2016 ended quite roughly. Savagely, even. I watched as many people, myself being one of them, turned against friends and family over the election – understandably so, as this was no ordinary election. I have been a very vocal Hillary Clinton supporter for a number of years, so watching what happened to her unfurl was devastating to me on its own, even without Trump. We can blame the electoral college, we can blame the media for all the fake news and for focusing on the emails toward the end, we can blame misogyny (even among women, apparently), and a host of other reasons. All of them are likely to be true, from what I can tell. I deeply mourned her loss and the reasons behind it for weeks. I still mourn. But I also learned something and I ask that you read this entire post.
Online news and social media have taken a turn for the worse in recent years. There is little logic, critical thinking, or accountability involved, creating a cesspool of misinformation and an alarming amount of high emotion over rationale. Yes, it’s true this has always been the case online, but with this election I have watched extremist views snowball into an unprecedented frenzy. This goes for ultra conservatives, far left liberals, and within the LGBT ‘community.’ What worries me most, though, is seeing people online lash out while claiming they are standing for a cause, without having any tangible goal. This is particularly rampant on Twitter and Facebook because it’s so easy to type out a few careless sentences.
I see a lot of infighting on social media under the LGBT umbrella. While it’s only human nature for people to have and to vocalize very different opinions about the issues that face us, there is a way to productively approach discord, like asking questions, trying to understand others’ perspectives, even at a most basic level. What I see instead is immediate labeling with names like “biphobia” “lesbophobia” “transphobia” “TERF” and countless others. But do these imposed labels actually serve to move the conversation forward? Has that ever worked? Is that how we define community?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, these are the definitions of community:
I would argue that the things we have in common are greater than the things that divide us. But in the interest of understanding, let’s look at the ways LGBT is and is not acting as a community in our current climate.
We can say we have a shared history of being marginalized and have fought for marriage equality together. We also have had to create spaces to socialize where we can feel comfortable and free from violence. I’d argue that in these ways, for starters, we have been a community.
Today, we continue to fight against certain laws and systems, but our interests have divided. The culture has changed, and that’s to be expected. What happened in light of the election was that it set us all up to feel immediately ready to fight…anyone. Each other, others, everyone. It also led to this new phenomena of “othering” aka distancing ourselves with no clear objective. The post-election climate has no doubt raised our likelihood to lash out, and perhaps we come by it honestly. And in this heightened state of emotion, we can’t use reason. Where we were once most likely attacked by straights years ago has turned to attacks from within the community we claim to be. I see this all the time. In fact, when I took this role as editor one of the first things I did was read through all of the older comments by readers of the site. More of you disagree than agree, and with a Trump presidency, we are really going to have to stop and decide with precise determination which things we can debate and bicker over, and which issues we feel unanimous about. But we can’t throw around abstract language like “be more inclusive” which I see frequently online. That isn’t a precise goal. That’s a vague philosophy, and while it sounds nice, it doesn’t hold water when it comes to concrete actions.
I shared an article on Twitter that I feel was a very thoughtful, insightful piece by colleague Merryn Johns at Curve Magazine, and was shocked by some of the comments made by members of our proclaimed community. I happen to agree with what she wrote, but even if I didn’t, simply sharing it should be ok. We should be able to be ok with communication. We should be able, in the interest of inclusivity, to hear the variety of perspectives in our community. I see that on the decline. This is the article I shared, for reference.
The way I watched people attack was the same way I watched in horror as we turned on each other during the primaries, and let’s also not forget that not ALL LGBT-identified people are even liberal, although many are.
I share this because, especially in this new era, we need to pick our battles. You’ll never hear me utter the phrase, “we need to come together” because that’s empty language, as all language is empty without action.
Now more than ever, we need to move beyond the abstract squabbling over labels and clarify our common goals. We need to channel our pain and fear and anger into action. It is our commonality that makes us community, and it is our shared goals that will make this community stronger, if we decide that a community is what we are, with many different human lives and unique voices therein. It is my hope that in the new year, we can make this one simple resolution together.