I originally unloaded this as a post on Facebook, after reading one too many comments on there and twitter about Phillip Seymour Hoffman's death including the phrase "what a waste". This phrase is a big huge trigger for me. So I wrote about it.
Back in the 90s, I remember having more than one conversation (or argument) with women who would see a really attractive gay man and say, "what a waste". And I would ask, "Why, exactly??" What is wasted about a gay person? Is it your assumption that they are "opting out of the gene pool"? Are you just lusting and it's a way to offload your aggression/frustration about it? Because what a waste they can't have babies (which we now know isn't even an accurate assumption)? I think the people who would say this truly thought their comments were innocuous. Like that there was nothing wrong with saying it (even that it was said in jest). To my knowledge people don't say this anymore, but I wouldn't be surprised if this context still existed.
When someone comments on the death of a famous person, or any individual who died "too soon", for reasons of their own cause or by another's hand and says "what a waste of a life", I am filled with a kind of rage I don't know what to do with. What makes for a waste of a life? Are people dying of bad drugs in mental hospitals a waste of a life? Is someone dying at 25 of a terminal disability a waste of a life? Regardless of what a person did in the time they had here, nothing they already did is wasted. They haven't done what they haven't done, so it's impossible to say what could have been. Is the death of a famous person worse than the death of a different drug addict, or an unknown talented person? Is it a waste because of how they died? What about people who die too soon because they eat food that kills them? Do we say that about them? Is the waste about the content, or what hasn't happened yet? Are people projecting their own regrets and sense of fragility of life?
I know that calling gay people "a waste" isn't the same as calling the death of someone who overdosed "a waste", but something in the sentiment triggers for me the same kind of anger, even rage, about the assumptions and judgments we make about people and actions, and class, and race, and disability, and human life.. all kinds of things that are bound up in those few words.
Marilyn Monroe, Amy Winehouse, Kurt Kobain, Janis Joplin, Vincent Van Gogh, countless others known and unknown, just now, P.S.H. -- You may think saying "what a waste of a life" is a way of saying that they were so valuable and you are so disappointed that they are not going to have impact beyond their death (but even that is untrue, just look at the list above). None of them were a waste for having been on this earth, contributed what they have, experienced and loved and been loved.
No one is a waste, and everyone is valuable. Underlying the phrase "what a waste" is a very unexamined connotation to the value/lack of value in any given human life. Yes, precisely -- the opposite of what you might think you're trying to express. Thanks for listening and considering.