Hi everyone, Ky here. 🙂 I want to say thank you to Amber Forbes for writing this great post! I’m super grateful and happy to share it with you guys while I recover. Please enjoy and check out more from Amber at the links below!
Amber Skye Forbes is a dancing writer who prefers pointe shoes over street shoes, leotards over skirts, and ballet buns over hairstyles. She loves striped tights and bows and will edit your face with a Sharpie if she doesn’t like your attitude. She lives in Augusta, Georgia where she writes dark fiction that will one day put her in a psychiatric ward…again. But she doesn’t care because her cat is a super hero who will break her out. When Stars Die is her first book, published by AEC Stellar Publishing, Inc
As an author, it’s often best to not get into online debates at all. This can, believe it or not, ruin your career if the debate loses civility. However, that’s so much easier said than done and is pretty much impossible for me.
I consider myself an activist for primarily those with mental illness and those among the LGBTQ+ community. I use my experiences as someone with bipolar disorder and someone who is asexual to tell my stories to others who may take comfort in them. I also use my experiences to call out people when they have posted something blatantly offensive about my groups that they may not see as offensive because they legitimately believe they posted it in sincerity.
However, this is where trouble can occur for me.
When trying to deal with those who are not among the community you are a part of and you’re trying to debate in a civil fashion, you’re going to come across people who will always be offended. If someone says the weather is bipolar and you tell them to please not use that word, they may argue with you that they don’t mean it that way; however, 9 times out of 10, when someone uses bipolar for the weather, they are taking it from the actual, devastating mental illness. These people can be sincere when they say it, but their intentions don’t matter. What matters is that they’re using a devastating mental illness to describe the weather, and are thus belittling just how horrible this illness can be.
Recently I found myself in a debate gone horribly wrong. I was trying to inform someone about why something was offensive to the LGBTQ+ community. Again, I am an insider to this community, so I know what makes this community tick. Not everyone in the community will be offended, but I can guarantee a great deal will be offended, especially because with what I was debating, numerous articles had already been written on why this certain thing was offensive.
That matters. A lot.
I was not trying to start anything. I had no intentions of starting a fight. But I saw the offensive material and decided to explain why it was offensive, because if you want to bring about change, you’re going to have to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. For example, if you have a white friend who uses a racial slur in a friendly manner, you might have to put yourself in the position where you’re going to have to tell that friend that it wasn’t okay to use. So that’s what I did. I put myself in a situation where I had hoped this person was going to learn something and be better educated. I knew this person posted it with sincerity, but intentions don’t matter when you post something that is blatantly offensive to the group that it’s clearly attacking. It’s difficult for an outsider to understand why it’s offensive, which is why I commented and said, ‘I don’t like this because it means x, y, and z.’ I was blunt in my response, and perhaps I could have been less blunt, but sometimes bluntness means getting straight to the point and not beating around the bush.
After my one comment, things turned nasty from there. I wanted to leave it be after the person commented, but an open-minded person should read follow-up comments. However, the reply wasn’t civil. I’m not going to say I remained completely civil, but I was only trying to get this person to understand that the sincerity didn’t matter. What was posted was still offensive. Unfortunately, I could not get this person to understand that. This person even went so far as to say a gay friend was reading it and was offended by what I was saying. (For the record, I was not saying ANYTHING homophobic.) However, having a gay friend doesn’t exclude you from being able to be homophobic. That gay friend doesn’t speak for the entire community, either. I don’t speak for the entire community. I only explain why I am offended because I am a part of the LGBTQ+ community.
It wasn’t pretty.
The worst I called this person was ignorant, because this is the way I see it: We are all ignorant. We cannot know everything. Ignorance does not equal stupidity. All ignorance says is that you’re not learning from what I’m trying to tell you, so you’re being ignorant by not taking my viewpoint into consideration, even if it isn’t worded as well I want it to be. You’re also not considering I’m apart of this community, and that, frankly, my viewpoint matters much more than yours.
Was I being ignorant? Maybe. I’m not going to say I was completely innocent, no matter how civil I was trying to be. When we’re passionate about something, actively involved in that, sometimes we don’t realize that we may have lost civility at some point during the debate. Even so, I tried to keep a level head. Unfortunately I cannot remember much of the conversation, but all I was doing was trying to educate—and the person didn’t see it that way. My attempt at education probably came off as harsh in response to the harsh replies I was receiving.
So I’m going to give you, future author—or already author—a few tips on how to handle online debates you are passionate about. These tips come directly from personal experience.
- Keep your language grammatically correct. If you’re typing in all lowercase letters and your grammar is poor, that’s a sign that you’re angry—and a little unhinged in some cases. You’re trying to get your point out there as fast as possible, but your point does not look civil and even looks poorly thought out, as though you did not think through the previous comment and only went by your gut reaction.
- Do your best to remain civil. This is hard when you are very passionate about something and the other party is flying off the handle because you’re just trying to point out something you know is wrong. Don’t ever back down from trying to do the right thing by pointing out something you know in your heart is wrong, though. Do not resort to name calling. Calling someone ignorant may be name calling, depending on how you view this. But don’t use words and phrases like childish, psycho, crazy, you need to see a psychiatrist, there is something wrong with you, you’re stupid, idiotic, and so on and so forth. Remember that even though you likely don’t know that person, that person is still a person. You never know what’s going on in that person’s life, which is why internet bullying is such a huge deal. Try not to act like a victim, either, even if you are one. You might end up looking just as bad as the other party.
- Step away from the debate if things become too much. Let me go back to the debate I just had. After several comments from me, my debater left one more comment, and I walked away and didn’t reply. Once you’ve said your piece, that’s it. If the person clearly is not responding to your points, it’s just best to get out while you can.
- If you want to blog specifically about the topic in the debate because you think it’s important to educate others about this issue, don’t quote the person. This was a mistake I made. I had to delete the entire post due to a threat made against me. However, I never mentioned the name, where the debate took place, the gender of the person, and never even implied just who this person might be.The post, I will admit, was a little bit harsh, but when I began criticizing the person’s points, I didn’t refer to the person as that person anymore. I started to use the word ‘people,’ because this person wasn’t the only one who thought this way.
- Don’t take to social media and rant all day about the debate that took place. For one reason, people reading your rage are going to think you’ve come undone. For another, the person you’re ranting about might just have a friend who is keeping tabs on youto inform the other party about what is being said, as the other party might have to do some damage control. Last, it’s downright vicious, nasty, and hurtful. Often these rants include vicious name calling, ripping at certain aspects of a person’s identity, such as being racist, sexist, ableist, and -phobic (homophobic, biphobic, panphobic, aphobic, transphobic, ect), and just downright cruel, going so far as to accidentally revealing the person’s identity.
- If you are a victim, block this person from any social media this person may be on. This is what I had to do. If a person is directly attacking you, you need to remove that person from all social media and block that person, if that certain site allows it. It is not childish. It is being smart because you’re removing yourself from a threatening situation that could legitimately harm a career you’re trying to build.
I am still learning, and I hope to use my own advice in the future when I do get in debates. Again, it’s often best to avoid them for the reasons I mention above. Even if you’re being 1000% civil, someone is always going to get offended and turn what you thought was a civil debate into something nasty. If you do get in a debate and it gets heated, step away, brush it off, and move on with your life.