All my life I’ve been told to settle down and take the joke. The joke was always predicated on my being different, not fitting in. Partly because I was fat. Partly because I was nerdy. And partly because of something else: something my childhood persecutors figured out a long time before I did.
I never did learn to settle down and take those jokes. I grew up, got out, and moved on. But many years later, there seemed to be a new word for the kind of ‘jokes’ I’d had to put up with as a kid. That word was ‘banter’. The word had always been around but now it seemed to have been weaponised, to have taken on a new tone: menacing, creepy, aggressive.
It was banter when men trolled women with rape threats online. It was banter when TV shows aired transphobic jokes and sketches. It was banter when a rich man and friend of the Prime Minister was caught saying ‘slope’, and ‘Irish cunt’, and ‘nigger’, and was allowed to get away with it.
‘Banter’ had, once, been just another word, but now it had metastasized. Banter was something vicious and nasty and violent and unrelenting. And this time there would be no salvation in growing up, because this kind of bullying had spread from the schoolyard to the boardroom, and no hope in getting out because banter could follow you across oceans and continents, climb beside you onto the bus that took you home from work, and into the bedroom where you tried to sleep uneasily beside your blinking smartphone. Banter was everywhere.
Banter was the crap that I had hurled at me every day for simply daring to exist as who I was. What choice did I have but to howl back?