out & proud

I'm A Trans Teen And This Is What Parents Don't Know About Online Bullying

I’ve experienced far more hate online than I ever have in real life.

by Maddox Lyons
Originally Published: 
A trans teen, Maddox Lyons sitting on a brown couch in a living room with his sister and two dogs
Courtesy of Maddox Lyons

I’m thirteen years old, out in life and out online.

Doing all remote learning for middle school hasn’t been the best, but, for me, it hasn’t been horrible either.

My sister and I spend a lot of time (my parents would say too much) online — mostly playing Roblox. Roblox isn’t one game — it’s a platform where you can play different games like Adopt Me, Bloxburg, Murder Mystery 2 and Ragdoll. According to Wikipedia, it’s played by more than half of all children aged 16 and under in the United States. Roblox isn’t considered “cool” like some other games, so kids — especially kids my age — will often deny that they play, even when they do.

We beg for our chore money early to spend on Robux to create avatars that reflect our identity. As a gay, trans boy, my avatars sometime confuse people (“Are you a boy or a girl?”) or bring on bullying. Roblox sends most slurs into hashtags — and even non-slurs like the word gay to tags—but the bullies manage to get their message of hate across.

Courtesy of Maddox Lyons

I’ve encountered every kind of troll in these games. There are the Christian trolls, whose avatars wear cross necklaces and go around telling people, particularly LGBTQ+ kids, that they are going to hell. There are the racist trolls who use “All Lives Matter” as a username or put “ALM” in the chat. Then there are the transphobic/homophobic trolls. There are tons of them. Some can be spotted because their avatars wear shirts with a rainbow and a vomiting emoji, or a rainbow with the red circle and line through it. When I go into a server and see a group of them, I usually leave. Unfortunately, the trolls love to hang out in the LGBTQ+ servers.

I’ve experienced far more hate online than I ever have in real life. Parents who think kids can’t be homophobic, transphobic or racist should spend some time in Roblox servers of the games their children are playing. They’ll encounter the hateful imagery and slogans almost immediately.

Bullying sucks, but I’m comfortable with who I am and have supportive friends online—some are trans or gay or pan or questioning, but many are cis-hets too. And, unlike in real life, you can always just vanish from the server where the bullies are.

Through Roblox games I met my Spanish-speaking boyfriend. We dated for a few months, talking on FaceTime and hanging out in Spanish servers gaming with his friends. I was pretty devastated when that relationship ended. But the good news is, I had to learn Spanish to talk and text with him and his friends and now I’m getting As in Spanish 1.

Courtesy of Maddox Lyons

All in all, it’s been a challenging year, and I’m glad to have been able to be online through all of it. My children’s picture book about coming out as transgender, I’m Not a Girl, was released in August—about three years after my co-author and friend, Jess Verdi, and I first drafted it. Publishing a book takes a long time, and we were pretty excited when 2020 rolled around. Well, until the pandemic hit. We did a few virtual events but there wasn’t much promotion as bookstores closed, and signings were delayed and then canceled.

I’ve remotely auditioned for a few acting roles in the past year, babysat chickens, rode horses, and worked in a barn mucking stalls, saddling horses and leading kids at birthday parties. I’ve read a few books, watched a ton of Anime, and made some good online friends. My parents auto kill the internet at 4 p.m. on our devices every day, so my sister and I end up going to the park for “forced fun” to get sun and exercise. Since March, our family has watched every episode of Schitt’s Creek, Ted Lasso, and The Good Place.

The pandemic sucks, but I’m lucky to be an LGBTQ+ person living in a supportive home through it. I have friends either afraid to come out to their parents or who have come out and aren’t believed or supported.

I’m excited about going back to in-person middle school—I hope I don’t have to wait to go back until high school in the fall. I’m excited about going back to the ice rink too—I hope I still remember how to spin. I’m excited to see family and friends and relatives again and travel with my family. I’m excited to go back to doing LGBTQ+ advocacy, talking to teachers at elementary and middle schools about my coming out experience, and what it’s like to be a transgender boy.

I’m excited about going “back to normal” and hope it’s soon. In the meantime, I’ll be online.

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