Speaking up

Last winter, some shit went down at a developer conference. It’s the kind of shit that goes down all the time. Women, I would bet most of the women in your life, know what it feels like to be overpowered by an aggressive man who isn’t paying attention to a clear “no”.

Not long ago, the woman in the story from last winter tweeted about the pain she’s experienced as a result of this happening to her.

I tweeted “Feeling sad for @___ and for @___. Hoping for peace & reconciliation.”

The result was a bunch of very angry replies. The first angry reply was in all caps, and that was followed with one that called me an “apologist” and said “Fuck you.” I was called “monstrous”. One said “your last name is fitting” (ouch). I was told I wasn’t displaying empathy, was using “violent language” and that the tweet “feels like explicitly trying to make a space unsafe”. Someone said to me that they wanted prosecution, and when I mentioned that this would involve calling the police, I was informed, by the same person who suggested prosecution, that my response “assumes a
world where it’s safe for victims to report… or a world where reporting won’t lead to further trauma”. (I assume no such things.)

There were a lot of these tweets. I don’t tell you all of this to say that these people are horrible, or out to cause pain. I don’t believe that. I believe they’re doing the best thing they can think of, in a very painful situation.

Rather, I’m telling you this to let you know that it hurt, a lot. It hurt to have my words in that tweet and subsequent ones twisted, and to have no room to be heard as a human being. No room to say “Oh, shit, I didn’t think before including her twitter handle — I didn’t mean to aim it at her. Shit.” No room to be heard at all, because I’d been given a label and made into the enemy.

Yes, I know there are a lot of things that hurt more. As I said, I’ve been subjected to violence, including sexual violence. There are people I love who have been subjected to unspeakable horrors. And in fact, if you think that tweet was about farting butterflies and rainbows at the person whose violent aggression created the situation, you have never seen me stand up to a beautiful spark of the divine fire who is in a bully costume. I do not back down. I say “I see what you’ve done. It caused pain, and I won’t stand by while you pretend it didn’t happen or doesn’t matter. Let’s look at it, honestly, together.” On a good day I say this with love. And on a good day, I can create the space necessary for him to talk about what he’s done, express his grief and horror at this thing he’s done, the pain he’s caused.

I tell you this because his grief has to matter and has to have a place.

And I tell you this because there are a lot of men and women who write to me in private, saying “thank you for saying…” and “I’m scared to say anything” and “I don’t know what to do or who it’s safe to ask”. They are afraid to speak because they believe their voice isn’t valued, and that they aren’t safe.

Their grief has to matter too. And so does mine.