What Happened When I Posed As a Man on Twitter
Last weekend I became a man. I’ve dreamed about becoming a man before, wondered what it would be like to have genitalia that hangs, imagined myself free to walk alone with headphones on, fantasized about running at night. I didn’t get to experience that. But I did become a man on Twitter.
My partner and I talk about injustice a lot. He is aware of his male privilege. He is a feminist. He tweets about how we are treated differently:
My handle on Twitter is @hippoinatutu because I identify with those big beautiful hippos in tutus in Fantasia. Body-shaming is never OK with me, and I openly talk about being a fat woman. I am aware that I am fat. I’m also short, yet no one ever feels the need to “disagree” with me by calling a “disgustingly short” person.
I am told I am fat and ugly all the time. I get rape threats regularly, even though I'm also told I'm "too ugly to rape." Even though these people on the Internet are not clever, and aren't saying anything new, it hurts. The online abuse is just a small sliver of what women hear every single day.
We do not just get threatened by faceless eggs on the Internet. We are attacked. We are abused. One in six of us will be assaulted/raped. People murder us. We are not just told to shut up by Twitter handles with four followers, we are shushed by bosses and stifled by media. Senators silence us. We internalize and silence ourselves. We aren’t just told we are fat; we are told we should be ashamed of our bodies by people who love us, people who should know better. Trolls are merely an echo of the harassment we hear every day.
It’s wrong that we cannot speak, even on the Internet, without fearing verbal harassment, rape threats, presumptions about our sex lives. It’s agonizing that I cannot voice my own experience, talk about my pain, because trolls spend hours trying to silence me. I could show you nauseating things, so many screen shots of vile intended insults. But I will give only one an audience here.
So I became a man, in the sense that my name is Alex, and I changed my picture to a (presumably) hetero man. I talked to some fellow writers who reminded me about Stephen Colbert’s call for women of color to become “dudebros,” and the powerful results. I decided to try it for one week, doing everything the same way I normally did, only with a male picture.
“Won’t people be surprised by my username?” I asked my partner that evening.
“I don’t think they’ll notice. Once people see a man, they see a man.”
I tried it out:
Nothing happened. I was retweeted, some folks favorited my statements, and no one told me I was fat or ugly. No one threatened to rape me. It turned out I hadn’t gone from woman to man, but from object to human.
I spent the week discussing systemic oppression and race. An intersectional feminist, I dove into rape culture. I talked about the need for police accountability, condemning domestic violence and amplifying other voices. It was almost always without interruption. My voice felt so unrestricted. How beautiful it felt to speak without fear of retribution. I felt such freedom.
For an entire week, I got to see what it is like to be treated with respect. As a man, I could use the same words and be met with discussion, disagreement, or even nothing at all, instead of insults. I became an equal human being, one whose voice deserved to be heard.
Dehumanizing "feminists" and "social justice warriors" also dehumanizes me and so many others because we are not just those labels, we are people.
Something strange happened. I experienced privilege in a way I had not expected. Jessie Hernandez was 17 years old, queer, Latina and killed by police officers in a stolen vehicle. I, along with thousands of others, immediately expressed outrage at her death. I expressed outrage at what I see as a pattern of police brutality against people of color, and to speak her name: Jessie Hernandez, who was killed because of what I see as a broken system.
With millions of Latinas to choose from, a vast community of perspective, Buzzfeed chose “me” to express the outrage at the very top of its piece. I was surprised. Though I have been quoted numerous times, I have never been the first quote, and I had to question “my” white male face sitting at the top. (With a typo, I might add.) Might it not have been for valuable to see a woman? Or a queer woman? Or, heaven forbid, a queer woman of color?
Don’t get me wrong, righteous outrage should be featured front and center, and outrage from white men is not an awful thing to include, but I’m pretty sure my outrage about police brutality is not what we need to amplify the most right now. Like really, really sure.
Yesterday I awoke anxious. It had been a week. I didn’t really want to change my picture back. For the most part, I had enjoyed the privilege I’d experienced. I enjoyed being a human being.
But I believe that part of the fight is simply to be myself: female, fat, queer, loud, and honest. In order to be honest, I felt my words should be read with my own true face beside them.
I changed it back. I still have the vast privilege of whiteness, and therefore the ability to leave the conversations about race at any time, (though I won’t), but I can no longer speak freely about what it is like living in a culture that supports rapists, that does not punish those who commit assault regularly, statistically against women. I can no longer testify to my own experience without harassment. Like the conch in Lord of the Flies, I have lost the presumed-penis that gives me the right to speak.
So I’ll speak while I can:
Can you hear me when I say it hurts? Can you empathize with my pain? Your rape threats hurt a real person. They remind me of trauma that I have experienced. Do you really wish me to hurt just because I am not a man?
How does denying me my humanity serve you? What do you lose by putting that energy elsewhere? I don't want to yell at you. I don't want to take anything away. I want you to hear me and acknowledge my humanity.