Internet Activism Can Flourish Without Trauma

Andy Goelzer, Contributing Writer

About two weeks ago I published a blog entry on my website, GQzine, called “Dear Diary, Humiliation, Grief, and a Call to Action.” I wrote about an experience I had at a meeting about privilege and oppression in the Oberlin Dance department because I felt I had the right to publicly share my point of view of an event that made me feel unsafe.

Here is an excerpt from the original post:

“I brought up that as a trans person I have personally felt excluded from the dance department’s programs that work with the Oberlin community, Girls in Motion and Boys in Motion. The [chair] of the dance department, [Professor of Dance] Ann [Cooper Albright], told me that I was welcome to join either of the groups, and when I responded that as a non-binary person I would feel uncomfortable in either of the groups she began to lecture me. … In the middle of her speech I began to cry. I was insulted and humiliated and felt powerless because she is an authority figure. When she was done yelling I told her that she was making me feel attacked and unsafe and I was going to leave. She continued to yell after me as I rushed out of the room, sobbing … I cannot believe that a faculty member felt it was acceptable to treat a trans student like garbage at a moment like this at Oberlin. An extremely valuable member of the trans community and a friend of mine just died and she is acting as if the college feeling unsafe for trans people is unimportant. She is acting as if these are things that we can deal with later because there is no sense of urgency. These are people’s lives. This is my life.”

Within 24 hours of publishing, my post had over 2,000 views. It was all over Facebook, people were stopping me in the hall to ask about it. Professors and students I had never met sent me emails and Facebook messages offering support and advocacy. Although I was happy to hear from people who agreed with me, I was overwhelmed and a little off-put. Something felt wrong, and it has taken me a couple of weeks to put my finger on why.

Around the same time that I published my blog post, I was trying to put together the next issue of my zine, GQzine. Despite multiple Facebook posts and personal messages, I only received two submissions. I am doing my best not to take these things personally, because I understand that people have their own lives and I cannot expect them to put my projects ahead of their work, but it is hard. The whole reason I created GQzine was to create positive content that showcased different trans and genderqueer perspectives. I can’t and don’t want to do it alone.

That one blog post, discussing a really horrible moment in my life, has gotten more views than content I have spent weeks putting together with submissions from multiple different authors. I understand that outrage is an effective rallying tactic, but it upsets me that people are more likely to read a story of trauma than positive work made by a community of trans people. This is a phenomenon I have seen in a lot of activist communities. People feeling that unless they share personal trauma that relates to the cause, they are ignored.

I am exhausted by the lazy activism that makes trauma go viral with no follow up. It is too easy to call out an injustice in hindsight, especially when you’ve been told it was an injustice by someone who it was perpetrated against. It is too easy to click the share button or tell someone after the fact that you’re glad they stood up for something. I do not mean to condemn social media activism, because I think it can be useful. What I’m trying to say is: I’m glad you shared that video or article or status — now go do more! Now go create your own content! Go talk to your friends, family and classes about it, go make art about it, go hug your friends and encourage them to make art about it, go educate someone who needs it, go be a part of the positivity! Don’t listen only when someone is talking about their pain; be constantly lifting them up, not just patting them on the back when they are down. That is how we change things. That is how we keep these injustices from happening before someone has the chance to blog about them.