On Personal Growth and Exposure via Twitter
A lot of people – the ostracized, the marginalized, and God knows who else – will hurt, and struggle, so much, so badly, and that’s gut-wrenching, and – to those people – I am so, so sorry.
This is not a piece on allyship. Frankly, I don’t think I *get* to define the concept, nor should I. Activists far smarter than myself have filled the internet with guides and interpretations of the concept, and you’d be better served reading one of those if you want a firm grasp on what an “ally” is and does.
This is not a piece on outward action. This is a piece on inward reflection, and personal improvement. It is all I have to offer in the way of words and advice, and I hope to God it’s enough. Because now – as the Democratic Party waffles on whether or not it should concern itself with “identity politics” (answer: it very much should) – it is time for all of us to buckle. down. on our investment in groups whose very civil rights hang in the balance.
This is, often, tricky. Not because we lack the desire to engage with inclusive activism, but because we lack the awareness to do so. Just the other day, I had to explain the concept of a TERF (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist, but you can also call them bigots) to a self-proclaimed-feminist friend. The Discourse is as deep as it is wide, but it is important for us to chart its vastness, as best we can.
I don’t presume to be an expert on The Discourse, but that’s really the point of what you’re about to read: I don’t know anything about anything. I’m still learning. But I know good teachers when I see them, and I hope to point you in their direction. Maybe you’ll even find teachers of your own.
@DR_STRANGELOVE, OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE DISCOURSE
Step 1: Make a Twitter
Wait! No! Stop! Come back!
Twitter is… problematic. Yes. But let me pitch you on Twitter, and why I think it’s such a crucial part of the learning experience.
Twitter is an opinion aggregate. More than that, it’s an aggregate of personal expression. Facebook is where we lie about show how good our lives are. Opinions squeeze through every now and again, we share an article or two on #NoDAPL, but people just don’t use Facebook like they use Twitter. There’s a certain vulnerability – an intimacy – that happens on Twitter. And that’s so vitally important to internalizing new concepts and people.
Something that gets lost in the wash of ‘Discourse’ discourse is that marginalized groups are so much more than political entities. Did you know that Deray misses teaching middle school math? I do. So do his 613K followers. Did you know that Alice Caldwell-Kelly thinks there’s no artful way to compose a picture of male genetalia? Do you even know who that is? Maybe not. But 2,468 people do. I am one of them. She’s wry, and hilarious, and has taught me a lot about trans people and activism.
And, for what it’s worth, I think she’s totally right, vis-a-vis nude lewds.
About 0.6% of the US population identifies as transgender. That’s not a lot. Part of buckling down means maximizing our exposure to marginalized groups, and Twitter helps to pick up the slack when real life limits us.
And it’s so easy – so easy! – to set up a twitter account. I set up the below twitter account in 2 minutes tops – not including making the .avi.
Step 2: Follow All Your Favorite Writers, Critics, and Journalists. Follow Comedians, Artists, and People with Job Titles You Haven’t Even Heard of Before. Follow everyone.
On Facebook, you can Like Vice, or Alternet, and maybe catch the occasional article that pops up in your algorithm-smothered feed. But on Twitter, you can follow the people that write those articles. I will always – until the day I draw my final breath – tell people to follow writers, not outlets. Checking the same 15-20 culture/news sites every day is limiting and cumbersome. Huffington Post isn’t going to plug the Washington Post article their editors found interesting. But Ryan J. Reilly might retweet something Wesley Lowery put together. Matt Pearce might tweet out a link to a Sarah Kendzior piece. Twitter is where this sort of writerly camaraderie exists, and that’s part of the reason I’ve come to greatly appreciate the platform.
Compassionate content creators support each other’s content, and will cross-pollinate to the best of their ability. They will retweet fellow writers, critics, and cultural figures. When they do this, take advantage via runoff. Follow these new faces. All of them. I’m not kidding. All of them.
Eventually, this follow-frenzy will slow. Your sphere of awareness will more or less peak. But the result will be a massive exposure to people and professions you didn’t even realize existed. Did you know that the Not Safe For Work (NSFW) art community is tightly knit, and social justice-minded? Did you know how many of them are queer? Did you even know there was an NSFW art community? These people are wicked smart, with opinions on censorship laws that are far more informed than anything you or I could hope to put together.
Maybe the idea of pornographic art makes you uncomfortable. But that’s the point! We can’t shirk from marginalized concepts that challenge us. “Niche” does not invalidate, nor should it. Push yourself to understand – and be aware of – niche groups, even if you can’t bring yourself to appreciate it.
Again, I cannot stress enough how easy this is to do. One click, and you have access to an entire online being in front of you. An entire online being that may end up being your gateway to an entire community, lifestyle, or ideology. So go to those 15-20 publications you enjoy, and follow every single writer employed there. Every time you read an article you enjoy – every single time – I want you to look up the author on Twitter. Follow the people they retweet. Follow the people those people retweet. Twitter – for all its problems – is surprisingly user-friendly. It takes two seconds to follow someone. You will not – will never – regret having access to the minds of intelligent content creators.
By the way, don’t worry – I’m not going to leave you high and dry at the end of this little journey we’re on. I’ve managed to find 1,300+ insightful, funny people, and I’ll be sure to hit you with some of my favorites.
Step 3: Just Listen
Don’t touch that dial! Or that keyboard! Or that reply button!
Maybe, don’t even tweet. You don’t have to. Like I said, this is a piece about inward reflection, not outward action.
Twitter is not the place to engage in The Discourse. It is a place to view The Discourse. It is an ocean, pitching and churning in the winds of ideology. This is why some find it to be such a volatile platform. If it makes you feel any safer, just set your account to “private.” Post yourself up on the crow’s nest, content to watch everything unfold below you. But always keep a keen eye. This is the responsibility of a lookout, after all.
Be an active onlooker. When someone you enjoy tweets about their podcast, listen to that podcast. When someone tweets about a piece they wrote, a video they made, a game they made, check it out. Look it up. Learn from listening. You have time on your morning commute for a 40 minute podcast. Trust me, Carly Rae Jepsen (God willing; love your music, Ms. Jepsen) will still be on the radio when you finish.
And when someone tweets something that makes you raise an eyebrow, do not – and I cannot stress this enough, do not – hit that reply button.
Much in the same way that you might bristle at that NSFW account, there will be people whose tone and ideas give you pause. This is part of the learning process. Learn to be content with letting marginalized peoples express themselves, even if you find their expression disagreeable.
[Note: there is a difference between “expression,” and “harassment.” If someone you follow on twitter is harassing another account/publication/whatever, you should report that person. The jury is still out on whether Twitter’s new anti-harassment policies are anything more than lip service, but at least you’ll be able to sleep at night.]
Step 4: Never Stop
Eventually, you will notice yourself growing more comfortable with challenging ideas and spaces. I can attest to this from personal experience. Trust me, knowing how to shut up and listen to marginalized groups is one of the most valuable skills I have developed in my life. Want to know what the second most valuable skill is? Accepting that I’ll never – not now, not ever – know everything about these topics.
A lot of folks struggle with this, I think, because we hate the idea of an unachievable goal. The Puritans drove themselves into paranoid psychosis wanting to get into heaven, and Muhammad never did fight that mountain. Unachievable goals are frightening, and we are duty-bound to learn to live in that uncertainty, for the sake of all another.
Even if you yourself are part of a marginalized group, there is some struggle, some people, somewhere, that you don’t know about. And so we must press on, living in and fighting this state of perpetual failure, in the hopes that we might make things just a little bit easier for the next folks down the line.
Step 5: Trust Me
We’re going to play a little game. I said I’d give you a list, and here it is. Think of it as your beginner’s toolkit to twitter. The catch – I’m not going to tell you what any of this is, who these people are, or what they do. You just have to click, come what may, and absorb. Don’t worry, nothing NSFW. I’m not going to get you in trouble with Sheila from HR.
If you take away one thing from this guide, have it be this: be content to accept an unfamiliar voice. The internet is a frightening trust-fall of content, but you’ll feel so glad when you find out you love what catches you.
Thanks for reading.
 ‘The Discourse’ is one of those all-encompassing slang terms of the internet, used to refer to discussion of socio-political issues. E.g. “Boy, did you see those two going at it on Facebook over the election” “Yep! Boy, The Discourse sure is hot today!”