The first time someone called me a derogatory name on an internet comment forum, tears stung my eyes like I just got sucker punched. “Drunken slut” was not something I ever expected to be referred to as simply for writing a well-intended, personal essay about my dating life. I was reminded of being blindsided at the mall in 8th grade by a girl in my class I barely knew. She rounded the corner of Sam Goody, and closed in on me with two of her sidekicks. “I’m gonna beat your ass, you whore!” she screamed in my face.
I had barely even kissed a boy. I wasn’t anywhere near ready to process, or even understand, her insult. I called my mom to pick me up and didn’t go back to the mall for two months.
I didn’t have the option to take a two-month hiatus from my job after being called a “drunken slut.” And I wasn’t about to go back to my former approach. Before I became a professional writer, I shoved all my work in a box and hid it under my bed where no one would ever see it. The decision to share my writing was not something I came to on a whim. But I’d mistakenly thought that by writing on the internet I’d be able to shrug off any nasty comments because there was so much distance. I used to be an actress. I was accustomed to going into casting rooms my whole life, laying my soul out for strangers in folding chairs and having them say “No, thanks” 90 percent of the time. As a writer, I’d assumed I’d be leaving behind that kind of rejection. I was wrong about that. I was surprised how much the words of a complete stranger could make me question my own self-worth.
After a good cry over the “drunken slut” incident, I decided my desire to share outweighed my instinct to curl up in a ball and die, so, I continued to write about my life. I reasoned that readers only know what I share with them, which, no matter how much detail I include, is just a flat one-dimensional version of myself — a tiny slice of my life. Still, I’ve been called “dumb,” “desperate” and other choice insults. Someone once made their commenter handle “SmarterThanAmi.” It made me laugh — kind of. Four years later, when I was no longer single and finally exempt from being called a “drunken slut” (woohoo!) I wrote about being in a relationship and was called “smug” and “self-important.” There was a whole new barrel of insults to sift through.
I’ve written about my life on the internet for almost five years now and this is what I know for sure: no matter what I write about, someone will always hate me and I am thankful for that. I know it sounds like a weird thing to be grateful for. Let me explain: Comments, especially the mean ones, have given me the opportunity to take a step back and ask myself, Are you a dumb slut? Are you smug and self-important? To the former, no. To the latter, maybe unintentionally sometimes. Here’s the truth: I’m a human being writing about my triumphs and screw ups in a public forum and sometimes I fail miserably at it.
I am a private person. That sounds like an oxymoron. Private internet blogger. If it were up to me, no one but a few close friends and family members would know my innermost thoughts. But at the same time, paradoxically, I find something freeing about casting out my stories, like messages in bottles into the virtual ocean, and seeing who finds them, if anyone. Contending with comments is part of my job description whether I like it or not — sometimes a joyous part (some comments have been so kind, generous and honest that they’ve moved me to happy tears), other times, incredibly painful.
Comments keep me honest with myself. They give me perspective on my own life. When faced with the prospect of taking on “slut” or “self-important” as an identifying label, instead of shoving my writing back in that box under my bed, I get to take a deep breath, step back and try those labels on for size. I get to put it in context of other moments in my life and see how they stack up. As with any feedback we receive in life, we have to hear it, evaluate it, then decide what of it we want to keep and what of it we can toss away. “Slut” goes straight in the toxic waste bin without being touched, “self-important” gets handled gently.
The north star guiding me to the top of this mountain of Things Other People Think About Me is the promise of being able to know without question what I think of myself. That’s something I’m walking toward steadily, unquestionably. Every time I get a mean comment, I have a chance to take another step in the direction of honesty and unwavering confidence in my own inherent goodness. In the end, I choose to take the risk of hearing something unflattering about myself –true or not– and finding the strength to go on liking myself anyway.
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