I haven’t had anything mean hurled at me in a long, long time.
Trust me, I’ve heard plenty of mean things in my life. As an adolescent, I suffered from a facial abnormality which brought me tons of unwanted attention at an age when most boys want only to blend in. I dealt with this in an unusual way: I walked down the school hallways as compressed and invisible as possible, but once I was in a classroom with my homies, I was bigger than life.
My favorite podcast, Roderick on the Line, has this great bit where John Roderick explains classroom geography; everyone is familiar with the front row (and what kind of kid sits there), and the back row (and what kind of kid sits there), but there is another chair, much more significant than either; the seat from which a kid could see everyone – especially the teacher – and from there, concoct the strategy for the day.
That’s where I sat. I could lay low, if I chose. More often, I would crack up the class with droll commentary. If I chose, I could disappear into my pencil sketches of a 10th level drow-elf sorceresses, concealing my art supplies whenever the teacher stalked past. But more often, I would debate the teacher: obstreperous but articulate. The classroom was mine.
Outside of class, though, I heard lots of names. Lots of mean, mean shit. And I would scamper class to class, a hamster crossing a wide and dangerous room.
Last week, I had my debut in the Washington Post. I was so excited to share my ideas about men’s fashion and online dating. It was a thrill to see my words, my pictures, my creation on the screen and know that thousands of people would see it.
And then I read the comments.
WHY. WHY did I read the comments.
I’d been told not to, I knew that real writers NEVER read the comments. It’s a thing, right? “DON’T. READ. THE. COMMENTS.”
But I did, and for the rest of the day, I felt wobbly, like when you first step off one of those moving sidewalks at the airport. It has been years since someone has said something so mean about anything I have created. About me.
Retaliation 1: The List
First, I did what any writer does. I wrote a piece, where trolls, haters, and other a-holes were not welcome to share their nefarious opinions.
Retaliation 2: Positivity
Second, I slurped up the kindness that poured in from family and friends: like a desiccating Bay Area porch-succulent during the first major rains of winter.
Retaliation 3: Turning Everything Upside Down
That evening, a wise friend asked: is there anything you can learn from this? After refusing to even consider the possibility, I hunkered down and admitted a few things. As the trolls remarked, I do have a big, bushy beard, I do wear huge cuffs on my jeans, I often skip socks, even with a fancy suit. Sometimes, I go “all-out,” wearing ensembles that I wouldn’t advise for anyone who isn’t comfortable with attracting a bit of attention. My look can be… eclectic. I asked myself…do I do it to blend in? So I can escape a day without anyone noticing? To avoid comments and attention?
Hell no. I dress like this because it fucking rules to wear whatever I want. And speaking of rules, I dress like this because I know the rules. Sometimes, I’m bored of the rules and I don’t have to follow them if I don’t want to. I can write my own rules. I reminded myself that most men wouldn’t wear what I wear – not only because it’s not, like, them – (I created this look for me alone), but also because they’d be afraid to. Afraid they’d look silly. Afraid of getting attention. What I wear is a badge of my courage, a fuck-you to the haters.
Back in high-school, I had surgery to correct my face. Afterwards, a lot of changes happened. After living for years in a shell (as far as public appearance goes), I emerged as a crafty oddball. I grew my hair long (way before that was a thing that guys did). I wore dashikis and created performance-art experiences for me and my friends‘ amusement.
Did I get comments? Sure. Plenty. Kids who didn’t know me would comment on my hair, my glasses, my clothes. But people who knew me gave me plenty of space to be me.
And I was like: “Haters gonna hate.”
Twenty-whatever years later, it took a trip down memory lane to recall my teenage evolution: from freshman hallway-cringer to senior style-swerver with a “haters gonna hate” swagger. And while my blog isn’t about pushing the sartorial envelope (I mainly write about clean lines and classic designs), I hope to inspire my readers to experiment with something small to help them on their own path to kicking ass, in whatever way is theirs and theirs alone.
So, to the haters and the trolls, the bullies and the a-holes, enjoy lording over your terrain: the comments section. The rest of us are gonna transform, whenever, whyever, however we wish, into whatever we want.