I was bullied as a kid. Relentlessly and aimlessly bullied. I was a special needs kid who had some neurological quirks and didn’t have the social niceties or group awareness enough to hide them. On top of that, I also had two (very) lazy eyes, a giant birthmark on my face, I walked on my toes and I was useless at sports. Pick on the weird kid is a game that never loses its entertainment value for kids.
Sound familiar? Yes? Good. We have a common ground to start from.
Let’s start with 5th grade. Gym class.
Your class is running laps. There are two kids in your class who hate you. You’re really not sure why, but they really, really hate you. You were trying to stay on the opposite side of the gym from the boys who hate you. But here’s the thing: You’re slower than them, and running hurts. So, no matter what you do, you fall further and further behind. As you’re falling behind, they’re staying at the same pace, so no matter what you do, eventually they’ll be next to you. And then they’ll subtly push you hard enough that you’ll fall. Or maybe this time around, they’ll say something horrible to you. Or maybe they’ll steal your glasses. That’s always a favorite.
It’s “appropriate”, but I don’t actually recommend this outfit for tortoise-wrangling.
It is really easy to find yourself fighting the wrong fight, particularly on the internet.
As people, we tend to get defensive when people argue with us, whether they’re right or wrong, justified or not, aggressive or friendly.
The impulse to defend yourself is strong, particularly when it comes to issues of your own body, your own identity, your own worth.
And so I found myself arguing the wrong question this week.
Context: I know not to fight with the trolls. I skim comment threads to get a general feel for them, but I can usually avoid reading them in their entirety.
I can let the insults roll off my back in most cases. After all, this is the internet. I am a woman. I have strong opinions. And I am using what little platform I have to fight for those opinions. This means I get insulted. A lot.
But then something small will happen. It could be one comment in a 300+ comment thread.
In this case, it was an accusation that I was, in reality, flashing people in my costume.
The skirt length is Starfleet Regulation. I wouldn’t want to go against the admiralty.
“Honey, your skirt is a little short.”
To be fair, it was a little short. It was short intentionally. I was dressed in a science officer costume from Star Trek: The Original Series. Not the sleek little work-appropriate but still sexy jewel tone tunics from the new movie, but the flared, strangely-constructed, unapologetically teal and chartreuse polyester cheerleader dresses that fit perfectly with the (now) retrofuturistic vibe of the original show. It’s a screen accurate dress. And by “screen accurate” I mean “short”. And at the beginning of the day, I just assumed the lady who commented was pointing out that I needed to tug down the dress a bit. That was the first comment. After the next 30 or so, I had had enough.
I was at Balticon, a great science fiction convention that leans more to the literary side than the ones that are normally in my wheelhouse. This was my second year going to this con, and my second year costuming there. Last year I brought several costumes, but only wore one: a fairly conservative X-Men costume that didn’t involve skintight spandex, cleavage or even any bare skin below my neck. I did that because I knew the moment I walked in that it wasn’t the kind of con I wanted to wear my Ms Marvel costume. I wore that outfit for all of Saturday, became extremely annoyed with the response I was getting and then dressed in normal clothes on Sunday.
As a costumer, you have to develop a fairly keen sense for what is a safe space and what is not. I felt safe at Balticon both years. It isn’t a space where any harm would come to me. I could wear anything I want there and I wouldn’t come to any legal form of harm. That said, the responses I was getting made me want to run away. Or possibly take a shower to wash off the feeling of eyes and comments.