this is the only way i can think about it anymore: tumblr social justice and callout culture has become a way to disguise bullying as constructive action. in its most extreme form, which, sadly, seems to be its most popular form, it is not interested in a dialogue or a productive conversation. it is not about working towards change or positive ends. it is exactly what flavia said on tigerbeatdown: it is a performance meant for an audience, a contest of righteousness, a dangerous and toxic phenomenon. that essay, by the way, is something you should read right now. please, please read it right now.
this is what troubles me the most about the worst form of this practice: there is no discussion. there is no back and forth. there is a pileup akin to a massive interstate wreck with a wake of bloody carnage. it is one thing to create a dialogue, but this is not about creating a dialogue. it’s about publicly flogging someone without any interest in their response. it’s about scolding them at the least, and completely destroying them at the worst. there is no interest in the context of the post, the context of the author themselves, or any explanation on intent of any kind. no one wins in these situations, and whoever has lost the most is likely in a very bad place.
i want to talk for a second about a recent experience because this is my most direct experience with it, and it’s the easiest way for me to illustrate one of the ways this system backfires. i assume it will be interpreted as me being butthurt, and inspire further inflammatory and unproductive reactions, but i accept that as a risk. i’ve already talked extensively about the post itself and i stand by what i’ve said.
when autumn-fhtagn reblogged my “bodies/desire is subversive” post, her commentary led to 1021 notes on a post i’d meant to be personal, with all but a handful of those notes calling out the problematic meaning of the post in ways that range from mocking to belittling to triggering. i replied to her post with a commentary explaining the original meaning of the post, which had nothing to do with any of the things the notes indicate, and i encouraged people to start a dialogue about the subjects they had inferred from the statements because i think dialogues are important. i did not delete the post, and i apologized for any triggering or negative reactions to the post, as that had not been my intent. i did, however, explain my original intent, how none of that was AT ALL what i had meant, and not one single person has responded to that commentary. not one of the 1021 people has had any interest in discussing this, starting a dialogue with me, or reacting to an explanation of the content. i hope at some point they do, but i’m not holding my breath after seeing too many of these kinds of posts spiraling without a back and forth dialogue.
i DID however receive a smattering of messages in my inbox calling me a “fucked up piece of shit,” and “with your opinions, i hope you’re not allowed to fuck anyone ever” and “please keep your sad attempts at intellectualism to yourself.” those were fantastic and made me feel peachy! nope. actually, they set off some panic attacks i haven’t had to deal with in a while. i was hoping autumn-fhtagn would respond to the post and start a dialogue with me because i have genuinely respected her opinions and would like to talk to her about my original intentions, but she did not. that’s not her responsibility, or anyone’s responsibility, so i don’t hold her or anyone else to it, just a hope. i was hoping anyone who’d had such a strong and angry opinion in regards to my statements would respond to my commentary, but they didn’t. autumn-fhtagn did post follow up posts on her tumblr. i understand they were probably similar to the reasons i post text posts - a way to channel my emotions, a sudden buildup of feelings like rage or anxiety, but they built off the same misinterpretation and never reacted to my commentary or explanation. i’ve seen reactions to the post pop up in other parts of tumblr in such a way that i can see everything spiraling in this awful anxiety-creating hole, with no way to explain myself or be listened to. it is very frustrating, but it is also extremely triggering. the daily accumulation of these notes has been an increasingly anxious experience, and i don’t really like checking my tumblr lately. i keep wanting to take a break entirely, but my tumblr has been one of my most reliable forms of self-care i’ve had and parting with it would probably be even more shitty in the long run. plus, i feel like i do a lot of good in other ways on here, and i owe it to the people with whom i’ve shared my life. it leaves me to wonder if having an internet presence is worth the now constant anxiety that my words will be misinterpreted, that there will be triggering hatred in my inbox, that anything i say will be held against me regardless of my intent and i will not be allowed to ever respond. fear is no way to conduct social justice, and it is no way to hold power.
i didn’t “learn” from this experience because what i posted wasn’t actually about any of the things it was accused of being about, and i especially didn’t learn because at no point were any of the comments interested in a dialogue or discussion. the post was taken out of context and misinterpreted, and i’m so very sorry to people reacting negatively to that reinterpretation. i’m glad my post could be a “scapegoat” in a way for talking about issues of privilege re: desire, transmisogyny, fat-chasing, etc, but shaming and scolding me did nothing for those issues. it only made me feel awful and anxious and unable to function, and no one who mattered gained anything from that.
i’ve participated in social justice culture. so have most of you, i’m sure. tumblr queers are active participants in this world because so many of the subjects being discussed are terms we know, terms we use to identify ourselves, stories that resonate with us. we’ve reblogged those posts with a sideeye gif that demonstrates our disgust with the remark, we’ve chosen our sides when a public figure makes a remark that alienates a group. we’ve defended to our bloody cores the things that we care about. because at its heart, social justice is supposed to be about making a positive change, and we believe that it is something worth participating in. it makes us feel good to participate in it. we feel like good socially aware and active people. i like feeling like i am part of group of similarly-minded people who are righteous and justified in their radical beliefs. it is a comforting feeling and an exhilarating feeling. but there is an abuse of this practice that is far too common, where that feeling of righteousness comes from the shaming and destruction of others. and that is bullying, plain and simple.
i do think some parts of social justice culture are useful. i appreciate trigger warnings (to a point: they are also abused or mocked because of overuse) just like any other survivor. i think that social justice bloggers’ ability to open themselves up and talk about the toughest parts of their lives is incredible and beautiful, and that sharing is an important form of healing, of community building, of helping others and simultaneously helping ourselves. i think that opening discussions and dialogues about tough subjects is something that we should be doing more often, and there are still place on tumblr and other internet venues where those conversations are happening - they are harder to find, and often overshadowed by the much louder and more dramatic callouts that seem much flashier to those trying to find a team to side with.
are there statements and stances that need to be called out? of course. there are horrible people saying horrible things out there. there are also not horrible people saying ignorant things, and good people trying to say good things, and people who are simply people saying things that have been taken out of context. i only wish that this was not a popular method for pursuing change.