Yesterday I got mansplained.

Specifically, I had my writing mansplained.

Now regular readers will know that I have little tolerance for people’s crap and care even less for the opinions of others. There is a myth that if you’re a writer you’ll welcome any and all criticism as a chance to grow. Let me turn on the light on this one. It’s bullshit and I’ll tell you why. Not everyone’s opinion matters and few opinions will actually help you grow.

Varric in Dragon Age 2 said it best, “opinions are like testicles. You kick them hard enough, it doesn’t matter how many you’ve got.”

There are people whose opinions and criticisms I seek out but I’m very picky about it. Criticism is meant to help me see things that I may not see myself. It is meant to help me grow as a person. Therefore, I seek out those individuals I trust to give me an honest assessment even if it’s not what I want to hear. Even that’s not enough. This person has to be someone that I see lives a life that I can respect and admire. This person is going to help me determine the direction my life takes. That’s a huge responsibility and one that is going to be taken seriously.

So that’s why I generally ignore most of the criticism that comes online. Don’t get me wrong. I love to hear from people and love it most when people share their own stories but I’m not interested in hearing your opinion on me, my sex life, my fat, my writing, my whatever.

When I wrote the piece “The Housing Crisis As Seen From Below”, it was in response to my city’s desire to remove adult only housing. As someone who lives in poverty, it affects me directly and I wrote out my frustrations as I so often do. Shortly after I published it I was approached by someone who works in my city’s poverty industry (those organizations dedicated to eliminating poverty). This man is well-known and well-respected in the community. I looked forward to discussing the issues with him. I’ll call him John Doe as I don’t want to release his name.

A discussion of issues is not what I got, however. I was tempted to post the entire email wholesale and let the internet do its thing but my rational brain took over at the last minute (it never lets me have any fun) and I put a stop to that. Instead of a discussion among peers, here’s a sample of what I got;

I think you have a voice that should be heard, but here is some unsolicited advice, meant to help you not criticize you.

If you want to be an effective advocate and writer, I suggest you tone down the anger and tone down your self-effacing remarks. They do not serve you well – like it or not, people don’t want your anger, they want your ideas. And don’t downplay yourself (e.g. “yes, that makes me an asshole”). If people think you’re an asshole, let them, but don’t give them ammunition. Lots of people think I am an asshole, too outspoken, or have radical ideas yet lots of people follow my personal blog, appreciate me, are interested in what I have to say. I am good with all of it.

Your ending will turn off people who may very well be on your side — “But, fuck it. The poor only matter as a photo op.” First lots of people don’t see poor people that way, Lots. Some might but the people you want to listen to you, don’t. It’s a turn off in my mind. Just my 2 cents.

Yeah.

I’m not a person that likes confrontation. Years of abuse trained me to keep people happy at all costs. This, though, made me angry. The condescension of it made me taste bile in the back of my throat. As I read the words, “here is some unsolicited advice” I could hear some guy saying, “you know what I think…?” My answer is the same either way, I don’t give a crap what you think and your unsolicited advice is not welcome.

I won’t even go into how the whole “tone down the anger” part made me feel. Or the words “they do not serve you well” feeling like I’m a naughty school girl (no, not in a Stormy Daniels way, either). Here was a man who decided that his opinion was so goddamn important he had to shove it down my throat.

I sent a rather lengthy email back. In short it was a version of “thanks for your opinion now fuck off” but in far nicer terms. As I said, I don’t like confrontation. It makes me itch.

The next email I got (which I may post tomorrow if I’m still angry) read like an essay being corrected. Instead of responding in his own space, he took over the email I sent and wrote his responses in red around my words. Seriously. WTF? The part that really enraged me was his comparison of being bullied at school for being a geek to my revelation of being abused by my family for much of my life. While I do fight against bullying, they’re not close to the same. You can leave your school. I had no options and while I finally did leave my family, it’s a decision that will have impact for the rest of my life. Come see me at Christmas and then let’s compare your elementary school bullying to my family abuse.

My next response was short and sweet. A very nice version of leave me alone.

I am actually way too enraged to answer this right now. That you don’t see the problem is the problem. I need to calm down before I give any further response. Have a nice day.

But he didn’t. His emails continued despite my repeated attempts to ask him to leave me alone so I could calm down and think about the situation. Dammit, I was going to take his criticism whether I wanted to or not. He even went so far as to leave his cell phone number in case I wanted to “chat on the phone” (because that’s a good idea).

It didn’t stop. He fished out a four year old post I wrote on poverty and said he wanted to repost it on his blog. I gave him permission but no indication I wanted to talk. There were more emails. I finally had enough.

One of my heroes is Kirk Acevedo. So it’s no surprise when I feel I’ve been backed into a corner I come out fighting like a dragon. It’s a #kidviciousarmy thing. I sent an email back lashing out like I rarely do. That’s when John Doe got angry in return.

Here is a man with power and influence who wouldn’t leave me alone and now he’s angry with me. Can anyone see how this will end up? I had a full blown panic attack and at 9:30pm I called the cell phone number he left. Only to have him shut me down and refuse to talk.

Finally I talked to a dear friend who listened and let me vent. This is a woman I admire. Whose opinions matter to me. She reminded me that it was my writing, my story, my words. Not his and not to let him take that from me no matter who he is.

So I won’t tone down the anger. I won’t stop tilting at windmills. I won’t stop. This is my story. These are my words.

ME. TOO.

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