A couple of tweets from one of my mutuals recently gave me pause for thought. They were from a fellow trans woman, who was attacking another trans woman on the grounds of an opinion about something with which she took offense. In response to that opinion, she had made several jokes about the woman’s lack of femininity.
When I saw the statement and accompanying photo which my mutual was criticizing, I was first struck by the fact that I disagreed with the criticisms—mostly because I knew what this person had looked like pre-transition, and to me it seemed like they’d come a long way in getting healthier and probably happier—and certainly would’ve registered to me as a woman on sight, regardless of my awareness of her identity. Next, I was struck by the reasoning behind it. The opinion that this person was attacking had nothing to do with transness or how they looked, and it hadn’t been any kind of personal attack—though I did understand why my mutual was upset about it, and why, assuming that the opinion-haver would never see or acknowledge her response, she would choose to aggressively shit on that woman’s personhood instead of trying to form a counter-argument.
It read to me mostly as a statement that my mutual considered this person an enemy because of her opinions—and that she felt this enemy needed to be destroyed in any way that she could. Most importantly to me, though, is that I saw a reflection of something I had also done—recently, in fact—to another trans person for the same reasons; and I really had to ask myself what made me think I should ever take this approach, when even to me it came off as a bad look on the part of my Twitter mutual.
When I had made the remarks that I did, I got a lot of backlash on Twitter over what people were describing as ‘transphobia;’ a response which didn’t register with honesty to me because, aside from the fact that I am trans myself, I really do believe that if you truly respect someone’s personhood and identity, then you would treat them no differently from anyone else—which can include saying mean-spirited things to hurt someone’s feelings when that’s the response you feel is deserved. The problem is not, and really isn’t ever, with the content of the remarks themselves, so much as it is with the attitude that making these kinds of remarks at all is acceptable behavior.
Being involved in any kind of online community has been a struggle for me because I don’t have it in me to hate someone that I don’t know personally—and a lot of groups bond into existence over mutual hatred of a conceptual someone. As soon as you label yourself a part of a thing, you imply the existence of an outside of that thing which you have chosen not to be a part of—and it is very easy to slip into the thinking that everyone outside of your thing is worse for being there. This attitude is reinforced by sharing it with the other members of your group, and it can very easily become passé to just hate whatever people or groups your team has decided it is acceptable to hate.
Throughout my time on the internet, the groups I’ve put the most ire towards have always been those who occupy a space in close proximity to mine, but without operating under my logic—or otherwise, people who have aggressed against me personally in one way or another. I felt justified in choosing my enemies because I saw them as making things worse for me somehow—maybe by normalizing ideas and approaches that I find disagreeable, or by personally making my life harder. When I feel affronted, I am quick to draw lines in the sand, lash out and make my feelings known to anyone who will listen—and the world is always listening.
From my perspective this seemed fair, as it feels like self-defense. ‘They’re fucking with my way of life so fuck them—I am going to get into their head and fuck with them right back.’ After all, if I don’t say anything or retaliate, then they’ll think they can get away with it, right? How can I stop them from fucking with me if I don’t make sure that everyone understands the problem and where I stand?
Any martial arts master will tell you that the best strategy for dealing with an opponent is to run away. You may think that retribution is necessary to stop the spread of tyranny from those who are prone to do wrong, but in truth you are meeting tyranny with your own. You are deciding that they are as undeserving as you were of whatever they sought to take from you, and so become the same beast.
And it’s not like you can’t win the favor of the public or live a successful life being that way, be you tyrant first or in reaction—but it does lock you into a battle; and no battle ever really ends until either everyone walks away, or everyone is dead.
No matter how justified I might’ve felt or my mutual might’ve felt in insulting the people we insulted, neither of us accomplished what we really wanted to happen by retaliating—which is to make people disagree with our opponents and to see things our way. If anything, we both salted the Earth for anyone that wants to be on our side who doesn’t share our feelings of justification for those actions. If either of us wanted to subvert the influence of the people we were attacking, all we had to do was be even more of someone that others want to listen to than those people are, until no one wants to listen to those people anymore because what they say rings less true to them than what we say. Hell, we would’ve both had better odds of converting the very people we were attacking to our sides had we not even addressed them at all, but simply kept disseminating our own ideas into the world until they would have their minds changed by someone else who has reached even further conclusions based on our inspiration.
I’ve had to think a lot in recent years about the act of calling someone ‘retarded.’ It’s something I grew up with being tossed around constantly, but have now met people who take serious offense to its use as an insult. The phrase “mentally retarded” is no longer used in medical practice, and regardless of its roots there, I have rarely seen anyone calling someone ‘retarded’ as an insult because they actually believe the person to suffer from disability, or even because of thinking that the action being called retarded is something that they think a disabled person would do. More often, it is little more than a way of stating that you think less of someone for having done something that you wouldn’t have done yourself based on your understanding of what is logical.
To be offended that someone uses ‘retarded’ as an insult, then, implies that you believe there is a group which self-identifies as ‘retarded,’ which doesn’t make any sense. No one should hear someone else being called ‘retarded’ and think ‘I am being compared to this person,’ unless the thing they are being called ‘retarded’ for is something that you would also have done. That’s what I’ve always thought, anyways—but I really believe that the issue people have isn’t so much with the implication of who ‘retarded’ might refer to, but rather with the idea that the person using it might think less of people at all for behaving differently from them. It raises the question, ‘what could I do that might make you think I’m retarded?’ And just as well, ‘if I have my own disagreement with this person and call them retarded, will they not be offended?’
A lot of relationships are foundationally competitive. Some people like to be challenged (be it on emotional, physical, or intellectual levels), and seek relationships which will force them to fight back. When you see people defend, for instance, ball-busting one-another, it’s because they feel most comfortable in an actively confrontational environment, and want to exist with the expectation that everyone around them is ready for the same aggression they are expecting to receive in return. Many people thrive in this environment and many don’t—and the best way to stay out of that is to stay away from those kinds of people. Claiming that this way of life doesn’t deserve to exist and trying to combat it is only entering the competition in its own way—but on a team with different rhetoric and its own hierarchy of acceptability from behavior. If you don’t want to compete, then don’t.
I thought for a long time that I wanted to—perhaps even had to—compete. In the long run, though, I have accomplished very little in being offensive to even the people most offensive to myself, or most agreeable to my audience to go up against. When you attract a bloodthirsty crowd, you can only expect to get bitten as soon as someone who fought alongside you decides there is a reason to see you as the enemy. New opponents will always appear, and in the absence of the ones you’ve had either disappearing or changing themselves, they don’t go anywhere—and will only feel that much more reason to oppose you if you keep coming after them long enough. As long as you keep fighting, you can only expect to be surrounded by warriors and to never know peace—which is something I’ve always been seeking.
I have been influential on the internet for long enough to understand exactly what my influence has created. By far the largest effects I’ve had have been constructive. Those I have empowered to be hateful toward certain people or groups have remained just as hateful, but accomplished nothing in changing their adversaries or themselves. Meanwhile, the constructive influence I’ve had has changed the whole nature of how discourse unfolds on the internet. The useful tools which my perspective brought to the table are the ones which people have picked up and incorporated into how they do things, regardless of any amount of agreement or disagreement with me—because in the end, people will always do what they see is proven to work.
The best way you can win friends and influence people is by living your best life. If you are succeeding, you will be copied as a matter of course. Whatever you do that doesn’t work will eventually be abandoned by others when it doesn’t work for them, and hopefully by yourself when you realize it hasn’t worked for you.
I am abandoning being a bitch online. I do not like the kinds of people that being competitive, angry and aggressive attracts to my side, and I don’t think the results of operating that way have been positive for me. What I thought was self-defense was really a quest for justice that I cannot justify. I am no arbiter of right and wrong, and no one to insist upon myself, even under threat. The best tactic is, if you can, always to run away—and as Tyler the Creator once so infamously suggested, on the internet you can just walk away from the screen or close your eyes. What has come to me positively in life has always been the result of the positivity and thoughtfulness that I put into the world—and the time I’ve spent focused on anything else seems to me now to have been wasted—except in how it brought to me a lesson in how I could’ve been loving from the beginning.