That, increasingly, is the question.
No, I’m not reconsidering my profession, but I do find myself thinking and rethinking who I choose as the topic of my column and how to tell their story – and this is the disturbing part – whether to tell their story at all.
Now, I do not have these protracted internal conversations when the subject is a politician or public figure. Then, just about anything is fair but astute observers will notice that I do not, and have not, and never will poke fun or be critical of public figures whose fundamental problem is that they are sick. (Fill in the blanks for yourself here.)
But when the subject is a regular citizen, or worse, someone I know and respect and admire – do I write about them and tell their entire story – knowing that to do so is to subject them to the cesspool (small but very vocal cesspool) of commenting folks who are going to ridicule them, make up lies, denigrate them, and rip them to shred – all anonymously on the CA’s comment boards?
Do I subject people I admire to this sort of treatment? Am I obligated to warn them that – hey, as soon as this goes online, the bigots and homophobes and people who apparently don’t have a lot to do are going to, with the paper’s full knowledge, spout all kinds of nastiness that way that even I, as a professional, am never quite able to completely shake? Or should I expect that they understand how this works?
Today, I wrote this. And I told the lesbian storyteller/playwright/mom/amazing woman before I even interviewed her that to be in my column was to risk abuse. Undeserved, uninformed, ranting, often idiotic, usually mean-spirited abuse. And if she didn’t want me to write about her, if she’d rather me forward her story to the features department, I would completely understand.
But Elaine Blanchard said no, she wanted ME to write about her. And what I predicted would happen did – and I’m wondering where the GLBT community is – Elaine was one of the ministers on the MGLCC’s billboard campaign – where are they now? Why can’t their voices drown out the others?
I, of course, cannot do what I want – which is to contact all my GLBT friends who contact me when there’s news to be covered and say – um, hey, can you support Elaine on the CA message boards? Some words of common sense and reason would be appreciated right now – but it is maddening as hell.
I know that I did not do this to Elaine. But I had reason to believe it would happen. I warned her, but I wrote the column anyway. I thought about leaving out the part about her being gay, but then, I’d be doing what she did for many years – and that was being untrue to herself. Is some of this my fault?
I’m fairly used to the crap people say about me – have not gotten to the point where my instinct is to pray for them instead of assuming they’re toothless idiots with an extension cord strung to a neighbor’s generator to power the computer from which they’re typing this garbage. But people attacking others – it drives me up the wall.
I’d probably get in trouble at work for talking about all the drama around the comments that followed the story on the death of Vasco Smith, on the very day the man died. I was up LATE that night, flagging comments so the online staff could review them, because I felt an obligation to his wife, Maxine, to keep as much of the mean-spirited, bigoted lies away, out of the universe, for as long as I could.
But more and more, I feel like my participation in a system that subjects those who are unable to defend themselves to unwarranted criticism is to be complicit. But – if I don’t tell these stories – about transgender Duanna Johnson, about racism, about homophobia – it’s not like there’s a line of staffers at a news outlet where the staff is shrinking who are just waiting to take on GLBT/race issues as a sub-beat. Often I feel like if I don’t write the stories, they will likely not be told in the mainstream paper.
And on the global scale of importance, this ranks just above toe jam. I know that. But still, it’s something I wonder and worry about.
Oh, by the way, all the e-mails I received about Elaine’s play, “For Goodness Sake”, you know, where people use their names, were positive. I’d guess 90 percent of the online anonymous comments by cowards who RARELY have their real names as their handle, were negative.