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I'm So Sick of Being Gaslit Over COVID-19

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Today a friend posted on Facebook, “Don’t leave your house unless you absolutely have to. And if you absolutely have to wear a mask and social distance.” I fully agree with this sentiment. The thing is, a couple months ago this person was posting on that same Facebook about the cross-country road trip they were on, including pictures of the restaurants they were going into to get takeout, video of the hotels they were staying, and they were sad-reacting to all of my Facebook posts at the time saying then exactly what they are now saying now.

If I sound bitter, it’s because I am. My partner is high risk because of respiratory issues. We both know that if we were to need treatment it would likely be compromised by medical fatphobia, and we also decided very early on that we would do anything we could to keep from giving COVID to anyone else and having their blood on our hands. So, we’ve been fully quarantined for nine months. For us that’s meant nobody coming to our home, and not going anywhere except absolutely necessary medical appointments during which we limit contact, social distance and never ever remove our masks.

Before I get too far into this I want to acknowledge our privilege here. My partner, Julianne, is a virtual executive assistant and so she already worked from home. While her work slowed down a lot it didn’t stop. I’m a speaker and writer, I experienced a near complete loss of that income for the first few months, but now I’m doing more virtual speaking and paid writing. By seriously tightening our budget (including cooking literally everything we ate) we’ve been able to get by. I absolutely understand that some people have to go to work because our government has done an utterly unacceptable job of supporting people and businesses in doing what they need to do to be safe, and others are in dire financial straights because of this. We also have each other, and this would be much more difficult if we were alone. And, as always, white privilege underlies everything in our lives.

That said, while some people may have no choice but to work, or need to create a quarantine bubble in order to have human contact, there is a lot going on that absolutely doesn’t need to be happening, and that’s where the gaslighting comes in. It’s difficult to sacrifice for the greater good, but what’s even more difficult is making those sacrifices when others work hard to make it seem like what you are doing is ridiculous in order to justify and excuse their own risky behavior.

Let’s start with some quick facts. The World Health Organization declared the
COVID-19 outbreak to be a global health emergency on January 30, 2020, the U.S. reported its first COVID death on Feb 29 and declared a state of
emergency on March 13. By March 26, the U.S. led the world in confirmed cases. Absent federal leadership, states began to put travel and gathering restrictions in place in March. On April 17, Donald Trump began encouraging his followers to not just ignore, but protest, these life-saving restrictions.

And that has created a group of the worst gaslighters in the U.S. Led by the current occupant of the White House, they are committed to risking their lives, and the lives of everyone they come in contact with, using “rationale” that is anything but rational. The people who, despite millions being sick and suffering and hundreds of thousands dying, continue to regurgitate talking points about how this is just like the flu, or that we have to choose between sacrificing the lives of those who are at risk or keeping the economy strong. (In fact, that’s not the case and even if it was, a society with any amount of compassion doesn’t choose making sure that the rich stay rich over making sure that others stay alive.)

While I am deeply angry at these people’s despicable selfishness, it’s easier to deal with the of gaslighting aspect because it’s so clear what is happening. Someone who brings a gun (and no mask) to protest restrictions that exist to keep people from suffering and dying isn’t someone whose opinion of my choices I was ever that interested in.

To me it much more difficult to deal with gaslighting from people from who I expected better. Now, this is a new illness and information has been developing and so, especially in the beginning, people’s different reactions
could be understandable. There was confusion in the beginning even about mask wearing. But let’s be honest, we’re long past that now. It has been clear for months that mask wearing, avoiding contact and social distancing when we need to be out, staying outdoors and hand washing are our best defenses, saying that you went to a “socially distanced” holiday dinner and then sending pictures of eight people around a table with no masks on isn’t fooling anyone, but it’s putting a lot of people in danger.

Throughout this crisis, businesses have continued to attempt to gaslight, enabled by a combination of profit motive and loose restrictions created to appease a federal government and local terrorists who showed up at state capitals with guns to insist that “personal freedom” includes the right to harm and kill others rather than wearing a piece of cloth over their face. (One wonders if they were previous protesting no shirt, no shoes, no service requirements, but that’s a question for another day.)

Restaurants are a good example of this. “Complying” with outdoor dieting restrictions by putting up tents or building structures to enclose diners (by their definition everything is “outside” since it used to be, before they enclosed it) and indoor dining restrictions that are absolutely non-sensical, like being allowed to take off your mask once you’re at the table, have created opportunities for people to do the wrong thing with impunity. Sure, some people may legitimately believe that they are magically immune from coronavirus as long as they are seated at a table eating a meal, but for too many others “following the rules” just gives justification for risky behavior.

And this is where my personal frustration comes in. It’s been obvious for a long time that those who control our government cannot be trusted to help us through this crisis. The cavalry is not coming, at least for a while, and whether it’s because they are incompetent or because this virus targets the same people they do doesn’t matter. We need to take responsibility for protecting each other. That means all of us taking every precaution that we possibly can.

When people don’t do this and then try to justify it to those of us who do, it’s important to acknowledge that we are being actively gaslit. So let’s do some translating so that we can be clear about what’s happening:

When people justify their decisions to put themselves at more risk for coronavirus than necessary because they are low-risk, what they are actually saying to those forced to either quarantine or risk their lives because they can’t is: “I’m happy to prolong your suffering so that I can do what I want because I think I’ll be fine.”

When people tell you that they aren’t going to live in fear, what they are actually saying is that they are going to risk other people’s lives.

When people post maskless pictures to social media (you know that ones: “Had a socially distanced gathering, we just stood shoulder to shoulder
and took our masks off for this picture!”) they are not just flaunting the fact that they are risking the lives and safety of everyone in the picture, they are trying to model that behavior to everyone they can reach online.

As I write this, there were 223,570 new cases of coronavirus and 2,923 deaths — yesterday. The fact that we wish something wasn’t happening, or that we wish it didn’t require sacrifices, will never change the fact that it is happening and it does require sacrifices. If you’re continuing to make those sacrifices, you can rest easy knowing that you aren’t selfishly risking the lives of others. The people in your life who aren’t doing everything they possibly can to keep others safe and end this pandemic have no right to criticize your choices.

Take every precaution you can and stay grounded in reality. It’s not outside if it’s enclosed, it’s not safe to take your mask off for any reason (no, not even to eat or drink, not to take a picture or because it’s your family etc.,) it’s not a “quarantine bubble” if people have contact outside of it. These are the realities of our current world, gaslighting be damned.

Getty image via aerogondo

Originally published: December 16, 2020
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