Last week, I shared to my Facebook page an article I had written calling out QAnon conspiracy theorists. I referred to them as “gullible fucking dingalings.” A follower told me via the comments that she thought I was mean and that I had changed a lot. “You used to respect other people’s opinions,” she said, “but lately it’s like no one else can have a different opinion. What happened to you?”
She’s been a follower for a long time, five or six years at least, so her words made me pause. Had I changed that much? Was I being closed-minded and intolerant?
Then, a couple of days later, a friend asked on her Facebook wall, “When did you become radicalized?” The question generated a long thread, with answers ranging from “When I was 10, I witnessed…” to “Ever since the 2016 election…”
Was that what the woman who follows my Facebook page had meant? Had I become “radicalized”? And if yes, when did it happen?
I should say first of all that for several years now, I haven’t written much on the kinds of topics we can all agree to disagree on, like whether or not you breastfeed or choose to medicate your child who has ADHD, or whether you compost or think leggings qualify as pants. I used to write a lot about those sorts of things, so I suppose it makes sense that at one time I may have come off as more accommodating to differing opinions.
Lately, I write more more on topics like climate change, women’s issues, racism, voting rights, and LGBTQ+ topics. Some say these are “political issues,” and I suppose they are, insofar as politics impact each of these subjects. But they’re also civil rights issues, and I don’t have much wiggle room when it comes to my feelings about civil rights. To me, these are not topics on which a person can remain objective, nor are they topics on which we can “agree to disagree.” Everyone has a right to their opinion until those opinions begin to infringe upon the civil rights of others.
For example, I find it violently hypocritical that those who would support a bill allowing health care providers to deny life-saving health care to queer or transgender people are the same people who would claim that providing that care would somehow infringe on their freedom of religion. Pardon me if I don’t believe “religious freedom” includes violating your hippocratic oath to first do no harm. If you don’t believe queer people deserve gender-affirming healthcare, the part where your religious freedom comes in as you consider a career in healthcare, is that you have the freedom to choose a different profession where your religion-backed bigotry cannot harm people.
As far as “when” my supposed radicalization happened, I’d say it was a gradual process, over the course of decades, though the lead-up to the 2016 election and all that has happened since have cemented my beliefs. As it became clear in 2016 that Trump had serious public support, I began noticing a disturbing shift in public discourse. Trump was vomiting openly hateful rhetoric that was unprecedented in the history of this country, and seemingly ordinary people were latching onto it with rabid ardor. And then he won.
Trying to understand the moment I was witnessing, I dug into history books, biographies of historical figures, and journalistic articles and podcasts. Meanwhile, my social media feeds filled with memes and viral posts that often contradicted the vetted, source-cited material I was consuming. Friends and family members broke my heart as they announced their appreciation of the divisive, hate-filled words that flowed from the new president’s mouth. People whose views had previously been unknown to me now loudly and proudly flaunted their racism, homophobia, and xenophobia.
Those who weren’t openly racist, homophobic, or xenophobic, now simply denied those issues existed. They accused progressives like me of “making everything about race” or being “snowflakes.” Seemingly intelligent people questioned the reality of climate change. When COVID-19 hit, people I’d thought were reasonable were accusing scientists of partaking in a vast conspiracy to exaggerate the severity of a virus so they could take down Trump. People I’d known in high school who had been straight-A students were sharing conspiracy theories that a few years ago they would have fact checked and not shared.
The changes I’ve witnessed on social media have been profound, but so have the changes I’ve seen in real life. Bumper stickers, hats, and other merch are everywhere. People are openly proud to be part of a disturbingly homogenous group that confidently denies the claims that marginalized groups make about their own experiences. They don’t only want us to know that we share a difference of opinion; they also want to make it clear that their opinions are accompanied by loaded weapons. They dare us to contradict them.
But I’m the one who’s been “radicalized”?
I began my public presence in 2014 as a blogger, posting to my small Facebook page about topics that mattered to me. I went viral in 2016 when I wrote a strongly worded essay in response to Brock Turner’s insulting three-month sentence for sexually assaulting a college woman. The way I speak now, the opinions I hold, are no less firm than my Brock Turner essay. I may write less about ADHD meds and leggings, but my take on matters of social injustice remain as firm and intolerant of bullshit as ever. I analyze and research topics with the same thoroughness and zeal and passion to root out my own bias that I always have.
My beliefs have not changed. I have not changed the way I react to injustice or ignorance. I care about the same things I have always cared about: equity, acceptance, and for people to give a shit about the truth. For people to give a shit about others besides themselves. So it wouldn’t really be accurate to say I have been radicalized, at least not in the way that implies I have changed the way I express my feelings about the things I care about.
A festering hatred has come boiling up out of the ground since Donald Trump took office — if anything has changed, that is it. And what has “happened to me” is that I feel compelled to make it clear that I will not tolerate people’s ignorance, bigotry, selfishness, and cruelty. If that makes me a radical, then I guess I’ll proudly wear the label of radical.