Trigger Warning: transphobia, bullying, mentions of suicide and self-harm.
According to TikTok’s information pages, a video counts as going viral once it reaches 500,000 views. Imagine my surprise, then, when a silly little video I created on the platform reached viral status in a matter of days.
I created the little ditty, riffing on MIKA’s most famous song “Grace Kelly”, as a small act of defiance after the UK government announced that it’s ban on conversion therapy would not apply to trans people, on Trans Day of Visibility no less. Coincidentally published on April Fools Day, I didn’t expect the video to get more than a few hundred views, simply hoping that my friends would get a good laugh out of it. When I next opened the app a few hours later I was surprised to see that it was quickly clocking up views into the thousands, and unfortunately had attracted the attention of several transphobes who left a multitude of disparaging remarks.
Things quietened down over the weekend, but on Monday the problematic comments began to accumulate again; it seems that transphobes are only active during office hours. By Monday evening the view count had exceeded 20,000, far exceeding my previous efforts. Over the course of the week I watched the views skyrocket, reaching almost 670,000 at the time of writing. The video was clearly popular as it gained likes and I gained followers, and my other social media channels (including this blog) began to gain attention too, but unfortunately the sudden and inexplicable success came with a cost; some of the most heinous and disgusting comments I have ever received before or since.
The comments section included the unoriginal influx of intentional misgendering and general mockery of transgender matters, including laughable attempts to incorrectly explain biology to me. Given that some commenters couldn’t seem to decide whether I was assigned male or female at birth, I considered my gender affirmed. Unfortunately, there were also comments encouraging me to commit suicide, or threatening to beat me to death. Some people were more passive aggressive, wishing I would get cancer (which due to a combination of genetics and adverse side effects of medical interventions will probably happen someday), and other ableist comments about mental illness or how I must be “stupid” (I refrained from responding by correcting their spelling and grammar as this practice has its own ableist history). Yet more people decided that my being non-binary was a sign that my parents (particularly my dad) neglected me (hi mum and dad, ignore them), that I would die alone (I’m married), and discussions around how school bullying was a good thing actually filled my comments section. There were also a multitude of commenters asking why I had to “force” my pronouns and gender ideology on them, providing ample evidence as to precisely why LGBTQAI+ Pride is necessary, as those who do not face but perpetuate our struggles would just like to forget our existence and avoid any accountability. Hilariously, their interaction with my video will trigger more such content appearing on their feed, as the algorithms that determine what content appears on your feed treats all interactions as an indication that you want to see more of it. The sheer number of comments in general ensured that I was appearing on the feeds of hundreds of thousands of accounts who would otherwise never have noticed me.
Reporting the bullies had no impact as even those explicitly telling me to “top myself” were deemed not to have violated community guidelines around not encouraging self-harm or suicide, so I simply took to blocking as many of them as I could, especially those who decided to venture onto my page and leave comments on my other videos. I turned off the comments of subsequent videos as a precaution, as even unrelated videos caught their attention. Once the fuss died down, and the hateful comments stopped drawing others to my account, I simply wiped away all of their anger with the tap of a button, so that at least something good came of their bitterness for a time.
It should be said that less than 0.5% of viewers were leaving such comments, and likes more than doubled the total number of comments including the nice ones. Many of the demeaning comments were left by accounts called @user[number] with cartoon avatars as profile pictures, if they had a profile picture at all, and who hadn’t been brave enough to produce any content of their own. Truth be told, I suspect about half of them were bots. Concerning the rest of them, I couldn’t help but wonder if those unfortunate enough to know the people behind these comments know that their friends spend time harassing others online. Such a pitiful number of detractors should not have warranted my attention at all, but I would also be lying if I said the sheer onslaught of hatred didn’t hurt at the time; it was a tad hurtful.
The most ironic thing about this situation is that I was self-conscious about publishing the video, not because I feared transphobes, but because I struggle to sing within earshot of others as a result of a vocal coach who chose to belittle and mock me during singing lessons as a teenager. It even took me a long time to sing within earshot of my now-husband. As it transpires, most people commenting on the video (even the trolls) actually quite liked my singing. So here’s part 2:
In short the experience was certainly not a pleasant one, and without such a thick skin I would have most likely crumbled under the pressure, but in reality all the trolls did was boost my profile. They have simply ensured that rather than retreating into silence, I will be louder.