Republished at The Huffington Post
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 at night, I’ll be in bed, scrolling through my social media feeds when out of nowhere I see 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. I generally have friends reach out to me, if I don’t see it myself, and tell me where else my writing has appeared. Along with that info, they usually tell me, “I made the mistake of reading the comments.” Or, “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 on these sites, I read the comments. I mean, it was informative, free advice that gave me insight into my audience. If someone posed a question or seemed to misunderstand something I wrote, I took it as constructive criticism that helped me to better explain a viewpoint the next time around. If someone used foul language or spewed hatred about my subject matter, I knew I was touching a nerve, and that’s exactly what I wanted to do. Although intolerant and hateful, those comments meant that someone read my words and was, at least for a moment, forced to think about something that made them uncomfortable. And maybe, if I was lucky, they might take some time to analyze why it made them uncomfortable.
But after a while, the comments sections became identical to one another. I could predict what the comments would be before I even finished writing the article. It was the same, boring, oblivious, hate-filled comments that 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 mom to three kids, my youngest being a gender creative boy. I write in hopes of educating people about this unique and awesome population of people. Contrary to popular opinion, gender creative people are not a 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.
By parents like me allowing our children to express their gender in different ways, (that are not harmful to others), we’re letting them know they are loved unconditionally. After all, it’s not our job as parents to make clones of ourselves. Society is supposed to grow and evolve – not just stay the same forever and ever. We have to let go of our expectations of what we think our children should be. We have to let go of preconceived notions and let our children have wings to fly. That is selfless parenting, as opposed to selfish parenting, and letting our children be themselves is the ultimate act of love.
Though 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. People were also continuing to make the assumption in comments that I had “labeled” my son. In fact, it was my son who, desperate to understand why he felt different from all the other boys, labeled himself. It was me who had to do the accepting, not the labeling.
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.
Now, I’ll say that these thoughts in print don’t go over very well with the masses. But, as with all change, pain often 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. I’ve found that that’s always the case. The negative comments and hatred tend to live in the comments sections (some of the worst offenders being women and men 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. What actually takes courage and effort is writing and publishing a controversial piece of writing.
I’d also add that the people who really care about 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 you 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, here were the top ten most repeated negative, uninformed comments I got (or some similar variation of these), along with my response:
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, self-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 us.
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 acceptance of gender diversity. You might want to catch up, for the sake of your future grandchildren. (With regard to the “special snowflake” remark, I divert to something someone else 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 shit?”)
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 four are completely separate, independent things, having no bearing on each other: gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, and sexual attraction. Any recently published book by respected scientists, 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.” Now that’s funny. I knew this topic would be controversial, and would most likely not bring me any love at all, so I was surprised when it did. With my son’s full approval, 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.
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, firstly, being bullied has been his entire life experience so far, up until recently. 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 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.
9.) “This child will need lots of therapy one day.” Don’t we all.
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 to become more inclusive with him, because they finally understand what he stands for and who he is.
As much as we like to say we don’t need labels, just try living without your 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 you whether you are male or female. This box or that. Either or. Black or white. Our world tries to live in binary terms, but truthfully, we’re not binary.
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, 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.
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 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.
2 thoughts on “The Comments Section”
Well said you! I think your writing is really important, every time I see, hear or am told about an article, podcast, news item… on gender diversity I’m filled with a quiet joy because the more advocacy the better.
Ugh. Every time I read a lovely post like yours, I know there will be hateful comments. Still, I must look — and cringe. But when you read some heartwarming reactions it makes things much better. =)