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writing gay on the internet: communication, interpretation and Web 2.0

By July 10, 2008How To

Believe it or not today, after years online, I had my first ugly, nasty internet experience. Of course, I mean besides all of the spam and viruses (until I went Mac).

I was on Twitter, happily tweeting away and reading the tweets of those I’m following…when suddenly a tweeter said something quite unsightly and not at all friendly – and not even close to politically correct.

She was talking about her in-laws (her brother and his wife) and how much she loved their relationship and how it actually made her cry. Then she tweeted, “That is so gay.” Seriously, the last time I heard someone say something like that was in junior high. I was very disturbed and tweeted, “Did you really just use ‘gay’ in a derogatory way?” And she wrote back the following in a direct, private message to me: “I guess calling something “gay” could be considered derogatory depending on who’s saying it, who’s hearing it and what their relationship is.”

Listen, she wasn’t saying, “That is so happy.” So there is no other way to take it. She said it, I heard it…and I don’t think my relationship has anything to do with this – whatever it might be. I believe that all people (and animals – including known bisexual species like bonobos and penguins) have the right to love and marry whoever they want to love and marry. All people have the right to be free and equal.

She then wrote publicly that she had in fact used ‘gay’ in a derogatory way and wow just after Atlanta Pride and to send all hate mail to her address. The sarcastic tone was the battery acid on top of the cake. This brings up so many issues about social networking online:

  • I don’t know anything about this person. She is a tiny picture, a Twitter profile and maybe a website. I don’t know her background, what she believes and who her community is.
  • Can I really read her tone via my computer screen?
  • I believe in free speech…but I think hate crimes should be punished.
  • I wish people were decent enough not to be mean and bigoted in public spaces (I hope they will stop being like that everywhere), but I can’t control that.

But, I do have some control, and I got a nice bit of satisfaction when I clicked the ‘remove’ button under her name. It’s my choice not to listen to her, and it’s my choice to write about it here.

UPDATE: She just wrote me directly via my website and apologized and said she meant no offense. What she meant was, “if you actually knew me you’d know how heteroflexible I am and that I didn’t mean it in an offensive way – sorry if it threw you.” First of all, I love ‘heteroflexible’ – nice term. I’m very encouraged that she took the time to find me and write to me and clear it up…

What’s the lesson here? Web 2.0 is about communication – sometimes it’s clear, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it takes just a little bit longer to decipher the information. Stand up for what you believe, don’t assume, ask questions, speak up. As Ani DiFranco once said, ‘stand up and sing.” She also penned:

i build each one of my songs
out of glass
so you can see me inside them
i suppose
or you could just leave the image of me
in the background, i guess
and watch your own reflection

We can all write and blog about ourselves and our beliefs about work and life – and then we’ll all interpret them as we will – based on who we are, what we know and where we come from. I’m up for a second chance and the possibility of growth. I’m happy to go back to Twitter and press ‘follow’ again. That’s just the kind of gal I am.

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