In 2007, while using gay social media to connect with women online, I found myself the victim of bullying on the UK lesbian site Gingerbeer. My experiences on websites like Gingerbeer and gay.com led me to remark a certain force of behavioural homogenization at work within the lesbian community and I quickly fled these spaces with more questions than answers. I wondered why allegedly democratic forums such as social networking sites which rely on the written word as their primary form of communication would attract so many for whom verbal or written communication seems to be a challenge at best.
It seemed quite ironic that those who were able to express themselves with respect towards others in the group were repressed and bullied on a regular basis while those women who tended towards monosyllabic grunts -- "LOL" and "ROTFL" -- dominated the chat rooms. Many who were bullied would simply leave these spaces stating: "I left the closet for this?" and other similar expressions of dismay.
Those harassed were able to perceive what they saw as the need for these bullies to homogenize opinion, to force consensus and to marginalize all those cyber-subjects with whom they did not agree.
Social homogenization is one of the most frightening commonalities I have found within lesbian culture -- in real life and in cyber-space. I wondered why a group of women, many of whom were heretofore oppressed within their own communities and family for reasons of their sexuality, would be so aggressive and unkind towards other women.
I could not avoid analyzing how these tactics of cyber-bullying mirrored those of the previously dominant hetero-normative groups and political structures. I had to wonder if the social perversion of bullying that I had witnessed and was victim to might also be part of a larger continuum of internalised homophobia wherein many lesbians today need to obliterate any type of "difference." The social characteristics that were perceived as a threat from these women were essentially attached to anyone whom they sensed was educated, independent and who did not go along with the bullies' monolithic notions of identity.
Last fall I joined Southbank Surfing, a monthly lesbian event in London. The Facebook page contained a host of topics with threads devoted to sharing salutations, drunken exploits and those members who were Southbank Surfing "virgins" asking to be "devirginized." I found some threads problematic for obvious reasons, but I was happy to find a group of women with whom I could dialogue and meet monthly in a venue that was not a sports' bar.
Some of the women I met at these events seemed friendly and intelligent and we touched base on the Facebook page. I remember many lengthy threads in December focusing on Christmas and vacation plans. However, when I had posted about Hannukah, that post mysteriously disappeared. The next day I saw a new friend, Rose, online and we mentioned a Muslim holiday -- those posts were also deleted. I found it strange that all the posts referring to hangovers, Christmas, personal holidays and even private parties were left up on this website but ours were taken down. The organizers later told us that they were doing "spring cleaning" and these posts were "accidentally deleted."
Then five weeks ago, I noticed posts relating the lack of wheelchair access were removed and we were given a mandate by the "organizers" to follow the "rules" of posting. Here are the rules: no commercial advertisements, no long chats which were "off-topic" and no rudeness or offensive language. It was evident that the posts whose removal I had already witnessed did not violate any of the rules. I posted on the "rules" thread that we should be more tolerant to diversity of posts especially those relating to wheelchair access. From my post over a dozen bullies came on to harass me, telling me to leave, to stop being "negative" and "political" and my personal favourite: "Get a life!"
There were two others who came to our defence and in the end three of us were kicked off the site. While these bullies' elaborations of Christmas plans and drunkenness were deemed acceptable, the request for wheelchair access was not and was construed as "political." In short, these women were threatened because the subject with whom they interact does not replicate the ideas and behaviour which they perceive as normative.
A few weeks before our expulsion, Liz posted this comment an a separate Southbank surfing thread: "Southbank smurfing." At the time this comment seemed inapposite, but after further reflection I realize this was the most fitting of all comments to describe this very homogenizing space given that Smurfs are physically all the same. Similarly the bullies of Southbank Surfing do not accept difference or individuality as they reinforce through brute homophobic vituperation their roles as abusers onto the subjects who merely communicated their difference.
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