The Canary is pleased to publish this guest post from Siobhan Prigent. Prigent made headlines across the mainstream media after a video of her calling a Trump supporter “Nazi scum” went viral. Lots of people were shouting but Prigent became the face of this anger. This open letter presents a raw picture of what can happen when the mainstream media targets an individual.
As such there are trigger warnings for this article for suicidal ideation, fear of violence, fatphobia, biphobia/homophobia, racism and discussion of trans rights.
An open letter
I have decided that I need to speak up following the events that have taken place in the last month; events which changed my life forever. I am “that” woman, the angry snowflake lesbian, the “it ain’t over until the fat lady screams Nazi” woman (thanks, Daily Mail), or “the mad woman” (thanks, The Last Leg). This is how I will always be known. That’s down to me, my choices, my actions, my consequences. But I don’t think anyone has quite grasped the extent of these consequences and how they compare to the incident itself.
For those who have my face and name deeply ingrained in their minds, do you also recognise as easily the two men who went on a random and terrifying stabbing spree in north London a few weeks ago? For those who are threatening me with rape and murder, did you do as much to the man who drove his van into a post-worship crowd in Finsbury Park? I’ve been advised to keep quiet about politics. But let’s be honest, that wish is impossible when my demise is so very wrapped up in the political climate and agendas being pushed at this time.
“Regretful and frustrated”
Most people decided my apology on Twitter was disingenuous. If you’d seen me immediately afterwards, you would have seen how the moment I stepped away I burst into tears, regretful and frustrated by my involvement and knowing what I’d done had only made me and “the left” look bad. In that very real and raw moment, it hadn’t even occurred to me that I was about to go viral. I was just sorry I’d acted that way; sorry I’d shouted in anyone’s face (no matter who he was) and rattled by the whole atmosphere.
People say “she only regrets being caught”, which is a rather redundant statement because of course that now forms a part of my feelings. But it does not change the fact that I regretted my actions at the time. Most people who make mistakes don’t end up being publicly dragged over the coals and having their lives ripped apart as a result. I am not naïve. I understand why my orchestrated demise has been so public, and I’m not asking for pity. But I am asking those with common sense to help to try to prevent this happening to others, and approach it with sense, logic and solidarity when it does.
“The consequences are not proportionate”
My actions were wrong; wrong for me, and an ineffective way to protest. But the consequences are not proportionate. I left my contract, which I believe is fair given the publicity around my actions. I had to leave my home due to fear and threats, and am having to move permanently as I have no income. My chances of finding work in Clinical Research again are minimal. My family have been unjustly hounded. I’m closing down my business. Most gut-wrenchingly I have lost the love of my life, and therefore the whole future we had planned together. I have long suffered from mental ill health am barely hanging on to life by a thread. And as the chips continue to fall, I can’t guarantee I’m going to survive this. I don’t tell you this because I want your sympathy, I tell you this because I want people to understand the consequences of their actions, the way I’ve learned the consequences of mine.
I was foolish and fell into a trap set by those who attended with the intent of aggravating protesters. These people strategically wandered the crowds looking to unsettle others. We should have all ignored them and focused on a peaceful united stand against a globally destructive force. There are times where anger, shouting, and even comparing the beliefs of the hardcore right-wing to those in the past are appropriate. But they weren’t that Tuesday, and it shouldn’t have been me doing it. My actions were unhelpful and offensive to many and additionally have meant I’ve lost a huge amount.
I’m also being called out by some for apologising at all. I ask them to understand that I regret my actions because they were both unhelpful for democracy, and were harmful to me, those around me, and my life going forward. I have been told I should use this unexpected platform to fight back: this letter isn’t a fight, it’s just some words that needed to be said for me to attempt to have a life of sorts after this. I wish I had the energy to fight, but I don’t. All I can do now is survive.
‘Consider why you know my name’
I feel it is important to address the reasons why my actions have become so public. Have you considered why you know my face and name, or why the Daily Mail and its offshoots ran seven stories on me in just a few days (not to mention the multitudes elsewhere)? Here are some words about me with connotations that inspired prejudice; words that created the perfect storm, and made me the ideal poster-child for hate: left-wing, feminist, liberal, fat, woman, queer, Remainer, angry, protester, NHS, mental illness.
Yes, I’m left-wing politically, because that’s where my morals and values have the most matching manifestos. I’m a feminist because all over the world there is not equality between the genders, which I believe is important for everyone. I’m liberal because I believe we live in a beautifully dynamic world full of a glorious spectrum of people with different gifts to offer. I am fat, and given that I have mirrors, I am aware of my adipose tissue. The shocking level of mass fatphobia is disturbing because of the message it sends to those who are vulnerable. But calling me fat is nothing more than describing me, so it is not an insult.
I am a woman; a cisgender white woman who understands her privilege and will hopefully mend enough in time to try to continue to use that privilege to help raise up those without. I am bisexual, pansexual in fact if you want to get really technical. I’m a proud European, happy to still be in the EU, where all countries are held to the same legal expectations around important global issues, and where my nieces and nephews have the extra freedom and ease of opportunity for travel, education and adventures outside our small island.
Don’t be put off protesting
I protested, admittedly badly, and my annihilation since is a solid attempt to put others off protesting. But I sincerely hope it doesn’t as protest is one of the few powers we have. I worked for the NHS, an incredible resource we are lucky to have and should fight to protect. The leaps people have made when scrabbling together information about my employment history are really inaccurate, so I feel this needs addressing in more detail, as does the issue of my anger.
It’s important to reiterate I was not funded by the NHS for my contract. I love the NHS, I see its immense value and the tireless efforts that go into trying to keep it afloat. And I’m proud to have worked there for the majority of my career. Since my NHS employment, I have done various jobs. My most recent endeavour being contracting my services in Clinical Research via my new limited company.
The fact I’m a company director was treated as news in itself. But I don’t think people realise that you can set up your own limited company for less than £50, thus making you a director. Then, like me, you can offer basic administrative project support in an area you know well. That’s what I had decided to try to do with my career; to use my knowledge of research and healthcare to help mop up excess work where required. If you think I am gleefully rolling in ill-gotten money as a result, you are very much mistaken. The irony is I may be further vilified if I have to apply for unemployment benefits and declare bankruptcy, both of which are now very real and immediate possibilities. Again, I don’t want your sympathy, I just want you to understand the results of this hate-campaign.
“Why I was so angry”
The thing most people seem to be wondering is why I was so angry. The answer comes down to three main factors: the incident itself, my mental health, and my view of the world around me. I attended the Together Against Trump protest with the intention of peacefully protesting the state visit. After a well organised and unifying day, as the crowd gathered in Parliament Square, the atmosphere changed. That may just have been down to the group of cordoned off Trump supporters, but it was also clear that there were those from the group who had broken away to mingle with crowds near the stage. I stood to listen to two men shouting back and forth to gathered protesters, and the atmosphere felt very volatile and claustrophobic.
At that point, I should have made the choice to move over towards the stage, and will forever wish I had. I ended up chanting with the gathered crowd, and one supporter ended up near me with a single police officer looking out for his welfare. I’d never considered what I’d do when face-to-face with someone so deeply opposed to the values I hold. We were all too close and I felt adrenaline, panic and anger. The incident was over in probably less than a minute, and the officer who remained with the man handled it incredibly well. As soon as other officers gathered, I moved away, coming to my senses.
I by no means use it as an excuse, but a huge part of my reaction was down to my inability to regulate such a strong surge of emotions. I have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) – otherwise referred to as Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder. This is a regularly misunderstood mental health condition that results in suicide for around 10% of its sufferers. I had a breakdown in 2016, having struggled with my mental health since adolescence. I have always been very high functioning and hid a lot of what I was going through. When I finally suffered my breakdown, it was debilitating, and I had to re-learn so many basic communication skills and second guess every thought and feeling I had. I worked to regain control of my life and emotions and learned to prioritise the things that brought me happiness, comfort and a sense of achievement.
I had another set back last year but luckily had spent so much time being introspective and learning about the disease that I was able to move forward making better choices for myself. One theme that kept reoccurring with my therapist though (who I pay for) is that I am afraid to let myself be visibly angry, despite the fact I so often feel a knot of it in my chest when I look at the injustices in the world. As I began to recover and feel stronger I had decided to try to focus and use that passion for good.
I had not been in a position to test my emotional limits to such a huge degree as I did on the day of the protest, and after my reaction, I know I have a lot more work to do on regulating them. In all other scenarios I have managed well, but I shouldn’t have put myself in that position when realistically I’m still vulnerable. Daily life for many with BPD involves our minds telling us that the best solution for our problems would be suicide. That voice is there even on a good day; you just learn to reason with it and remember where it’s coming from. Therefore, despite the threats I’ve received from members of the public, the person I’m most at risk from is me. Outside influences affect this, from the kindness of strangers to subsequent business decisions that are out of my hands. My only real priority right now is to survive, if only for the sake of my family, who have gone through enough.
“If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention”
To explain my passion and anger, many of the t-shirts worn to the protest sum it up eloquently: “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention”. So what causes this anger? It’s that women in the Western world are again at risk of losing what autonomy they had over their bodies. It’s the rise of hatred, attacks and horrific murders of trans people, particularly trans Women of Colour. It’s the systematic out-casting of young Black men. It’s the way the NHS has been intentionally but slowly broken, to give deliberate bad publicity so we all rejoice when it finally crumbles and is replaced with insurance-based care. It’s the victim blaming of sexual assault survivors and the pitiful punishment of rapists. It’s the mistrust and contempt shown to any Black woman who dares to show anything resembling anger. It’s the vilification and suspicion shown to anyone with a mental health problem. It’s the rapidly increasing poverty of those most at risk, and the rapidly increasing wealth of those least deserving. It’s the increasing rejection of anyone “other”, in countries that were built on immigration.
My actions last week could never have positively impacted any of this, and that’s the great shame of it all. But my name being thrown around as an additional distraction from the rise of right-wing fear and hate was a win for those who promote it.
Hence this letter. Because if it only speaks to a handful of people then it still needed to be written. If just a few people stop to wonder why they’re being distracted by an inconsequential mid-thirties nobody behaving badly at a protest please turn and look in the opposite direction. Because there’s probably something terrible happening that will be devastating for those without the power to fight it.
“I understand and I am sorry”
For those who are most upset because I used the word Nazi, I understand, and I’m sorry I hurt you, particularly at the time of the D-Day anniversary. There is little point in me trying to convince you of the respect I have for those who fought, those who were victimised and those who were lost. Just believe that the intent was not to insult or minimise history.
Whether the man I shouted at can be tarred with the same brush in hindsight (what a wonderful thing that is), cannot be judged by me now. However, it would be remiss of anyone to think we are not in a time where the alt-right is rising up and becoming more powerful and emboldened. I don’t say this to ask you to condone my actions – because I don’t condone them – I just have nothing to lose by pointing out that there are sad and scary similarities in the direction of politics today as those in the past that had horrific outcomes.
Two weeks ago, I was in fear for my life, jumping at shadows, and believing I would never be safe again. Then my world collapsed further than anyone could have imagined. I began to grieve for the life I had lost, and with that my fear has become numbness and a realisation I have nearly nothing left to lose.
“Attempting to survive my own mind”
I will likely be screamed at by strangers in the future, and some will say that’s fair. I may have milkshake thrown on me at some point, and some will say that’s deserved. I will likely lose out on jobs, and some will believe that’s fair given how public my political opinions are and that my industry must vehemently try to appear apolitical.
I may be intentionally physically injured, and while the high number of people who tried to contact me say this is what I deserve, I wonder if they think it’s a proportionate response to my actions, especially given the consequences I’ve already faced. I certainly don’t think hurting me would be good PR for anyone, as currently, the narrative works for the right when it comes to me.
But I know that wouldn’t stop the angry few. No attacks will change my situation, so fear is not my priority, for the sake of my family my survival is. I’m not attempting to survive the ongoing vicious retribution coming my way, I am just attempting to survive my own mind.
I’d like to thank those who have stood by me, my friends, family and strangers who have had more impact than they could possibly realise. The people around me may not all share my political opinions, but their kindness has quite literally saved my life in the past two weeks. Even those people who supported the hate campaign, but then had the sense to say “enough is probably enough now” as it escalated deserve my thanks for that logic. I know anyone affiliating themselves with me and my reputation is risking their own, but I hope the ongoing consequences only fall upon me.
Featured image via Siobhan Prigent and Emily Apple
- If you are affected by the issues in this article you can contact the Samaritans on 116 123.
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