Interesting thing happened to me on twitter.
There was a discussion going on about the “Big Three” in science fiction. At first it was generally acknowledged that those were Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Ray Bradbury, and then people would go on to talk about more diverse authors from the same time period (Ursula LeGuin, Samuel R. Delaney, “James Tiptree”).
That led into even more discussion of the current crop of much more diverse authors writing much more diverse books. Kameron Hurley, Daniel J. Older, Malka Older, Wes Chu, N.K. Jemisin, Annalee Newitz, Anne Leckie. Or the not-so-diverse-but-writing-diverse-fiction like John Scalzi or Ferrett Steinmetz. It was basically turning into a very long list of “Hey, I like these authors; who do you like?”
Then I saw a tweet by someone I didn’t know who said “My “big three” are Le Guin, Delaney, and Butler, but I guess folks who only read special interest fiction for white men don’t get widely exposed to the classics.”
I got a little peeved at that. It was the “folks who only read” bit; I felt it was a privileged statement to say that people who read the “fiction for white men” had any other fiction available to them, as my own reading at an early age was very supervised by my parents, and they would not have approved of Imago.
I made the classic mistake:
I replied to someone who I felt was wrong on the internet.
I did so cleverly, saying that I felt the big three were Mary Shelley, Mark Twain, and Jules Verne, but “…I guess people who think SFF was invented in the 20th Century don’t have a very broad selection.” I also referred to the person’s original tweet as “carping”.
That’s when it hit the fan.
You see, the person I’d replied to – the one who talked about the “fiction for white men– is a science fiction author. With a pretty broad following, as well as a couple of interesting blogs (I recommend this article especially). More to the point, she is an author, and as such gets more than a little condescension and harassment on the internet.
I didn’t know that when I composed my oh-so-clever tweet. But it was quickly noticed by another cis white male on twitter, who immediately attacked me.
He did the call to authority with a How dare you correct a Real Author? kind of tone. He mocked my intent, told me I had no business speaking in a public conversation. He called me condescending in a condescending way. He was pretty much as obnoxious as you can get with a complete stranger in a span of two tweets.
Of course, as a cis het white male challenged by another cis white male, I responded to the challenge! My heart raced. Variations of Who the FUCK does he think he is? went through my brain. I composed a biting response, which was of course met with an equally biting retort from him, and the game was on!
Except for one thing.
He was right.
I’m Looking at the Troll in the Mirror
As I was in the midst of writing another rebuttal that surely would convince everyone of the virility of my wit, a thought occurred to me: maybe I should look at what I wrote in that original tweet.
Maybe I should look at it while imagining the perspective of someone who works in a misogynistic field in a systemically sexist society.
Maybe…maybe I was coming across as condescending.
Maybe there was no maybe about it.
Instead of finishing the Ultimate Comeback, I went back to her original tweet and said “Something I had intended on being a part of a discussion was poorly written…” and apologized.
Then I did something even harder. I went to the guy who had been her stalwart defender…and I told him he was right. And that I’d apologized to her.
Then I deleted my offending tweet.
I wish I could tell you that it fixed everything. It didn’t; the author, if she was offended at all, probably still feels that sting like she does from all the other jerks who harass her, whether intentionally or not. Apologizing doesn’t guarantee forgiveness; that’s not how it works.
The guy simply responded with a haughty “I’m glad to hear it.” and we didn’t end up being friends or following each other or anything like that. Frankly, even if he was right, I still think he’s kind of a jerk, and that’s ok, too. Being right doesn’t make you likable.
And even now, as I write this, my heart is still pounding and my chest feels hollow and there’s still this feeling that I was right, that it was unfair that they took my words that way, that I was the wronged party. Even though my rational brain knows better, my physical body is in fight mode.
And that’s ok, too.
Here’s the Thing:
Sometimes you have to accept that, in spite of your best intentions, you are the bad guy.
When that happens, there’s really only one choice to make.
Are you going to keep being the bad guy? Or are you going to stop?
Sometimes it’s an easy choice, sometimes hard, and either way sometimes it won’t feel good.
That’s ok, too.