An Open Letter to the UFC Fighter “Ragin” Kajan Johnson from Dusty Exner of Kill Matilda
**UPDATE: hey all – if you want to read Kajan’s awesome response and the comments from there, and you can’t see them, click on the title of this blog, and it will bring it up on a separate page. The comments are below. Thanks again to my amazing husband for encouraging me to come forward with this – its been a healing experience both for myself and for Kajan I believe (as he’s expressed to me). **
I thought of you the other day while biking to work, and something weird happened. I remembered what it was like growing up the child of two same-sex parents in a small northern town. I remembered how your voice was the loudest, the harshest, the most hateful. I started feeling upset. By the time I got to work, I was in tears and having a full-on panic attack. I had to leave for an hour and just walk until I could clear my head.
It’s been about 10 years since we last saw each other and I know that people grow and change over time. I certainly have. From what I’ve see online, you’re someone who has followed their passion and now you are a UFC fighter, succeeding at something I have no doubt you’ve worked tirelessly for. You are training to fight in Vancouver on June 14th at UFC 174 – pretty amazing. It also looks like you’ve become a person who cares about “the little guy” and an outspoken advocate for oppressed peoples. I can’t help but wonder how you can post tweets like the one below about the LGBTQ community and forget the way that you directed homophobic hate toward me in our shared past.
I moved to your town of Burns Lake BC when I was about seven years old with my mom, her “best friend” and her best friend’s daughter. I immediately became the most hated and picked on kid in school. Kids were always saying something mean to me, something about my mom, a word I didn’t understand. Lesbian. I didn’t know what it meant but I knew it was bad, derogatory. So before I even knew what the word lesbian meant, I was already defending my mother, and myself against these attacks. “No she isn’t!” I would cry, “no I’m not!” I remember the day I asked my mom if what all the kids were saying was true – if her and her best friend really were lesbians. When she told me yes, I cried and cried. I hated her. How could she be this awful things that kids beat me up and teased me about?
Our relationship suffered for many years after that. I couldn’t tolerate her showing any affection to her partner. I told her she wasn’t to touch, hug or kiss her partner around me. If I even heard the sound from the next room of them kissing I would feel sick to my stomach, I would get angry at her. The few friends I did have (and not many people chose to associate with me), I was embarrassed to bring around. I would warn her that my friends were coming over and I would beg her not to be in the same room with her partner in case anybody saw, or noticed. Our relationship was affected for many years. I resented my mother so much for being in a relationship that forced me to suffer through endless years of taunting and bullying, including being beaten up and physically abused several times.
I’ll never forget the first time you talked to me in the hallway. I didn’t know who you were, and I didn’t know how you knew me. You’d walk down the hall with a few friends and make sexual comments at me as you walked by and all your friends would laugh. I didn’t know how you knew my name or how to react, but it made me feel uncomfortable and embarrassed and I soon began to dread being alone in the hallway when you and your friends came by – I knew that I would be the butt of your sexual jokes. Soon after that you started making fun of me because my mom was a “dyke” and you started calling me homophobic slurs too. You called me a “dyke”. You called “lez”. You said shit like “eugh, that’s fucking disgusting!”. And you laughed.
Mercifully, my family moved to Prince George just before grade 9. I spent a blissful year in a new crowd of kids who didn’t know my secret, but who also didn’t seem to care. By the end of grade 9 I had gone public with the fact that I had 2 moms, and people were actually pretty cool about it. I don’t know exactly when you transferred to my high school in Prince George but seeing you in the hall brought a feeling of dread. My past had followed me. But maybe you were a different person – we both left Burns Lake behind. I remember trying to say hi to you a couple of times – I was naive, I thought maybe you didn’t like me because you just didn’t know me, that I could win you over by being really friendly and cool.
The first time you called me a fucking dyke at our new high school in Prince George, I felt hopeless. I’ll never escape my past, I thought – even in a new city, the taunts and the hate had followed me.
I remember the time I screamed in your face. I finally had had enough – My mom had broken up with her partner, my grandmother had moved in with us and immediately had a stroke, and shortly after that my mom had a nervous breakdown. She suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and had to quit her job. We moved in to the trailer park, we lived off my mom’s small disability subsidy. We were the poorest of the poor white trash. I lived alone with my now-single parent. She cried a lot, and laid in bed. She wouldn’t answer the phone and when her friends came to the door she made us hide and turn off all the lights. I worked a part time job to help buy groceries. You made your homophobic remarks on the wrong day and I grabbed you by the shirt and shook you as hard as I could. I windmilled my arms and legs as my friend pulled me off you. I laid in the sick room for an hour after our encounter, shaking and crying. I just kept saying to the counsellor who tried to talk to me that I didn’t understand why you hated me so much.
Where did those feelings of hatred come from? Why were you so threatened by someone you never met? Have you ever even met my mother? Because she’s a pretty lovely, beautiful person. Why were you so homophobic?
The social anxiety is something that’s never gone away. Even writing this letter makes me feel afraid. While I’m glad to know that you’ve found discipline through your study of martial arts and your career in the UFC, just knowing that you are out there and that you can kick the crap out of anyone at any time for any reason makes me start to sweat and makes my heart pound.
When I realized in my teens that I didn’t identify as 100% straight, I hated myself, I felt disgust. I felt like I had betrayed myself after all the times that people had said I was a ‘fucking disgusting lez’. I engaged in high-risk behaviours with men because I felt like I had something to prove. I hated my mom for being “a dyke”. There was a wedge driven in our relationship and I feel shame when I think back to the contempt I treated her with, just for being with the person she loved. I couldn’t even begin to develop a relationship with the woman my mother loved – I could never see her as anything but a target for my angst. she was the woman who turned my mom into that hateful term – into a fucking dyke lez.
Sure, other bad things have happened in my life since then and I’ve dealt with them. Yet here I am, all these years later, still victimized by your attitude back then. I think it’s because I was a child and I didn’t know how to defend myself. As I became a teenager I tried to put on a tough face and say things like “fuck you!” to show that your words didn’t hurt me, but my little self-defenses felt so fucking pathetic.
I have a good life now that I have worked hard for. I have a wonderful husband, a strong First Nations man who coincidentally was also raised by two women. I live the life I want to live as a touring musician playing in my band, Kill Matilda. A few years ago, I wrote a song about the missing and murdered aboriginal women, which is an important issue you’ve talked, tweeted and hashtagged about too. You’re a man who has experienced racism and small-town prejudice as a person of colour, and you’ve taken those hurts and become a successful fighter. I’m a woman who has experienced small-town homophobia and sexism and I’ve turned those experiences into anthems for strong women.
But when I see you post these tweets like you are so much on the side of LGBTQ people, it absolutely infuriates me and makes me shake to think that you could so brazenly take that stance without ever considering apologizing for all the hurt you caused me. My rage, my shame, and my memories make me feel crazy, even all these years later.
I just wanted you to know that I still think of you, and that as surely as you leave some real welts on your opponents in the ring, you’ve left a mark on me.