There is a way in which queer social media connects so many of us queers of color across the world. Those of us hiding under covers, running place to place on subways, hoping on to rickshaws, minimizing screens when the co-worker walks in, find some respite in the connections we form in the virtual world. There is a gratitude that so many of us feel towards the internet, towards these ways of connecting and finding each other to assuage our pangs of isolation, of guilt, of externalized and internalized loathing.
But queer social media toxicity creates another form of isolation. Another form of exclusion, of guilt, of externalized and internalized loathing. Another rupture in human connection. Another emptiness in queer conversation. I am not talking of echo chambers. I very willfully create echo chambers (the only debates I allow on my newsfeed are the ones between super-radical-thought and superduper-radical-thought). This is not about listening to the bland liberals who just want to work in the system. This is not about the bullshit of free speech. This is about how social media performance, how curated self-museums rob us of our humanness. Of our human pain. Of our human ways to engaging and relating to each other.
How do I post a broken thought or feeling about Junot Diaz without triggering an onslaught of assumptions about my politics about survivors? How do I practice radical honesty about my hatred for cis women without being labeled and shunned for my 1) internalized sexism or 2) queer toxic masculinity (pick one)? How do I tell you that you saying “all men are trash” is racist because dehumanizing men of color makes you trash, when I too fear all men? How do we hold the contradictions between our feelings and our politics, how do we struggle to improve ourselves, how do we practice honest accountability in this social media culture where people are reduced to the politics showcased on their profiles, where our self-worth is measured by how how daring, how networked, how well-connected we are with other celebrity-radicals? How do we have disagreements (not with liberals and conservatives), but with each other about our pain, about the silences we safe-keep out of fear of saying something that may allow someone to align us with our own oppressors? How do we honor nuance and complexity that is often lost in facebook statuses, in comments, in succinct tweets?
My friends often call me an old soul, a buddhi rooh, an old sad uncle in the body of an awkward queer, an old withering aunty who wears bowties– simply because I value real conversation over public social media threads. I just have seen more complexity in people than their carefully curated online profiles could ever capture. And I have seen more white supremacy in people than their anti-racist profiles could ever show. What is more important, our perfectly radical language on twitter or our real-life practice of respect and care?
So come have tea with me and talk to me about how to deal with our trauma, and its relationship with the many manifestations of Diaz’s abuse. Come take a walk with me and talk to me about the tension between feminism (yes, even feminism of color) and trans justice. Call your friends. Think about all the love you lose out on if you stick only to social media profiles. Think about that one friend who may be too complex for social media, who may be too scared of social media. Go over and make food with them. Listen to them. Talk slowly. Breathe. Listen. Listen slowly, patiently. Articulate your trigger. State your boundary. But listen if you can: to feelings that may be messy, that may not be free of “problematic politics,” that may be unethical. To thoughts that may be struggling with an understanding of power, because power never worked in linear ways. To thoughts that are nowhere on social media but heaving inside people’s hearts. To hearts that can only be opened through slow, deep talk, and not through public performances on social media. Listen to those thoughts in person or through letter-writing or over private chats. Struggle with those thoughts. Learn to see that the oppressed can also hurt others, that the oppressed can also uphold power, that sometimes the most world-changing and world-making thoughts cannot be articulated on the public stages of social media. Learn to see that like our lives, our messy ideas and feelings too, are not disposable.
I am not discarding the value of social media. I recognize that discarding social media completely is ableist and anti-queer. But even with the friendships I have found on the internet, I want a deeper kind of growth. I want to be in relationships that are based on more than just reposting each other’s tweets. I want to be in radical friendships that can hold space for deep and reflective nuance, even when it is uncomfortable, even when it may sound like the rhetoric of our oppressors. I want to be in social spaces that recognize that many political movements that we hold close to our hearts may be inherently in conflict. I want to hold that tension. And I want to build love from there.