Over the past few days, I’ve sat down to write a blog post about five times. I could never figure out what I wanted to say, or where I wanted to begin. The whole situation seemed so complicated while it was happening and now, even with just a day’s hindsight, I can think more clearly about everything.

Some of you may have seen a story going around the news about an Illinois county board member using homophobic and fatphobic slurs on Facebook. The man, who grew up in the same small town that I did, had lost a local cutest couples contest to two lesbians, who he took to Facebook to shame using hashtags such as #realcoupleshavechildren and #gobegaytoyourself. He also stated that he and his girlfriend should’ve gained 150 pounds to win the contest.

A queer friend of mine called me to tell me about his status, reading it aloud as I walked to my car after class. It had already been taken down, but she knew that it would bother me. Not in the “I’m so offended” way, but more so in the “how could anyone be so publicly cruel in 2017?” way. I didn’t understand how a man I had known most of my life, a man that had spent time with me and multiple other queer women at a bar just a few short weeks ago, could be saying such hideous things. Especially as an elected official.

When you get mad, you act fast. Sometimes rage produces the best of actions and, more often, it produces the worst. I believe my actions were leaning toward the better as I took the screenshots of his status and posted them on my Facebook with three key points: 1. Homophobia has no place in 2017. 2. Fat shaming is disgusting. And 3. Some people can’t have children just because of how their body works, and not making biological children is no measure of how “real” a relationship is.

Being the outspoken person I am, I signed off with, “I may be a fat infertile bisexual, but at least I’m not a douchebag.”

And then came the fallout. Over 100 shares and thousands of comments later, the story had blown up. We’re from a small community and news traveled fast even before the internet and social media. I went to sleep that night still disgusted and woke up to hell.

I had received so many messages of hate, ranging from “shut up you fat dyke” to “lesbians rot in hell.” For every message of hate, I had at least 10 people telling me they were proud of my bravery. Those supportive people kept me sane, even when I came out of a store to find “DYKE” written on my car in red lipstick.

Because we’re from a small town, I received a call from the man’s mother, who’s known my family for longer than I’ve been alive. After a very emotional conversation, I took the post down, although I still don’t know if that was the right choice. But I had proved my point, and both sides had received various threats, so it seemed like this should be where it stopped.

And then the local news called. I agreed to speak with them only to reiterate my belief that no matter how hateful someone is, hate and cruelty aren’t good reactions. I just wanted everyone to be safe. The story aired and the news blew up even bigger. A U.K. women’s website even picked it up, at first accidentally claiming me to be a part of the couple that had won.

As with any big event in a person’s life, the past few days have obviously taught me a few things, both about myself and about other people, the most important of which being, “Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.” When someone sees such obvious displays of bigotry and hatred and merely sits by to allow it to continue, they become part of the problem that’s driving countless young people to suicide. People all over the country have lived their lives in fear of being judged for their appearance or who they love, and the past few days of threats have showed me that nobody ever deserves to live in fear.

Another thing I learned was how true the saying “be careful what you wish for,” really is. Ever since coming out after leaving my old fashioned hometown, I have wanted people to see me for who I am: a proud bisexual woman. Even while dating a man, I am proud of both sides of my sexuality. The visibility I’ve gotten from not only being open about my sexuality but taking a stand for it has been both negative and positive. I can admit I’ve always had the privilege of looking like a straight woman, and that privilege has been a blessing and a curse. With my “secret” out, threats and harassment came pouring in. Luckily, the support from loved ones has been overwhelming, and not everyone in this situation can say that.

My final thoughts on the subject are this, and they’re not even my thoughts. One of my heroes, Elizabeth Warren, was recently silenced in Congress with the words, “She was warned, she was given an explanation. Nevertheless, the persisted.” Through all the violence, all the fear, all the bigotry, please persist.

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