may get hurt being open, but you’ll be a person of love and integrity, and that’s a person worth being.

Truthfully, it feels great to attack things you don’t like. It feels empow­ering to bash other polit­ical beliefs, other ide­olo­gies, other groups, and other ways of being human. If it didn’t, America’s polit­ical system wouldn’t be broken by a war of polar­i­ties. When we fight each other without stop­ping to con­sider what both sides really want to accom­plish and why, we end up in a grid­lock that pre­vents progress.

The status quo can never stop dis­si­dents, but it can render them use­less via con­flict. It can stop the minority from get­ting trac­tion by keeping them focused on attack and defense instead of spreading the truth. So yeah, I’m a punk. I’m a rebel. I think one of the most badass things you can do is fight the system, and the biggest system there is is the cul­ture of divi­sion and the human nature of defen­sive­ness.

So I’m going to fight the system and bring down the man, but I’m going to do it with the power of my own vul­ner­able pos­i­tivity and will­ing­ness to listen. You can call me a bleeding heart, but hon­estly, that just sounds pretty hard­core to me.

If you’re ready to rebel, and want to make the world better, I’d like to end on some tips and guide­lines for making real change around you.

Disclaimer: remember that some­times strong action does need to be taken to pro­tect those who need it, and some­times lis­tening and being com­pas­sionate has its limits. Remember that these are just tips for when you want to see change in the world, and it is always okay to remove your­self from toxic people in your life.

If you are get­ting filled with neg­a­tivity, you can’t spread pos­i­tivity, so make sure you sur­round your­self with people of sim­ilar values. Also, it’s very easy to think “Why should I have to work so hard on myself for the sake of others? Why do I have to be so good just because they are being bad?” Even I feel this way some­times. But remember, you’re not doing this for the people who cause prob­lems. You do this to remove your­self from being the problem. You do this to rise above. You do this for your­self.

1. Get Gandhi about it.

Mahatma Gandhi is quoted as saying “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” What does that look like? Take a second to think about your values and what you’d love to see valued in the world. Do you want tol­er­ance? Time to let the other side talk and live and let live, even when it’s hard. How about authen­ticity? Be your­self, no matter the pres­sure. Let people see your flaws, and I guar­antee it will inspire con­fi­dence in others even if it’s uncom­fort­able at first.

2. Approach with cau­tion and care.

If you’re about to have a con­ver­sa­tion with someone about their views and you know you don’t agree, take a deep breath and make sure you don’t fall into the trap of acting overly aggres­sive or overly defen­sive. Cool con­fi­dence and active lis­tening are key and keep them from shifting into a state of mind that’s not recep­tive to alter­na­tives to what they already believe.

As humans, we tend to become very defen­sive about things that matter to us, and being chal­lenged aggres­sively makes us more likely to shut down inter­nally. A great ques­tion to ask them to get the wheels turning is, “What do you think might per­suade someone to my point of view?” Allow them to ask the same.

3. Don’t re-blog destruc­tion.

This can def­i­nitely be some­thing to keep in mind in real life, but I see it very fre­quently online and in social media. If a meme, post, story, or pic is rooted in tearing down the other side of an argu­ment and not sup­porting yours, it’s not going to be helpful. Some of these are phrased in a thin veil of sup­port­ive­ness, so think crit­i­cally.

Yes, some of these posts are hilar­ious and seem harm­less, but remember, even if your fol­lowers enjoy it, you’re rein­forcing an atti­tude to your own brain that may come back to bite you in the end. Before you hit share, ask your­self, “Does this come from a place of love, or one of aggres­sion?” Act accord­ingly. Clapbacks don’t change hearts.

4. Invest in your own story.

People are much more likely to take you seri­ously if they make an empa­thetic con­nec­tion with you. Being open with your own strug­gles on a human and per­sonal level is absolutely para­mount, but it isn’t easy.

The only way you’ll have the strength to tell people what you struggle with and why you stand where you do is to build your­self up to a point that you can handle the rejec­tion that will inevitably come from some people. Don’t neglect therapy, self-care, and pos­i­tive self talk.

5. Remember who you’re fighting for.

I’ve heard it said that there are two types of people in the world: those who think others should have to face the same hard­ships they did, and those who don’t want anyone else to go through what they had to expe­ri­ence. Think for a moment about which one you want to be.

It isn’t as easy as it sounds. Being jealous and dis­missing those who haven’t “earned their place” in a com­mu­nity that has faced a lot of hard­ships is common and nat­ural to feel. But that means progress is being made and people like you are suf­fering less! I hit my rock bottom between the ages of 17–19. I was aban­doned and betrayed by all the people I looked up to. I felt absolutely iso­lated.

I vowed then that I would do any­thing in my power to keep people from going through what I had to. I am open about my autism because I want it to be okay for others on the spec­trum to accept them­selves. I am open about my anx­iety and depres­sion so people can feel less alone. I came out of the closet not just for me, but in sol­i­darity with every person, young or old, who might still be afraid to be who they are.

I want to make it okay for people like me, and the only way to do so is to openly be myself. If you do nothing else, I encourage you to do this. Come out as the person you’ve been afraid to be, and you’ll be sur­prised how many others you’ll inspire.

I hope I’ve helped you come up with some ideas for how to change the world with a big voice and bigger heart, or at least given you some insight into my phi­los­ophy as a com­pas­sionate punk. Please never forget, I believe in you, you are capable of changing the world, and no matter how sweet your heart is, you have the soul of a badass.

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  1. Thank you so much for sharing this! I, too, am a queer rebel and fighter and have been since the day I was born! The the way I see it, is no matter how low people have tried to drag me, I have to keep get­ting up and being the light. Wonderful mes­sage! 🙂

  2. Lovely post dear, you make some great points.


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