Recently, I blew up at another LGBTQ advocate who made some choices that I found questionable. I ended the conversation by telling them “Please don’t message me. I need a break from you. Thank you.”
A week later, they unexpectedly sent me an expository email to help me understand their perspective and tell me how I went wrong and blah blah blah … using their work email address tied to their LGBTQ advocacy group. This individual is probably not someone you would imagine abusing their power, authority, and male privilege to harass a lesbian blogger, but they did. I do not for one minute believe they would take ownership of that violation of my boundary especially as an extension of their male privilege. I’m writing this post for my sake, not their’s. I’m done with them, but I’m curious about how this unfolded.
The “final word” tactic is a classic symptom of toxic masculinity and masculine privilege.
When I say “No” – it means no. It doesn’t mean I owe you my time, attention, validation, acknowledgement, forgiveness, sense of fair play, etc. Attempting to force me to listen/read your side of the story is not appropriate or okay. It is a violation of my autonomy and shows a lack of respect for my personhood. If you are frustrated or angry that I cut you off and set a boundary, that’s on you to resolve. Ignore me, cut me off, tell someone how much I infuriate you, disengage with me, whatever you gotta do. But don’t try to force me to hear you out. I do not owe you anything.
Almost one year ago, the folks at FOX News published a response to some of my blog content – a piece designed to draw out the trolls and send them my way. They were so infuriated that I drew a boundary about Chick-fil-A sponsoring the Pittsburgh Marathon (Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon) that they wrote an article about it. Why on earth would anyone at FOX News even know about my blog, much less take the time to give me some column inches?
The only viable explanation is that someone with Chick-fil-A regional pitched the story to FOX News. They surely knew what would happen, what they would unleash on me. So they intentionally set out to make sure I heard from the pro Chick-fil-A perspective.
I survived that onslaught of nastiness, but it was tough. At the time, I wrote this for the Pittsburgh Current:
Beyond their outrage at my point of view, these folks opted to reinforce my concerns about bullying and safety for youth with a litany of vicious, horrible, and mean-spirited insults targeting me. They mocked my weight and my appearance, disparaged my mental health and motives for taking up this cause. They attacked my sexual orientation and credibility. They posted veiled threats. They dug into my public social media content to find old photos and details about my life just because they could.
Insults and bullying aside, they are just factually wrong on many points. They deny that Chick-fil-A discriminates in spite of $1.8 million examples otherwise. They believe that a franchise restaurant has no tie to the corporation. They think the prevalence of sexual violence within Christianity is not that bad or a systemic issue. They mistakenly state that I am calling for a boycott of Chick-fil-A which will hurt the employees’ livelihoods.
Then there’s the name calling. I’m a “Nazi, Communist, Fascist, Anti-fascist, Socialist. I’m also a snowflake, a ‘butt hurt snowflake’, a femtard (that’s a new one to me, I must admit), a libtard, disgusting, amoral, subhuman, vile, stupid, weak, a child predator myself, a baby killer, ugly, fat,” and so much more. They really seemed to seize on the fact that I am a fat woman critiquing a marathon.
How are these two events tied together? There’s a long-held belief that the “good guys” on the left behave better than the “other guys” on the right. In my experience, it has been my perceived allies and comrades in queerness who have bashed me the most over the years. It isn’t about the content of my opinions or the presentation, it is the simple fact that I am a queer disabled woman with an opinion. Just having an opinion, just setting a boundary around myself, these are acts that stake my claim to personhood, to being a human with as much authority and validity as the next person.
So they are very threatening acts. Imagine if other everyday folks started to say what they thought instead of what they were taught to think. Imagine if other everyday folks said “No, I do not want to hear these teachings” and drew a line. Imagine if we used writing and other forms of self-expression to explore realities where the men who have accrued the most power do not hold all of the cards.
I grew up in an abusive and neglectful culture where I had zero power to identify much less defend my boundaries. People whom I was supposed to be trusting to care and nuture me were … not trustworthy. It has taken me a lifetime to get to the point where I can say things like “No, I don’t want to have this conversation” a thing I could not say when I was a kid with a parental figure telling me I was the only person they could talk to and not to say anything and please don’t hate them. It has taken me a lifetime to get to the point where I can describe how I connect the dots without fearing shaming or retaliation or being derided simply for looking at the world differently.
As I approach my 14th anniversary (Dec 29) of this blog, I am reminded again of this simple truth – people do not want to hear what they don’t want to hear. That’s one reason I like the blog format, I can write my point of view and if people want to read it, that’s a choice they can make. No one is forced to read it. No one is forced to agree or disagree or even acknowledge that I’m saying something. It is here if you want to engage. That’s it. Just like I’m not forced to read what other people share on their blog.
And it is that simple act of saying something – almost anything really – that is so revolutionary, so threatening to toxic masculinity. It is the act of drawing a boundary around pghlesbian.com and saying “This is my space to say my piece” that terrifies people.
I’ve long been aware of the former – the ways in which my simply speaking my truth as a queer disabled woman is a threat to people on all of “my” sides, of being political. But the element of drawing boundaries is a new dimension to me. It shows a more fundamental side of toxic masculinity, that of how threatening it can be to not actually say things, but to refuse to listen to other people saying things. I thought being a blogger was my revolution, but I realize now that being a queer disabled woman claiming my personhood, my humanity, is the revolutionary act. I don’t have to say anything at all to be a thread; I just have to refuse to listen.
My existence is the threat. It is perhaps tied to the potential I and everyone else has to say something that rocks the boat, but it is fundamentally about my claim to my own humanity that is at the core of these interactions – from mean-spirited trolls on FOX News websites to my allies (and former friends) disregarding my boundaries.
To be clear, I do not mean I get to avoid accountability. In the example, I shared earlier in this piece I mentioned that I “blew up” at this other person. There are consequences for blowing up or being angry or unkind or unfair. Usually, there are social and occasionally professional consequences. I can navigate this realm because I grew up finely attuned to there being a consequence for every action or inaction on my part.
I can almost understand the lack of impulse control that compels someone to write a nasty comment after reading an article they find abhorrent. I don’t quite understand the cunning and guile of waiting over a week to send a carefully crafted email to get the last world, but I suspect it is all wrapped up in how we learn to channel and focus our power and anger as adults. Do we blow up or do we bide our time?
My childhood experiences were laced with both types of people, predators who struck when provoked with reckless abandon and predators who methodically planned to groom me over years, using plans and long-term strategies. And even more people who stood silently on the sidelines doing nothing to help me (or the others in the same situation.) I wouldn’t have known a boundary if it slapped me on the face, but I was intimately acquainted with the many manifestation of toxicity.
When we describe predatory behavior among adults, we tend to focus on violent offenders – rapists, murderers, domestic abusers, etc. The expansion of the #MeToo movement has helped us shift that conversation to include individuals who use their emotional and mental power to persuade, manipulate, or coerce others (mainly, women) into doing their bidding. But just like we struggle with the idea that women wearing certain clothes or engaging in certain activities invite or deserve predatory behavior, we struggle with the idea that a woman who says “No” to men in any scenario is entitled to do so. Just saying no is the invitation to a violent and traumatic consequence.
I’m aware that this post is filled with gendered nuances that I should tease out more precisely in the future. Toxic masculinity isn’t just about being a man, but also about one’s access to male privilege (passing or otherwise) and masculine identity. All the women in my life who stood by while I was being groomed by a sexual predator were participating in toxic behavior tied to masculinity. And a lot of my female allies, friends, and comrades run roughshod over boundaries as well. It isn’t easy to figure this out.
Chick-fil-A won their campaign and now own naming rights in the Pittsburgh Marathon to the tune of a lot of money. They are flourishing in a Trumpian society. Resisting Chick-fil-A is a long range strategy. The person who emailed me will probably ‘win’ as well by simply moving on with their life with their power and authority and resources, bolstered by the few minutes satisfaction of telling me what’s what. There’s nothing I can do about it. Nor do I want to expend any energy on that relationship.
But I have a win here, too. I connected some new dots so I understand some of my own life experiences better. I said my pieces and have found a pattern that might help me continue setting boundaries as well as navigating consequences. And I learned a lesson about power.
I should add that I realize writing this post will open me up to even more criticism from both the pro Chick-fil-A folks and toxic masculine people in my life, but the act of sharing the words in writing has bolstered my capacity to resist internalizing their stuff.