How Twitter can ruin a life

This content has been archived. It may no longer be relevant

UPDATE: Yes, this is the second post PG has made on the same OP.

He may be losing his mind, but, in his defense, he was a long distance away from PG Central working from a motel room when he made the first post and now he’s home. Perhaps his subconscious was feeling that the same post in two different time zones would not be quite the same thing.

He apologizes to any who have been confused or irritated. Maybe PG’s medications differ in their effects when he’s outside of Casa PG or maybe he’s living in two different dimensions simultaneously. He does believe he’s married to Mrs. PG in each of these dimensions, however.

From Vox:

“In a war zone, it is not safe to be unknown. Unknown travelers are shot on sight,” says Isabel Fall. “The fact that Isabel Fall was an unknown led to her death.”

Isabel Fall isn’t dead. There is a person who wrote under that name alive on the planet right now, someone who published a critically acclaimed, award-nominated short story. If she wanted to publish again, she surely could.

Isabel Fall is a ghost nonetheless.

In January 2020, not long after her short story “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” was published in the online science fiction magazine Clarkesworld, Fall asked her editor to take the story down, and then checked into a psychiatric ward for thoughts of self-harm and suicide.

The story — and especially its title, which co-opts a transphobic meme — had provoked days of contentious debate online within the science fiction community, the trans community, and the community of people who worry that cancel culture has run amok. Because there was little biographical information available about its author, the debate hinged on one question: Who was Isabel Fall? And that question ate her alive. When she emerged from the hospital a few weeks later, the world had moved on, but she was still scarred by what had happened. She decided on something drastic: She would no longer be Isabel Fall.

As a trans woman early in transition, Fall had the option of retreating to the relative safety of her legal, masculine identity. That’s what she did, staying out of the limelight and growing ever more frustrated by what had happened to her. She bristles when I ask her in an email if she’s stopped transitioning, but it’s the only phrase I can think of to describe how the situation appears.

Isabel Fall was on a path to becoming herself, and then she wasn’t — and all because she published a short story. And then her life fell apart.

In the 18 months since, what happened to her has become a case study for various people who want to talk about the Way We Live Today. It has been held up as an example of progressives eating their own, of the dangers of online anonymity, of the need for sensitivity readers or content warnings. But what this story really symbolizes is the fact that as we’ve grown more adept at using the internet, we’ve also grown more adept at destroying people’s lives, but from a distance, in an abstracted way.

Sometimes, the path to your personal hell is paved with other people’s best intentions.

Like most internet outrage cycles, the fracas over “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” was enormous news within the bubble of people who cared about it and made barely a blip outside of that bubble. The full tale is amorphous and weird, and recounting its ins and outs is nearly impossible to do here. Just trying to explain the motivations of all involved is a task in and of itself, and at any rate, that story has been told many times, quoting others extensively. Fall has never spoken publicly about the situation until now.

Clarkesworld published Fall’s story on January 1, 2020. For a while, people seemed to like it.

“I was in awe of it on a sentence level. I thought it was beautiful and devastating and incredibly subversive and surprising. It did all this work in a very short amount of space, which I found completely breathtaking. It had been a long time since I had read a short story that I had enjoyed and that also had rewired my brain a little bit,” said author Carmen Maria Machado, who read the story before controversy had broken out.

In the first 10 days after “Attack Helicopter” was published, what muted criticism existed was largely confined to the story’s comments section on Clarkesworld. The tweets that still exist from that period were largely positive responses to the story, often from trans people.

But first in Clarkesworld’s comments and then on Twitter, the combination of the story’s title and the relative lack of information about Fall began to fuel a growing paranoia around the story and its author. The presence of trolls who seemed to take the story’s title at face value only added to that paranoia. And when read through the lens of “Isabel Fall is trolling everybody,” “Attack Helicopter” started to seem menacing to plenty of readers.

“Attack Helicopter” was a slippery, knotty piece of fiction that captured a particular trans feminine uncertainty better than almost anything I have ever read. Set in a nightmarish future in which the US military has co-opted gender to the degree that it turns recruits into literal weapons, it told the story of Barb, a pilot whose gender is “helicopter.” Together with Axis — Barb’s gunner, who was also assigned helicopter — Barb carried out various missions against assorted opposition forces who live within what is at present the United States.

Then, because its title was also a transphobic meme and because “Isabel Fall” had absolutely no online presence beyond the Clarkesworld story, many people began to worry that Fall was somehow a front for right-wing, anti-trans reactionaries. They expressed those fears in the comments of the story, in various science fiction discussion groups, and all over Twitter. Fans of the story pushed back, saying it was a bold and striking piece of writing from an exciting new voice. While the debate was initially among trans people for the most part, it eventually spilled over to cis sci-fi fans who boosted the concerns of trans people who were worried about the story.

Link to the rest at Vox and here’s a link to Clarksworld

PG admits that, while he has a couple of Twitter accounts under pseudonyms, he is not inclined to go there using his own name. For him, of all the major social media platforms, Twitter seems like the one that attracts hordes of aggressive crazies. He’s happy to hear contrary/alternate opinions, however.

5 thoughts on “How Twitter can ruin a life”

  1. PG, something strange going on here – this post was somewhere in the middle of the pack yesterday, and with several comments.

    On this iteration, I agree completely with your commentary – Twitter is the worst. The aggressive crazies, however, gravitate there because it is the same as a packed square in a city center, except with millions, not thousands. They go there because one person, or a small core group, can start inciting – and it spreads rapidly, even to those who were not even aware of the “problem” they are agitating about. Basic mob psychology, of which Ms. Fall is only one of the victims.

  2. Oh, off topic – but the comment system is taking quite a while to come back after hitting Post. Probably the reason I am seeing quite a few duplicates in the recent threads.

  3. Anonymity on Twitter is essential if you’re going to use it at all. I recommend not using it, for all the well-known reasons, but take care of yourself if you feel you must.

  4. “For him, of all the major social media platforms, Twitter seems like the one that attracts hordes of aggressive crazies.”

    A truer statement you’ve never said, PG. Sadly, I cannot offer a differing view – except perhaps, that I pray for the day when Twitter finally goes out of business.

    I mean, I’m sure at least a half a dozen people will mourn it’s passing.

Comments are closed.