A Funny Thing Happened on Twitter the Other Day: Transphobia and Random Acts of Nastiness on Twitter

Trigger/Content Warnings: Transphobia, homophobia, abortion, religion, Christianity. Also attempted humour.

There I was innocently browsing the web earlier this week when I logged on to my Twitter page (you can follow me on Twitter, my handle is @DaniArgTG). And there I saw it. Gasp! A notification! A little flutter of excitement coursed through my being. What was it? Who was it from? Had Barrack Obama invited me to lead his new African Transgender Rights Initiative? Had Donald Trump finally responded to my various tweets about him, or more prosaically, but no less importantly, had Tiger Brands finally bowed to my considerable pressure and contacted me to say that they will be resuming production of ‘Colman’s Apple Jelly’ forthwith?

No. It was none of these things. In fact, it was at first glance, much more mundane. Someone had replied to a tweet of mine from 10 March 2018 in which I had posted my new profile picture with the hashtag #NewProfilePic.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Why do we do this on Twitter? No idea. It is clearly an example of the hive mind at work.

Anyway, I was intrigued that someone had found my ‘new’ profile picture from nearly two months ago and had commented on it. What could they have had to say? Well let’s say she was less than complimentary. It simply said, ‘I feel so sorry for your children.’ I was a little confused at first. I seldom mention my children on social media. What could I have done or said that had made her feel so sorry for them? I mean yes, they do have to put up with what I call my ‘sense of humour’ and my predilection for making up bad puns and jokes, but presumably my comedic reputation had not spread that far. Had it? Additionally, who was this person? Did I know her? Had we interacted in any way? I promptly jumped on to her timeline to see what she was on about. Turns out she is a ‘Catholic. Wife. Mother.’ from Durban South Africa. None of this rang any bells and I was sure that we had not run into each other online before. After reviewing her tweets, it became clear that she is less than accepting of the LGBT community.

I then checked my tweets. Had I inadvertently mentioned my children recently. I scrolled, and I scrolled, and I scrolled. Nothing. At least not on Twitter. But I have mentioned them (in passing) from time to time in a few blog posts! So, she either got lucky and guessed that I have children, or she had bothered to read a blog post or two of mine. Thanks for that! It has made WordPress just a little bit richer: they put advertisers on my page (that I get zero revenue from) and the advertisers pay on a cost per view basis. Not sure about the demographic, but hey, ‘eyeballs is eyeballs’, right?

Anyway, I started thinking. So, this person had clearly searched through Twitter looking for someone to troll. She came across me, trawled through a lot of less than exciting tweets including birthday messages to friends, silly GIF replies to tweets and some flagrant self-promotion of my blog. Ah-ha. She found it, read it and saw I had children. Gasp! Shock. HORROR! Without seeking to understand anything more about me, who I am, my children or how I care for them she jumped to a conclusion. She then trawled through yet more tweets, including anti-monarchy diatribes, frankly pathetic attempts at humour, me poking fun at Brexiters, philosophical musings on the nature of time itself, me baiting Tito Mboweni, yet more flagrant self-promotion, musings on the average height of a given population… Gosh, I am bored already, and this is MY life. Clearly this woman is made of stern stuff. Anyway, after even more trawling (we still have over a month of tweets to trawl through at this point) she eventually found my ‘new profile pic’ post and banged out her tweet attacking me and my children.

I sat with this for a little bit. I was frankly concerned. Who was this person and why did they have a beef with me? This, to me, is not rational behaviour. Why go through someone’s frankly less than stellar timeline in this much detail? Was this a concerted attack on me? Was I about to be ‘doxed‘? On reflection I considered this to be unlikely. She was however clearly a bigot who enjoyed spreading hatred. I therefore simply replied to her thusly: ‘Not as sorry as I feel for you and yours… Hugs, love and forgiveness sent your way.’ This was truthfully how I planned on leaving it.

I was however intrigued by her actions. It seemed to me that Christian values include things like ‘turn the other cheek’, ‘judge not lest you be judged’, ‘let the person who is without sin cast the first stone’ etc and it seemed to me (especially when read in conjunction with her other posts that targeted LGBT people, women who have had abortions and people who support a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body), that she was simply intent on spreading hatred. There was no attempt to understand the other person or their point of view. There was simply prejudice, judgement and bigotry. It seemed to me that she was using her religion to defend and validate her own prejudices.

I asked the question on my personal Facebook page:
Why would a self-confessed, supposed Christian take it upon themselves to stalk random strangers on social media and spread hatred and judgement just because said stranger does not conform to their narrow sense of what is ‘normal’?’
I was genuinely confused and I did not understand. It really seemed to me that these actions were at odds with my understanding of contemporary Christian values.

I am fortunate to have a wide variety of friends on social media. I am friends with hard and fast atheists and agnostics, Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, Jewish people and Hindus and a whole bunch of others including Pagans and no doubt those with other belief systems. I respect and admire sincere belief (no matter what form it comes in) wherever I find it and I therefore value these people in my life as well as the value their beliefs and insights add to mine. Personally, I am a great believer in ‘philosophy‘. I love and value the study and acquisition of wisdom. It can be elusive. It can be enigmatic and even deceptive, but it is arguably the purpose of our time here on earth and I believe that we should look at all available sources of wisdom and adopt that which makes sense and reject that which does not. I am therefore open to (yet critical of) a wide variety of belief systems.

I was thus grateful when a few of my friends weighed in with their opinions on this matter. There were those who said that clearly this was just a bigoted outlier, who was not representative of Christians in general and that I would do best to simply ignore her. A point of view I happened to agree with. Another friend, who I will do my best to faithfully paraphrase, pointed out that on the one hand Christians are told, in the Bible, not to judge, but on the other hand, the Bible also tells Christians that they will be held accountable for not speaking out against sin. Unfortunately, no references were provided so I can not verify these statements, but they do mostly accord with what I know about the Bible and Christian theology.

Right off the bat we have something of the fundamental problem with Biblical injunctions and Christian theology in general. It is almost always contradictory, open to interpretation and at best unclear. She went on to say that as a Christian you are faced with the choice of either speaking out and being called a “bigoted hateful homo/transphobe” (her description, not mine) by people or facing the prospect of eventually being judged for not speaking out and facing eternal damnation. She then said that most Christians prefer the former, presumably because their fear of spending eternity with rock stars, artists and writers is far greater than their desire to spend eternity in the presence of Thérèse of Lisieux (arguably the most boring saint in recorded history).

Jokes aside, I can see the inherent tension here. As a Christian you are being given two contradictory duties. The stakes are high (assuming you believe in an immortal soul and the concepts of heaven and hell). However, as far as I am aware, Christians are also told ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone’. According to the teachings of the Catholic church and perhaps the Bible we are all sinful. So, it follows that no one can ever cast the first stone. Or is this an example of only choosing the Bible verse that suits our needs in this context? It seems to me that it is one thing to speak out against sin (as you perceive it, I am not getting into the philosophical argument about what sin is or is not, let alone if the concept even exists), but it is quite another to deliberately seek people out who have never even touched you or your life before and spread hatred.

Again, we must look at the very contradictory nature of Christianity. That same part of the Bible that is used to vilify transgender people (Deuteronomy 22:5), also tells us not to wear clothes made of more than one type of fibre (Deuteronomy 22:11) and to stone adulterers to death (Deuteronomy 22:23), good luck with that injunction. Yet in other parts of the Bible we are told to show forgiveness and tolerance. Notably these injunctions to be tolerant and forgive come long after the laws laid out in Deuteronomy etc and are (if you believe the Bible) given by Jesus himself, who at one and the same time is the son of god and god himself (according to Christian theology). So, presumably the injunctions to forgive, accept and engage trump those laid down by a bunch of old men with long grey beards. I make this assertion as according to the religions own internal logic the ‘new’ injunctions supersede the old based on authority (Jesus is a greater authority than some random old man) and on temporal grounds (the ‘new’ law is obviously more relevant than the old).

It seems to me that you can’t pick and choose what parts of the Bible you want to enforce. If you want to go around berating people for being transgender, for being homosexual or whatever then you also have to stone to death the divorced people who re-marry and keep anyone whose ancestors up to ten generations ago were born to unmarried parents out of your church (Deuteronomy 23:2). Any such person should also refrain from eating cheeseburgers, bacon and shellfish.

In my view, this particular Christian is using the Bible and her religion to selectively justify and validate her prejudices, her (pre-existing) bigotry and her hatred for her fellow human beings. These are not truthfully the belief of contemporary Christians, nor are Christians bound by these teachings. They are her particular beliefs, prejudices and hatreds. She is not in fact fulfilling any ‘law of god’ or ‘gods purpose’ by ‘calling out sinners’. She is merely spreading hatred to justify her own beliefs and make herself feel better about herself and her own shortcomings. If she were running around Durban in pure wool clothes, leather shoes (with no plastic, no rubber and no cotton or synthetic fibres) and presumably wearing a veil and stoning every divorcee she came across, then maybe I would have time for her (no, not really, I wouldn’t, but at least she would be consistent in the application of her beliefs). But, she is not. For if she were, she would be in jail for assault, attempted murder and the odd manslaughter charge as well. Therefore, she is nothing but a petty bigot with nothing better to do than troll random strangers and spread hatred.

It saddens me that people do this. There are so many things that we can do to spread love and goodwill and improve life for everyone, yet we dissipate our energy by doing the opposite.

I had fully intended to simply leave things as they stood, with me having forgiven her for her unprovoked and unwarranted verbal assault. But she then replied to me saying that ‘I do not live a lie. You need not pity my children. They know what truth is.’ I then decided that I would block her and report her to Twitter for abusive behaviour. This may seem something of an overreach but seeing how her tone and language was apt to escalate as she attacked other people with whom she did not agree, I thought it best to protect myself and attempt to draw something of a ‘line in the sand’. This action prompted her to tweet again:
‘Why do trans people feel so threatened when you call them out? Do they only want to hear from the people that tell them they look beautiful dressed as the opposite gender? PSA: those people are lying to you. You don’t look good. You look ridiculous.’

The truth is that I was not threatened by her ‘calling me out’, I do not see what she did as ‘calling out’. Random spreading of hatred? Yes. Insulting me on a public online forum? Yes, Calling out? No. I was however afraid for my children. This person clearly had an axe to grind and the time and peculiar mindset to dig and dig and dig. The last thing I need is for my kids to be kidnapped by a nutter thinking they are saving them from a sinful parent!

However, it is also true, transgender people in general are probably more sensitive than others (as a class). This is not without reason. We are the disproportionate victims of hate crime. We are assaulted, raped and murdered because of our gender. Our right to exist is challenged. Our existence is even denied by some people. Our trans brothers and sisters throughout the world have been (and many are still) subjected to horrendous ‘treatments’ and conversion therapies that are tantamount to torture. We are regularly denied access to medical care, housing, legal services and the protection of the law: ‘trans panic‘  can even be cited as a legitimate defence for murdering a transgender person. No wonder we are very careful when we feel threatened. Even in a ‘normal’ social setting we are aware that our very presence can lead to a dangerous situation where our physical safety could be in very real danger. On top of this we are constantly bombarded by people like my troll who challenge our existence and seek to damage us psychologically. Little wonder that most transgender people consider, attempt and succeed in committing suicide. No wonder that we are so sensitive to abuse. We need to be to survive.

It is pathetic that this person thinks all that we care about is being told we look ‘good’. We care about being our authentic selves. We want to be allowed to exist in the world as who we really are. Rather than ‘living a lie’ we want to be free of the lie society has forced us to create around ourselves and simply be free to be ourselves. If we look ‘good’ great. If we do not, so what? How does this affect anybody else? There are good looking cisgender men and women. There are less attractive cisgender men and women. It stands to reason that the same is true of transgender people. So what? Do we want to look as good as we can? For many of us yes. But again, the same is true of most cisgender people. Do some people care more about their appearance than others? Of course. Does this matter? Unless you are their employer and they are in a ‘front facing’ role where appearance matters… NO! (And even then, provided they are neat, clean, tidy and professionally attired I am not convinced anything else should matter). Anyone who had any understanding of what gender dysphoria is would also realise that calling a transgender person ‘ugly’ or ‘ridiculous’ because of the way they look is frankly insane. If you truly understood anything of the transgender experience you would realise that being considered ‘ugly’ or ‘ridiculous’ is a very small price to pay for being able to finally be the person you always knew yourself to be. At the same time it doesn’t mean that calling someone ‘ugly’ or ‘ridiculous’ is very mean spirited (at best) and reveals a lot more about the person saying the words than the target of the words.

I am frankly astounded that another person’s gender, identity and sexuality matters so much to some people. Provided you leave me alone to live my life I honestly do not care what you do with yours. Provided you act legally and ethically and your actions do not impact negatively upon me I am happy for you to do what you want. Your beliefs, who you have sex with, how you dress, what music you listen to, what you choose to eat (or not eat) are yours and I am happy to give you the freedom to live your life as you wish. All that transgender people ask is the same. Does it materially affect you if a transgender person breathes the same air as you? Surely not. We have a right to exist, peacefully and without having unwarranted attacks made on us by random strangers. We do not fear you and we do not fear your barbed comments. We simply want to be free to live our lives. We do not want nor do we even seek your approval. We do not care whether you think we are attractive, or ugly. We simply want to be safe and be allowed to pursue our happiness free from your unwarranted bullying. Let us do that and we will leave you to worship whatever imaginary friends you wish in whatever (legal and ethical) ways you want.

PS: Please note that it is not my intention to attack Christianity (or any other religion) here. I have taken issue with this particular Christian (my troll) and in doing so I have pointed out the inherent flaws in the internal logic of their belief system as revealed to me by her and my friends who took the time to engage. As already noted I have the utmost regard and respect for sincere religious belief.
If I have caused offence it is truly not my intention to have attacked your belief, but I do reserve my right to counter the use of religious texts and beliefs in an illogical and incoherent way to justify prejudice and bigotry in attacking others.

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