Here's What Happened When I Apologized For Something Online

[CN: bigoted language toward non-binary people]

A couple of weeks ago, a few days after DAMAGED GOODS released, a friend approached me with some concerns. This friend, who is a trans woman, said that while they hadn’t read the book yet, they’d spoken to several friends in the genderqueer/non-binary world. Turns out, there was unease around phrasing I’d used throughout the book – specifically around the terms of “men and women” when talking about all people.

I thought about it, looked at the text of the book, and realized, yeah, in several instances, I’d unwittingly excluded an important part of my readership and of my friends. So I issued an apology on my Tumblr, made a commitment to attempting to change my habits, and moved on. I felt bad that I’d caused harm to my friends, but the instant I saw that they were right, I accepted that fact, learned something new about the world, apologized, and moved on. It sounds almost dismissive to say it, but I’ve grown quite accustomed to the idea that I’m going to fuck up at some point, and that when I do, the onus is on me to fix it. So I did, with little fanfare and no fighting.

So it came as a surprise to me when I began receiving angry notes and messages specifically in response to my apology. It seemed, in the minds of more conservative readers, that I’d given in to some bullshit politically correct “army.” The GOP-centric political wonk-blog, Chicks on the Right, even wrote about how my apology was symptomatic of larger “politically correct” trends, saying,

So, t's only a matter of time before some poor little college hippie from the white-bread suburbs whose Mommy and Daddy are paying for his/her/its/their/zir college tuition and MacBook Pro comes running across campus in tears because someone used the term "men and women" to mean all people and somehow he/she/it/they/zhi are offended because that terminology doesn't include that time that he/she/it/they/zhi swore that his/her/its/their/zir third parent from the Planet of Purple Unicorn Marsupials came down to claim this other-kin person as its rightful heir to the empire or some other such nonsense that would make even Scientologists raise an eyebrow.

The blog posts and reblogs and messages were at once acerbic and pitying. The narrative of what had apparently transpired – despite none of these people being privy to the actual conversations that happened – was set. I was cast as the weak, spineless liberal who caved to pressure and once again had my freedom of speech curbed – willingly! – so that Special Snowflakes could feel special.

The fact that I could be sincerely responding to real people with real pain seems completely beyond their grasp. In a twisted way, this response makes sense. After all, much of mainstream America lives in a deeply cynical world where apologies from celebrities, politicians, and talk show hosts only come after the public relations nightmare gets bad enough to warrant one. So in their mind, no apology issued by a public figure (which I suppose I am now) is sincere – all are suspect, all are given under duress, all are not to be trusted.

It is nearly impossible, in this world of “Toxic Twitter” and “Social Justice Warriors” and “Gamergate” for apologies to be taken at face value by many people. In order to prop up the narrative that those demanding justice are unworthy jerks, toxic personalities that snipe and bully until they get their way, any kind of apology must be forced into this mold. There is nothing sincere – there are only the bullies and their victims.

As a result, I am being forced into a role I did not sign up for – the “victim” of progressivist bullying and toxicity. To those who want to keep their narrative simple and streamlined, real empathy, real understanding, and real apologies complicate the cynicism. I must be weak-willed that I apologized without a fight. I must be a spineless liberal, someone who has bought into these absurdities hook, line and sinker.

But the thing is, true discernment and true courage come from understanding when criticisms have grounding in reality, from knowing people who are different from me, and from genuine empathy for their struggles in the world. When understanding is paired with real empathy, sincerity becomes a no-brainer. Cynicism and searching for ulterior motives dries up.

These “chicks on the right” would prefer to cast me as the victim in their play because they can’t get far enough outside themselves to imagine a world in which real empathy leads to real apologies and understanding. They can’t imagine reacting to a criticism with anything but defensiveness because they have stopped learning and simply surrounded themselves with people who agree.

When you develop real love for people – not just the evangelical veneer of love that involves screaming “truth” at them until they leave – you end up in a place where criticism, understanding and grace can all co-exist. You find a place truly imbued with the love of Christ, where seeing outside of oneself is possible and love for the neighbor takes priority.

I don’t mean to hold myself up as some paragon of humility – oh the irony! But rather, I’m angry and upset that I would be cast as the victim in someone else’s narrative just because sincerity is so foreign these days. And I urge that people viewing these narrative arcs ask themselves if things may be more complex. Drop the cynicism, drop the campaigns, and allow yourself moments of sincerity and grace. The worst that would happen is a little education.