I had my first experience with internet trolls yesterday! I say this with an exclamation point because I had been waiting for them for the last 6 months and they finally arrived. The skeptic in me knew that the love and support from family, friends, and the herpes positive community was bound to be met with misinterpretation and ignorance from...people of the internet (insert mysterious sound effects here).
I was sitting with my fiancé, going over our finances (our favorite thing to do) when I noticed some Facebook notifications from a couple names I didn't recognize. I thought internally, "must be friends of someone who so lovingly shared my new website or job title!" (Shout out to you beautiful souls who help make space for growth in this world). But as the comments loaded and I began to scroll down, page after page, it was clear that these novels we not messages of support, but messages of scolding and shaming - the very thing I work to bring attention to.
I didn't read the comments then. I gave Michael my phone and he said, "yeah, you probably shouldn't read these now" to which I responded, "not now, but eventually." He actually blocked the two commenters in an act of protection. I didn't know what to think - my mind was already awash with worry from the 6 months of build-up to this very moment. So I tried not to think about it. In true Scarlett O'Hara fashion, I declared, "I'll think about it tomorrow."
Ha. Ask me if that worked. ("Did it work Devin?") No. No, it did not.
A few hours later I read each and every word that was written. And the more I read the more I realized that there was an exorbitant amount of fear present in each of their arguments. This realization was interspersed with emotional reactions of wanting to "put these people in their place" because I am human. But that's not my courage. I'm currently reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown and she writes about what it means for an individual to have courage when faced with adversity - it's different for everyone. For me, a sarcastic-fueled retort is easy - it's easy to be mean and angry - but it would leave me feeling shitty. It's less easy to be present with my feelings of hurt and, unexpectedly, joy.
The hurt didn't stem from what they said, but how they said it - my name was strewn about their statements like they knew me. It's clear by the content of their posts that they don't know me at all so the fabricated intimacy of using the name my parents gave me was a source of discomfort that I wasn't expecting.
The joy came from the very clear realization that I am more resilient than I ever thought I could be. The more I've shared my story, the more I thought this could be true but now, after reading the harsh opinions of others and still knowing in my heart of hearts that I am a human worthy of love and belonging - that's enough. It's more than enough - it's empowering.
I define an internet troll as someone who seeks to push an agenda without first seeking to understand. As the world seems to get crazier, my hope is that we seek to understand more than we seek to be right, righteous, belittling, and shaming. It's a practice which isn't immediate or easy - but a practice I think humanity is in desperate need of.
Stay courageous xo.