I work on the internet. It’s true. I write things for you to read (or not read), and spend a lot of my free time creating things that may (or may not) help you fill yours. I’m not asking for thanks, or really asking for you to do anything at all, but there are a few things I’m asking that you don’t do.
Apparently I missed some consensus-building meeting The Internet had about me, so I just want to clear this all up once and for all:
My writing articles on the internet is not my giving you consent to send me death threats.
My writing articles on the internet is not my inviting you to send me horrifying messages and images, describe to me the ways you’d like to see me kill myself, the hells you’re excited for me to walk.
My writing articles on the internet is not my asking to receive rape threats from you directed at me, my partners, or the friends and family members who you find socially connected to me online.
My writing articles on the internet is not my granting permission for you to attack my personhood, harass me, find and post personal details about me on public forums (like my cell phone number), or prompt other people to do the same (it costs about $30 to change a phone number each time, and it’s annoying to learn new ones).
My writing articles on the internet is not my implicit way of saying that I need your help saving me, that I’m asking for your unlicensed, unhealthy brand of psychotherapy. If I need your help, I’ll ask for it, but I can assure you all the emails that describe me as a “confused gender mutt” aren’t helping, in spite of your expressed intent.
My writing articles on the internet is in no way, shape, or form my giving you consent, encouragement, permission, an excuse, a nudge, or a thumbs-up for you to treat me in any way.
I’m not doing this for fame, but even if I was that wouldn’t be my consent for you to treat me like an object you can toss around, something to use to prop up arguments you’re having a hard time propping up, or something you can attempt to destroy because you don’t have the willpower, creativity, or interest to create something yourself.
I’m not doing this because I want to be seen as a public figure, and the only reason I include my name on my work is because I’ve found that the projects I’ve launched anonymously aren’t as well-received. People like to know who is behind the words they read. However, even if I was, that does not mean I’m welcoming you to send me screen shots of my apartment taken from google maps with not-so-subtly veiled threats and “helpful suggestions” that I should probably get a P.O. Box.
And I can assure you I’m not doing this because I get any sort of masochistic pleasure out of the pain and displeasure that accompanies the good, despite this recurring insinuation I see in emails and comments.
So please — please — stop telling me otherwise. Stop using all of the above to justify the empty, vicious life you’ve decided to live. Stop attempting to rationalize your hate as symbiotic to my love. I don’t need it, I don’t want it, I don’t appreciate it, find any joy in it, or want it to be part of my life. I apologize if this was somehow confusing to you before, and I apologize for taking this long to clear things up.
Now that we’re clear, you have my consent to be better.
To my peers:
I see you at a conference — you’re speaking before me or I’m speaking before you — we’re standing beside a stage together, sharing stories. We all work on the internet now. It’s unavoidable not to. Arcane. Outmoded. We connect with one another by this shared experience, the experience of working on the internet. We joke about it, using wry humor, sarcastic humor, self-deprecating humor — cathartic, necessary, best-we-can-do healing humor.
You ask, “What’s the worst you’ve gotten? This year? This month? This week?” I reply, you reply in kind. Comparing scars. Sharing war stories.
We accept this as an immutable part of the culture of the internet, something we were (or should have been) aware of when we created our first WordPress username and password. When we hit record on our webcam. When we put our name after an @ symbol on Twitter.
“Well, you know I’m there for you if you need me,” you might say to me, or I might say to you, if we’re close. But I’m not there for you, and you aren’t there for me. We can’t be. One must sweep before their own door first, and our doorsteps are perpetually covered in the snow and sleet and mud and shit of unwelcome trespassers. I’d track my dirt onto your doorstep, yours onto mine.
Some of us make lemonade. Some of us attack back. Some of us ignore it altogether.
Sometimes it does feel like we asked for it. It’s a feeling that creeps behind our conscious mind, infecting our brains.
But we didn’t.
And every time we allow ourselves to believe that, we’re consenting to this toxic culture instead of resisting it, disrupting it, agitating it, improving it. It’s not within our power to make it stop, but it’s within our power to make it clear that we never gave it the green light to begin with. That this isn’t a relationship, between us and our unwelcome trespassers. It’s an assault.
We can stop accepting this toxicity as okay. We need to start affirming each another that’s it’s okay to complain about it. It’s okay to want for better. It’s okay to be vulnerable to one another.
We owe it to ourselves, to one another, and to the next generation that fills the seats at our desks when we finally snap and open up a miniature golf course that serves box wine and has a laid-back stance on the necessity of wearing pants to work*.
Yours in love,
*Oh, is that just me? That one might just be me.
P.S. Yes, unfortunately, all of those examples in the first half come from firsthand experience.