I have lots of friends who have come out. I have heard lots of stories. Some of those stories have been very positive, some of those stories have been very negative. Mostly though, they got to choose when they came out and they didn’t feel pressured into having to come out before they were ready. There will be no banners or celebration of LGBT culture on this post, because this post isn’t a celebration.
Yesterday I got some of the sweetest and kindest messages that I have ever received. I think that must mean that I won the internet, because nobody is nice on the internet. It started in the morning when I got up. I wasn’t sure why one of my blog posts was being viewed at a rate of over 100 times an hour. Actually when I was drinking my morning tea, it was hitting almost 200 views an hour, I was watching the real time stat reporting on Google Analytics.
Then one of my friends said ‘the level of bullshit that people come up with [about you], it’s incredible’. I didn’t really think too much of it, then I logged onto the UK LARP group on Facebook and saw that I was being discussed. I figured that thread was what they were talking about and I didn’t really think too much of it. I laughed about it in my usual jokey way while trying to address serious points. But to be honest, I have a pretty thick skin because you have to when you write on the internet.
The comments on my blog came pretty thick and fast yesterday morning. I’ll be honest, I didn’t publish about 70% of them, I just immediately trashed them because they were so vile. I might pretend to not care about such things, even joke about them, but this kind of thing is pretty distressing. One person even told me last night that they hoped I get gang-raped for my discriminative beliefs. Yes. Really. Many of them were actually from the same IP location but in different writing styles, so I can only assume that a few people were having a couple of beers in the same location. Because no human being would write things like that without being utterly pissed and being egged on by mates, #amiright?
Apparently things had escalated. The sweet and kind messages on Facebook began to make sense. They were mostly along the lines of ‘I’ve seen these horrible things about you spilling onto my Facebook feed, and I want you to know that I think you’re none of the things that they’re saying’. I don’t even know these people. And I started to get word that people were standing up for me, people who don’t even know me.
So what has happened, as far as I can gather, is that I didn’t apologise for fat shaming a few weeks ago. Because a few years ago I gave up apologising for things that I didn’t do. The reason I stopped apologising for things that I didn’t do was that I got bored of businessmen on the tube bumping into me, the scruffy fashion photographer, spilling their coffee and expecting me to apologise (and sometimes even buy them a new coffee). But I digress. I don’t apologise for things that I have not done. I did not fat shame. Well actually I did apologise, I’ve just checked that post. Because knowing I had unintentionally hurt some people made me sad and I understood that I made a jump that not everyone took with me, and I see how my comments could be misconstrued. It made me sad. I don’t like hurting people.
Not apologising for fat shaming (although I did apologise) seems to have given people a belief that they can read negatives into other things that I’ve written. I find this whole thing a bit frustrating. Because if I find a blog that upsets me, or a column in a newspaper or anything like that, then I generally just don’t read it again. I accept that not everyone has the same views as me and that doesn’t always make the other person wrong.
Now, I like engaging in debates. I’d even go so far as to say that casual debating of some kind is a bit of a hobby of mine. And I try my best to attack arguments and positions rather than the people that are saying them. But the things being said about me, they’re not attacking my argument, they’re attacking me. Yesterday I discovered that in various places across Facebook I had been called racist, ablist and it was being said that I was discriminating against transgender people. (I had been using the word transgenderist, but apparently that means ‘being transgender’. Ironic in this situation. If there’s a better word, let me know.)
These hateful accusations came from the fact that I said coke cans and modern day glasses look out of place in a medieval fantasy setting to my photographers eye. I stand my my point. I never said that I don’t photograph anyone because of their glasses. I certainly never said that I wouldn’t photograph minorities, which is what has been derived from my blog post. In fact, all this vitriol has come from the fact that some people perceive that a crew photographer at LRP should have a duty to photograph everyone equally. If you believe that or not it’s besides the point, but lets not ignore hard facts. My photographs of Odyssey speak for themselves. I hate to do what Linda Nochlin says is an utterly bad idea and pick out specific examples, but I think you’ll find that actually on balance minorities are proportionally over represented in my images from that event (not that you can probably pick most of them out, other than the obvious ethnic minorities). And at some events they aren’t. Documentary photography isn’t an exact science. If it was, my life would be easier and my brain wouldn’t be stretched so much.
I’ll be honest, I would love to be an equal-opportunities documentary photographer. I think it’s really important to make people feel good about themselves in photographs. In fact that’s one of the reasons that last year I worked my ass off at events trying to give everyone a great portrait of themselves – because not everyone can afford to pay for the luxury item that is photography. I certainly can’t. But to be honest, I don’t know who most of the ‘minorities’ are on a LRP field. And you know what? It’s absolutely none of my business. I can most likely pick out someone who is severely disabled (although to be honest, I’d rather just ignore their disability and see them as just another human) but why is it any of my business to ‘know’ if someone is transgender or has a hidden illness, for example, and then make a special effort to actively include them? It’s not. I don’t feel that it’s any of my business to know if a stranger was born the wrong sex or has something wrong with their body or mind. On the basis that it’s none of my business (and that I’d only know if the person actively told me about their personal life) then I’m afraid I just can’t ‘make sure’ that I have a proportional representation of all the different minorities on the field. If you’ve been left out of my photo set from an event you can be reassured that it almost certainly has nothing to do with your ‘minority’ status, and everything to do with the fact you probably just weren’t being cool in the right place at the right time.
So anyway, lets get onto the main point of this post. I’ve spent 1300 words already trying to make sense of the situation.
Last night I felt forced to out myself. No one made me do it, least of all the people who have been making accusations about me. But I feared I would lose friends over this. Good friends that I have made. Because you can’t defend yourself when you have no right of reply. I don’t know how convincing the arguments were. I don’t know what was said. I just knew that I had to do something to help my friends (who don’t actually know me all that well) understand that this wasn’t me. I wasn’t the person that they are talking about.
I came out.
I felt forced to make a plea to my friends. To tell them that I was deeply hurt and devastated by the accusations being made towards me. In particular I was devastated that it might be perceived that I am discriminating towards transgender people because I know how hard it is to live with that life.
There’s a clue in the name of this blog actually. Charlotte Sometimes. It’s a book by Penelope Farmer about a girl called Charlotte who goes to boarding school and finds she can travel in time back to the 1910s, swapping places with a girl called Claire. They write notes to each other and hide them in the bedpost. When she gets trapped in Claire’s time she finds it harder and harder to maintain her own identity. Except I’m not swapping places with Claire, I’m swapping places with Charlie. And I don’t time travel. And unfortunately it’s not a story about fictional characters.
No one should feel forced to come out before they’re ready.
I doubt this blog post will get seen by as many as the previous one. Because this one can’t be twisted to make me look like a racist, ablist person who discriminates against transgender people. Well actually I’m sure it can, and if you want to do that then go ahead, but people will start to see through that kind of behaviour.
But I hope that some people read this post and realise how damaging accusations can be. I’m hopeful that these unfounded accusations don’t roll over into my professional life because I really enjoy what I do. I can’t just get another job in a different office, once my professional reputation is tarnished as a self employed person, then it’s tarnished forever. Especially since I actively try to write about things like diversity and inclusion and change industries from the inside by doing so. Who wants a -ist writing about how we should be inclusive? I certainly think it would be in danger of quashing my career as a feminist art historian before it got started.
These aren’t games that we’re playing now. This isn’t the fantasy world of LRP. Making unfounded but serious accusations about people is a problem. It can directly affect peoples personal lives and professional careers.
I’m just really lucky that when I came out last night, the private messages from my friends overwhelmingly said ‘We already knew, you prat. We’re not stupid.’
- Linda Nochlin, "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" , in Linda Nochlin, Women, Art, and Power, (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), 148. ↩