Writing stories about your experiences from beyond the gender binary, it turns out, is a sticky business.
Sticky as shit.
I recently wrote and published two personal essays on Medium on the subject of feeling ‘genderqueer’. Both were curated and both got lots of views.
The stories were: I Was Genderqueer for 37 Years Before I Finally Found Out, which I’m proud to say was my first and so far my most successful story on Medium, and: The Mutual Violence of a Female Body and her Genderqueer Mind.
Here’s what happened next:
I was asked by a reader “why the f**k” I needed to label myself. It was a fair question beneath the rude delivery, and I was happy to answer it.
I don’t actually use any labels for my identity in ‘real life’ but when writing for Medium, and online in general, it’s helpful to use good keywords in your title.
You know, SEO and all that jazz! To be honest, ‘genderqueer’ doesn’t truly reflect my experience, but nothing really does… I just kinda picked the closest one. Is that okay?
Judging from the traffic that I got by using that word, I don’t regret the choice.
Most writers want others to enjoy their words and relate to them.
They want people to find their words as vital to read as they were to write. Writing is an expression, an emotion that you transfer to the page in the hope you can pass a feeling on to the reader, for them to be moved, for them to feel too.
Medium is my platform to explore and share some of my feelings anonymously. It is interesting delving into that side of myself, uninhibited, and seeing what comes out from my head onto the page.
I am not ‘out’. People around me don’t know. They might see me as quirky and unconventional, but I don’t go around shouting “I’m genderqueer!!” at them. Expressing yourself on subjects that are difficult to talk about in person (such as LGBTQ+) using platforms such as Medium is liberating and cathartic. It really is.
However, it also attracts a truckload of hateful people who appear out of nowhere to shit and piss on your picnic.
I was told I was a narcissist: self-obsessed and going on about “me me me”. Though how could I write about anyone else but myself when writing about something so subjective and so personal?
The criticism began to feel like abuse.
I received attacks on my intelligence, my character, my maturity, my mental health, plus some good old school-girl nastiness and name-calling. My experiences were re-framed and reconstructed for me: I was told I was just a confused woman, feeling the pressures of life, a bit of a tomboy, that’s allllll.
One lady copied and pasted the entire text of one of my stories from Medium onto her Facebook profile after her friends complained to her that they didn’t want to pay Medium to read the link to my piece, which she had initially posted for them to view.
Once this was done, 18 of them pulled my words to pieces, cutting up my story (which had already had the formatting and paragraphs obliterated) and bizarrely focusing on certain sentences about my childhood experiences or the clothing I liked to wear. They decorated the shreds with swear words and colourful strings of laughing emojis.
Take us & strip us,
We no longer resemble
I pretended to laugh too. Maybe I could fool my heart. If I was laughing, it couldn’t hurt. Could it? I mean, how can you take people seriously who have never met you and whinge and call you a “wanker” for a non-offensive piece about a personal epiphany? Which they only came across because it was specifically selected and thrust upon them for the distinct purpose of ridiculing it?
Another woman was more concerning. She took the time to tell me my writing was “regressive, navel-gazing bullshit” — she was a professor and legal academic. That hurt a little bit more than the Facebook jerks.
Looking closer at her profile, which has unsurprisingly now been removed by Medium, she clearly stated she was a radical feminist. She had left explosions of hate on a number of trans-related stories on Medium, a lot of it incoherent and full of expletives. ‘Real women don’t have dicks!’ was the gist of it.
Perhaps she was drunk? Hacked? I couldn’t imagine a professor doing such a thing. I made excuses for her. I found out later she’d been banned from Twitter for the same reason.
I looked at the social media profiles of some of these others: most stated they were radical feminists, all of them had strings of anti-trans posts, where they shared videos or writing by trans or non-binary people, or news articles about trans issues, and ridiculed them.
The relief I felt from noticing I was not the only victim on Medium, that it wasn’t that something was wrong with me and my writing, soon made way for the terrifying realisation that there are people out there systematically targeting non-cis voices and attacking their experiences.
I felt ashamed of the initial relief I had felt, of not being the only one. It was true these women weren’t attacking me, but it was much worse. They were attacking all voices emerging from beyond the gender binary. They were attacking something much larger, which my stories represented.
Something they despise:
That we have the audacity to speak at all.
That nerve of ours to feel differently and then speak about it must be controlled. Our voices must be answered with abuse.
Don’t let us rise.
By joining together online and using ridicule they assert their territory (in my case, female-ness), they feel stronger through the support of their peers via the shared mockery of those who impinge on their territory (or reject it, in my case, which is equally as heinous), and through all of that they feel a little bit safer and in control, behind their provincial little wall of hate.
And so I’ve had a first taste of the hostility that is out there, and how unintelligent and childish it can be.
Nothing else matters: not your talent or capability, not your ideas, not your standard of education or the things you may have achieved, not the good deeds you have done; the only thing that matters is that you are an abomination and an encroachment onto claimed territory.
Everything and anything else was nulled the minute I wrote the word ‘genderqueer’.
I can dismiss these people by labeling them trolls and feel safe and anonymous at my desk, which is perhaps an ocean away from them. But there are people out there right now, who are so much braver than me, openly living their identities, whatever form they may take, who have to go through this every day. Not just from the written word, but via hateful voices and actions and faces, in the physical realm. Safety is at risk, not just feelings.
I have barely dipped my toe in — I am standing at the edge of the pool.
The pool of shit you must swim. You must swim because of something you feel so personally and deeply inside of yourself; because of needing to express those feelings and give them a voice; because of the very shape of your soul.
Though with the bitter taste of hate comes a sweet pill: a life raft. What really mattered were those voices of solidarity that came through, such as:
“I’ve been in the community a long time, am trans myself, but this is the best explanation/description of genderqueer I’ve ever heard.”
Words like this made it all worthwhile. As did every clap and follow I received, and continue to do so, because of my ‘genderqueer’ stories. I regret nothing.
On the sticky business of telling your non-cis stories online
Expect some kind of backlash, even if you’re not saying anything particularly controversial. These people are small people, no matter who they think they are.
Anonymity is a personal choice but is worth considering. If it hurts, write about it! That’s where the gold lies. Don’t let them silence you.