This is a collaborative post written with the assistance of DetroitMechWorks, a fellow commenter in the Slacktivist community. Recently DMW used a sock puppet with the username honestwoman to post trollish comments and stir up controversy. The situation came to a head as DMW accelerated the frequency of posting and the ridiculous and inflammatory nature of “honestwoman’s” comments. Some community members started to speculate about whether this was a deliberate effort, calling honestwoman a Poe, a parody of extremism that is indistinguishable from real extremism.
Unfortunately, in the process, several people were offended and hurt by honestwoman’s statements. I responded with a “nuke” post when my personal sore spot was hit. Shortly thereafter, the parody effort was revealed over honestwoman’s username, and then DMW stepped up with his own username to admit that it was him and to apologize. Some of DMW’s statements in his apologies were both familiar to me and related to my recent attempts to explore how self-hate gets externalized, and I proposed this collaboration. DMW graciously agreed to join me. Following paragraphs are labelled with the respective authors’ names and colored differently. (The colors are an experiment for me – if they really don’t work, say so, and I’ll undo them.)
Literata: I realized that DMW had inadvertently helped me identify my personal trigger: accusations of “faked” disabilities and especially accusations that people with disabilities are faking in order to get money. That was the last straw that made me nuke, and it is a trigger for me because I have spent so much time and effort overcoming my own self-blame about my personal disability. When my disability worsened a couple years ago, to the point where I can no longer work full-time, I had an episode of major depression where one of the dominant things that drove the depression was the idea that people didn’t believe me or wouldn’t believe me about my condition. It was almost as if I had the chorus of doubting voices in my own head – and I spent so much time and energy justifying myself to them, and preemptively arguing with them, that it contributed to my withdrawal from the outside world. These kinds of critics are never silenced. Coming out of the depression was in part a process of eliminating those voices from my own psyche. When I heard them again from the outside, it echoed some of the worst times of depression, and I reacted with anger, an anger disproportionate to the situation. What struck me about your apologies, DMW, was how similar some of your descriptions sounded to the kind of experience I had during my depression. It was interesting to me that my defensive response came when you hit on something that echoed my depression, but you described the entire experience of using the Poe-sock-puppet as a lot like my internal experience, just turned outwards. Was the Poe a kind of defensive response of your own?
DMW: Yes, the Poe was originally a personal attack on myself. During the original posts that led to the creation of the Poe, I had come under fire for being “hostile” when I was trying to express my very real fears. As a result, I fired off a post under the pseudonym with the negative words I heard all of the time when trying to express myself. Essentially it was a bait post, and I was expecting people to agree with the Poe in attacking me. The extremely negative response to the Poe actually made me feel much better, and gave me hope that people weren’t trying to hurt me, and were in fact trying to help. Looking back, it was a very immature thing to do, but at the same time, there are a lot of hurtful things that I just shrug off in my daily life, and don’t think about, or try not to. It may have something to do with my army experience, and the need to control my emotions and reactions, but I am not a therapist.
Literata: That sounds familiar. I had internalized doubts and fears about how others viewed me – unreasonable ones, as it turned out – and was fighting with them constantly. They were hard to express, though, and it wasn’t until I had an opportunity in therapy to “voice” some of what my internal criticizers “said” that I was able to examine the ideas behind them and realize that they were unreasonable. It was especially hard because I knew in some ways I had internalized prejudice, and so it was hard to point to an external example. That made it more difficult to communicate what was going on inside me for a long time. The other danger was that since I had those concerns about what other people thought about me, I was at great risk of projecting those expectations and misinterpreting small signs as evidence that really, deep inside, those people were thinking exactly what my internal criticizers were. The Poe had a positive result for you in that you were able to know that the people who criticized you really weren’t thinking the same things as your internal critics.
DMW: I do see what you mean here. Every word I threw around as the Poe was in some manner created by me. It was very representative of the self-criticisms that I deal with daily, and the fears and concerns that consistently run through my head when I am feeling negative. The words I used were designed to get a reaction, since they were the words that tend to annoy and anger me.
Literata: You wrote a little bit about how you “have been on the receiving end of these types of arguments” and about an incident that “inspired” this Poe. Please tell me a little more about that. What made you pick that username, for example?
DMW: The incident that REALLY inspired the Poe was a discussion about corporate criminals. I was discussing on another board I post on the corporate crimes that are going on, and one of the posters said that the solution to the problem was prison rape for the offenders. I personally am horrified by the idea of sexual assault being tolerated in any capacity, and called him on it. The person who I was speaking to refused to be sidetracked, claiming that I was trying to defend corporate criminals, and that I obviously was an idiot who didn’t understand the truth. And that was what stuck in my mind, this obsession with “I’m right, and you’re wrong, and I am telling you the TRUTH.” So, honestwoman. I swapped the gender, and since I was making someone who attacked using feminist-esque terms, It HAD to be “woman”. I was tempted to make it “Honestwomyn” but that would probably have been a dead giveaway as to the Poe status of the post.
Literata: You wrote: “I find it frightening how easy it was for me to channel the self-loathing and doubts I feel into criticisms of others,” and “Most of what I wrote are doubts and fears that I myself have about my own life.” You implied that there was almost a feeling of relief when you wrote the honestwoman material. What was that like?
DMW:The negative response to Honestwoman really reaffirmed my faith in the goodness of the people on the board. I know that’s cliche, but the anger directed at someone who really deserved it almost felt like justification. As far as relief when writing the material, well, it was just easy to put together a caricature of every person who I can’t stand and then speak for them.
DMW: That’s what the Poe was, and every word she said was nearly the polar opposite of what I believe and stand for: I try to check my spelling and grammar on my posts, but for Honestwoman, I had to go back and deliberately insert errors. I try to have a decent grasp of history, Honestwoman was a complete historical illiterate. I admit it and apologize when I’m wrong, but Honestwoman’s most true line was “So I got a Fact wrong, doesn’t change the fact that I’m RIGHT!” Honestwoman played race cards, religious cards, and lookist/ablist cards, while I feel guilty if I claim my G.I. Bill.
DMW: In a very real way, Honestwoman was nothing more than a channeling of pure Id. It can be very easy to do, but I honestly felt sick every time I wrote posts under the handle. It’s a little thing that still affects me, but I feel guilty when I hurt others. The repeated posts that suggested that people were not only angry, but HURT and offended, well that’s when it really started to get bad.
Literata: How did you stop? What did you think when the community started speculating about whether or not it was a Poe – did you intend for it to be discovered? When you started, did you think about how you would stop?
DMW: I never intended to do the Poe for more than two or three posts. It was just going to be a drive-by troll and that would be it. I stopped because people were really getting offended, and there was a real sense to me that I was causing real distress. I never thought about stopping, how long I would do it, it just started going on and on.
DMW: Once again, attention is a HARD thing to ignore. I find it ironic that my best writing has never been published, my best videos have about 400 hits, but my heavily typoed porn has over 45,000 downloads. I don’t know if that means that my negative impulses are the ones that are the most profitable or what, but It kinda frightens me. It’s like when I do the right thing, nobody cares, but when I do the wrong thing, the world says “Give Us More!”
DMW: I stopped doing the Poe because of 2 reasons.
1. I hate hurting people. I get sick playing “Bad Guys” in video games, fercryingoutloud.
2. To continue, I would have had to find even worse things to say. And I was rapidly running out of material from my own life to draw on. There are a few topics that REALLY anger me that I could have gone for, but that would NOT be a good thing for me to do morally or spiritually. (Plain Vanilla ablism/lookism/bigotry are offensive to me, but not killing rage offensive. It just says that whoever is espousing those views to me is an idiot. Now, if you ever want to see me furious, here’s the topics that send me totally nuts: Genocide Denial, Single Fathers are Molesters, and BAD SF being passed off as legitimate fiction.)
DMW: In closing, from me at least, I still know what I did was wrong. There’s really no excuse for it. I can spend a lot of time justifying it and making excuses, but at the end of the day, I knew I was doing something wrong, and chose to go ahead anyway. I hope that others can learn from the error, and how such a thing can happen even to someone who wants to be a good person. And to everyone I hurt. I am sorry.
Literata: Thank you for the heartfelt apology and thank you even more for joining me in this exploration of what happened and why. It sounds like a few good things came out of this ugly incident: You found out that the people on the board aren’t like your internalized critics, even if they’re hard on you sometimes, and I discovered my trigger, which lets me handle that better in the future.
Literata: Hopefully, this can show some people who are immersed in self-hate, whether they’re internalizing it or externalizing it, that there are ways out, that you don’t have to let that feeling take you over. Find someone you trust and talk it over. Get an honest assessment – because it’s almost certainly not as bad as you think it is – and use it as a stepping-stone to start walking away from the internal chorus of criticism. There are other choices. Find them. Make them.