Once upon a time, in another life, I was studying political philosophy with a mind toward working in policy research, and I wrote with the kind of academic prose that seemed required by the work I thought I wanted to do. I thought that to be taken seriously, I needed to write with meticulous precision and detachment. I worked hard to keep my whole public persona as sterile as I possibly could, as androgynous and devoid of controversy as I could manage. I didn't swear, didn't talk about mental health or feminism or gender or any of the things I was absolutely terrified would make me unemployable if someone found out. I started university the year Facebook became widely accessible to students across America, and the uproars about people's profiles, their photos being seen by potential employers, was still fresh and frightening.
This was, of course, back in the olden times, when we thought people learned by being presented with facts. Now we know better. We also know that rather than sterility, marketers and employers alike seek a kind of sanitized reality, shiny and pale and glossy with just the right number of sharp edges. People really like to connect with one another, whether they're learning or shopping, and companies are trying hard to harness those human connections in the social media age without creating the wrong kind of controversies. Still, every move is calculated and precise, and just as tedious and painful as the sterilized versions we tried to create in the mid- to late-aughts.
The Letters, and most of what I do now online, are not that. I have the privilege to be on the side that gets to be selective these days, and one of the ways I weed out people I don't want to work with is by being openly and fully myself online. Any self-censoring I do online is the same kind I do in person: I try not to be an asshole; I don't engage in personal attacks; I don't name-call in arguments; I try not to be hyper-critical of the choices people make for themselves in their own circumstances. But I don't shrink back from swearing now and then, and I discuss whatever I want to discuss freely. People who don't like it are free to go, whether they pay me or not. It's enabled me to build a network of strong, caring people whose ideals align really well with mine, and I know I could never have found them if I hadn't been able to be open.
I like to think it helps me connect with people on Big Issues, too, and while I know the jury's often out on that, there's some evidence to back it up. We believe the things our in-groups believe, and the most powerful way to change minds is to start within your group. When I say it hurts me to think about family separation at the US-Mexico border, it's because I think of myself and my daughter and what it would be like to have her taken away from me, lost in a sea of impenetrable bureaucracy, for months at a time. No amount of statistics is going to change somebody's mind about that, but the way I felt the first time G took Ro to the doctor without me, at four months old, or the way I sometimes feel even now if I've had a day where I didn't spend enough time physically touching her, might help someone understand. I can tell you about a day out with Ro's non-binary family member, or the way we and our neighbours deal with the housing crisis. This is what it means, I say, and I hope it rings true.
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