It's not breaking news that being a woman online comes with a heaping side helping of misogynistic harassment. I've been called every hurtful thing you can think of -- someone once went onto my Facebook fan page and wrote a seemingly complete list of my faults, physical and otherwise. I had a flabby belly and "saggy 50-year-old titties" and I was emotionally immature and so on.
It was all a little bit true -- after all, he was saying things about me that I had revealed about myself. But while I shared them in the spirit of authenticity and decreasing stigma, he'd reloaded them with shame and was now slinging them back at me like highly effective arrows.
I've got one troll in particular who continually creates burner accounts on Twitter and Instagram for the sole purpose of calling me fat and ugly. This person will say anything to shock and harass and hurt me, especially in vulnerable moments, like the time he or she wrote "Holy fuck, you're ugly" on a picture of me in the hospital with my boyfriend.
I delete the comments, block this person and report their account, only to have them pop up with a new one a few days later.
It's not easy to deal with and I reject the idea that women who choose to speak up as writers in the most relevant medium of our time just have to suck it up and accept abuse, vitriol and harassment. But it's a reality I have been forced to accept.
I have always refused to be silenced. Until now.
This person has gone after me as a mother before -- suggesting that my general fatness and trashiness make me unfit as a parent. But last week, for the first time, this troll went after my son directly.
I have wrestled with writing this as I want to call out shameful behavior where it exists, but don't want to give this person the attention they may be striving for. And I certainly will not be repeating the comment that led me to delete the most recent pictures of my son and make my social media accounts private.
This person used an ugly, racist word, one of the ugliest words that exists in this world. When I read this, it felt like being punched, or the first time you hit the ground and have the wind knocked out of you. I yelled out loud "WHAT THE FUCK" and instinctively took a screenshot before I deleted the comment, along with the video snippet of my son singing a song about the days of the week.
It was the feeling of suddenly realizing you've left your door unlocked for hours, the sudden realization that you were never safe as you went about your normal business.
I blocked the account, of course, and reported it, but it was just another burner. There are no systems in place to keep a person who chooses to from coming back again and again with different accounts to harass you and, in this case, your family.
Whenever I hear my son sing that cute little song, I involuntarily think about that word.
I felt instantly that I had not protected him. After finally becoming his legal mother and being allowed to share his image, I had slowly opened up on social media. I don't use his name, I don't reveal his personal issues or history. We don't even have the same last name, largely because I don't want him to be automatically associated with my writing.
But I began to quote some of the funny things he says on Twitter (Me: "What do you want for snack?" 4yo: "Something bigger than my head."). And I shared pictures of him and us on Instagram, as many mothers do, because he's adorable, just freakishly cute.
I liked sharing the beauty of our lives together, the smiles on our faces when we hang out. I liked connecting with other moms and hearing people comment on how happy he looks.
Now I've locked down my social media in hopes that random hurtful trolls will not be able to reach him again. But I still have a lot of followers, so I'll be thinking much more seriously about posting pictures of my son. The idea that this word may have been directed at me, lobbed by someone who just doesn't like what I write, makes me want to X out all my tabs permanently. I'm sure that's what it was intended to do.
But it's not just about me. It's also the beginnings of the appearance of overt racism in our lives.
Like I said, I can accept a reality in which I have to endure harassment. But I cannot accept a reality in which such a vile and hateful word is hurled against my blameless, precious son. My son who doesn't even know what racism is yet, who I wish never had to learn.
These are not new issues, and I am not naive enough to have never considered them before. It is my responsibility as someone in a transracial family to educate myself and prepare for the future. I worry constantly about what happens when my adorable black boy becomes a black "man" in the eyes of many, likely well before he's an actual adult. This is a reality that black parents know far better than I do.
But I am learning for myself how it feels to beat your fists against something as big and faceless and damaging as racism. I am learning the distinct blend of enraged and helpless it inspires. The tears that are fruitless against such an embedded institution. The inability to protect my innocent child from its tentacles. And I wonder how anyone survives it.
As my friend, a woman of color, responded to the situation, "I wish I could say this is the last time this will happen to you and your son. But sadly I know better."
Sadly, I know better, too.
So you win this round, Internet troll. You got to me. And I will go into hiding to protect my child just a little bit longer from the sickening reality of the world we live in.
But I am writing this to let you know that I see you, we all see you. And your attempts to spread vile hatred, even at the expense of an innocent child, are not just wrong, they are evil. And I will never shut up about that.