An Open Letter to the UFC Fighter “Ragin” Kajan Johnson

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). **

Hey Kajan,

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.

does this include yourself as well?

does this include yourself as well?

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.

22 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the UFC Fighter “Ragin” Kajan Johnson

  1. Words cannot begin to describe how badly I feel for mistreating you all those years ago Dusty. As a kid I was also the victim of a lot of bullying being the only “black boy” in Burns. Unfortunately at that point I was not strong enough to take this bullying in stride and continue to be a loving person. I learned that it was better to be the bully then to be the one being bullied as Im sure many do. It hurts my heart to know that I have had such a negative impact on your life to this point. I know that these words cannot heal old wounds, those scars are yours to bear. I can only try to offer a bit of insight into my life at that time.

    Growing up I always knew I was different. My parents always told me it was a good thing but kids always showed me the opposite. As early as elementary school I was beat up, called a nigger, ostracized by kids and singled out and picked on by both students and teachers. A lot of people in town did not like my Father who had married a white woman and was currently teaching their children at Decker Lake Elementary. Adults passed their hatred of my father down to their children who turned on me at any chance. My father ended up being pretty much run out of town after my parents breakup. My mother married the then chief of one of the local bands, a man that often stood up for his people against the municipal government on land issues, taxation etc. Needless to say he was not a very popular man to the mainstream public which further increased the torment that I got from the kids in various schools.

    When I first got to LDSS I had absolutely 0 friends. All the kids from my elementary hated me and the kids from the other schools would also pick on me, make fun of me and beat me up. One day I met a kid named Peter, we became pretty good friends. One day tho we were having an argument in the cafeteria and other kids began to egg us on and tell us to fight it out. Neither one of us wanted to lose face so we agreed, we went behind the school and we fought. I didnt really know how to fight at the time. This was the first time ever that I got in a fight without someone just attacking me and me attempting to defend myself. Im not proud of this moment but I won the fight. I defeated my best friend and I was praised for it. It was at this point that I realized that people will like you if you hurt others. I immediately changed how I interacted with people so I could be accepted by my peers and stop getting picked on.

    Now growing up in a mill town I dont really have to say it but all the people I wanted to be friends with were openly homophobic and racist. They spewed hated on the daily like it was completely normal. I was never racist or homophobic before, my parents had taught me better. My Dad is actually Bisexual and had been open with us about that from a very young age, a fact that I dreaded would get out and completely ruin my life as I knew it. I in turn moved forward bullying kids, spewing hurtful racist, homophobic taunts and putdowns like it was second nature and continued to move up the social ladder until I was almost popular.

    At 14 I was expelled from LDSS for “assaulting a staff member” which really wasnt as bad as they made it out to look. Regardless I made the decision to move to Prince George to live with my Father and attend school there. I wish I could say that getting out of that town would have changed the way I was with people but it didnt. It may have made it even worse in fact.

    The kids in PG were softer for the most part and it was very easy for me to establish myself at the top of the heap by laying down a few beatings to kids that challenged me when I would bully them in front of their friends. I attracted friends that were a lot like me, rebels that had something to prove to the world. We were the bad kids. We would pick on kids that were different or that we thought were weak, we would brawl with the bad kids at other schools, we would do crime etc. This continued all throughout high school. When I met you again at PGSS Im truly sorry but I didnt even think twice about cutting you down. It was just natural for me at that point. I didnt begin to realize the hurt that I was causing to people and how wrong I was until much later.

    At 17 I found MMA. This unfortunately didnt do much to stop my way of life right away either. If anything it blew my ego up to a whole other level. I got further involved in criminal activity, made worse friends and fought more on the street with better success. It wasnt until I started trying to be the best fighter I could be that I began to grow and become conscious of the repercussions of my actions.

    If you want to be successful at anything you have to really look within when you face failure. When I looked within I realized how damaged I was and how I was acting in order to compensate for the hurt little boy that I still had inside of me. It wasnt an over night transformation though. I have spent years and years attempting to repair the damage that I had received as a child. I have awoken to how badly I had been treating people for so many years and have attempted to do what I can to apologize and be honest about what I have done.

    Dusty I am truly sorry for everything that I put you through. I do not expect you to forgive me as I know I have wounded you very deeply. I only want you to know that the boy that hurt you is very different then the man that writes to you today. I wish you nothing but love and happiness in your life and career. I am happy that you are doing something you love which enables you to turn those dark memories into creative energy. Im sure your story will inspire more than one child that may be going through something similar to what I and others like me put you through. I speak these words from my heart Dusty. I am eternally sorry.

    • Hi Kajan

      Thanks for your quick response and thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kind words. I was thinking and hoping that this might be your reply because I saw that from the looks of things that you had changed and I’m glad I wasn’t wrong. I appreciate that you wrote back because if anything this shows everyone that every person has a story and a past and that our life experiences, no matter how big or small, can shape us in many different ways.

      I thought carefully for a number of days before posting this blog. It was not a knee-jerk reaction. It was through careful consideration, editing, thinking, meditating and through the encouragement of my loving husband (who has also experienced these kinds of issues because he also has same-sex parents) that I decided to put this out in the internet. To tell you the truth I was afraid to try and somehow approach you privately or try to “friend” on Facebook, or open myself to rejection. I feel really validated and honored by your words and I am glad that I chose this medium because it allows the world to see that no matter who we are, we all experience hurt and discrimination. I hope that this response you have given can stand in testament to your personal growth and your integrity as the man you are today and I think you should be really proud of yourself.

      I posted this blog because I am not the only person who ever felt fucked up years later by things that happened in the past and I kept feeling shame about the fact that I couldn’t “get over” these feelings. I hope that people read this interaction between us and feel a bit of healing knowing that they may themselves have been on one side or the other and see themselves in what’s happened here today.

      To know and to see that a person who I was so afraid of can change and have such a big heart helps me heal – the fear that that attitude would never change was what kept me feeling sad and vulnerable. What I needed to feel like I could forgive you, and forgive myself, was to feel humanized. I felt like you were some how superhuman, impervious to pain and able to cause so much devastation in others. I felt like no matter what I did back then I could never be seen by you as a person worthy of respect or even as a human being. By talking about your own struggles and by acknowledging what I had to say I think you have humanized us both.

      I forgive you, dude!

      • I think “Ranjh” said it best above…I’m glad you both have found your peace.
        The terrible irony in all this is that the 2 of you really needed each other in a way. You just didn’t know it 😦

      • As a guy who also grew up in that hate filled and eternally small town, I’m glad to see this exchange happen. Cheers to both of you for what you have done with your lives!

  2. having been in situations like this, reading your feelings so many years later Dusty, and then Kajan’s response is so great. Half the time when I have confronted my former bullies they didn’t even remember bullying me, didn’t see what they did as bad. It warms my heart to see this kind of closure, sucks that everyone involved had to feel this pain though.

  3. WOW. How amazing and powerful is this!?
    I admit to crying my little heart out reading this letter.
    It was as if I’d written it myself (only with great grammar and beautiful spelling!)
    No. it’s like you lived my life and wrote a letter about it. (minus the bikers and party lifestyle my moms had)
    I grew up with 2 moms. In the 80’s. Fergus Ontario.
    It was hell!
    I grew up damaged because of the bullies. I married a big tough man that I knew would kick the shit out of anyone that tried to hurt me. I married a man so that I wouldn’t have to defend myself every day. So that i wouldn’t have to hide every day.
    Turned out to be a good thing. he’s beautiful and amazing. And he’s taught me how to live and be ME, and how to be ok with all of that. 🙂
    I often think about sending a letter to my bullies. Most are now parents with “perfect” children.
    I hope and pray daily that their children never suffer even 1 % of the trauma, torture and bullying their mama’s and daddy’s heaped on me.

  4. This is truely inspiring to see two ppl talk about the conflict they had and then resolve it.when you forgive someone it doesn’t mean you are saying what they did is right it is letting you move on.that being said it is easier to forgive when someone realises they did wrong and is truely sorry for it as seen here on this blog. This exchange seriously gives me hope for humanity also it shows that most likely a bully is only being a bully to hide their own pain

  5. Thank You for sharing openly – an inspiration for healing.
    I know the community and know what it was like being different in a town that was ruled by racism and prejudice. Even from our ” own kind” were we ostracized –
    You have started the process of healing and your open validation will truly have a ripple effect – Thank You – for your honesty..

  6. Kajan is saying exactly what you want to hear. why don’t you tell her about that guy you got fired after digging up some 5 year old picture and acting all hurt b/c of the “racism.” After you cried all those crocodile tears about how you were mistreated b/c of your skin growing up, yet now we find out who the real bigot was.

    You just want to keep your job, but seriously, how does it feel? How does it feel having something come up from your past to bite you in the ass? I hope to God you get fired for this shit.

  7. He made these comments when he was in 8th grade. Then he owned up to them and apologized as an adult.

    Trying to openly knock him and score points in public was the wrong way to go about this. If she wanted closure, she should have sent him a private letter, instead of trying to dismantle his career for remarks he said when he was in 8th grade.

    • It is not for anonymous internet randoms to decide how a bullied person gets closure. I wouldn’t contact a bully privately either, because there’s nothing to hold them accountable for their behaviour. If you treat people like shit, you have to accept the fact that they will not remember you fondly, and they have no obligation to tiptoe around your public reputation or whatever. No job (even one as a mixed martial artist in the UFC) is more important than your own integrity as a human being.

      I’m glad Kajan has grown up enough to accept responsibility for his own actions.

      • But publicly shaming someone for their actions as an 8th grader is supposed to be okay? All the while promoting your band in the same post?

        It’s pretty obvious she used this as a platform to piggyback off of and promote her own band, twice in the post where she ‘seeks closure’. If you need closure, go about it in the responsible way, as an adult, and bring up the matter privately, if not it’s clear she is trying to utilize his public image in order to make her cause more grandiose.

  8. Being an Alumi of this school LDSS long before either Kajan or Dusty it saddens me to hear the culture had not changed so many years after I left. I graduated in the early 80’s and reading this brought tears to my eyes. Like both Dusty and Kajan i was bullied in Burns Lake as I was perceived as week by certain cliques. Lucky for me LDSS had a wrestling team I joined in 8th grade the coach was a teacher named Peter Nallyweg , I didn’t win one match the first year but I persisted and improved by 10th grade I was placing in tournaments even going to the BC winter games the last three years. I channeled my anger into my wrestling. About 10th grade most of the bullying had stopped as I had gained 50 lbs and 9 inches in height. The funny thing is some of my closest friends were made during those years and some still live in Burns Lake and I plan on returning this summer to visit my mother and sister who still live there. I left in 1986 and joined the US army and reside in the states now. I left Burns Lake because the questionable decisions I had made (Drugs Alcohol etc) had made it almost impossible to support myself after all it is a very small town and word gets around fast.

    Anyway Congrats to both of you for turning your experience into something positive I have visited Burns lake many times and some of those bully’s are not doing as well as myself or either of you.

    Huge fan of both of you.
    Keep rocking and Kicking but!

  9. Dusty, im sorry i didnt realize in gr 9 how much u stuggled with. U were a great friend and i missed u when u changed schools. I still remember hanging out with after school, and i thought ur moms were so nice. Im sorry i didnt know, because u were my friend and i would have defended u. I dont know if it would have helped. Im glad u have been able to confront ur bully, and that u 2 were able to share experiences. I still have pics of us from school and im proud to see u sucessful and on muchmusic. Good for u for sticking it out and sharing ur store to make the world more aware of how people treat each other.

  10. This is one of the greatest exchanges between two people I’ve ever read. Thank you for having the courage to send this letter as well as posting it for others to see. Having a mother who left my dad for another woman back in 1993, I can understand what that does to a child’s mind, especially one who didn’t have many friends. Luckily and from what I’ve assumed due to the fact that I’m a big guy, most people just kept their mouths shut and bullied the smaller kids so I didn’t deal with as much harassment as you had to endure.

    I think it’s amazing that you didn’t let the weight of the world crush you and you’re living out your dream. Keep kicking ass(figuratively, that is!)

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