Once you get me started talking about a topic, I can’t seem to figure out how to stop.
I lived in a small town with more cows than mailboxes, at a crossroads between Suburbia and Farmville. Growing up neurodivergent, queer, trans, and liberal in a conservative town meant that I often ran into resistance for my more radical ideas. I moved to New York to find my people, but despite my love for voicing opinions, I’m an introvert that loves to stay inside.
Facebook discussion groups have been my saving grace. I don’t have to scream my opinions into the void or voice them to myself in the shower. I can find my people.
When I started to think that I might be autistic, I joined a few discussion groups that might help enlighten me on the topic. I wanted to learn how others went about getting diagnosed, and I wanted to be able to compare notes about their experiences.
Being in the group made me feel so comfortable. I was surrounded, metaphorically, by like-minded people who understood my particular struggles. Whether I brought up my struggles with concerts, crowds, or food, I would find at least ten people who could relate.
I even joined an ‘Autism Meals’ group. We mostly discuss Mac N’ Cheese and other “same food” preferences. Sometimes, we compare McDonald’s orders.
After I caught the discourse bug, I started adding myself to discussion groups for other facets of my personality.
I joined a few non-binary and polyamorous groups. I love talking about queer issues. I can steer the topic toward LGBTQ issues at any party, whether it’s at a club in Brooklyn, a party at a friends, or dinner at my mothers.
The discussions were great. I was introduced to ideas and thought experiments that I had never even heard of. Groups dedicated to respectful discussion, and even debate, with people who spoke your language.
But, I came to a realization: every group has its issues.
Before you are allowed into any of these groups, you are required to read their guidelines. There are some normal things: no bullying, no harassment, no doxing. Don’t go to someone’s profile and start messaging their family members. No death threats.
You’d think some of these things would go without saying.
Some of the rules are group specific, but universal throughout that community.
In my trans groups, they don’t allow TERFS or transphobes. In my autism acceptance groups, you can’t promote Autism $peaks, applied behavioral therapy, or anti-vaccination rhetoric. And no matter how clearly polyamorous groups outline their rules, someone posts to the board every day asking we don’t allow the dreaded “unicorn hunters.”
There are a few malcontents, but, for the most part, things run pretty smoothly.
Recently, I was suggested a new group on Facebook that was for trans men. I don’t join many binary trans groups, because I don’t feel like they are the place for me, but I am in a couple trans masculine groups. I knew at a glance that this one wasn’t for me. The image for the group was a white background with harsh, black text:
NO SNOWFLAKES ALLOWED.
I clicked on the group and found exactly what I thought I would. The rules clearly state that the group is for binary, masculine, trans guys. No liberals, no safe spaces, no trigger warnings, no “snowflakes.”
I wasn’t shocked to find a group like this. Toxic masculinity runs rampant through the transmasculine community. I know plenty of trans men who are wonderful, sensitive, and understanding. I am not talking about them.
For some reason, there are many trans men that distance themselves from the trans and greater LGBTQIA+ or queer communities. Some have argued that it is because of male privilege, while others attribute it to the fact that they can be cis-passing more often than trans women.
Personally, I think that it is a bit of both, with some arrogance and conservatism sprinkled on top. Just as TERFs are the scourge of the feminist community, rude, “stealth” trans guys who shit all over the trans community are the racist cousins we’d rather not recognize.
Assholes exist in every community.
I didn’t try to join. Infiltrating them and dismantling their flawed way of thinking from the inside is not my style. Plus, any issue that I would try post about would get deleted. Any unfavorable opinion I might have would get me banned from the group.
But there are so many reasons why I would want to engage with them. I want to ask them about their opinions. If I knew that I wouldn’t be ganged up on or chewed out or called fragile, I would challenge their misconceptions about different parts of our community, and they could dispel any that I had about them.
I think their assholes, but I’m sure they think worse things about me.
I’m used to having controversial opinions. I’ve been told that I was too liberal or naïve my entire life. I have stood up and walked away from a dinner table more than once.
After a life of being the odd one out, I know how to form an argument. I know how to do my research. Any opinion worth having is one that is well researched.
I want to have people to discuss with. When I join a discord group, I’m not just looking for a sounding board to echo back positions I already agree with. Talking with people who feel differently than I do will make me a better debater, a better communicator, and a better person.
If a single piece of evidence can make me rethink my opinion, then the opinion wasn’t that great to begin with.
I want to talk to these guys. It’s not some great sacrifice, but it is a sacrifice that isn’t made very often. Talking to people who loudly disagree with you is one of the most important parts of being queer. There will always be someone who disagrees with our “lifestyle.”
Particularly, my lifestyle. As far as queers go, I’m a Freddie Mercury, culture-shifting, clutch-your-pearls kind of queer.
Engaging with people who don’t understand or don’t agree with you is how you get them to soften their harsh edges. There are so many people out there who hate trans people just because they have never met one. There are so many TERFs whose entire ideology hinges on misconception.
There are thousands of mildly conservative trans binary people out there that hate nonbinary people, due to internalized transphobia, misunderstanding, or just nonsensical hatred on principle. There are also plenty of liberal trans and queer people that just “don’t agree” with nonbinary people, and just wish that we would cam down.
While I can’t say this about all of them, I bet many trans binary people don’t even really understand why they feel the way they do. They experience dysphoria and discrimination in a way that it affects the very essence of their being, and they just don’t understand why anyone would choose to be trans. All it might take for them to understand is a long conversation and a less-than-hostile tone.
What is the point of living proudly as yourself if you don’t use your powers for good?
A chasm is forming between the binary and non-binary trans communities. We cannot claim that it is the fault of either side more than the other.
Or, we could, but what would that accomplish?
I am non-binary, but masculine leaning. I am more liberal than most people I know, but even I have caught myself in some toxic masculinity. I had to unlearn the gender binary, and the patriarchy, just like my parents.
As a gender nonconformist, I try to be more understanding every day. I stared my own insecurities and harmful opinions in the face. I have to be willing to change my mind, lest I be a hypocrite. I try to show this consideration to everyone, regardless of where they are in that journey.
Ignoring or bashing someone for their beliefs will not change their view, but rather irritate or embarrass them and radicalize them further.
My mother and I don’t agree about much. Puppies and babies are cute, and that is just about the end of our shared beliefs. But even though we have different political ideologies, we can still have a meal, or a picnic, or a holiday, and not feel the need to argue about every little thing.
Only a few decades ago, talking about politics was considered dirty, or inappropriate. Now, people feel completely comfortable posting on their Facebook page: “If you believe X, Y, or Z, you can go ahead and unfriend me.”
The Internet feeds you information all day long that pads your beliefs. Your newsfeed has algorithms that navigate you around cognitive dissonance. It is downright dangerous to only get your news, facts, and opinions from Facebook. If you want conflict or discourse, you have to go looking for it.
I go looking for it.
I want my opinions to be challenged. Do I want to be bullied? No, but it’s nothing that I haven’t experienced before. Nobody with an online presence has gone without some kind of hate speech at some point, and based on what I hear from my friends, I’ve experienced some pretty bad stuff, comparatively.
The benefits to these groups still outweigh any drama that I might experience. Finding a community that you can connect with online is something that everyone should be able to try.
The queer community, who has always championed diversity, should set the standard for acceptance toward diversity of thought. Debate within the community is healthy. Discomfort helps us grow. Acknowledging and accepting our ignorance helps us learn.
People misunderstand the idea of a “safe spaces” in which trigger warnings are used. The warning exists so that we can get right to the heart of an issue without worrying about putting anyone off. If you don’t want to engage in a conversation about assault today, you can scroll on by.
If you are ready to be challenged, you can take a deep breath, and proceed with caution.
LGBTQIA+ people experience enough hatred without suffering at the hand of petty infighting. We should let people be people, and have the tough conversations that are worth having. We should hold our beliefs strongly within ourselves, but be willing to let them go. We must be willing to make progress within ourselves before we can make change in our culture.
Engage your local liberal snowflake in a respectful debate, and see if you can both come to some kind of agreement over a cup of coffee.