Thursday, January 7, 2016

I’m discontinuing comments on my blog. Here’s why...

So as the title plainly states, I plan to deactivate the comments section of my blog posts moving forward. (Previously posted comments will remain intact.) While I don’t feel obligated to offer an explanation—after all, it is my blog, and I am free to format it any way I choose—I thought that it might be worthwhile to share my reasoning as to why.

When I first started blogging in the mid-’00s (on LiveJournal, before moving things over to this site), there was a strong community element to blogging. Most of the people commenting on my posts had blogs of their own, often similarly focused on transgender, queer, feminist, and/or social justice matters. I would read their blogs, and they would read mine. Sometimes we’d cross-post each other’s pieces, or write posts about one another’s posts (linking to the original piece, plus adding our own thoughts on the subject). And sometimes, we’d continue the discussion in the comments section using our names/blogging-handles so that it was easy for everyone involved to follow who was saying what to whom. It was by no means an “internet utopia”—fierce disagreements and flame wars often broke out. But it did feel more like an actual conversation, perhaps because we all had “skin in the game” (i.e., as activists, as members of overlapping online communities).

I’m sure these sorts of internet conversations are still happening, but they seem to have migrated more to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and other venues. And maybe they still exist in certain corners of the blogosphere. But they hardly ever occur on this blog these days, partly because of how the world has changed, and partly because of how I have changed. By which I mean, I am no longer just “Julia the blogosphere community member” anymore. People now tend to see me (for better or worse) as “Julia Serano the author,” and this, to some extent, affects how others react to things that I write here and elsewhere (once again, for better or worse).

As my public profile has grown, so has the public’s awareness of trans people. Which basically means that I am a far more visible and accessible target for people who detest trans people than I ever was in the past (i.e., back when the only people who read my blog were other activists). And people who don't like what I have to say on more mainstream platforms (e.g., Salon, Medium, The Guardian, to name a few recent ones) will sometimes seek me out here.

I recently joked with a friend that I only ever get five types of comments on my blog these days. They are (from most frequent to least frequent):

1) Angry/insulting/dismissive comments, which (nine times out of ten) are from “Anonymous.” These are most frequently (and vehemently) penned by TERFs, and to a lesser extent, religious/political conservatives who are ideologically opposed to trans people and activism. Other times, the angry/insulting/dismissive comments come from groups who are opposed to women or feminism (e.g., MRAs, GG-ers who dismiss me as a “SJW”), or from other activists who hold decidedly different views from me, and who try to “win the argument” via ad hominem attacks. I feel justified deleting all of these sorts of comments.

2) Spambots, who remark (if you’ll allow me to paraphrase): “I really found your post to be quite interesting! And by the way, here are a few unrelated links I’d like to embed in your comments section.” I feel justified marking these as spam.

3) ‘Thank you’s from actual people who enjoyed the post in question. I’m always grateful to receive (and approve) these comments.

4) Actual people who start with a “thank you” or “interesting piece” remark, but then spend a paragraph (or 2 or 3 or 5 or 9) talking about something tangential or barely related to my post. On the one hand, these are real comments by real people, so I usually approve them. But in the more extreme cases, it feels like the person in question is simply using my post as a platform to express their opinions about various things, even if they have nothing to do with the matters I am discussing.

5) Respectful (i.e., non-flaming) questions or disagreements directly related to my post. I generally approve these, and try to write follow up replies if/when I can, although frankly, sometimes I am too busy to do so. In a few instances, these exchanges have been enlightening or rewarding, whether we find common ground, or win one another over, or simply agree to disagree. But increasingly (as more transgender-unaware people stumble across my blog), the questions and disagreements tend to fall more into the “Trans 101” realm—which is fine, everybody has to start somewhere. It’s just that what I write about—the topics that interest and concern me the most—are more at a Trans 201 (or maybe 301?) level. And frankly, I’d rather be working on my next blog post or book chapter right now than spending my time explaining (for the umpteenth time) why the word cisgender is useful and not an insult.

Upon contemplating those five categories, it became obvious to me that the drawbacks of maintaining my comments section far outweigh the benefits. And the idea of *not* having to field through those 2 or 3 or 5 or 9 vitriolic and often outright transphobic/misogynistic comments that I’ve had to moderate (i.e., read and subsequently reject) each week or so—in and of itself—would be a much welcome respite.

A recent commenter (whose inflammatory comment I rejected) accused me of “not being able to handle dissent,” which I find laughable. I see dissent everywhere. People tag me on their Facebook exchanges, @-me on their Tweets, and sometimes send emails directly to me, telling me what they think of what I’ve written (sometimes grateful, sometimes dissenting, sometimes outright hateful). So this isn’t about me not tolerating dissent. It’s about dissenters needing to appreciate that, while they have the right to dislike what I write, they aren’t entitled to have their dissenting opinions appear on my own website.

If something I have written here inspires you, or doesn’t sit well with you, feel free to post your thoughts on Facebook, tweet about it Twitter, tumble about it on Tumblr, and so on. You can even start your own blog if you wish—Blogspot & WordPress are both free options. I wish you all the best with that!

[note: If you appreciate this piece and want to see more like it, please check out my Patreon page]