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Victim and survivor

Stalked by a trans-antagonistic sociopath

The author at the 2015 San Francisco Trans March in Dolores Park, wearing a purple Trans March hoodie and looking over their shoulder. Photo by Chris van Breen.

It all started innocently enough.

There’s a singer-songwriter I know, Jonathan Mann (who is NOT the stalker I’m referring to in the subtitle, so don’t send him any hate mail; he is an ally and a great guy). Jonathan has written and published a new song every day since January 2009. He’s in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most consecutive days writing a song. There’s a Wikipedia page on him, which I’ve made some edits to, including a photo of Jonathan I took when we first met at Macworld Expo in 2011.

Jonathan Mann performing at Macworld Expo, January 2011. Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen, CC BY-SA 3.0.

In March 2016, I noticed that an anonymous editor had added a “notability” tag to Jonathan’s page, suggesting that he wasn’t important enough to be on Wikipedia. I added a link to the world record, removed the tag, and noted in my edit summary that if the editor disagreed with the removal, they should discuss it on the article’s talk page.

About ten days later, the anonymous editor restored the notability tag, without explanation. When I noticed this about a month later, I again removed the tag and invited the editor to discuss why they felt this musician wasn’t notable. An anonymous editor posting from a different IP address then restored the tag, again without explanation or discussion.

Other editors were now involved; this was becoming an edit war. On May 16, an administrator temporarily protected the page from edits by anonymous and new users. Shortly afterward, the personal attacks on me began. (Content note: Trans-antagonism, graphic sexual references, and discussions of suicide and child abuse follow.)

They started out by vandalizing my user page on the English Wikipedia, where I have openly stated my real name and transgender status, and have a link to my web site. The initial attacks were fairly mild, compared to what was to come later.

May 15, 2016
I am also insufferable, depressed and unloved.

They also left notes on my talk page.

May 14, 2016
No one loves you
Here’s the thing. Most people don’t give a tuppence that you’re queer/transgender. No conspiracy is afoot to keep you down. No one cares what gender you identify with. The fact is that you are a horrible person. You will live out your days alone.
xoxo

Soon, they discovered my deadname (pre-transition name), which is not difficult to find as I posted with it everywhere online very frequently before I transitioned in 2013. I changed my name legally in 2014, and since then it has caused me significant distress to be referred to by my deadname. My stalker learned this, and took full advantage of it, and began to include it in most of their attacks.

At this point I was able to get both my user page and talk page protected from anonymous edits. Not to be deterred, the stalker — who was constantly switching IP addresses, making blocking them difficult — moved on to my user pages on Wikimedia Commons (where I’ve posted hundreds of photos) and Meta (where I’ve engaged in policy discussion).

May 20, 2016
[deadname], you are one pathetic excuse for a human being. I almost hope Trump wins just so he can send you to an internment camp where you belong.

Given the above comment, I should also mention at this point that my previous last name (I changed my entire name when I transitioned) was pretty obviously Jewish.

My pages on Commons and Meta were protected. Helpful administrators also redacted most of these attacks from the pages’ edit history, so they would not be visible to the public.

The stalker then went on to leave a comment on my blog, posting my deadname in capital letters with an insult attached to each of them (including “Nigger” for one of the N’s), and concluding with:

May 20, 2016
Surprised you haven’t yet done the world the favor of relieving everyone of your presence, permanently.

Let’s pause here. This stalker has now said I should be sent to an internment camp, and suggested that I kill myself. Some might shrug this off as merely “trolling”, but I don’t see it that way. I’ve suffered from clinical depression and occasional suicidal ideation for much of my life, which I’ve blogged about. Over 40% of trans and gender-nonconforming adults, and a third of trans youth, have attempted suicide; 54% of trans youth have considered it. There were 27 known murders of trans people in 2016, and there have been 21 in 2017 to date.

This “troll” was deliberately preying on a marginalized, vulnerable human being who had done absolutely nothing to harm them.

Comments on my blog are pre-screened, so no one but me saw what the stalker was posting. They soon found another place to attack me publicly, however: Reddit. I’m not a big fan of that site, as it has a long history of users leaving nasty, oppressive comments. But at the time I was active on the subreddit for my favorite video game, Nethack. In that game, the objective is to descend into a deep dungeon to retrieve a magic amulet and, ultimately, “ascend” to the status of demigod/dess. (As anyone who has played it can tell you, this is an extremely brief summary of a very complex and difficult single player dungeon adventure.)

So the stalker found that I was posting there, created an account and left this comment:

May 21, 2016
Hope you ascend to a higher realm soon, [deadname] :)

I explained to an administrator that this was actually a borderline death threat, as that wasn’t obvious in the context of the game discussion. The account got blocked. They moved on to NetHackWiki, which I was editing frequently at the time, and started vandalizing my user profile there. A dozen attacks in a single day.

May 21, 2016
I am [deadname] […]
In real life I am a failed photographer and blogger and shameless leech off my husband […]
[deadname]
Ziggy doesn’t really love you. You know this. Ziggy had no other options. You know this. You’re using Ziggy as an emotional and financial crutch. That’s not very nice. Poor Ziggy. :(
E V E R Y O N E H A T E S Y O U

The stalker had obviously read my blog where I talked about my depression and anxiety over my work history and feelings of worthlessness, and was twisting the knife. I never doubted my partner’s love for me so that was not at issue, but I made sure he knew about these attacks since the stalker was dragging his name into them.

As I continued refreshing the wiki page and reverting each attack (trying to get the attention of an administrator in the meantime), at one point the stalker posted something that I realized was probably a reflection of their pathetic self:

May 21, 2016
Oh how low you’ve sunk, [deadname]
Edit-warring on a wiki dedicated to a primitive game on a fine Saturday afternoon. Do you have a job? Do you have friends to hang out with? No wonder you’re depressed.

I almost, but not quite, felt sorry for them at this point.

After getting my user page at the NetHackWiki protected, I had a day’s respite from the harassment, before the stalker found a new tactic. Every time I edited any page on Wikipedia, they would revert it and leave an attack message in the edit summary. They again constantly switched IP addresses, so as soon as one was blocked they would switch to another.

One of the most egregious attacks looked almost innocent on its face. They didn’t even include my deadname at first. Only the stalker and I knew that this comment was a reference to the childhood sexual abuse I was subjected to by an older male relative, who the stalker (incorrectly) guessed was an uncle:

May 24, 2016
Parasite Pax’s uncle was a cool dude.

I was in preschool when my relative started abusing me. My blog post gave explicit details of what he did to me. The stalker was expressing delight at the sexual abuse of a young child. This is why I am referring to them as a sociopath.

The references to the sexual abuse continued:

May 26, 2016
Do you still feel that rush of pleasure when you fantasize about you-know-who, [deadname]? ;)
Your pussy must get so wet when you think about him, [deadname] ;)

As did the comments on my anatomy:

May 31, 2016
[deadname] has large and unsightly areolae.
June 1, 2016
[Deadname]’s pussy gets wet when she’s addressed by her birth name (ie her real name).
[DEADNAME]’S PUSSY GETS WET WHEN SHE IS DEADNAMED.
June 4, 2016
[Deadname] and her disgusting engorged clit are not worthy of respect.
June 12, 2016
[Deadname] and her deformed clit get triggered easily.
June 17, 2016
Of course surgical status would be irrelevant to someone like [deadname], given that her clitoris is already so grotesquely disfigured.

The comment about my areolae was in reference to a blog entry about my significant social (but not physical) dysphoria regarding my breasts. The clitoral enlargement is an expected and (in my case) desired result of testosterone therapy, which I’ve been on since 2014. Regardless, the graphic sexual references, along with the deadnaming and misgendering, caused me considerable distress.

During this series of attacks, a terrorist killed 49 people, mostly Latinx from the LGBT community, at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. When I edited that Wikipedia page, the stalker made sure to note their feelings on the occasion:

June 18, 2016
Such a shame that [deadname] wasn’t in Pulse last weekend.

As with the suggestions that I be sent to an internment camp and that I kill myself, I’m sure many would not see this comment as a serious threat. They’re just typing words on a computer, right? It’s not as if they actually put a gun to my head, like the Pulse nightclub shooter. Shouldn’t I just stop “playing the victim” and accept that the Internet is full of trolls?

Sorry not sorry, but I don’t accept that being a virtual punching bag for sociopaths is a reasonable price to pay for being openly trans online. The pain this stalker deliberately inflicted on me has left psychological scars that are real and legitimate. This was not just hate speech, this was a targeted, vicious attack.

By July 2016, I was working with Wikipedia’s Support and Safety team, sharing detailed logs of the attacks, looking up IP addresses, trying to pinpoint the true location and identity of this stalker. I had e-mailed Jonathan Mann about it, since it was over his page these attacks started; he was sympathetic and provided some helpful leads. A Wikipedia administrator was able to implement a rangeblock, and for a few weeks, the stalker disappeared.

In September 2016, the stalker resumed leaving comments on my blog. When Donald Trump was elected president in November, the stalker couldn’t wait to share their delight at my anger, disgust, and fear.

November 9, 2016
LOLJUSTLOL LOLJUSTLOL@LOLJUSTLOL.com
 To the concentration camp you go, FunCunt!

In reference to a large anti-Trump protest (the first of many) I attended the week after the election:

November 15, 2016
LOLJUSTLOL LOLJUSTLOL@LOLJUSTLOL.com
How convenient! All the degenerates gathered in one place! Makes it easy to corral them up 🙂

After a few more attacks, I finally turned off comments on my blog altogether.

The comments I’ve shared here are just a portion of the over 70 attacks I logged between May and November 2016. While Wikipedia’s Support and Safety team was sympathetic and helpful, I was unable to pinpoint the identity of this stalker. At one point, I was considering hiring a private investigator. I also contacted the Transgender Law Center’s helpline for advice; while they couldn’t provide an individualized legal opinion, from their response it appeared unlikely this person had actually broken the law.

I didn’t want to send them to jail, anyway. I’ve become increasingly critical of the prison-industrial complex, and skeptical of the usefulness of imprisonment for rehabilitation. If they were caught and I were in charge of their fate, I would send them to mandatory counseling. But most importantly, I would want their friends, lovers, family, and employer — if they have any such people in their life — to see exactly what they have been posting online.

Even if I did know this person’s identity, I wouldn’t post their contact information publicly. I don’t condone doxing; I have no interest in retaliating by sending them threats, or asking others to do so. I just want to prevent them from ever attacking or even contacting me again and from attacking other people, because it’s unlikely I’m their only victim.

And I am, indeed, a victim, though I have, in a literal sense, survived these attacks; I have not killed myself, despite the suggestions that I should do so. While I have been free of this stalker for nearly a year now, the memories still haunt me. What I experienced is a drop in the bucket compared to the transmisogynism that many trans women experience day in and day out (see this recent essay by Katelyn Burns for some examples), but I am still damaged.

Nonetheless, there are a couple of positive outcomes from this experience. The first is that I submitted an idea that ultimately resulted in user pages on the English Wikipedia being protected by default from edits by anonymous and new users. I gave a talk on this subject, including a brief overview of the stalking I experienced, at WikiConference North America in Montreal this summer. I made good connections with people there, including members of the Wikimedia Foundation’s new Anti-Harassment Tools team.

Pax talks with Sydney Poore of the WMF Anti-Harassment Tools team. Photo by Ziggy Tomcich, CC BY-SA 4.0.

The second positive development is that I recently became a volunteer with the Transgender Law Center helpline. It took them so long to answer my question about the stalking last year that I wanted to help reduce the backlog. The TLC has more volunteer opportunities, most of which can be done remotely, for anyone interested.

I give no thanks to the stalker for these outcomes, however. They do not deserve my sympathy or pity.

Posting this essay won’t necessarily give me closure; I still fear that even if this particular stalker doesn’t return, others will follow. But I still felt it necessary to get the details out there. I hope some good comes out of it.

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