If you’ve been following the development of a communal space for discussions about rolequeerness, you will probably have seen some very public conflict. It’s sad but not surprising that what began as a space for Submissive solidarity and radical collective healing action quickly came under explicit and implicit attack by the blunted tip of familiar imperialist spears. The predictable patterns of oppression in which whole demographics are demonized is now clearly visible in the anti-rolequeer backlash.

Equally predictable is the hurt and harm such abusive projections of fear has had on actual, living people who have found something valuable in rolequeerness; unfortunately, others who are uncommonly invested in shutting down those conversations and policing those thoughts do so un-self-critically and, thus, amplify their own abusiveness. One of the people hurt by this wrote to me privately and, after I responded, consented to sharing an anonymized version of our exchange publicly. The Internet can do funny things to numbers; in a place where no one can see other people nodding but we can easily hear other people shouting us down, it can feel like we’re more alone than we are.

I hope sharing this helps whoever is currently silently nodding feel less alone.

Hi maymay,

[…]

I don’t know if I want [to involve myself] in the rolequeer discussion [or] to spill over into [other parts of my life], and then I felt like a coward, and then…I just didn’t know. And it connects to a whole lot of things that I’ve been feeling excited and trepidatious about in the last few days. So I wanted to try and ask for your perspective, and @unquietpirate’s too, if I can, on my situation because I know there are enough parallels and you guys have so much more experience.

It was so exciting […] when I starting finding both of your blogs and reading things like “Dominants are Rapists” and “This One’s for the Invisible Girl.” So immensely helpful. […] I still have a lot of catch-up reading to do I think. But I started thinking, and I couldn’t STOP thinking, I couldn’t SLEEP sometimes because of it. In a good way (for once). So it was really heartening and validating that you guys [encouraged people like me] to add to the conversation about rolequeer. And I think I do [want to].

But then I saw the discussion here http://unquietpirate.tumblr.com/post/101013122903/on-rolequeerness about how this person who had association with a past abuser of yours had come along and started dribbling poison into our peaceful little sub-solidarity space; how it triggered you, understandably; and I, well, I got triggered too. I had a BAD night last night. Fortunately one of my sweeties was available and able to talk me down, because I had dissociated so severely I could literally see nothing but my own fingernails. Which sounds weird but I have a feeling one or both of you know what this can be like.

I was thinking about my abuser, with whom I still have to share custody of a child. I am not that [long] out of a long relationship with this person who is very active in the local BDSM scene, on Fetlife, Facebook and in general is an online “info-sponge”. Yeah, rolequeer WILL come to his attention eventually, it will definitely threaten him, and I have no idea whether or not he will care or take any action and I guess it doesn’t matter. But if I want to write about rolequeer, if I want to explore what it means and what it can do for me personally and share that publicly, there is no way I won’t be talking about my experiences with him, however vague I may try to be about it. I’ve never gone out of my way to create any kind of online anonymity for myself. It’s likely he would find a way to retaliate; possibly even through our real-world connections (though I firmly believe he would never hurt our child).

Wow that sounds dramatic and paranoid. I’m also aware that victims of battering have a tendency to see their abusers as omniscient or omnipresent, so my perspective could be warped. But my sense of safety is shaken, and this brings up the question of how you handle being out about your experiences when other people who have a vested interest in seeing them–and having others see them–differently are out there observing what you are doing.

I’m sorry to bother you with this. Hopefully it will lead to something worthwhile that I can contribute. It means a lot to me that I am not invisible in the forum of the rolequeer discussion. I have spent a lot of my life feeling invisible, and some of it wishing I was.

I wrote back:

Hi [REDACTED],

I hope you don’t beat yourself up anymore than you already have[…]. That’s not helpful to anyone, least of all you, and on top of that, it’s not even *necessary.* So, y’know, cut yourself some slack. You have the right to do with your own ‘net presences whatever you want. I have a lot of different Internet personas. You probably don’t even know them all. I don’t always mix them. I do mix a number of them. But not all of them. And even that limited mixing only felt safe after a lot of investment in both technical skill and life changes. So, y’know. Again: be kind to yourself. You deserve at least that much.

For what it’s worth, if you are interested in the philosophical portions of the above “you deserve your own space on the Internet and they do not all have to be The One True You,” check out my recent post, “The Internet is an identity-multiplying technology.”

[With regard to feeling excited about rolequeer conversations happening in public,] :) FWIW, I had that experience, too, and I’ve been thinking about this stuff for a few years. But to see other people actually paying attention and having their own thoughts was super exciting. I do hope you share what thoughts you have, though again, obvs, take care of yourself first.

[And, y]eah. :\ [I grok the “literally see nothing but my own fingernails” feeling.]

Okay, so. A few things.

First: this is not a *bother.* No need to apologize.

Second: Your situation sounds *vastly* more complex than the one I have. You have joint responsibility over another life with that person. That’s something I fortunately don’t have to handle. I can’t fathom how much more difficult that kind of situation is, and I won’t pretend that I can. One thing that means is that the things I’ve done to take care of myself and keep myself feeling safe probably just aren’t available avenues for you to take. That. Sucks. You have my deepest sympathies. :(

Third: You know your situation better than I do, and this means only you can make a truly informed choice about how much risk you’re willing to accept in your interactions, in your life, in your work, in your writing. That being said, I think it’s important to remember that silence—especially when self-imposed—carries its own risks and harms and hurts.

One of the precepts of rolequeerness is the idea that binaries like “abuser/survivor” can not be cleanly differentiated categories in a pervasively abusive society, like ours. Most people tend to react to that idea by paying it lip service without actually reflecting on the parts of themselves that are abusive, or the parts of themselves that have been abused. I don’t think the reason I get such hatred directed at me, personally, is just because I *said* a controversial thing. It’s because I *do* controversial things, too. That includes writing controversial ideas down and taking them to some pretty hard radical conclusions (“hard radical,” that is, “investigating the implications to their root assumptions”).

I have done things to keep myself safe you may not be able to or feel comfortable doing. These include:

* Living out of a car so that I continually move my physical body from place to place.
* Doxxing abusers and cyberbullies who won’t leave me alone.
* Writing software and doing different forms of activism related to sexual assault survivor support to build social and technical tools for myself to lean on, later. (Predator Alert Tool for Facebook is perhaps the most successful example of this.)

But that’s me. Back to you.

I don’t have answers for you. I just have some questions:

* Do you know what sorts of things you need to feel safe?
* If so, what habits or processes do you have to ensure those things happen?
* If not, do you know what resources you have available to help you figure this out? Friends you can talk to?
* Once you know what you need to feel safe, even if [it] seems unreasonable (in my case it was “don’t live in one place for too long”), are there obstacles in your life preventing you from getting those things? If so, what can you do to overcome and/or work around them?

If you’ll permit me some unsolicited armchair analysis, it sounds to me like you’re already on the right track of figuring some of that out. You mentioned you hadn’t ever done anything on the Internet to keep an anonymous place for yourself to write. Maybe having such a place would be useful? There are some good guides you can find on the Internet for how to blog anonymously, intended first and foremost for people living in places like Iran or China or North Korea, but obviously relevant to survivors, too. For instance:

https://advocacy.globalvoicesonline.org/projects/guide/

Maggie McNeill, who I generally like but who is ironically enough socially proximal to a few people who actively hate on me, also wrote a guide, and I’m linking it here because Maggie writes specifically about sex and sex work, so it seems even more relevant:

https://maggiemcneill.wordpress.com/resources/blog-archives/brooke-magnanti/how-to-blog-anonymously-and-how-not-to/

Anyway, that’s a start.

The real takeaway though, for me, is that there will *always* be people who have a vested interest in purposefully misunderstanding you. My solutions for myself probably won’t work for everyone, but you are welcome to watch what I do and emulate as much as you feel safe and feel would be useful to you. You can also ask me for help, though to be honest I feel ill-equipped to offer much beyond technical resources, as above.

How do I handle being out about my experiences? Well. I’m “out” about some. And I’m not about others. I’m out about the ones I need to be. I’ve never publicly shared *all* of my experiences. I deserve privacy, too. My ideas and my work are still valuable without the public knowing every detail of my personal story. Besides, especially with radical ideas, there are by definition more people who will not hesitate to tear you to shreds with anything you give them than there are people able and willing to join in solidarity with your vulnerability. That’s just the nature of radical work.

So, I am strategic in what, where, and with whom I share it. I think you can do that, too. It won’t mean your contributions to the #rolequeer discussion won’t be as valuable. It just means you don’t have to contribute the parts of your story that are yours and no one else’s.

I hope this helps.

Hugs if you want them,
-maymay
Maymay.net
Cyberbusking.org

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