Tuesday, September 28, 2010

On self-policing

I just posted a comment on a livejournal discussion community for queer people. It was just a supportive comment about some relatively annoying things the original poster had to deal with at work. The content of the post and my comment is really not important.

What matters is that my comment was only about three sentences long and yet I was constantly second-guessing myself, my internet presence, and my language, trying to make sure that it was as neutral and positive as I could possibly make it. My default user icon is a creepy-looking van with the words "HOGWARTS EXPRESS" painted haphazardly on it. I didn't want to upset anyone who may have had a history of abuse so I changed it to something that didn't have those unpleasant connotations. I was going to use the word "idiot" to describe someone the OP had talked about in their post, but then remembered the ableist history of the word so I deleted it and changed it to "douche." Then I remembered that some people might be bothered by using that in a derogatory sense because of its association with women's bodies. So I deleted that and changed it to "jerk." No one likes jerks. As far as I know.

I found myself about to use the phrase "you guys" but then I remembered someone might be bothered by it because of its phallocentrism. So I deleted it and just used the word "you" to describe the OP and their friend.

Even now I'm being careful not use the word "she" to refer to the OP because OP might be a man or might be another gender entirely and I want to remember to check my assumption that everyone on livejournal is a woman.

I don't know how relevant it is to talk about all the backlash that happens whenever someone tries to use what people like to call "PC language." "Oh noes, the PC police!" is usually the gist of the complaints.

And it sounds like a lot when you write out every little instance where you have to check yourself re: the language you use, and just your presence in general, especially on the internet where we don't have neat things like nonverbal communication to help someone feel non-threatened. It sounds like a lot to catalog all these instances of self-policing but honestly it's not a lot. It was a three-sentence post, with all these little things that needed to be corrected. It took me less than a minute.

But even if I had written a Russian-novel-length post, I still would have done it. The language we use has destructive potential. I couldn't stand the thought of upsetting someone because I didn't check myself. I couldn't stand the thought of triggering someone by using that user icon. I couldn't stand the thought of hurting someone just by being there and not filtering myself.

I don't know how people can look at their language, acknowledge that it upsets people, and still continue to act the way they do.

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