The Angernet — Don’t Get Sucked In

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To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, “Oh, the places you’ll go… mad… on the internet.” If you’re like me, you know Social Media can be not so social, whether it’s because of the knock-down, drag-out debates over politics, religion, civil rights, race, heritage, privilege or identity, or all of these divisive issues. It’s a no-win scenario, where everyone believes the other guy is the troll.

So aside from blocking those who enrage us, or abandoning the online world altogether, what can you do?

Meet David Ryan Polgar, a “tech ethicist” — he says that means he explores the “ethical legal, and emotional impact of social media and tech” — and he is my guest on this month’s episode of RiseUP With Dawn Ennis. Polgar joined me in the studio earlier this summer to talk about online solutions, best practices and offer insight into why the internet can so quickly turn into the angernet.

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In addition to television appearances, Polgar writes for BigThink. One column focused on something called Cunningham’s Law, which holds that “the best way to find the right answer online is to post something wrong and then get corrected.”

You can follow Polgar on Twitter and network with him on LinkedIn, or catch him on stage in New York City doing improv with comedian Joe Leonardo in a series of shows called Funny as Tech. Their act is aimed at unpacking “our absurd present and uncertain future.”

Here’s your link to this episode of RiseUP (and what’s got me angry is that someone not me misspelled the word “not” in the title “Not So Social Media,” and I can’t do anything about it! But I will survive). Please scroll down to learn about my latest special correspondent, Kristen Browde.

Kristen, who also goes by Chrissie, is a transgender woman living in Chappaqua, N.Y., a neighbor of Hillary and Bill Clinton, a powerhouse attorney and a former television journalist who is now running for political office. She and I go way back. I mean, waaaay back.

Our paths first crossed in the 1990s, at Fox5, WNYW-TV in New York City. That was the first TV station where I worked as a writer and learned how to be a copy editor and producer. Later that decade and into the new millennium, we worked more closely across town (literally) at CBS, where she was a network correspondent for TV and radio and I worked at “The Deuce,” Channel 2, WCBS-TV, which was at times called 2News, CBS2, CBS2NY, The CBS2 Information Center and my favorite, News2… as in, “If it’s News2 you, it’s news to us!” That name, umm, didn’t last very long.

The reason I mention all those names is because neither Browde nor myself stuck by our original birth names either. Neither one of us knew the other was hiding a secret two decades ago. We laugh sometimes thinking what it might have been like if either one of us had confided in the other, or if we had come out all those years ago.

14124509_1935484373345256_9084377132463387433_oI don’t mind posting pre-transition photos of myself but I’ve opted to not share them of Chrissie here, because to me, that would be the same as me posting a bare-butt picture of her as a baby. Sure, it’s still her, but it’s hardly representative of who she is today.

My favorite story about our friendship is that we connected online in October 2015, two and a half years after I came out, and seven months before she did. And until the day she came out, I somehow did not catch on that Chrissie Browde had been that “guy” I worked with at Fox5 and CBS! Duh.

To say I was floored would be an understatement. And we had a great laugh about it when we finally met face to face as our authentic selves one year ago this month.

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Thanks to Efrain Gonzalez for snapping this photo of Chrissie BrowdeMia SerrainoKim McKinstry, Elaine, and me.

My only defense in not recognizing that this Browde was that Browde is that I don’t waste my energy trying to find out who trans people were “before” they found themselves. It’s of no value to me, and I didn’t even give it a thought, even when she told me we had worked at the same places. That, or I am just dumb. But the lesson here is, there is absolutely no reason to ever ask a trans person their “real name.” Because Kristen Browde is her real name.

And she is running for town supervisor in New Castle, N.Y., a northern suburb of New York City. She and two other candidates are running under the banner Stronger New Castle, and have the backing of three political parties including the Democratic majority.

Browde isn’t the first transgender political candidate in New York — that honor goes to our friend and living legend Melissa Sklarz, who was the first out trans candidate elected in the state. But Browde is the first to have the backing of the state Democratic party for a townwide office, and if she wins, will be New York State’s first-ever transgender Town Supervisor.

Connect with Chrissie via her law firmher Facebook page, or her other Facebook page, or on Twitter. And if you’re in New Castle, N.Y., remember to vote on November 7 for the Stronger New Castle team!

Thanks for watching this month’s episode and for liking and sharing the video either through my blog or YouTube!

Stop. Look. Listen.

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This morning, shortly after I woke up, I posted some “New Rules,” a la Bill Maher, but not to support him, rather to match my own thinking… and I’d like to expand upon one in particular before I turn in.

This new rule is something I myself have worked to fully incorporate into my life both online and in the real world, and I am making strides but it’s not something I think I will ever say, “Ah, well, cross that one off the list; it’s done.”

Here it is:

STOP.

I am a woman of white privilege, and no matter how hard I try — and I do — I’ll never, ever, EVER be able to grasp what it means to live as a black person in America. Or any person of color. Especially not a trans person of color. Especially not a trans woman of color.

My new rule of “STOP” means this: when a person of color shares with you their experience, and what life decisions they make accordingly, do not judge them and add your two cents — about anything.

STOP.

Even if you struggle, too.

Even if you disagree or have another point of view.

Even if your first thought is, “well, from my perspective…”

STOP.

What every single white person I know does is immediately think, “that’s not my experience.” I do it, too. And what should, in my opinion, happen next, is for us to go:

“Hmmm.”

Silently.

Think on it. Ponder. Share. Let your action be to raise up the voice of someone who doesn’t have your privilege. Not to point out the difference between us.

‘Cuz I’ve learned one thing: they already know the difference. There is no need nor any point to be made.

And to those who dismiss someone using the term “violence” to describe how someone feels when they are oppressed, even though it may be verbal or through an action not typically associated with physical violence, I encourage you to take the time to understand and grow, rather than reject out of hand something that does not come from your experience.

STOP. LOOK:

“It’s oppression on top of oppression to dictate how oppressed people should rebel.” — Unknown.

The thing I’m talking about here is intersectionality. As Sherry Hamby wrote:

“The burden of violence and victimization remains markedly unequal. The prevalence rates, risk factors, and consequences of violence are not equally distributed across society. Rather, there are many groups that carry an unequal burden, including groups disadvantaged due to race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual identity, place of residence, and other factors.”

It must STOP.

I do not write this to rant or pontificate but to raise up the voices of others. I’m not going to name names, but when I tried to share one person’s insight and solicited the thoughts and comments of my friends, that person fled, feeling attacked. She told me she felt victimized by violent and racist comments.

Not one of you will agree that your comments were racist.

Not one of you will agree that your comments were violent.

Not one of you will agree that you attacked her.

STOP. LOOK. LISTEN:

The point is not whether you intended to be racist, to be violent, to attack someone. Perception is reality. And I can see how these comments hurt her, but I was powerless to add my voice to support her because before I could notice there was an assault on her, she withdrew the post I had shared from my wall, blocked those of you who offended her, and blocked me from seeing it now. That is her right; it’s hers, and she felt attacked, and is justified in responding to those attacks as she sees fit.

I did see at one point the accusation that she played “the race card.” Several folks said to me that she “introduced” race into the conversation, and that you didn’t see it as an issue of race.

And let me just point out to you one thing each of you who said that to me share: every one of you, including me, is white. To sum up, the black woman said she felt the comments were racist, and the white women and men told her, “it’s not racism.”

Privilege conceals itself from those who have it.”Jarune UwujarenJamie Utt, Everyday Feminism.

There is no “race card.” Race is not something you get to deal, or fold, or shuffle so that you wind up with a better hand. It’s not the same as gender, because even though most of us are stuck with whatever we’re dealt, at least we who are transgender are at long last able to tell the dealer they made a mistake. It doesn’t improve our hand all that much, but

I can only imagine what it is like to be both transgender and a member of a race that is oppressed. What I am learning is to not judge, and to listen instead of speak.

And that, in my opinion, is a good place to start.

The War of 2016

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We are at war.

Don’t believe me? Post anything involving politics, race, religion or criminal justice on social media… and count to ten.

Let me state at the start, I’m no psychologist (not yet, but that is most definitely my next career, after my kids finish college). That said, I consider myself intelligent, insightful and well-educated, and willing to put forth my own analysis with the full knowledge it is informed opinion, and not fact; I stand ready to receive criticism, commentary and challenges to my thinking.

And my thoughts of late are WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?!?

In just seven months, I count 14 incidents: mass shootings, murders of police officers, police-involved deadly shootings and mass killings by terrorists and military clashes around the world. Here’s the toll since January:

  • 6 murdered in Chesapeake, VA.
  • 5 murdered in Glendale, AZ.
  • 5 murdered in Pittsburgh, PA.
  • 5 murdered in Kansas City, KS.
  • 8 murdered in Piketon, OH.
  • 5 murdered in Moultrie, GA.
  • 49 murdered in Orlando, FL.
  • 290 murdered by bombers in Baghdad, Iraq.
  • Alton Sterling killed by police in Baton Rouge, LA.
  • Philandro Castile killed by police in Falcon Heights, MN.
  • 5 police officers murdered in Dallas, TX.
  • 84 murdered in Nice, France.
  • 265 killed in failed military coup in Turkey.
  • And today, at least 3 police officers murdered in Baton Rouge, LA.

That’s at least 93 dead here in the U.S., 462 overseas, a total of 555 lives lost. The last seven of those incidents above happened all in the space of the last two weeks, and the massacre in Orlando was just a little over one month ago.

Amid all that bloodshed, we live in a world that is more divided than ever before. Isolationism is catching fire around the globe. The U.K. voted to quit the European Union, the leading Republican candidate for president in the U.S. wants to build a wall on our border with Mexico and put a halt to legal immigration by those of the Muslim faith, the Black Lives Matter movement is marching for social justice, police officers nationwide are under fire, literally, and those opposed to transgender rights have encouraged followers to oppress, restrict and even shoot to kill anyone who dares to use a bathroom matching their gender identity.

Social media right now is a cesspool of opposing views, anti-Hillary Clinton, anti-Donald Trump, antigay, anti-LGBT, anti-BLM, anti-police, anti-Obama, anti-foreigners, anti-Democrat, anti-Republican, anti-establishment, anti-Wall Street, anti-politics, anti-government, anti-white, anti-Mexican American, anti-Muslim, antisemitism, anti-Christian, anti-Catholic, anti-religion, anti-feminist, anti-men, anti-Ghostbusters… anti-anybody who doesn’t think the way I do.

Posting an opinion online is equivalent to lighting a firecracker in your hand: no matter how great an idea you think it is to do it, be aware: you’re likely to wind up hurt.

And the question I see most often asked is, “why?” Why are we like this? What is behind this spate of rudeness, disrespect, hatred, divisiveness, violence, murder?

We humans have had differences of opinion since Adam and Eve, since the first Cro Magnon man beat the shit out of the second Cro Magnon man, since Ren fought Stimpy.

The late Rodney King, the man whose beating by police was caught on video, said it best:

So it’s not new:  we don’t get along. Too many of us don’t play well together.

I believe there is no one cause, or one person to blame, but in the background of all of this divisiveness is the rising empowerment via technology of fringe or alternate opinions, outside the mainstream, which has fueled a new, unrestricted mindset. We are connected in a way with the rest of the planet that gives everyone with access to the internet an opportunity to speak our mind, no matter how arcane or antiestablishment our views are.

troll 2I see the seed in this development in the evolution of the internet troll. He or she is afforded total anonymity with which they can speak from a virtual soapbox. They are attracted to cultural icons who boast, berate and bellow via reality television, who win kudos for being rude and “speaking their mind.” I think a significant segment of our society has decided it’s okay, even better, to be divisive. Perhaps, they consider finding compromise a sign of weakness: better to “stand your ground” against “others” unlike “us.”

The “others” are not just strange or different, they are dangerous. They must be stopped. They must be defriended, denounced, denied rights, and ultimately, denied life. The world is not big enough for “others.” Their existence threatens my own, goes the thinking.

It’s reminiscent to me of survivalist mentality, as if an entire population of our nation has decided we are at war. And so we are.

The Nice, Baghdad and Turkey incidents may seem unrelated to this mindset, but to my mind, there is a connection: terrorists commit mass murder to advance a cause against “others,” military juntas overthrow governments because they see their leaders as representing views other than their own.

And Brexit was a democratic, non-violent reaction to that same principle. How far will we, as Americans, go?

clinton-trump1Will our next leader pull us out of the United Nations? Will our economy suffer because of whom we elected? Will we shutter our borders to certain foreigners who are deemed “too foreign?” Will we become the Earth’s policeman and go to war in Syria, with Korea, or China? Will a new record for low turnout be set, tainting our next presidential election, given the negative opinions we have of our leading candidates? How will whoever wins govern a country that stays home on Election Day out of disgust for the choices available?

How can any man or woman heal the rift that is now wider than at any point since our civil war? My friend Jennifer Finney Boylan — professor, writer, author, mentor and oh, she happens to be a transgender woman like me — has long advocated love as the proper response to these times. I don’t disagree, we need more love. But I believe we need something more.

I looked to the words of Abraham Lincoln, and those of John F. Kennedy, two beloved presidents separated by a century, unpopular in office but revered and hallowed following their assassinations.

Abraham Lincoln “won the presidency in 1860 with just 39.8% of the vote and was considered so offensive by half of the polity that the country split in two because of him,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand,” said Lincoln.

“Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future,” declared Kennedy, who also said:  “If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.”

Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon in 1960 with a 0.17% margin of victory, the narrowest of the 20th century, according to the L.A. Times. And his popularity plummeted each year he was in office. But he is now revered, in part because of the stand he took for civil rights:

“Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well as violence… those who act boldly are recognizing right as well as reality… A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all.”

I close with Lincoln, whose words are as timely today as when he first delivered his Lyceum address, in 1838. He’s commonly quoted as having said, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” But the actual quote, far darker, is below:

“If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.”

I am taking up Jenny Boylan’s challenge to love more, and to raise my voice to call for a better way forward, for my children and yours. My hope is that we “live through all time,” even this time, and together find a way to heal the rift, and end The War of 2016.

 

 

Heart of Glass

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Today, I remembered, with the help of a hefty pitcher of mango margarita and long conversations with a longtime friend, that it’s not just the last few years that I had to survive as someone who people knew of, or knew about, or recognized, rather than to be known as an individual. Starting in grade school and continuing on through high school, it really wasn’t until I was in college and finally experiencing natural puberty that I truly was able to make a first impression without someone already having formed an opinion of me.

All because I was a child model and commercial actor.

I thought it was cool, fun, and it helped support my family. But that changed the moment a certain bully cornered me and asked, rhetorically, “What makes YOU so special? Why are YOU on TV? Why’d they pick YOU?” I remember standing there, my back to the brick wall in the stairwell leading to McCloskey Auditorium, connecting St. Anne’s School and the church, sweating, frightened, not knowing what to say.

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This was 40 years ago. I was in fifth grade, just ten years old. “I dunno, they just did,” I stammered.

“‘I dunno'” the boy parroted me, raising his pitch mockingly, getting laughs from the gathering crowd, as he grabbed my tie with his right hand and moved his clenched left fist closer to my face. “How about I break your nose? Not gonna be on TV then, are ya, Ennis?”

My first thought: my mother is gonna kill me.

Not that I’d be in pain, or bloody, or that I would have to live the rest of my life with a broken nose; no, the fear that filled my mind at that exact moment was how angry my mom would get over the fact I somehow managed to have my nose broken by this overgrown escaped convict masquerading as a classmate. And he was right, a broken nose would surely cost me my career.

How many ten year olds do you know who’ve experienced panic at the thought their career might be over? I had spent six of my ten years, pretty much as far back as I can remember, working as a model and commercial actor. And it was all about to end in a big, painful, and no doubt very costly punch.

I decided it was time for action. And that’s when I came up with my plan. But I needed to time it just right.

So, I stood there, defiantly, not answering his taunt, except to take my index finger, and slowly tap the bully’s right fist that held my clip-on tie with his GI Joe Kung Fu Grip… and I drew an invisible line from his fingers to my nose, tapping my nose twice. As if to say, “Here it is. Give it your best shot, tough guy.”

But I didn’t say that. I was too busy watching his eyes change in exactly the way I imagined a bull would look if shown a red cape.

Exactly the same, I am sure. And those eyes were close enough for me to see my own petrified reflection against the wall. And our ears rang with the chant that almost always accompanied a bully — is there a union for bully chanters, or perhaps a roadie-like experience? There should be.

“HIT HIM! HIT HIM! HIT HIM!” chanted the chanters.

He pulled my tie tighter, I watched him clench his left fist, and as it sprung from its coiled position toward my nose, I dropped like a ton of bricks and didn’t look back.

I imagine I must have heard the impact of his fingers against the bricks, the scream of anger, agony and rage as he looked at the clip-on tie still gripped tightly by his other hand, and had I turned around I’m sure I would have seen the almost certain disappointment on the faces of the chanters.

But I was focused only on the stairs that I was running down, toward the door that leads outside. A few more steps, and I’d be —

“STOP HIM!”

The chanters had turned the page from two-word repetition to two-word command, directed at anyone else in my path.

I went for the door, my hands extended to hit the bar that would spring it open. And it did not. It would not, no matter how hard I pushed, not with two boys on the other side holding that door shut.

A tall glass door, glass covering every inch except in the frame and hardware that made it operate. I stared at the four hands pressed up against that glass, and to this day I cannot recall the faces… just those hands.

I turned in panic, as a bloody fisted bully with my tie wrapped around his bleeding fist came barreling down those same stairs I had just scooted… and he was headed right for me.

There wasn’t any option left. I needed to escape. It wasn’t just my nose that was at risk this time. I pounded on the bar to open the door, on the glass, on the frame, with my fists, with my body, and finally with my feet.

I kicked, hard… and that’s when I heard the sound that should have meant freedom.

The glass in the door shattered: some of it cracked, some fell in, some fell out, but the bottom line was: Ennis broke the door.

“ENNIS BROKE THE DOOR!!!” screamed the chanters.

What came next was a surprise. The bully turned, and ran, and everyone followed his example. Their allies on the outside, the chanters, the bystanders, anyone and everyone cleared out so fast, you might have thought I had farted.

I stood there, tieless amid the glass shards and tiny pieces, and within seconds of the foyer becoming void of children, in flew the nuns. They didn’t hear the chanting, the punching of the wall, the screams to stop me or the taunts that had started this entire ugly episode. No, what they heard was glass breaking, and what they saw was what others surely told them: Ennis broke the door.

And no, my mother was not mad, despite the call to come get me, and meet with the principal. She was not mad, having avoided my nose being broken; but she still berated me for coming so close to “risking everything.” Actually, it was my father who was pissed that I hadn’t thrown the first punch, or taken the punch and fought back, or tried to, or did anything other than run, and break school property that we now had to pay to replace.

I share this memory because it’s a reminder of a time when I felt so despised, ridiculed, bullied and mistreated… just for being me.

It’s sad to think there are still people in the world who feel that same way about me, even now, just for being me.

But instead of sadness, I feel so wonderful… to have found love, kindness, acceptance and good ol’ simple friendship and respect, here online and out in the world. Then, and now, I’m going to be me, like it or not.

And I’m learning, slowly, what I now must do is learn how to break glass ceilings, instead of doors.