When I realised I was transgender, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to transition or not. I was petrified. Any discussion I saw about transgender people was always interrupted with passionate hate and flippant mockery. Meanwhile, news stories of harassment and violence were everywhere, and I was terrified. Was this really my future? I dallied on the decision for months. Too scared to move forward, but too unwilling to go back into denial.
Eventually I realised I was doomed; destined to transition and endure whatever would happen.
In reality, my transition turned out to be mundane. My challenges have come from places much closer to home, while the public have been pleasingly uninterested in me. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t still been a target of hatred and abuse.
As an avid user of Twitter, I tried to protect myself early on by deliberately not wading into controversial topics, and keeping my platform narrowly focused. Yet I couldn’t stop myself from speaking up. I started to write affirmatively, aiming to speak to people who were in my situation, or were back where I had been. I wrote for any trans person who needed encouragement. Inevitably this brought abuse. I would wake up to messages telling me I was a freak; a man; that I deserved to die. One person even said that because I was trying to help trans people, they would specifically go out and hurt them to counter my goodwill.
To protect my mental health, I started to take more proactive steps. I signed up for blocklists, which swept an army of known abusers out of my timeline, but that didn’t stop them from still trickling through. When Twitter added stronger anti-harassment tools, I made use of them immediately. I silenced every slur and phrase that had been weaponised against me so that I didn’t have to waste my time with more abusive messages. It worked.
“When you share hate because you disagree with it you are giving the abuse a bigger platform.”
Since taking these steps, the amount of harassment I’ve received has dramatically reduced, and I’ve been able to blissfully continue writing online in peace. Yet I’m still left with a timeline littered with messages from people I have blocked, spouting hate and specifically attacking trans people like me. How are they making it through these barriers? Because allies, friends, and those who supposedly oppose those views will not stop sharing what they say.
More and more I see it. Those championing themselves as left-wing voices of acceptance are spreading horrible transphobic hate speech, by taking screenshots and sharing the very tweets I have blocked. Sometimes they add witty comments, trying to turn the attack into a joke against the originator. Other times they do nothing but present their words as evidence that they’re still being abusive, as if it comes as a surprise to any of us that transphobic hate still thrives on social platforms.
Whether you share hate because you disagree with it, or because you passionately believe in it, you’re still ensuring that marginalised people see this hatred. You’re giving the abuse a bigger platform — more attention, more name recognition, and the validation that the abuser was seeking in the first place.
If the people whose words were being shared were politicians, powerful media personalities or spokespeople for established organisations, I would understand. But it rarely is. Often it’s a nobody — just an angry kid with a blog or a YouTube channel, or even somebody becoming increasingly famous for no other reason than their hateful opinions. Thanks to routinely kicking trans people, such abusers are turned into overnight stars, and everyone from their target audience to their targeted topic are told to come gather around and see what they’ve said.
I don’t understand how constantly sharing the words of those who are hurting your friends is helpful. All I see is transphobia being turned into a fast-track strategy for fame.
“Instead of handing abusers a megaphone, do something to actively help trans people.”
I can take transphobia, I knew what I was getting into when I stood up for trans rights and I continue to speak out. But not everybody can. There are trans teenagers and vulnerable folks with fragile mental health who are specifically trying to stay away from transphobic hate speech. Yet they’re having it blasted in their face by people who claim they’re friends and allies. These online havens and safe communities are being vandalised by the very people claiming to look out for us.
If you’re tempted to share hate speech that’s directed at a marginalised group, especially when you’re not part of that group yourself, think about what you’re doing. Consider who’s going to see the message and reflect on why you’re amplifying it. In a lot of cases, especially when the abuser is an unknown ‘frothing gasbag who simply wants to rattle cages and upset people, the message is better left reported and ignored. You aren’t doing anything to stop it by directing your own followers to read it.
Instead of handing abusers a megaphone, do something to actively help trans people. Share things created by us, support our work financially, listen to what we have to say, or even just check in to see how we’re doing. It’s difficult being trans. If you really want to be an ally, focus your energy on what we need, not on listening to every random person that hates us. We’re targeted enough as it is — our abusers don’t need help reaching us.