This is a kind of rambling rant about internet trolls. When I say troll think bully.
A friend of mine, Vicky Beeching, had to take a hiatus from social media because of the cruelty she was receiving from well-meaning Christians.
By well-meaning Christians I mean trolls.
I don’t know what it feels like to come out as gay and be bullied because of it. But I do know what it feels like to come out as an ally to marginalized people and be bullied because of it.
I think about it a lot.
It’s easy to be a troll. It’s hard work to be authentic or an ally of that.
For example, it took Vicky years of interior struggle. It took years of collecting courage to finally come out. She openly confesses that she worked hard getting in touch with her own feelings about it, and she admits that she worked just as hard to study, research, pray, and reflect, so that she could not only be her authentic self with confidence, but, because she is a public person, so that she could argue her case.
Because that’s what marginalized people have to do: defend themselves. Because marginalized people are attacked people.
That’s the way it is for those who come out and for allies: they have put a lot of work into building and nurturing their emotional and mental intelligence for the sake of personal and social justice. They realize they are not just defending and fighting for themselves, but everyone like them.
Trolls, or bullies, don’t have to do either. They don’t need a heart and they don’t need a brain. They just need fingers. They just need to spout vitriol. They don’t even need to understand it. They just need to spout it. There’s no work involved except locating a victim and typing.
They are like bots. In fact, they are bots of the ideology they thoughtlessly subscribe to. They’re no better than that.
So, when you come back at them with a response, which is just as useless as responding to a bot, they come back with another automatically generated response. Just like a bot. It’s on the tip of their fingers without any need of processing through the brain. No effort!
People who come out and their allies work hard emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and socially with blood, sweat and tears. Trolls don’t. They’re lazy. I think the original meaning of the word “troll” refers to fishing… as in using stink-bait to catch someone. But I also think of the fairy tale troll. Like the trolls hiding under the bridge for their next goat. They don’t have to do anything but wait for their next victim to come along. They don’t have to think because they’re driven by hunger. All they have to do is be there to punch somebody with a verbal fist an devour their energy.
Dealing in intimidation to silence you, they don’t seem to take personal responsibility for anything. If you challenge them, they just say, “It’s not me, it’s the Bible!” Or “It’s God!” Or “It’s not me it’s my past!” We’ve all been bullied by people who felt justified because they’d had a rough life and were triggered. They’re cruel believing it’s the right thing to do and their right to do so. It’s your fault and you’re victimizing or silencing them if you don’t receive their attacks with grace.
You’ve heard of compassion fatigue? It can be because one receives so many appeals for help that they no longer hear them or are affected by them. But it can also mean that one has so overextended themselves in compassionate work for others that they burn out.
I think this happens for people who come out and their allies. They work so hard and so long and so passionately for defending their right to exist in this world equally that they burn out from sheer fatigue.
Bullies don’t experience this fatigue. The only kind of fatigue they might experience is screen fatigue.
The one who comes out and their allies may spend years struggling inside and out with serious existential and personal issues as well as socially advocating for themselves and others. But all a bully has to do is stick his fingers into the discussion and spout, “The sooner you burn in hell the better. God loves you!”, and they can totally deflate those they attack. No effort required except signing in and logging out.
It makes me think of a terrorist at an event in a huge arena with a grenade who with one pull of a pin can totally destroy the joy of a beautifully prepared day and the lives of countless people who spent money and travelled to get there. He doesn’t even need a grenade. He just has to show up and yell that he has one and he ruins everything just the same.
Trolls are like that. They don’t need any substance to what they’re saying. It doesn’t even have to be true. They just have to say something cruel and they achieve what they want. They kill the joy, and that makes them glad. With one stupid sentence they can destroy the struggling life of one poor soul just trying to find some safe space on this earth.
It’s exhausting. So here’s what I do.
First, a couple of years ago when I went through a difficult time online I had to make a decision: stay in the game or quit. I told myself, quoting Obama: It’s all about the work! I had to choose that, for me, it wasn’t about being affirmed or praised or encouraged or popular. I love all those things and I’m often informed by well-meaning people that if I were honest with myself I’d realize I’m ambitiously and greedily going after those things. I do have to check myself because if I do go after those things I’m going to get killed out there. I know from experience. So… it’s about me fighting for my right to exist in this world and being an ally and advocate for everyone else because they deserve and should enjoy that same right. Almost every day I have to remind myself: It’s all about the work! It’s all about the work!
Second, the trolls I’ve encountered don’t seem to care about anything. I just ignore them. But once in a while a troll will be hurt that I won’t let them hurt me. At first, having been a pastor, I used to try to reason with them and address their hurt. But after a while I realized they just wanted the same thing as all other trolls: to suck and drain the life and joy right out of my body. So I just don’t cross those bridges any more. I’ve had some noble types say it’s better to keep people in your life with different opinions rather than get stuck in my own insular paradigm. I tried that for a long time. Years. But I discovered that I was getting assaulted by enough people who found ingenious ways of attacking me without giving them permission and easy access. I unfriend and block trolls the moment I realize they’re trolls at increasing speeds. And I no longer feel sorry for them. They deserve not having me as their punching bag. It’s no longer “What’s the right thing to do?” Or “What’s the Christian thing to do?” but “What’s the healthy thing to do?” Unfriend. Block.
Well… like I said, this is a rambling rant. Not very organized. But I wanted to say something, especially after Vicky’s ordeal. She’s a friend. When she came out I drew the cartoon above for her which she now owns. I’m glad she owns it. And I wrote about it then too. In the cartoon Vicky says to Jesus, “They say I’m broken because I’m gay.” Jesus responds, “It’s a broken mind that sees people as broken.” I try to remember that.
Why? Because I feel for her and all others like her, including myself… people who just want to be themselves in this world.