I’ve a tendency to tweet in a very unfiltered, stream-of-consciousness way. Generally speaking, most of what I write is harmless, inane, and just really boring. Occasionally, though, I’ll tweet something that resonates with people, and that’s great. Other times, I end up pissing people off.
This is the story of how one careless tweet turned my life into a temporary living hell.
On March 17th, popular Logo TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race featured a mini-challenge titled “Female or She-Male.” Early the next morning, I began writing up a quick news post for The Advocate, centering on a.) the fact that GLAAD has long said that the word “she-male” “only [serves] to dehumanize transgender people, and should not be used in mainstream media, and b.) that the the game itself, along with the term — which is generally used to describe a genre of pornography featuring transgender women — is problematic in the sense that it reinforces the idea that “she-males” (transgender women) aren’t “really women,” and that trying to determine whether or not they are is some sort of game (which has actually been used as a murder defense). Overall, the segment was in bad taste, and I was just doing a quick write-up.
I wrapped up the piece, and filed it with my editor. As the morning went on, however, I saw an increasing number of people tweeting about this, and highlighting instances where the show’s host has been informed of these issues; essentially telling trans people to toughen up. Here’s where I made my mistake: I entered that conversation.
“So, he’s been told time and again how offensive this is, and yet he still does it,” I tweeted. “And he tries to say how much he loves and cares about trans people? Well, it seems more like he hates us. I fucking hate RuPaul. Like… there really are very few people I truly hate. He is one of them.”
Without even thinking about it, I’d provided commentary on something I’d earlier written about in a news context. Making things worse, my piece — turned in before I tweeted anything — went live after the tweets, making it seem as though I went on a rant and then decided, “Hey, I’ll report on this.”
It wasn’t until three weeks later that this careless tweet — which, to be fair, shouldn’t have said “hate;” “frustrates me” might have been a better choice of words — was turned into a hit piece against me.
“When not expressing hate for subjects of her reporting, Molloy is part of the eyeroll-inducing ‘hashtag activist’ movement currently infecting the internet,” wrote transgender activist Andrea James. “Rants and beta male humorlessness once limited to blogs and social media are now creeping into other outlets.”
Yeesh. For one, I don’t actually tend to use hashtags on Twitter. I can manage condensing my thoughts into 140 characters, but into 10 or 12? Nah. Additionally, referring to a woman as a “beta male” is, at best, insulting.
Later in the piece, she goes on to make wild accusations, adding absurd assumptions to the mix.
James goes on to compare me to the killer from Silence of the Lambs, calling me a “skin transvestite,” and making incorrect assumptions about my sexual orientation. In all, it was kind of a mess.
In the days to come, that piece was shared by thousands of people, including Amanda Palmer, who happens to have over a million followers. Some blogs blamed me for the show’s decision to remove future references to the term “she-male” from the show — that is, if you were happy that they removed it, I was given credit; if not, blame. One blogger coined the term “The Molloy Effect” to mean something along the lines of “militant word policing,” a former Drag Race contestant made a video in which they pretended to murder me, and another well-known trans person compared me to Hitler.
My inbox became flooded with messages, death threats, threats of assault, and other unpleasant and largely unwelcomed notes.
Rather than try to respond — and likely continue to fuel what seemed to have become a coordinated campaign — I tried to just lay low until things blew over. As time progressed, however, I began to see quotes falsely attributed to me, and I witnessed my character transform more and more into a caricature of who I really was.
I sidelined myself from contributing editorial pieces, and I experienced a drought in freelance work being offered to me.
All this over a tweet. A tweet that I’d walked back, deleted, and apologized for on numerous occasions.
Instead defining me by the advocacy I’ve done — like my New York Times editorial pushing for transgender-inclusive health care, my reporting on a trans student bill in California for The Advocate and Rolling Stone, or profiling relatively unknown trans people in an attempt to help bring their voice to the mainstream — I found myself labeled a “hashtag activist,” a “Tumblr-addict,” a “newly-minted queer,” and a “transbian” who “wants to ban words.” I wasn’t any of those things, but to the world, that’s what I’d become.
Three months later, and things have just started to return to normal. Three months of anxiety, panic attacks, and just feeling like crap.
I’m happy it happened, though. Life is one big learning experience, and I have learned something here. I learned that I can weather the storm, and I can come out stronger as a result.