The Meliorist Apology

Written by Ainsley Doty

It’s been nearly 20 years since I was first published in The Meliorist. Working as an editor for the student newspaper kick-started my career and paved the way to my first full-time gig at Sportsnet magazine. I learned a lot during my time with The Meliorist; I’ve learned a lot more since. Of all the articles I wrote from 2004-2009, of which there were dozens, there are two that stick out in my mind, because they shouldn’t have been written. They are the two that I regret.

Arriving on campus in the early aughts, I was 17 years old, bursting with ideas and searching for a way to share them. Social media was in its infancy—Facebook wouldn’t go online for another six months, and YouTube, the following year. Most of us had flip phones and were charged per text, so from the depths of University Hall, we chatted on landlines and MSN Messenger. When I learned about the student newspaper, I recognized a different kind of platform, and I desperately wanted to be a part of it.

I considered the hallowed three-lines-free section, where people professed their love, told jokes, and tried to reconnect with a stranger after a night of dry-humping at The Roadhouse. But the Letters to the Editor section was more attractive, since it offered more real estate. I didn’t feel particularly passionate about any given topic, but as I flipped through the pages of the newspaper, I decided my first words in The Meliorist would be in response to someone else’s.

On November 11, 2004, my first Letter to the Editor was printed. It was entitled, “Coming Out of the Garden: Beliefs Rooted in Denial.” Another student had written in to discuss asexuality, and to highlight the lack of knowledge surrounding this orientation. I, a minor, who described myself in the article as “teetering on the edge of heterosexuality,” decided to weigh in. Right off the bat, I falsely equated asexuality with a “sexual dysfunction.” I argued, arrogantly and wrongly, that asexuality doesn’t exist because people with a low sex drive can simply seek treatment. I wrote, “If change is an option and Asexuality is a choice, then it is not an orientation.”  

When I reread this letter, I have so many questions for my former self. Why did I feel the need to weigh in on something that did not impact me personally? Why did I believe I had the knowledge and expertise to offer an opinion? Before hastily responding, why didn’t I reach out to the original author to deepen my understanding? In fact, they reached out to me; even after I’d publicly invalidated their identity, they were somehow still open to teaching me. I didn’t bother to learn. If I could go back in time and speak to my former self, I’d point out that she unknowingly views the world through the lens of patriarchal heteronormativity, concepts that would have been new to her. I doubt she would have listened, though. She was too busy being young, loud, and wrong. 

The second Letter was published just two months later. The past Editor-in-Chief (from twenty years ago) asked me to write an argument against same-sex marriage for a Letters to the Editor page dedicated to the topic. Despite having grown up in a conservative household, I considered myself a supporter of “gay rights,” as they were then called. In high school, I had two close friends who were out. My senior year, I glued Pride symbols all over my final Religious Studies project. (Sister Dorothy had a telling smirk on her face throughout my presentation; I think she was ahead of her time and institution.) On multiple occasions, I’d screamingly debated family members on topics like same-sex marriage and adoption. Based on my beliefs, I should have refused the assignment. But I didn’t.

In “Advocating for the Devil” (20 January, 2005), I argued that same-sex marriage shouldn’t exist because there was no same-sex divorce law, completely ignoring the fact that pre-existing divorce law would suffice. I asked what would happen if a same-sex roommate suddenly decided the two of you were Common Law and tried to take your stuff. I quoted Thomas Stowell in questioning the health of democracy “if any headstrong minority can violate the laws passed by a majority and enshrined in centuries of legal precedent.” (In this case, the minority was fighting for the same rights and freedoms already enjoyed by the majority.) To support my baseless argument, I used fallacy upon fallacy to shoehorn a point that I, myself, didn’t even believe. And for what? A so-called thought exercise? To see my name in print? How short-sighted my younger self was. How destructive. How embarrassingly on the wrong side of history, as same-sex marriage would be nationally legalized just five months later. 

I regret writing both Letters to the Editor, not only because they were inaccurate, but because they were potentially damaging. My greatest fear is that someone vulnerable may have read my uneducated musings, and that they may have felt isolated, erased, saddened, or worse. And to that person, I want to say that I am truly, deeply sorry. I was wrong. 

I should have been more careful with my words, because they would not vanish into the ether. Inevitably, The Meliorist newspaper, printed on smudged stock for a miniscule run, was digitized, archived, and immortalized. In the technological age, fleeting thoughts become timestamped vignettes of who you are in that moment, and although you’ll move on, grow, change, you’ll leave behind a permanent impression in our collective digital memory. Considering how much has changed in the past twenty years, I’m more hesitant now than ever to share pieces of myself online, especially as we move into this uncertain era of AI. 

Despite my many missteps, I’m working on forgiving my former self, because in the years to follow, she’ll become a feminist, a vocal ally, and a full-time writer who tries to use her powers for good. She’ll go on to complete a Master’s of Arts degree and write a thesis about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and the healing power of Indigenous theatre. She’ll move to Toronto and work in magazines. She’ll publish short stories. She’ll have many opportunities to see her name in print, each time feeling the jolt of excitement, paired with the uneasy knowledge that she may live to, once again, regret her own words.

And so, I often remind myself to heed a warning from Carl Sanburg, yet another imperfect writer: “Be careful with your words; once they are said, they can only be forgiven, not forgotten.” 

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