*Repost as Tumblr ate the last one. I won’t lie though, it’s been massively rewritten.
*TW: discussion of harassment and rape threats.
This post is part of the Women Write About Comics blog carnival: Harassment and the Geek Blogosphere.
It’s funny. I linked to my first Women Write About Comics interview on Facebook. My friends and family were complaining that I didn’t post enough about my blogging exploits, and that it was hard to keep up. So I posted a link, with a short note about how exciting I found this moment—not just that’d I’d had the chance to interview Corrina Lawson, but that I’d given myself the opportunity to do it. It’s a small thing, but it was a long time in coming.
The WWAC interview project is designed to help women in comics, find other cool women in comics. But I also started it for myself. I needed a reason to take the leap from commenting on other writer’s work, to engaging with it more meaningfully. I also needed to learn how to interview people. I’m not a journalist. Through trial and error (and imitation), I taught myself how to write reviews, but interviews were a whole other terrifying kettle of fish. Maybe I wasn’t good enough, is the thing. Maybe this whole WWAC thing would backfire on me, and I’d have to deal with hordes of trolls. Maybe I’d embarrass myself in public, or fail, or, attract the wrong kind of attention.
I came of internet-age in pseudonymous fandom. Blogging under my own name, first at Toronto Comics Review, and now on WWAC, is still a big deal for me. In giving up my pseudonym, I gave away a layer of protection, in exchange for—hopefully—new opportunities, personal and professional. I’ve done a few email interviews now and things are going great. I’ll be doing some in-person interviews later this summer, and in the process, peeling back another layer of protection, and with it, another layer of anxiety.
The first comment I received on that interview was a trolling sideswipe. Someone came by, via that Facebook post, and told me to quit while I was ahead. Or rather, to quit now, before I could fail any harder than I already was. Typical trolling, and not something I’d usually take to heart. It hurt though, coming from someone I know, maybe a friend or a colleague. The next comment I received was incredibly nice and encouraging, and everyone else in my life has been sweet and supportive. They understand that posting my first interview is a big deal. Chances are, my troll got that too—that was the point, wasn’t it? Trolling doesn’t work if your target isn’t invested.
I created my first LiveJournal account about ten years ago. It was an outgrowth of my activity on Harry Potter and Buffy forums, and so most of the people I interacted with were also members of fandom. Pseudonymity was, and still is, more common in LiveJournal fandom, than is blogging under your own name. This serves a few different functions. 1) It allows fans to indulge themselves in sometimes socially unacceptable ways (fannish obsession, cosplay, fanfic) without repercussions in their day to day life. No one at school or at work will know how big of a nerd you really are, and so, no one will have ammunition to potentially bully you. 2) It protects fans from creators. Both in the legal sense—try and serve DarkLordGinny26 for her ‘infringing’ 50 Shades-esque porn-opus, I dare you—and in being able to say whatever you like about a song, tv episode, or comic, without its creator knowing who you are. (Plenty of creators don’t like pseudonymity and anonymity because of this, but I think it helps to create necessary distance. Distance is great. There’s only so much I want to know about Dave Sim). And 3) It provides a layer of protection from the wrong kind of attention online. Internet veterans know what to look out for. Wind up trolls. Men’s Rights Activists. Stalkers.
Pseudonymity and anonymity are insulation. They keep the streams from crossing. But their protection is ephemeral, being based mainly on politeness and the laziness inherent to the human condition. It’s easy enough to find hacking tools—if you’re determined. It’s technically pretty easy to get an IP address and track it back the the real you. Most of us employ only minimal internet security, after all. But thankfully, most people aren’t that determined, and most people aren’t that disrespectful, or that downright abusive, to track down your address or place of employment. Most people aren’t going to go the mattresses with their trolling, and call you at home. Ideally, concealing our identities on the internet buys us a dual retreat—from real life, when we need it, and from internet life, when we that. What it doesn’t get us, is actual freedom from trolls, bullies, and stalkers. Those people are inevitable. We focus instead on minimizing their impact.
Over the years, I’ve run mailing lists, message boards, writing challenges, and communities. I did all of this under a pseudonym that’s still theoretically active, although I never seem to have time for her. That pseud has friends and loved ones. As her, I’ve built relationships that are as real and as lasting as the ones I enjoy as Megan. As her, I’ve also been trolled. The usual stuff, but let’s go through the checklist:
- death threats
- rape threats
- hack threats
- persistent harassment
- bullying, including encouragement to kill myself
- defamation, etc
The funny thing is, I’d managed to convince myself that none of that was even a thing. I tell people that for the most part, my online experiences have been pretty great. And they have been. Long stretches of years with nothing worse than the odd, “eat my dick, bitch.” That stuff is inevitable, right? It’s normal. It ain’t even a thing. My memories of most of these instances have faded. Only a few keep on trucking with their stay-fresh seals intact. The journalist who followed me across two platforms, in a bizarre attempt to convince me that rape was a natural consequence of evolved masculinity. The creator who tweeted at me for three weeks, trying to make a pretty similar point. The comics community that mobilized to troll the feminist fan community I worked on, for a good month. But I’ve never dealt with the kind of organized, misogynistic campaign that Anita Sarkeesian has. I’ve never been internet famous enough to mobilize so many trolls. I’ve also never been loud enough.
That troll comment pissed me off more than is should have, but it’s the not knowing. That first LiveJournal I mentioned? It preceded my current, and quasi-active account. My boyfriend back then was an blogger, and we shared a number of online friends. When we broke up, he had those mutual friends report to him the locked contents of my posts. I deleted the account, dumped all of those mutual friends and anyone even remotely suspicious. For years afterward, I would come across comments asking where I’d gone, wondering if I was safe. The relationship was toxic enough that for a long time, I lived with the fear that he would find my new identity. On my birthday last year, he found me on Facebook. I reacted about as you’d think I would. And then, when I calmed down, I brushed that dirt off my shoulder. It was a clarifying experience.
By that point I’d been blogging and tweeting under my own name for some time. But I still maintained some distance between those efforts and my friends and family. My ex helped put things in perspective. What was I waiting for? Why was I holding back, sabotaging so many opportunities, not going after the things I really wanted? Because of guys like him?
There was a time in my life when I couldn’t afford to blog under my real name. That time is long past. No one wants to experience what Anita has, but I’m done with worrying. I’m done with holding back. So many people helped to get to this point, and I’m going to do my level best to pay that forward.