Last December, I submitted a story for xoJane’s popular column, It Happened To Me. At the time, I’d only been reading xoJane for two months, and I naively considered the site a “safe space.” I had no idea my article would receive such a negative response. Commenters tore me apart. (And I, in turn, gave them a piece of my mind. I know now I should have let their comments roll off my back.) I received a flurry of cruel comments via e-mail, including a threat to “watch my fat ass.” My return flight information was cut and paste into the e-mail. I contacted one of xoJane’s editors and requested she take down my IHTM. I believed the commenters who said I couldn’t write, I suffered from a victim complex, I was entitled and rude, etc.
Now, I’m glad my IHTM wasn’t taken down. I received several kind, supportive comments here. On my return flight, one of the gate agents approached me and said I looked familiar. She was super-nice. I felt shy around her, so I mumbled something in response. I wish I hadn’t felt raw from my article’s backlash. The fact this Delta employee treated me like a human being served in stark contrast to the Delta employees who have not. I realized that, while I may come across like a victim in my article, feeling sorry for myself doesn’t negate the fact people can be cruel.
Last month, I opened the inbox for Rose Red Review, only to discover someone had sent me a hate note and a link to an old Reddit thread. (Side note: I’ve rejected several “fat girl on a plane” poems since January. I suspect my form rejections weren’t dramatic enough for this person, who then sent me a link to the Reddit thread.) I couldn’t resist its pull.
What I read stung.
Although it hurt to read a stranger on the internet no longer considered me “exceptionally pretty,” I’ve thought worse things looking into the mirror after I’ve washed my face. It hurt more to see strangers on the internet question whether or not I was telling the truth. I threw myself a little pity party. I cried on my roommate’s shoulder, then I comforted myself with the knowledge several people in the thread lacked reading comprehension (never did I claim I’d been thrown from a flight). I pushed it from my mind.
A week later, I had the opportunity to listen to the poet Vievee Francis. She stressed we should look hard at the people who tell us to self-erase–the people who tell us we shouldn’t talk about being women, about battling depression, about the experiences of people of color, about sexuality. For several weeks, I considered her words. I quietly observed certain commenters on xoJane silence other women, the way I had been silenced. Now, I can’t believe I wanted to self-erase my article–to see it stripped from the site. Confessional writing is important.
A few days ago, I read an article, At 31, I’m Finally Old Enough That People Can Accuse Me Of “Aging Badly” On The Internet. In it, xoJane editor-in-chief Emily McCombs details her reaction to a thread about her looks. Several commenters were incensed she chose to discuss her hurt feelings (which I think are valid) over their criticisms of the site. These commenters then mentioned The Site That Must Not Be Named, where they discuss their so-called valid criticisms. I sought out The Site That Must Not Be Named, only to discover a thread in which posters tear down the editors of xoJane, its writers, and certain commenters. Any valid criticisms of the site (and there are a few) are buried beneath pages and pages of mean girl bitching. Further, the claim xoJane exploits vulnerable, mentally ill women is absurd. While I agree women like me should consider whether we are strong enough to gracefully endure backlash, xoJane didn’t seek out my story. I haven’t been exploited.
From now on, I refuse to self-erase. No woman who writes for xoJane or edits it should feel pressured to self-erase or apologize for sharing an experience. In the future, I will exercise caution before I share a certain thought, opinion, or experience, but I’m proud of the woman I’m becoming. I wouldn’t have reached this point without sharing my story and reflecting on it.
If commenters were truly concerned about those of us who bare our souls, they wouldn’t tear us apart in the comments and elsewhere. These commenters know stories on xoJane often come from a raw, insecure place. They aren’t interested in protecting us. They’re interested in tearing down the site itself–in silencing our voices.