How Dirty Is Too Dirty?

Content Warning: abuse, sexual assault, pedophilia mention, homophobia

No, really, though. 

How dirty is too dirty when you’re washing your and other’s laundry in public? What? Y’all don’t wash your ex’s laundry??? Weird. 

For the northerners here, or just those who weren’t raised by my mother and have zero clue as to what I’m referencing, “Don’t wash your dirty laundry in public” was one of the many, many conditions of my 90’s-evangelical-southern-belle upbringing. And yes, it was just as awful as it sounds. 

Now, when you’re a snotty-nosed kid, whose strongest grievances are not being allowed to immediately inhale the donuts you see at Walmart, or not being able to go more than a couple days without being subjected to a bath, or your parents absolutely insisting that you cannot wear the same superhero costume every single day for a month without washing it, this “washing dirty laundry in public” business is inconsequential. However, when you begin to formulate your own opinions, identity, discernment, and dare to start flexing your new-found agency, this phrase becomes a little more important, or in my case, absolutely ridiculous and restrictive. Furthermore, when you deign to become a writer, one who is heavily influenced by your lived experiences and confident in your now, say, 30-year-old agency, you might find yourself writing a blog posing a potentially scandalizing question:

How dirty is too dirty?

To cut to the chase, because I know your whole day’s worth of happiness is waiting with bated breath to hear my opinion, I believe even the dirtiest pair of drawers deserve some air time. Throw ‘em out in the wind with abandon. Get the stink off ‘em. Cue the entire matrilineage of my family clutching their pearls.

Now, I’m not saying go to the nearest corner and start hocking off stories that aren’t yours (i.e., stories that don’t involve you) at the top of your lungs like a newspaper boy hard up for cash and straight out of Newsies, but if your lived experiences are influenced by someone else’s choices, regardless of their cleanliness, you have my full support (with gusto!) to air out those bad boys.

What about R-E-S-P-E-C-T? What if your family or your 16th ex sees and gets mad??

Here’s the thing—honestly writing about your life is not disrespectful, regardless of whether or not that writing depicts someone in an unflattering light or not. They chose a path in life, one that hypothetically affected someone else, and sometimes the consequences of those choices are reflected in someone else’s healing or processing of said effects. It is absolutely acceptable to use this tactic of healing, whether it be from trauma or a break-up. Not only is it acceptable, it’s effective! If the person in question happens to see the fruits of your labor and doesn’t like it? Tough. That is not your problem. Someone else’s response to your truth is none of your business. Their feelings are theirs to reconcile. I realize for some this may seem harsh, and it’s okay not to agree. I’m here for the writers who want to write their life’s story, whether it be through poetry, memoir, creative nonfiction, etc., and are reticent to do so because of unnecessary guilt or antiquated ideas of politeness. 

I spent much of my youth walking on eggshells for others, because I was taught to be seen and not heard; taught that my feelings and my body were not as pertinent as others’, especially my perceived superiors. As a human inhabiting the earth with other, regular humans, how does that make sense? Ding ding ding! It doesn’t. This indoctrination did nothing but stunt my growth and healing as an individual. In the spirit of full transparency, take a big whiff of some of my life’s rank laundry:

  • I am a gay, feminist woman whose mother believes my “lifestyle” will send me to hell. (My mother is the rank one here, not my gay, feminist wiles of being a woman.)
  • Family members of mine have actually relied on the “pray the gay away” method. (It has not been effective, but I guess there’s still time.)
  • I have not talked to my mother in about a year and we haven’t had a great relationship for most of my life. (You get a cookie if you can guess just one reason why.)
  • I have endured several physically, mentally, and emotionally abusive relationships; some romantic, some platonic, and some familial.
  • I am a sexual assault survivor.
  • One of my step-fathers (yes, emphasis on the “s.” There have been several!) is a pedophile.
  • A number of my family members are racists and homophobes.

The list could go on, but I think it’s fairly rancid in here now. Each of these truths has played a part in who I am today. They have challenged me and broken me down and I have used them to forge myself from the rubble. That is my origin story to write, regardless of how those involved feel about it. As someone that does not align with those bulleted beliefs and behaviors, I feel it is my duty—to myself, my loved ones, and for the betterment of society—to use my experiences in speaking against them. How beautiful it is to survive through an unexpected and absolutely sewage-ridden existence and live to tell the tale of my rebirth. How fulfilling it is that my decisions to wring out my dirty laundry for others to gawk and gasp at empowers others to embolden themselves, or serves as validation for other survivors that they aren’t alone, that they can thrive. I hope you, too, are able to experience the beauty of scrubbing and dunking your laundry in suds and sunlight and laying it all out on the line to shine once you’re finished. It sure smells good from here.

Abigail Griffin

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