On Tuesday 24th April, Alek Minassian drove a van into a Toronto crowd, killing 10 people and injuring 14 more. He prefaced his attack with a post on Facebook declaring the below:
“The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”
Since the attack, there have been a bunch of thinkpieces looking at incels (‘involuntary celibates’) and MRAs (‘Mens Rights Activists’) and there have been a lot of people wondering how this could have happened, how someone could be led to be so violently deluded. This isn’t your common-or-garden variety political terrorism, this is a much murkier ideology that’s being pushed here.
And, as in the aftermath of Elliot Rodger’s attack, all I can think is ‘that monster could have been me.’
I was an awkward kid growing up mixed-race in Jordan, a country whose kids didn’t seem to like me very much. In their defence, I didn’t work hard to make myself likeable. I kept to myself, didn’t work hard at learning Arabic, made friends with books and Amiga games instead of with people. I was not good at socialising, is what I’m saying.
And then came puberty.
I noticed girls and girls didn’t notice me. I was scrawny and had weird hair and mumbled a lot because my confidence was through the basement. It didn’t really help that my mother had told me she’d cut my penis off if I so much as went on a date before I turned 18. She later pointed out that this was obviously a joke, but at 13 or 14 it really didn’t feel like one!
I remember that the only real conversation I had with my first crush was a mumbled ‘yeah I like him too’ when she noticed I was reading Stephen King and said she was a fan. Smooth, young me. Smooth. There were other crushes, and I was just as charming to them. Astonishingly, no girlfriends were forthcoming.
When I got to IB stage in Palestine (think A-levels, or last two years of high school in the US) I started learning how to actually get along with people. I had friends! And acquaintances! And some of them were girls. Not bad for a nerd in a war zone. I fell in love (but not really, you know) with a beautiful girl who made my heart do somersaults. And, being the lovesick fool I was, I wrote her a love letter.
She wrote a reply saying she was flattered and firmly hoping we’d be good friends. And I was happy she replied… until it wasn’t enough. I was a nice guy, there’s no reason I wouldn’t be able to woo her and win her affections. That’s what they do in the movies, right? And they get the girl, so why shouldn’t I?
I wrote two further letters, and she firmly but politely rebuffed my advances again. And I crossed a boundary by kissing her on the hand when that kind of relationship was firmly off the table. Like an idiot, I put a good friendship in danger through my lack of respect for her, and I’m astonished she’s still friends with me. If you’re reading this, you’re a saint and I’m sorry for my hormone-driven nonsense. But that’s how it starts, with hormone-driven nonsense. You overstep a boundary, are rejected and are hurt – and it’s natural to be hurt, even if you know you did wrong. But dwelling on it is unhealthy, and that’s a pattern I’d fallen into.
When I got to England in 2001 at the age of 17, my hormones went into overdrive. I found myself falling for each of my closest female friends, one after the another, pushing and pushing for them to enter a relationship with me. Each time I was… not rejected, per se. I don’t recall any ‘let’s go out’ ‘no let’s be friends’ conversations with them. But it was made increasingly clear that I was a friend and nothing ‘more’. As if being a friend to these women wasn’t an immense privilege already. Today we’re still close, though less so after we’ve drifted to different parts of the country, and I can only be grateful that they put up with my lovesick puppy routine each time it happened.
The ‘nice guy’ narrative was running around and around my head more and more. Nice guys finish last. Women like bastards. Why am I alone when that guy has a girlfriend? I’d have coffee with friends and sit and sulk because a couple was being couple-y at the next table. I’d say things like ‘I don’t want to see gay people kissing because I don’t want to see anyone kissing, it reminds me how alone I am’ (yay for underlying homophobia). I once even wrote a godawful couplet about skies vomiting something or other as I stew in my loneliness, or something. Vom.
I went to uni and almost immediately fell in love (again, not really, if it’s not mutual it’s not love) with someone who just seemed to click perfectly. We were almost inseparable and we seemed to understand each other perfectly. I wanted her badly (listen to that language, ‘I want you’, how possessive). And she didn’t want me back. Sorrow and self-pity and, yes, rage were swirling around inside me.
And that’s when I could have been lost.
The difference here is that the rage was directed inwards. It became a part of my depression, because depression isn’t always sadness, it’s anger and hopelessness. No woman would ever like me the way I like them, how could they, I’m disgusting, I’m a slob, I’m a loser. Because these feelings were internalised, they just fed on my insides and were quite happy wrecking my psyche.
If I’d found a community of people of men who’d felt the same way, I’d have felt accepted and understood. We would have shared jokes and memes about women who won’t give us a chance (the so-called ‘Stacy’) and the men they choose over us (the so-called ‘Chad’). I’d have felt like I found people who would care for me even if the women I fell for wouldn’t.
I’d be ripe for the red pill.
Instead, I threw myself into the community of nerds and geeks in the scifi society and tried to swallow my loneliness. In retrospect, it was silly to feel lonely when I was surrounded by friends and people who loved me – they just didn’t love me in the way I felt entitled to be loved.
And that’s the rub, isn’t it? Entitlement. No one is entitled to a partner. No one is owed love. But we’re flooded with imagery and messages that tell us that yes, we are entitled to it all. Rescue the damsel, bestow the kiss. Give her a diamond, get sex. Rub her feet, she’ll give you a blowjob. Put more favour tokens in, go on, she’ll pay out eventually. She dumped you? Stand outside her window with a boombox, that’ll convince her to take you back.
The incels and the MRAs and the Men Going Their Own Way and so on, they scare me. Because I can understand them. I understand the anger and the hatred, because I’ve felt them too. We just directed it in different directions. If I’d directed my anger outwards more often and lashed out at more people, who’s to say I wouldn’t be hailing Elliot Rodger and calling for the death of women who’d dare to choose not to fuck me. I’d like to think it’s not in my make-up, but I’m learning more and more that people change and the psyche is a strange dangerous thing.
This is not to say that I’m a saint for not going that direction. I’m not better than anyone, I’m just me. I’m still growing and I’m still unlearning those patterns. I do still overstep boundaries occasionally, and to any woman I’ve ever made feel uncomfortable: I’m so sorry. I will do better. I know that being sorry isn’t enough, you have to actually make good with action.
And I will.