Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I am an active supporter of environmental and human rights causes. My Twitter feed is littered with retweets of news and opportunities to speak out from various environmental and human rights organizations. These things matter to me.
I have been very vocal, also, about my own journey with being learning disabled and raising two learning disabled kids. So when the hashtag “YesAllWomen” popped up on Twitter, I was moved by the comments other women were making regarding issues of women’s rights that have been in the news lately with the abduction of 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria and the firing of a prominent editor after she asked for equal pay. It struck a chord in me, and made me think of all the little, and sometimes big, ways in which I have experienced discrimination or sexual harassment as a woman over the years. And I tweeted about a few of them.
I was genuinely surprised by the response these tweets generated. For the most part, I put my tweets out there and they make a tiny splash at best. These tweets were getting immediate reactions, being retweeted and marked as favorites. I didn’t think my comments were remarkable in any way, but they seemed to strike a chord in other women and occasionally men.
And then a man retweeted a tweet that I had posted about my experience of being LD and it being dismissed when I was a kid because of the attitude that “girls aren’t good at math.” The man who retweeted my comment thought it was “LOL” for me to complain about it. He mocked the whole thread of the hashtag, but two of my tweets he particularly singled out to ridicule.
It’s been a very long time since I’ve been bullied by a non-family member. The last event of bullying by a classmate or stranger that means enough to stick in my memory is of a night my college roommate and I were walking home from a bar and we were followed and harassed by some girls who picked on us because they were a different race and didn’t like ours. We kept walking and they let us, but I still remember how intimidating they tried to be.
So when I saw that my tweets had been mocked, I was surprised not only by my own surprise that my tweet could be met with ridicule, but that I had such a visceral reaction to the ridicule. For me, being LD has had a huge impact on my choices in life and therefore my outcomes. It has shaped every part of who I am and what matters to me. And watching my sons struggle with LD is even more painful than having been through it myself.
When I looked at the man’s other tweets, it was easy to see why he would mock me. His feed was full of far-right statements, both social and political from Second Amendment gun issues to hate speech about anyone who didn’t support ultra-conservative political candidates. I know these people exist. I have seen their use of hate speech and insults to express their views. It didn’t take long for me to distance myself from the man or his comments.
But my reaction to the idea that LD could be something to mock, and the feeling of vulnerability that comes from the need to step away from his attempts to marginalize what has been so destructive in my life, has been profound. It is not the individual bully we react to. The man who made these comments is not of consequence in my life, he holds no power over me. But the deep sense of unfairness, of a need to fight against my emotional trauma being marginalized, is like a beast inside of me that has to be calmed.
It’s not just bullying that leads to this kind of response. As an attorney working for a personal injury firm in my early days as a law student, I often saw families who had lost a loved one to someone else’s negligence desperately clinging to the need for that loss to be acknowledged. People tend to think of plaintiffs in personal injury suits as money-grubbing, vicious people who will sue anyone they can. There are people like that out there. But the vast majority of our clients cared much more about their loss and pain being acknowledged, especially the pain that their loved ones had suffered, than about the money. The money was just a way to get that acknowledgement. When they did get the acknowledgement, when a defendant was able to admit to doing something wrong that had caused so much pain, the money became a tribute to that acknowledgment, and even in some ways distasteful to the families that had fought for it for so long.
So I thought about this reaction I’ve been having and it reminded me in a flashback way of what it felt like when I was sometimes bullied in middle school and high school. It reminded me of the raw anger at the unfairness of being bullied I felt then, because I still feel it. This man’s ridicule of me was small and unfair and twisted. But now I have the words I need to marginalize those who would try to marginalize me, and I can use those words in my writing, both in my fiction and in this blog, to fight back. And this makes me feel not only empowered, but honored to be a writer, especially for kids and teens. If my experience can be written about so that it helps even one child or teen who also knows the pain of being LD, then I am proud to be a writer. I want to be a writer because I want to open an email someday from some kid who has struggled as I have and read him or her say “I felt this, too, and I needed to know I am not alone.”
As my friend Lillian says, Write On. Because we don’t have to be afraid to connect in the digital world. Our writing speaks for itself.