The first rule is, don’t let them see you care.
I’ve had a friend since middle school who recently said her favorite thing about me is “You were always so enthusiastic about things. Even when you were little, if you were interested in something you lit up and expressed it with your whole self.”
It took me aback to hear her list this as something she liked about me. Because my whole life, I’ve been an easy target for bullies because of this enthusiasm. I would get made fun of for living my life with my emotions written all over my face. For running in the hall to my next class. For answering questions loudly and excitedly. Feeling isn’t a strength, it’s a weakness. Seeing somebody geek out about something is the opposite of cool.
I am still like this as an adult. The difference is that I’ve surrounded myself with people who are just like me. It’s only when I’m in public, bubbling with excitement because there’s a gaggle of ducklings crossing the park or something, and I hear a couple of teens jeering at me for getting so excited about something so inconsequential: “Relax, lady.” Of course it’s teens! It’s always been teens. Most teens have “pretending not to feel anything” down to a science.
Now, as a kid, a public call-out like that would have made me burst into tears. But as I got older, I realized that’s what people look for! You can completely change the script by not getting upset.
Case in point: my friend loved listening to country music. “Country music isn’t cool,” I told her, and she responded, “So what?” So what? Why wouldn’t she care about being cool? She didn’t care what I—or anyone—thought, and it was power. It completely blew my 11-year-old mind.
Today I have just as many opinions as I did when I was that scrawny kid with her joys and sorrows magnified. Only now, I am always, always in public. I have a blog, I write articles on Forbes and Anime News Network, I am putting my opinions out there in every sense.
And yes, I take a lot of shit for them.
Six years ago, I wrote about Pokémon fan art for Kotaku and it went really badly and I got roasted on 4chan, back when 4chan was the worst part of the Internet, not Twitter. Sometimes I mention this to people and they say, “I remember that!” because we always remember interns screwing up now that we do it in such public spaces. I remember that really hurting me at the time, and even being afraid to open my laptop at one point.
I’m glad I didn’t do anything stupid back then, like try to confront the people insulting me. Their insults aren’t my problem. Just like it’s my prerogative to write whatever I want online, it’s everyone else’s right to react to it however they feel like. And the exchange ends there.
I once worked for a news site where I was contractually required to “interact in the comments,” reply to people who had stuff to say about my posts. I can assure you contracts aren’t written like that anymore. Comments have gotten so toxic, why would reporters take that deal? The only reason Otaku Journalist comments aren’t a cesspool is because I moderate them (and everyone reading this is for the most part really, really awesome).
Basically, I take a lot of shit, but I don’t usually worry over it. I don’t seek it out. I usually don’t read comments. I respond to good tweets and ignore bad ones—nobody trying to insult me gets the privilege of me blocking them—it would still be giving them attention, however negative.
To put it simply, you will never see me care. On the slight chance a tweet or email does bother me, nobody will get to see me blow up about it. I may vent to my husband quietly, but even that rarely happens anymore because boy, have I seen everything.
Not caring is freeing. Now I don’t just not shy away from sharing my opinion, I seek out opportunities to do so. I wrote a Gundam article for Anime News Network that i knew would be polarizing because we all love Gundam, but none of us can agree on why, and we don’t have anything more than individual taste to back up our stances. I wrote it because I friggin’ love Gundam, and I don’t care anymore if somebody tries to “Relax, lady” me.
It comes down to this: I have the right to put my opinion out there. So does everyone else. But just like they don’t have to read my stuff, that doesn’t mean i have to read theirs. So usually I don’t. I just hear about it secondhand.
“Wow you’re getting a lot of shit in the forums, aren’t you,” somebody might tell me.
“I guess so!” I reply cheerfully, and don’t give it another thought. It seems kind of obsessive to scan through pages and pages to see what people think of me.
Of course, this whole article comes with a caveat: I am playing the Internet writing game on easy mode. If you are black or trans or famous or what have you, it can be harder to avoid stuff that people may desperately want you to see. Look at what happened to Leslie Jones. My advice doesn’t cover these cases, because I can’t pretend to know how devastating they are. Just “don’t read the comments” isn’t good advice when people are actively threatening you.
What I’m trying to say, though, is this: my entire life, people have been telling me that it’s not cool to feel something, and it’s definitely not OK to express that feeling in public. I write on the Internet because I want to, anyway. I take a lot of shit for it, but that’s nothing new—I’ve been taking shit for being me my whole life. There is a certain dignity in rising above it.
Photo by Ellen M