No, I didn’t quit my job, but rather, I quit social media – specifically, Facebook and Twitter. I’ll tell you what happened, but first, let’s set the context.
When this happened, we were 2-3 months into the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and social distancing (quarantine); George Floyd was killed by a police office putting his knee on George’s neck until he asphyxiated; Protests have been happening in cities across the US, and a few in other countries as well; the President who will not be named has increased his incendiary rhetoric instead of trying to calm people down; police across the US are firing tear gas and other crowd-dispersement devices (pepper pellets, paint pellets, rubber bullets) onto protesting crowds (and in some cases, journalists covering the events and medical personnel there to provide aid) – the night that I quit, Washington DC police did so on a crowd which, by all accounts, was protesting peacefully across the street from the White House, so that the President could walk across the street to a church to have a photo opportunity with him awkwardly holding a Bible; anti-trans efforts within the federal government continue, recently, Betsy deVos (Secretary of Education) announced that Connecticut is violating Title IX by allowing trans athletes to compete with others of their gender, previous events include a ban on transgender people in the military, removing all references to transgender people from public websites, supporting trans-antagonistic positions in laws, policies, and court cases, including cases before the Supreme Court.
About a week ago, I received an alert on my phone that my local government announced a curfew that same evening for the entire county. Upon further investigation (I located and read the Executive Order signed by the County Mayor), I saw that the justification for the curfew was cited solely as COVID-19 concerns – there was no mention of civil unrest, protests, riots, looting, etc.
This didn’t make sense to me. Where we live, there have been no reports of any changes in COVID trends – no spike in cases, no evidence of increased virulence. Why would there be a curfew for that night, and that night only? My conclusion was that this had nothing to do with COVID. Not really.
This made me angry. The protests which have been going on around the country are, at their core, about government overreach, a lack of accountability for the government and government agencies (especially police departments!), and a general mistrust of the government – especially within minority communities. And here was my local government: misleading the public by only citing concerns about COVID when imposing a curfew. What’s worse, the Executive Order specifically mentions that the Mayor consulted with the County Sheriff as part of his decision to issue this order. Why would he discuss concerns about COVID with the Sheriff, and not with County health department officials?! This curfew had nothing to do with COVID!
I turned to social media, and located the public Page for the County Mayor, and then found his post about the curfew, right near the top of the page. I replied to him (since I’ve quit Facebook, I’m paraphrasing here): Why aren’t you being honest with us about why you’re issuing this curfew? This has nothing to do with COVID, but is about reducing the possibility that there will be rioting and looting. This order essentially gives police the ability to arrest people on-sight.
Within about an hour, I received a response from someone running the County social media account, generically repeating the claim that the curfew was (only) in response to concerns about COVID and large groups gathering. I replied (paraphrasing again): “Pardon me if I don’t believe you. If this was solely about COVID concerns, it wouldn’t apply only during nighttime hours – the Coronavirus doesn’t only spread when the sun isn’t up. If this were truly about COVID, you would be discussing how to peacefully protest while maintaining proper social distancing.”
In the meantime, someone else on Facebook replied to my initial comment, telling me that I needed to “shut the hell up”, and that if I didn’t like it, that I need to move to a different state. I thanked this person for their textbook example of the Ergo Decedo logical fallacy and didn’t otherwise respond. To this, they replied again, telling me to “shut the hell up” and called me a “hater”. They then visited my Facebook profile and commented on a few other (completely unrelated and non-political) posts; the most egregious was a comment on a post where I was introducing a new Facebook avatar by telling me “F you ‘b’. You need a ‘d’ to release stress” (direct quote – I screenshot that one).
I had to laugh. Really! I mean, I was way more stressed out all the time that I had a ‘d’ in my life, and it was when I had a surgeon reconstruct that ‘d’ into a ‘v’ that I got rid of a massive amount of stress. Having a ‘d’ would have the opposite effect and would increase my stress!
But back to Facebook. I replied to this user by pointing out that, at every point, I had kept my comments respectful and did not use any hateful speech; that I had kept my comments on-topic (the curfew); and that I hadn’t used logical fallacies in an attempt to advance my premise (I did point out that with his latest comments, he was now engaging in Ad Hominem, where he was attacking the person making the argument, and not the argument itself). And then I blocked that person.
No sweat. Troll dealt with. A few other Facebook users also replied to my comment questioning my values and loyalties. I considered responding, reminding them that questioning our leaders is one of the most patriotic things we can do as Americans, but I decided that I didn’t need to give these people any more of my emotional labor.
The next morning, I woke up to a reply from the County Mayor himself, where he admitted that the curfew order was indeed motivated by concerns over civil unrest and the possibility of violence and property destruction. I was right! I replied and thanked him for his candor and for helping restore some confidence in our local government by being forthcoming.
Later that day, the President was once again in front of cameras, talking about how the response of state and local governments to protests have been (in his estimation) largely inadequate and embarrassing. He was
promising threatening to send active military to respond to domestic protests.
“Mayors and governors must establish an overwhelming law enforcement presence until the violence has been quelled. If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”POTUS, as reported in Trump Threatens To Send U.S. Military To States To End Violent Protests – NPR News
This hit me hard. Really hard. The thought of the US Military (not state National Guard) policing our streets scares me. Police Departments have training in the law, as well as (hopefully) training in dealing with implicit bias and working within minority communities. The US Military has no such training. Where I felt a small degree of hope that level heads might prevail within police departments, I had visions of newsreels from totalitarian regimes, where the military and the police are one and the same.
My God, the President of the United States of America has just declared war on the people of the United States of America!Me
Let’s be clear. I’m privileged. Very privileged. I’m white. I come from a middle-class upbringing. I have a college degree. I have a very good job, and my family lives quite comfortably with our needs met and then some. Until I transitioned, I was pretty much at the top of the heap for privilege. Until my transition, I had never experienced real oppression. And to be honest, I still haven’t felt it anywhere as much as many of my transgender siblings – especially those of color. But I’ve felt it; and it was shocking.
With these latests events, I felt like I had a target on my back. This administration has made it abundantly clear that it has no love nor even sympathy for transgender people. And now this administration is declaring that it wants to take over law enforcement on our own shores, and at the local level.
That night, I wrote in my journal:
I’m scared. I’m anxious. I’m sad. I’m angry. I’m hurt.
I feel betrayed – by my country, by my state, by my local government, and by the American people.
While I don’t want to die, I feel prepared for it. At least, as prepared as I can be. In some ways, that kind of feels like a relief. […] I wouldn’t be trying to bring it about, and if it were to happen, it would not be at my own hands. I think it’s more that I’m tired of this, and I need it to stop.
I don’t know how to make it stop. I feel like I need to disengage from the world, but at the same time, I can’t afford to – my safety, my family’s safety, and even our lives depend on being aware of what’s going on so we can make decisions to protect ourselves.
I was in a bad place. I wasn’t suicidal, but I was making peace with the idea that if things go badly, I might not survive. Honestly, if the President is re-elected, I have very real concerns I might not survive four more years – again, not that I’m a danger to myself, but that my country may become a danger to me.
I struggled to find a way to respond to all of this. My instinct was to go to social media, where I have an amazing set of friends, and vent. But this felt inadequate for how I was feeling. And then I realized: What I was feeling is probably a fraction of how many minorities feel for most of their lives!
That realization only made it worse. I had been so privileged that I couldn’t even begin to grasp the realities of so many people’s lives. I couldn’t truly grasp how society is stacked against minorities until I realized that I was part of a minority group, and finally saw how something about me would mark me as less worthy of the equal protection under the law that we are all promised. I’ve long been aware of my my privilege, but that awareness has largely been academic. I now feel it —more by being aware of its absence — due to one thing: my being transgender. And yet, I still have so much privilege!
Everywhere I turned on social media, I was hit with more: more proof that the world was increasingly hostile to me, more examples of people not really getting it – thinking that the unrest had to do with bad actors stirring things up and not understanding that one of the infuriating things about minority experiences is not being heard. I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t deal with it.
So I quit.
I deleted Facebook and Twitter from my phone, and I haven’t been on either of them, nor Instagram, since. I’ve significantly curtailed my exposure to the media – getting news from trusted sources, and even then, only at times when I have enough mental energy to deal with what I might encounter.
It hasn’t been easy. I’ve found myself reflexively going to check my social media accounts, just to be reminded that those apps are no longer there. Those of you who know me in real life – this is where I’ve been, recovering from one of the worst informational and emotional overloads I’ve ever had.
Will I ever go back? Maybe. Probably. But I think my approach will change. I need to be more careful about how I allow social media in. I need to be more careful about how and when I engage with others, especially those espousing beliefs which demand a lot of my mental and emotional energy to absorb and respond to. As Brené Brown points out, I don’t need to win over the haters, I’m not a jackass whisperer.
I need to pick my lane. It isn’t that I’m not allowed to inhabit other lanes, but that I need to focus my energies on making a difference where I can. If I get spread across too many causes, I can’t be effective at making a difference for any of them.
I need to be more aware of my privilege, and find ways to use whatever privilege I have to raise others with less privilege up. Not that I wasn’t already doing so, but more that I can and must do better.
Here’s where I am right now. I’m sad and I’m angry at the institutional racism which has allowed people like George Floyd to be killed while the perpetrators feel entitled and empowered in their actions. I see similar attitudes towards other minorities, with sometimes similar outcomes. I see a President who is so concerned with his own priorities that he’s unable to lead this country; his actions have worked more to divide us than unite us. I see my own hubris in thinking I understood my own privilege. And I want to change all of it. And that’s my challenge – to figure out what I can do and where.
Where are you with all of this? How are you holding up? How are you feeling? One of the best things about this past week is that my friends have (virtually) circled around me and have surrounded me with care and concern. Reach out for help if you need it. If you don’t have anyone else, reach out to me – I have more time on my hands now that I’m not on social media!