Lessons Number 1-10: Never Read the Comments


Since the essay I wrote (and talked about in the previous post) was first published in the Los Angeles Times, it was picked up by several other media outlets, including the Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe, The Seattle Times, and papers in Alabama and Pennsylvania. The BBC called and had me record a version, which you can hear at the 38:20 mark here.

People with links to the trans community and support groups put links to the essay on their Facebook pages.

And at every one of these sites and outlets there were comments — 44 and counting at the Los Angeles Times, more than 80 at the Seattle Times.

People told me not to read them. But it’s hard not to see what other people are saying about the first thing I’ve written that has hit the eyes and souls of so many people at the same time. So I went. I looked. And there were many gratifying comments — about my courage and bravery. And a few stupid ones saying I’m an idiot for thinking my feelings count in this at all, that Wasband is disrespectful (without asking the person involved how she feels about it, which is just fine). And then there were the other stupid comments, the ones about how there is no Caitlyn Jenner, only Bruce dressed up like a girl, that transgender is a liberal construct, that it’s some mental disorder.

These are the comments that upset me the most. They are the ones I want to respond to, the ones that are most demeaning not just to my Wasband, but to me and our son.

There was an essay from Parents Magazine going around a few days back that caught my attention for many reasons. It was by a mother whose baby, born genetically a girl, from a young age identified as a boy. At one point in a therapy office, the mother asked him, “How do you know you are a boy?” His amazingly astute response? “How do you know you’re a woman?” This is what I wanted to say to those trolls doubting my Wasband’s gender, or Caitlyn Jenner’s. They know their true gender as clearly as you do yours. Just because you experience discomfort thinking about what genitalia they were born with, what they may have now, and how it got that way — and by the way, how weird that that’s what you dwell on — doesn’t mean you have clearer knowledge of their gender than they do. It just means you think about genitalia way more than you should.

I didn’t respond to many of the comments. They are written by people too angry and addled to respond to logic. And the Wasband has a phrase to account for some of the anger directed at me personally: Hurt people hurt people. I can’t help them feel better, can I, no matter what I say.

Helen Boyd, who wrote She’s Not the Man I Married and My Husband Betty, exploring her experience married to a man with a fluid gender identity, included my essay on her Facebook page. There were comments there that bothered me, and some to which I responded, feeling the need to explain myself further. The people who say Wasband is flip? She herself calls me her aspiring ex, and we have an equivalent sense of humor. Neither of us are hurt by the names.

There’s a family joke about what my headstone should say — okay, a joke I have with myself that I have imparted to the family and my friends. “Wait a minute, let me explain.” Or else “I did this to get attention.” But the explaining thing? It’s why I feel a need to respond to some if the comments. At least the ones that aren’t idiotic, the ones that question my word choice, my right to feel hurt or anguish or equate what I went through on a Thursday night in June 2008 to the death of my spouse. Yeah, death is forever, but my man is gone forever, too. And even though surgery took three years from when I found out it was coming, in my head, the man was gone, the woman rose in his place, but the body was roaming around like a spectre.

These are the reactions I have to people’s comments. I could go on for hours further explaining myself. It’s why an essay starts out as 3,000 words and gets published as about a thousand. And it’s why the first 10 rules of writing essays are all the same: don’t read the comments.

Instead, have your posse read them for you.


One thought on “Lessons Number 1-10: Never Read the Comments

  1. I hope you read THIS comment. Your post and the underlying essay are wonderful — eloquent, responsible, strong, angry but not bitter.

    I fear it may take a very long time for trans acceptance to catch up with the broad and broadening acceptance of gay men and lesbians. There is not a critical mass of trans people that will ever get us to the point where nearly everyone knows a trans person from church, from the PTA, from the neighborhood.

    I live in a gay mecca, and I’ve been a long-time, active straight ally in the marriage equality movement. I’m certainly no homophobe, and I would not describe myself as transphobic, but I can sympathize with the fascination of the guy behind the counter who asked you when you knew about your husband’s… what? Is orientation the right word?

    We don’t even have the vocabulary to come to grips with transgender issues. The opposite (or counterpart) of gay is straight, but people who are not trans are… cis? OK, so anyone who wants to speak supportively of trans issues has to be willing to use and explain a weird invented prefix that makes the topic seem even less familiar and accessible. And no, I don’t have a better term to nominate. Obviously “normal” has offensive implications, but I can sympathize with someone whose mind goes there.

    Anyway… Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and best wishes.

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