Here's How Life Goes When You're Invisible

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Here's How Life Goes When You're Invisible is as Storify article written by Jake Alley.[1]

It's notable for having the most open attack on Soha El-Sabaawi, Riot's head of Diversity and Inclusion, of all of Jake's Storify articles. In this article, he also denies any knowledge of who she is, despite writing about her extensively.

Storify Contents

I want you to think real hard about the last time you saw a homeless person. Clearly sleeping on the street, looking devastated, maybe holding up a sign about how they needed help, or asking everyone who passed. Maybe you gave them some money, maybe you avoided eye contact, maybe you wished you could do something for them but apologized. The one thing I can pretty much guarantee though is that what little interaction if any you had, you kept pretty brief. You were in a hurry to move on, get away, not be trapped in an awkward moment, not think too hard about the whole thing, and get on with your life.

Now, think about one of your friends. One you kind of look up to, because they really have their life together and everyone likes them. Imagine the last time you saw that friend stressing out about something. Sighing, grumbling, maybe crying a little. I don't know how empathetic you are, but it's a safe bet you showed them a lot more active concern than the homeless person. "Hey, what's wrong?" might have crossed your lips, or you simply made some gesture to try and cheer them up, or something. And I also think it's a pretty safe bet that the problem your friend was dealing with didn't hold a candle to the homeless person. Just, lack of sleep, or dealing with a jerk, or spilling a plate of food or something. Now granted, your friend is your friend, someone you deal with regularly, while the homeless person is just someone you walked past, never really having a conversation, so it's easy to explain why you care so much more, but now, think about your favorite celebrity. Odds are good you've never once spoken to them, but you know a few details of their personal life, and care about their well-being.

All of this applies even when you actively dislike a person. I'm sure if you think about it, there's someone you just can't stand who you've found yourself worrying about way more than you've ever worried about a stranger on the corner with a sign, and you've probably made an effort to console someone, a small child say, who you ran across crying in public the first time you ever saw them.

You care about celebrities because they're hyper-visible, and the relative lack of attention you pay to particular homeless people is because they're invisible. Also, it's why they're invisible. Obviously not in the literal sense. You see them, obviously, maybe you see them every day, but you never really look. You don't look, because if you look, they become real people in your life, and when people in your life are in clear pain and need help, you have an obligation to help them. Some people are in such desperate need of help that it would really upend your whole life if you offered it, but you don't want to be a callous jerk who doesn't help the people in your life, so as a survival mechanism, you don't look, or at least, you barely look. Maybe just a quick peak at the problems on the surface, then you turn away and leave before you see the bigger problems.

Certain things make us more or less visible. Fame and success raise your visibility. Success makes you more financially secure, so you can shrug more problems off. Fame makes people more likely to talk about you, and try to get to know you, s people at large are generally more aware of what you're dealing with. When we suffer from any sort of systemic injustice for instance, we become less visible. If you're a woman, you have sexism and misogyny on the table. There's always a risk of you having some new hardship bringing you down as a result, so it's a lot more of an emotional risk for anyone to reach out to you than a man in a similar position. Same holds true for any minority, some more than others, practitioners of certain religions, people with persistent health problems or disabilities, people over a certain age, people who might face homophobia, or transphobia, and of course, joblessness and homelessness. It's the whole privilege thing.

The nasty thing though is, invisibility itself causes some serious problems, which lower your visibility even further. As a personal example, a lot of people tell me my writing, particularly pieces like this, is really important, and having it out there helps them out. Assuming they weren't just trying to cheer me up, hey, I'm a talented writer. I should be able to do this for a living. I used to write for a living in fact. Then I started developing more serious problems. My little brother died, I came out as trans. Anyone who saw me could tell I had bigger problems than they wanted to deal with, and stopped looking at me. People who would previously publish my stuff no longer saw me, so I couldn't pitch anymore. Having no income made things worse for me, making me more invisible. Less people to see what I'm writing, and talk me through problems. This is why homeless people are homeless. Their problems seem so bad that the people who could solve those problems with job offers or places to stay stop looking at them.

I have a friend, or maybe now she's a former friend, named Randi Harper. I know her well enough to say that Randi does her best to be a good person and help people. Most of us do. Randi has actually gained a lot of visibility from some of the things she does to help people. Particularly by making tools to filter trolls off twitter. Randi's honestly hyper-visible at this point, which is of course a double edged sword. There's always people around to help her, or at least show concern for her problems, the important things she does get noticed, but she and her whole family have to deal constantly with some really terrifying stalkers, and huge numbers of people she doesn't know act like they know her, because they're aware of her, and start up unwanted conversations.

Having so much on her plate between her hyper-visibility and other serious problems she has to deal with, Randi doesn't have the resources to care about everyone she sees. There's a lot of people she doesn't see as a result. Most notably, Randi doesn't really see trans people. Now, to her credit, this doesn't keep her from caring about trans issues. She'll pass along stories she hears about crazy transphobia, condemn huge transphobes, wrote a custom script to help trans people mass-block TERFs on twitter, but on the level of individual empathy, she generally avoids looking at trans people. Understandable.

Now, aside from not personally taking an interest in the problems of invisible people, and caring perhaps too much when people are hyper-visible, this whole business of seeing people's basic humanity to differing degrees leads to tribalism. When someone is really visible to you, and they don't like someone who's invisible to you, instinctively, you side with the more visible person, and when the source of the conflict and invisibility is the same, that just makes things worse. Randi doesn't really see trans people, and thus tends to side against trans people who are upset with friends and people she looks up to. In turn, she does things that are pretty damn harmful to trans people, with a total lack of awareness over the consequences.

While the latter of the two incidents described in that linked chain of tweets is of course a far more serious offense, the earlier incident is more relevant to this conversation. What Randi has done, even if inadvertently, is add dozens of trans people to a shared twitter block-list, which she positions as an antidote to trolling. This takes a group of people already suffering from a lack of figurative visibility, and makes them literally invisible to everyone subscribing to her list. And as Randi herself is hyper-visible, that's quite a lot of people. In particular, that's a lot of people who are concerned for the plight of the marginalized. Activists, reporters, many of them specifically trying to advance trans causes, subscribing to her list explicitly to avoid reactionaries who oppose those causes, are no longer able to see a huge swath of the people they're trying to help. And in particular, no one can see the way Randi has herself done massive harm to every trans person with a twitter account in the second incident mentioned in those tweets. When I first posted that string of tweets, the next day I had to help a major trans advocate, who is herself trans, go through her and manually unblock many other activists she'd picked up from it.

Important to note by the way: Among others, Wil Wheaton is a subscriber to Randi's personal block list, so anyone using his blocktogether list is also unwittingly blocking roughly thirty or so innocent trans people, and another forty or so activists standing up for trans rights who got caught in the net by questioning those blocks. The worst thing about these instances of erasure via blocktogether is that people sharing lists causes one mistake or personal grudge to spread across huge networks and become near impossible to track down. Personally, I'm not (at least as of yet) on the outs with Randi. She doesn't have me blocked, I've been doing my best not to demonize her for throwing trans people in general to the wolves of Gamergate's reddit board, and I've really made a point not to grumble about the whole situation to any of our mutual friends. The only public mention I've made was that tweet chain, made only because a more visible friend was stumbling over how to explain things, thanks to the guilt of knowing an innocent person's bedridden grandmother was being doxxed as a result, and tonight, in making this post. Just the stress of potentially having to deal with an awkward conversation however was enough for some of the absolute best friends I have in the world to cut off all communication with me.

In other words, just by virtue of being trans, and another person (who you'll notice I'm even still defending to what degree I can) doing something that harms the trans community, I've lost all but two or three people in what was once my support network. In the particularly painful fashion that they have designated me too dangerous a person to keep in their lives. The main thing keeping me from speaking out on this is not wanting to make things awkward between friends, but when those friends are cutting their ties as a preemptive measure, I may as well get this out there, right? Which leads me to my next point.

I have, for over a year now, been greatly distressed to find myself on a widely circulated shared block list, evidently labeling me as a racist, misogynist, transphobic troll, prone to searching twitter for people to pick fights with as such people do. Much like the people on Randi's list, this has caused me serious harm. The list I'm on has been circulated to journalists, activists, charitable organizations, celebrities, game developers and publishers, all of whom I need to be in contact with if I ever want to earn a living, or alert people to the sort of societal issues I tend to highlight. Everyone I mention this to assumes I'm on Randi's list, and many cut me off for "not wanting to get involved," but no. Just the other day, I happened to stumble across the list I'm actually on. A completely unrelated list which, like Randi's is advertised as exclusively blocking the sorts of horrible terrorists twitter stubbornly refuses to kick off their site.

This list is managed by someone whose twitter handle is @amaditalks. I have no real idea who she is, and came to be aware of her only this past week, when a number of people were retweeting some sentiments I agreed with, and noticed I couldn't do the same. Some cursory research though shows that, like Randi, she maintains both a dedicated list explicitly aimed at blocking transphobes on twitter, and supplements it with her personal blocklist, that covers over 20,000 accounts, and is much more prone to friendly fire. At a quick glance, I see a few other advocates for trans rights on there. Glancing at what she talks about, Amadi herself seems to be a trans woman with a strong social conscience, who highlights all the same terrible injustices that I do, and follows a good chunk of the same people. Clearly not someone who would consider me any sort of ideological enemy, nor vice versa, and someone I plan to start following if this mess ever sorts itself out.

How then did I come to be marked by her as the absolute scum of the earth, and added to the list she shares with so many people of creeps to block before they come to find you? I don't know. I can however make an educated guess. See, way back in the middle of August, 9 months ago to the day as of this writing, I wrote a string of tweets that I collected into this storify. The prompting for that storify was, frankly, the same as this one. A trans woman I am friends with was thinking about killing herself, because someone started a completely baseless rumor about her being a hateful bigot, and added her to some widely shared blocklist (neither Randi's nor Amadi's, making this the third such I am mentioning tonight), which suddenly cut her off from the bulk of her support network, and all nearly all of her professional contacts overnight.

So, as someone who spends an awful lot of time fighting back against people using DARVO tactics, and doing everything I can to keep the people I care about from killing themselves, I wrote a big long twitter essay about just how common baseless witch hunts are on twitter, and how important it is not to buy into rumors about who's a horrible bigot without any actual evidence.

As a result of posting that, I was, of course, immediately subjected to at least two concurrent baseless witch hunts, heavily reliant on DARVO tactics, which accused me of being a horrible bigot without any actual evidence. And needless to say, people were quick to buy in.

Now, at the time, I had absolutely no idea who had it out to me, nor for that matter, who had it out for my suicidal friend, nor any of the other people mentioned in that storify, nor who it was that was stirring up so much nastiness one day in 2014 that I had to warn friends not to post in a particular hashtag for fear of being attacked by a rakshasa. I mention because I recall said tweet being passed around as "evidence of racism" when coming under fire myself, which I still find baffling as all hell. To the best of my knowledge, rakshasa isn't a slur against anyone. It's just a monster from D&D who uses charm and confusion spells to make everyone attack each other (the context I was using it in), and the Indian word for demon.

Over these last 9 months of trying to figure out why in the world so many total strangers had me blocked though, very angry people have been shouting demands to know why I continue to oppose two people, one named Gabe, and one named Soha. As I understand it, each of these people has a bizarre cult of personality around them on twitter who will go to frightening lengths to destroy anyone who has been deemed an enemy to one of these two people, and look for any possible excuse they can find to declare more people to be such enemies, and someone got it into their heads that I hated them both as a direct result of reading this storify.

Past that, I'm in the dark. I have no clue who Soha even is. We've never talked, I don't think we really know any of the same people, I have no clue what she does, and honestly the first several times I had people demanding to know why I hated Soha so much, I wasn't even aware it was someone's name. I have no clue if she organized some of the harassment mentioned to in that storify, or she was subject to rumors at the time she read something I was saying as alluding to what she had going on, or I retweeted someone she was feuding with and got labeled a co-conspirator of some kind, or if she's some totally innocent bystander people keep namedropping when harassing people as the sort of "false flag" thing reactionary channer kids are so in love with.

If she is responsible for launching DARVO attacks on various innocent people and pushing various trans friends of mine to the brink of suicide, then yeah, I suppose I have a pretty serious grievance on those grounds, and don't see why anyone should think I'd need an extra motive, and would like for her to please stop doing that. If she didn't, cool, I don't have any problems I am aware of with her, and continue to be baffled by why anyone would possibly think I would.

Similarly, I had no clue at all who Gabe was until maybe a month ago when I woke up to a long angry string of tweets from him, rambling incoherently about how I was clearly an undercover cop looking to arrest him for planning a communist revolution in Brazil or something to that effect, and other people who shout at me in his name invoke similar narratives, and apparently engage "me" in one-sided arguments spanning months, despite me having blocked them after the first out of the blue tweet and them apparently having had me blocked the whole time, making it just a strange performance piece where I'm a character in their bizarre fan fiction. Here too, I don't bear anyone any ill will, but would like very much for everyone involved to please stop spreading vicious lies about randomly chosen trans people in the process of whatever the hell they're doing.

What I can say with an actual degree of certainty is that at the start of September, Gita Jackson, yet another woman with whom I have never interacted before or since, sent me a message via twitter asking something to the effect of why I was so savagely attacking her friends. Having no earthly idea what she was talking about, I took a look at her twitter timeline, and saw a full two weeks worth of extremely emotionally charged ranting and raving about how I was, apparently, a horrible, dangerous, racist, misogynistic, transphobic monster, prone to attacking anyone who attempted to talk to me, and vowing never to speak again to anyone she caught talking to me. I also saw at least one friend of mine trying to calm her down and ask her to talk to me, so I approached the situation in good faith. Presumably someone doing the whole DARVO thing had told her some very nasty lies about me, and/or she'd severely misinterpreted my storify as a veiled attack, and things had been made worse in her mind by me blocking a friend of hers in my large wave of blocking people shouting angrily about why I hate Gabe/Soha. So I sat down, and over the course of many hours calmly explained what I was actually talking about, that I didn't even know Soha (apparently a friend of hers), and the other friends she thought I was attacking were all friends of mine I'd never had call to accuse of any wrongdoing. She seemed a little embarrassed, and told me she had some tweets to delete. Whether she did so, and whether she made any effort to apologize, and call for people to back down from the campaign against me, I couldn't say, because she's had me blocked since that conversation.

References

  1. Jake Alley's Storify - Here's How Life Goes When You're Invisible