I don't use Twitter that often. I find it terribly antisocial for a social network. It seems that some people are determined to use their 140 characters to throw verbal rocks at one another. Usually these are childlike Z-list celebrities screaming for attention, or really famous people who think they can say and do whatever they like without consequence.
Then there are the rest of us -- you, me and people like Dr. Elly Tams, a 43-year-old professional woman who studied gender theory and thought it would be a great idea to send out thousands of abusive emails and tweets using homophobic language.
I don't know what it is about Twitter that makes people lose their self-control, that filter that I think we all have regarding general human interaction. "You don't get a second chance to make a first impression," my mum used to say. Most women I know who've taught or even just studied gender theory are feminists, lesbians or LGBTQI-friendly, and they're certainly aware of gay history. I find it very difficult to believe that an educated woman like Dr. Tams was unaware of any of these things when she sent the tweets "stupid fucking liberal fucking gay" or "you're the Aids generation." In her own defense Tams said, "I don't slag off gay people, I slag off white middle class men who are up their own arses."
One of the men Tams "slagged off" is Paul Burston, who is well-known in LGBT literary and media circles. Just last month I was on the South Bank in London at the Polari First Book Prize, a prize he created in 2011 to support LGBT writers. It's linked to his Polari literary salon, which began in 2007. He also edits the LGBT section at Time Out London, has published several books, is actively engaged in gay politics and sometimes writes for The Guardian.
Another of Tams' targets was writer Mark Simpson, the man who coined the term "metrosexual." Tams (also known as Quiet Riot Girl or Notorious QRG) was arrested and charged with two counts of online harassment. Last week the case made it to court. According to the court news reports, Tams' main line of defense was that she was just being "light-hearted" and "playful." But there's nothing light-hearted or playful in sending someone abusive tweets and emails or calling them "the Aids generation."
And for someone who professes to have a sense of irony, Tams failed to see the irony of denouncing people as white and middle-class when she herself is white and boasts of having a Ph.D. Anyone who pretentiously uses "Dr." before their name is clearly announcing her own middle-class status and level of education. This wasn't some sort of class war but a campaign of homophobic harassment. The hypocrisy is staggering. Thankfully the judge didn't fall for it and found her guilty.
Gay men aren't the only ones who've been targeted by "Dr." Tams. She has never been shy about hurling insults at outspoken feminists such as Julie Bindel or Suzanne Moore, illustrating that the hate that Elly Tams has is deep-seated, universal and directed at anyone with a louder voice than her own.
On some level I feel sorry for her that her life seems so devoid of compassion, empathy or understanding of the ramifications of her actions, but it will never outweigh the pride I have for people like Paul and Mark who took action, and for a legal system that values gay equality under the law, which found her not only guilty but "relentless and intentional" in her "campaign of harassment," deeming a large number of her tweets "homophobic," "aggressive" and "abusive."