Saturday, November 21, 2009

Blogging, Marriage, and Monsters

From time to time, I like to take a step back and blog about blogging. I have mixed feelings about these meta posts as they usually mean that something not fun has "happened." But, I think it's important to address issues as they come up with respect to blogging and internet communication.

Previously, I took an article written by our anti-equality friend On Lawn to to task for asserting that same-sex marriage is a "pollution of equality" and that it was heterosexual marriage that caused women to win the right to vote in the US. Unfortunately, On Lawn's response is marred by wackiness, hostility, and incoherence. But more than that, I seriously wonder if he's on a one-man mission to tarnish my reputation and the reputation of nearly every "SSMer" he encounters on the internet.

I have been reading the blog that On Lawn is a part of for several years now. Despite its generic name, Opine Editorials, is a single-issue blog that serves as a convenient "marriage defense" news feed. Quite some time ago, however, I stopped actively engaging with the "marriage defenders" there, as it's my opinion that many of its contributors abuse internet engagement in what I believe to be a really toxic, unhealthy, and aggressive way that inhibits substantive conversation. Much of that could easily be prevented if the bloggers there stopped stating with certainty that which they cannot possibly know: the intentions and innermost thoughts of their pro-LGBT adversaries. They probably see things differently. But in part because of my interactions there, I've come to believe that many of those who are staunchly opposed to LGBT rights have a lot invested in constructing LGBT people and our allies as bad sorts of people who have incredibly sinister motivations. Whether intentional or not, turning LGBT people into caricatures does have an advantage of supposedly Saving Marriage And All Of Society whilst not harming people who actually matter.

I see that as a real blind spot for many anti-gays, many of whom are alleged loving Christians. If their Christ were alive today, I do not think he would recognize many "Christians" as followers of his teachings on love, kindness, and compassion.

In addition, turning LGBT people into villains serves another purpose. It enables anti-gay advocates to construct a narrative in which it is they who are victims rather than victimizers. They are, they claim, victims of LGBT people who selfishly want to ruin society, victims of political correctness gone too far, and victims of LGBT people who are Mean To Them For No Reason At All. As an example of this persecution complex, here On Lawn claims that he and his blogging cohorts are victims of "obsession" and "stalking" at my hands. Trying to tear down my self-worth, perhaps jealously, he labels my blog and my writing "trash talk" that discredits itself. By dismissing me in this manner, he gives himself an out for not actually addressing my arguments in any real way. His own schoolyard trash talk is one thing; his charges are another.

Like spouse abusers who claim that it is their victim who is the "real" abuser, I am aware that it is common for cyberstalkers to claim that it is their stalking victim who is, instead, "stalking" them. Ed Brayton, for instance, has recently encountered a man on the internet who threatened to call the cops on Ed for "stalking" because of a criticism Ed wrote of the man's article. This man then searched for Ed's home address, posted it on his blog (it turned out to be the address of a relative of Ed's), and encouraged his readers to pay Ed "a visit."

In a similar although less extreme vein, On Lawn has in the past tracked my IP address, analyzed the cookie information from my computer, and has made comments suggesting that he has tracked which sites I have visited both before and after his own. He has, in the past, tracked that information even for other visitors to his blog who also comment at my blog, having convinced himself that he was the victim of a sinister sock-puppeting operation. Further, he seems to keep some sort of record of my years-old comments and has, in the past, shown up at other people's blogs and pasted them into conversations I have been having with others. I think these actions are creepy and go far beyond how most bloggers monitor traffic on their sites and interact with visitors. Does it constitute stalking? I'm not sure. I do know that a term like "stalking" has legal meanings and implications that should not be thrown around lightly in fits of exasperated hyperbole. Further, as a general rule, I try not to accuse others of criminal behavior unless I am able and willing to defend my statements in a court of law.

In my encounters with On Lawn, however, he has shown an unfortunate tendency to vilify and defame. For someone who is adamant about protecting the word marriage, On Lawn seems not to understand or respect the power that words have. On his blog, among many other accusations, I have been called a pathological liar, have had my status as an attorney denied and mocked, have had my professional competence ridiculed, have been compared to Hitler, and perhaps most ironically been called a "malicious slanderer." That he used the word "slander" to refer to written communications only demonstrates the depth of his ignorance with respect to the fact that words have specific meanings and don't just mean whatever a person wants them to mean. And, despite the fact that he howls in protest anytime he deems anyone to be misrepresenting his own precious opinions, when I have confronted him and his blogging cohorts about their misbehavior and misrepresentations they have only ramped it up and more or less told me that I deserved such abuse, that it is self-centered to respond to such abuse, that I should stop making things about me, and that I should stop caring what people say about me. One thing those who are acting abusively are really good at is trying to make their victims feel guilty. Guilty for standing up for themselves and guilty for engaging in behavior that is not wrong.

Much of this unapologetic abuse, I do realize, is to be expected on the internet. I can and have let many things slide. It's not exactly some startling revelation that people behave poorly on the internets. Shit happens. What is unacceptable (not to mention illegal) is for this man to falsely accuse me of overt or implied criminal behavior. On Lawn first referred to me as his "lesbian stalker" here and because he has recently chosen to repeat this defamation, it is worth addressing. Openly. I have nothing to hide.

This accusation, like his many others over the years, is false. Yet, if he sincerely believes he is a stalking victim, then he may feel unsafe. Despite everything, I don't want to discount his possible suffering and fear. Everyone deserves to feel safe in discourse. Even those who make others feel unsafe. So to address his charges, I can only offer my sincere assurance that I intend no harm. I have never made a threat of harm against him, nor do I wish harm to come to him or any other "marriage defender." So, for those reasons and the reasons that follow, I am publicly requesting him to cease making untrue and defamatory statements about me "stalking" him, his blogging cohorts, or his blog:

1) It is true that I read his blog. In fact, like many readers of blogs, I have been operating under the assumption that On Lawn and his cohorts maintain a blog for the purpose of providing reading material for others. Sometimes, in fact, I read comments that others post on his blog and follow links that bloggers provide for, presumably, people to click on and follow. If On Lawn does not want me to read his blog, perhaps he needs to be reminded that he has the option of making an explicit request for me to not read it and/or to make his blog private.

2) Furthermore, when I first encountered his blog, I googled his pseudonym to see if he treated others as poorly as he treated me in conversations about marriage equality. Turns out, in addition to being banned from a multitude of other pro-LGBT blogs, the answer to that question was yes. While On Lawn has breathlessly interpreted this as "stalking" him, I searched his pseudonym to see if engaging him further was worth it and whether I thought it might be possible to touch that spark of humanity in him that resides in us all. Back then, I wondered if we could come to some sort of agreement to disagree about things. I learned a long time ago, and many accusations ago, that that was probably just an incredibly naive and idealistic wish of mine.

3) As for why I address his arguments and the arguments of his blogging cohorts on my blog. Well, frankly, I find it revolting that some people devote so much of their lives to opposing equal rights for their fellow Americans and do so in a manner that is, I believe, incredibly illogical and inarticulate. Not only do I want to counter their arguments, I want to better understand their motivations. I want to believe their "defense" of marriage is about more than a power trip and about more than, or something other than, not liking gay people.

This debate is not an abstraction to me. The denial of marital rights affects me in a very real way every single day of my life. It has implications with respect to the taxes I pay, for my health insurance coverage, for the way I have had to draw up "special" legal documents, and in countless other ways. When straight people write, dare I say, "obsessive" blogs dedicated solely to the issue of "marriage defense," I cannot help but think what is it to you, who can only predict the harm of same-sex marriage in vague, abstract terms, when it is so real and so much more to our lives? When they cannot articulate their reasons for "defending marriage" in an even halfway coherent manner, suggesting that their thought process isn't exactly clear, I inevitably think why are you really doing this?

See, "marriage defenders" often claim that they don't have anything against gay people, they just want to save marriage. They say that... and yet. Whether they're waxing on about the ickiness of anal sex, making homophobic and misogynistic "jokes" amongst themselves, or perpetuating outright lies and misinformation and failing to correct themselves when their errors are pointed out, their claims are incredibly difficult to take at face value.

I'm not implying that I have been perfect in the past. I haven't. I have called people names. I have let anger get the best of me sometimes, instead of walking away from provocative people and situations. I own that. Perhaps we would get somewhere if On Lawn chose to acknowledge and move forward from his own misbehavior and wanton accusations. Regardless of his choice, his accusations will not silence me. I will from time to time probably have something to say about the articles on his blog. It's part of this nifty concept called Debate.

Unlike more virulent anti-gays, On Lawn seems to support some benefits for same-sex couples. Given that, I find it somewhat silly and strange that he goes to the lengths he does to fail to concede even the tiniest of issues and to vilify his LGBT opponents on the internet. I read an article recently, in which a conservative commentator admitted that the opposition to same-sex marriage is "a losing argument," steeped as it is in intangible abstraction and vague prediction compared to the more tangible and specific argument of "I love my boyfriend and I want to marry him."

I wonder, do opponents of same-sex marriage realize this on some level? As long as they keep the issue on How Mean Gay People Are, it takes the focus off of the substantive issue of whether same-sex marriage is good for society. Conceptualizing us as a faceless monstrosity hell-bent on destroying everything that matters gives people something concrete to rally around, compared to the much more mundane, abstract, and unprovable "marriage exists to promote responsible procreation" message.

I wonder, what is the role that LGBT bloggers and allies can play in demonstrating the "realness" of this issue to us and in countering the anti-gay propaganda that is so prominent on the internet? Is it ever worth it to try reaching the "unreachable"? Reading some of the most popular LGBT blogs, how are we countering or, perhaps more importantly, reinforcing the message that we are monsters? How should we respond, if at all, to those who continually label our assertiveness as aggression?

And, for that matter, how are anti-gay blogs countering or reinforcing the message that they are hateful, anti-social bigots? Do they successfully do that at all?

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