What I Learned From Reading the Comments Sections

Judgment and hatred are alive and well but voices of love far outnumber the hate.

A friend recently told me, “Your latest article showed up in my Facebook feed - I loved it! But, I made the mistake of reading the comments section... Yikes.”

I’m a blogger and op-ed writer. I write essay-style, non-fiction pieces pulled from my every day life experiences and opinions. (Note that I used the words blogger and op-ed writer, not journalist, not novelist, not poet laureate.) I write opposite the editorial pages. And I write on polarizing topics like LGBTQ+ issues, gender, racism, and white privilege. You can find my work here on Huffington Post, here on Scary Mommy, and also here where someone wrote about me, here on The Good Men Project, here at Red Tricycle, and here with the NBC Today Parenting Team, to name a few.

Sometimes, I scroll through my social media feed and I am suddenly caught off-guard seeing my own words in syndication, like this: 

This was a piece I originally published on my personal blog here, which got republished by Scary Mommy, and then again by Huffington Post Parents, and then promoted on their Facebook Page. Sometimes friends reach out to me, if I don’t see it myself, and tell me where else my writing has appeared. And that’s when they usually tell me, “the comments section made me so mad that I had to leave.” 

What they’re concerned about is the level of criticism, ignorance, and hatred that is freely regurgitated in the comments section following op-ed pieces on media outlets such as The Huffington Post. Maybe you’ve visited. Maybe you’ve piped up here and there in comments sections. Maybe you’re a “career” debater among comments sections, someone who places value and takes pride in starting or winning internet arguments.

I will admit that when I first began having pieces published, I read the comments. I mean, it was informative, free advice that gave me insight into my audience. But after a while, the comments sections became identical to one another. They were the same, mundane, oblivious, hate-filled comments that tend to perpetuate the cycle of ignorance. I was no longer getting anything out of reading them, so I quit reading them altogether.

I primarily write about being a supportive parent to a gender creative boy. I write in hopes of educating people about this unique and awesome population of people. Gender creative people are not some new phenomenon. They have been around forever. In Native American culture, they are called two-spirited people, and are the most revered members of the tribe. The only thing new is that parents are more accepting of it now. That’s because we learn from history, and history has proven that forcing someone to be someone they’re not never has a good outcome, and often leads to self-destructive behaviors and even suicide.

I could’ve easily chosen to keep my thoughts and opinions on my own blog, or in a series of tweets or Facebook statuses, but that would merely be an echo chamber, and I’d only be preaching to the choir and spinning my wheels. I needed to take these thoughts elsewhere and expose other people to the narratives of marginalized people – like the LGBTQ+ population that now includes my son.

These thoughts in print don’t go over very well with the masses. But, as with all change, pain comes first. So the fact that there were so many comments of hatred, and that I wasn’t simply getting positive feedback in a resounding echo chamber, I knew that my work was serving its purpose. And no matter how mean-spirited the comments, there were twice as many people who took the time to hunt me down and send me messages of support and love.

The negative comments and hatred tend to live only in the comments sections (some of the worst offenders being those in parenting forums), because it takes literally no effort or talent to sit at a computer screen and, behind a presumed veil of anonymity, spew your most vile, hateful, intolerant, bigoted thoughts and criticisms. What actually takes courage and effort is writing and publishing a misunderstood, controversial topic and associating your real name with it. So I applaud all of you in this arena who are doing this much-needed work.

I noticed that also, the people who really want the author reading their comments will actually do some research, and attempt to find out how to get in touch with the author. 99 out of 100 times it is those people who send meaningful messages of support, like these:

I definitely received plenty of hateful comments, and every imaginable variation of them, to the point of predictability. I’m a person who loves lists. So for the sake of posterity, I’m picking the top ten most repeated negative, uninformed comments I got. I answered all of them over time, and yet, the same comments kept popping up whenever I wrote a new piece. So, I no longer read them, but I’d be willing to bet you those comments are still being typed every day. Here were the top 10 most unoriginal, over-repeated comments I always got:

1.) “This mother should be prosecuted for child abuse.”  I always found it interesting that someone could think they were qualified enough to make that judgment call based off of one 3-minute article captured from one moment in my life.

2.) “This mother is forcing labels on her child and screwing him up.” Actually, it was my child who, after years of feeling tormented and confused about why he couldn’t mesh with other little boys, identified himself with this label. It was me who had to accept that, not vice versa.

3.) “I’m so tired of all these labels. Why can’t people just be?” I don’t know about others, but my son took great comfort in finding a label that fit him. Plus, it had the added benefit of giving him a retort to all those kids who called him “gay.” He isn’t sexually identifying yet, so “gay” is not an accurate label right now. This gave him the ability to tell them, “I’m not gay. I’m gender creative, let me explain the difference to you.” Winning, teachable moment. If that’s what labels can do, then I’m all for them. By all means, if you don’t want labels on you, that’s totally cool too. But this is what works for my son.

4.) “Gender Creative? Oh my God. Are you telling me I have to learn yet another adjective for special snowflakes?” No, I’m not telling you that you have to do anything. Although, you might want to, given that the world is moving swiftly in the direction of gender diversity acceptance. You might want to catch up, for the sake of your future grandchildren. (With regard to the “special snowflake” remark, I will refer to something a friend of a friend posted on social media earlier today: “Would you rather be a unique snowflake, individual but with cohesive power to create beautiful expanses… or a turd to add to another big pile of sh*t?”

As a side note, many people read my pieces and somehow thought I made up the term gender creative. I certainly did not. The term was coined by a prominent developmental and clinical psychologist, Diane Ehrensaft, Ph.D.

5.) “This mother should just accept the fact that her son is gay.” Well, if and when he comes out, I will. He’s not sexually identifying yet. The following three are completely separate, independent things, having no bearing on each other: gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation. Any recently published book by respected researchers, clinicians, and psychologists will explain this in great detail.

6.) “This mother is making her child bully bait.” My son was already bully bait, before he self-identified as gender creative. Because he has always acted more feminine, has always enjoyed the company of girls more than boys, and is drawn to all feminine things (including toys, clothing, games, shoes, decor, etc.), he has always been picked on. All of his life. He knew no other reality. In fact, as soon as he had a label other than “sissy,” that was the moment he stopped being bully bait and was able to educate and enlighten others whenever he felt like it.

7.) “This mother is looking for validation and attention. She needs to put her foot down and be a PARENT!” Ok, for the first part of that statement, I knew this topic would be controversial, and would most likely not bring me any love at all, so I was surprised when it actually did. I was never looking for validation or attention. I’m looking to spark dialogue (which I have done). I’m being an advocate. With my son’s full consent, I first went public with my writing about him at the end of his 4th grade year. He wanted his story told. I decided that my writing about him would be my advocacy for him. I knew that a larger audience than my own echo chamber needed to hear this message.

The second part about “being a parent?” What they mean when they say “she needs to put her foot down” is actually, “she needs to stifle her son’s true personality and force him to live as someone he is not so that everyone else will be comfortable with him.” Well, that’s just not how I roll.

8.) “This mother needs to be preparing her son for the real world where people get bullied and teased all the time for being different!” Well, again, being bullied has been his entire life experience so far, up until recently. And what you’re advocating is called victim-blaming. There is no situation in life that bears bullying people. Secondly, it’s a good thing I put action behind my words, and created a group for all gender variant kids that is now an official program of the LGBT Center. My son has found his tribe of people with this group. So regardless of how cruel the world may be, I have well-prepared my son with a safe loving home where he can always land, and a community of like-minded friends. Thirdly, we need to be preparing our kids to not be bullies in the first place.

9a.) “This child will need lots of therapy one day.” Don’t we all.

9b.) “This child will be thoroughly embarrassed when he’s older.” Aren’t all kids thoroughly embarrassed of everything when they’re teenagers? I should know, as I have two teenagers in addition to my younger son. But actually, to answer the question, I do not think he will be embarrassed later by being in the spotlight now. First, he has loved the spotlight. Second, we’ve raised him to not be ashamed of himself for who he is, so he has no reason to be embarrassed in the first place.

10.) “Creating new labels like this just make our society more divisive!” Actually, it’s quite the opposite. Kids like my son stick out like a sore thumb. He’s going to get labeled regardless. Why not let him be in charge of the label? And, him giving a positive label to himself has actually made his friends at school become more inclusive of him, because they finally understand what he stands for and who he is. Refer back to #3 and #4 for more.

As much as we like to say we don’t need labels, just try living without the status of “male” or “female” for a while. See how many ID forms, doctor’s intakes, and job applications you can complete that don’t ask whether you are male or female. This box or that. Either or. Black or white. Hispanic or non-hispanic. Our world tries to live in binary terms, but truthfully, we’re not binary.

One last, bonus comment I will address is this one: I’m frequently told by “religious conservatives” that God created man and woman only. I like to remind them that yes, God created opposites like night and day. But He also created dawn, dusk, sunrise, twilight, sunset, and everything in between. Yes, God created birds of the air and fish of the sea, but He also created lizards, turtles, sea snakes, and frogs; emus, penguins, ostriches, and flamingos, and everything in between. Just look around and you’ll see that this world was never meant to be exclusively binary.

What I learned from reading the comments sections was this: judgment and hatred are alive and well, no doubt. But the voices of love, acceptance, and reason by far outnumber the voices of hatred. Those are the messages that contain unique, personal material and actually make their way to me. I keep them in a file on my desktop. I receive more every day, from people all over the world. There are too many to count.

So, about the comments sections, friends, I’m saying here and now: please don’t feel that you need to alert me to the horrible comments sections of articles, whether the article was written by me or someone else. Trust me, I know they’re there. I just don’t read them anymore. And you shouldn’t either.

Originally published at: www.gendercreativelife.com

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