How to Stop Worrying About “White Knighting”

While I’m on the topic of allies:

Something that comes up a lot when talking to allies about sticking up for their marginalized friends is accusations of “white-knighting.” Most commonly, this gets lobbed at men who speak up about sexism; other men accuse them of being “white knights” and trying to protect women who can very well protect themselves.

Obviously, it’s a disingenuous claim–if I, a woman, tried to ask you not to make those rape jokes around me, you’d just tell me that you hope I get raped. When a man asks you not to make them, you tell him he’s just trying to get laid, or whatever.

So most of the time it’s bullshit. The reason people with privilege need to speak up for those without is because those without are probably exhausted, scared, and overwhelmed with trying to speak up for themselves all the time.

They also face much greater consequences for doing so. No white athlete who has spoken up about police brutality has been quite so viciously excoriated for it as Colin Kaepernick, who literally simply sat the fuck down. The fact that he did so may be part (or all) of the reason he’s currently unsigned. (This did not stop me from putting him on my fantasy team, however.)

Of course, there is such a thing as speaking over marginalized people despite one’s good intentions. (I distinguish that from speaking over marginalized people with BAD intentions, i.e. you don’t care about them.) I do have to roll my eyes at the white men who write impassioned but derivative screeds against sexism or racism, screeds which get shared and retweeted and praised, screeds which earn them podcast interviews and paid speaking and writing gigs that remain elusive for many marginalized people, especially women of color and trans people.

I think that there’s very little a white man can say about sexism or racism that hasn’t already been said better by a woman, trans/NB person, or person of color, and I think that part of the whole “using your privilege for good” thing is elevating those folks’ voices and making sure that they’re the ones speaking on panels and getting Patreon subscribers.

That doesn’t mean shut up. That means, make sure your article is full of links and credits to the people whose shoulders you’re standing on. Don’t accept the invitation to speak on a panel about sexism and racism, unless everyone else on it is a woman or person of color. Don’t respond to the effusive praise with “Thanks! :)” when you know how those same people would’ve responded if you were a woman or a person of color. Respond with, “Thanks, but I could never have written this if I hadn’t read bell hooks/Janet Mock/that woman you called a feminazi last week.”

But where “white knighting” comes up most often is in interpersonal situations. Sometimes, allies call out their friends for making bigoted jokes/claims only to have those friends point to the marginalized folks in the room and say, “Well, they don’t mind, so why are you speaking over them?” Relatively few of us in that situation would be able or willing to say, “Um, actually, I do mind…”

It’s all too easy to end up in a never-ending spiral of an argument: “Why can’t I make that joke?” “Because it’s offensive and possibly triggering to women.” “Well, none of the women here said anything about it!” “Maybe they’re just uncomfortable…” And then sometimes a random woman says,”Well, I certainly don’t care about a bit of politically incorrect humor!” And that’s that.

So, my suggestion is this: don’t try to be altruistic. Don’t see yourself as the brave defender of the marginalized and voiceless. Don’t put yourself in the awkward situation of trying to round up marginalized people who agree with you so that you can speak up for them. Don’t risk speaking for them, either, in the event that none of them actually care.

Speak up for yourself. Does bigotry bother you? If so, why? And if not, why bother?

“Stop joking about rape. I find it offensive.”

“Holocaust jokes aren’t funny. Don’t make them in my house.”

“I don’t want to hear you refer to people that way.”

For me personally, my disapproval of racist jokes has gone far beyond “it hurts Black people’s feelings.” I detest what those jokes represent. I hate the society that those ideas created, much of which continues today. It’s not just that I don’t want my Black friends to live in that world. I don’t want to live in that world. And I think I can say that while still acknowledging that I’m not the one primarily harmed by it. I do have the privilege of looking away, but I don’t, because that would contradict my own personal ethical code.

If you haven’t articulated for yourself a reason to oppose bigotry other than that it hurts other people, you’ll find yourself struggling for words in those moments. What if there aren’t any women or people of color in the room? If you’re not personally harmed by bigotry, then bigotry in those spaces becomes a victimless crime.

You also won’t know how to respond when people inevitably drag out some marginalized person who agrees with them. CNN’s Don Lemon is a Black man who believes that Black men need to stop wearing sagging pants, saying the n-word, and so on in order to improve their situation. (So, textbook respectability politics.) Emily Yoffe and Katie Roiphe are white women who believe that women who claim to be victims of sexual assault sometimes just drank too much, made “bad decisions,” and regret the sex they consented to. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is an ex-Muslim refugee from Somalia who wants to reduce immigration to Europe from majority-Muslim nations. Milo Yiannopoulos is a white gay man who…well, the less said about that, the better.

Other than Milo (and maybe Hirsi Ali? Who even knows), none of these are even reactionaries or conservatives; they’re exactly the sort of folks your Totally Enlightened white male friends are likely to come across and marshal to defend their own shitty views, hoping to trap you into defending yourself against charges of “white knighting” instead.

So don’t speak for marginalized people. Speak for yourself, a privileged person who finds bigotry appalling and intolerable.

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How to Stop Worrying About “White Knighting”

The Role of Allies in Queer Spaces

Why do LGBTQ groups, events, and spaces often explicitly welcome allies–heterosexual, cisgender people who support LGBTQ people and their rights?

If you ask most allies (and probably even some LGBTQ people), it’s probably some version of this: “We need allies and their support. Including them in these spaces helps them learn about LGBTQ issues and how they can help. Without allies, this group would just be a segregated bubble and we shouldn’t separate people like that.”

Fair. But actually, the more compelling reason to welcome allies has nothing to do with allies themselves, and everything to do with people who are closeted, questioning, or otherwise not able to be out as LGBTQ.

If your high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance welcomes allies, that means that you can attend even if you’re not sure what your orientation is or aren’t ready to share it.

If the local LGBTQ community band welcomes allies, you can join and make some queer and trans friends even if you’ve only just started questioning your gender and aren’t sure which–if any–steps you want to take towards transition.

If the Pride parade welcomes allies and your parents see photos of you at it on Facebook, you can tell them that you were there supporting your best friend who’s gay–and maybe they’re way more okay with that than they would be with finding out that you’re a lesbian.

And if LGBTQ community center welcomes allies, you can attend with your partner, knowing that the two of you may present as a straight couple, without worrying (as much) about proving to anyone that you’re actually bi. It doesn’t take away the pain of not being recognized for who you are, but at least you don’t have to worry that anyone will ask you what you’re doing there.

So here comes the difficult thing. The uncomfortable piece of this that’s so hard to talk about.

If the main purpose of including allies in certain LGBTQ spaces is actually to provide “cover” of sorts for closeted, questioning, or “passing” individuals, what about actual allies–people who know with relative certainty that they are straight and cis? What’s their role here?

It depends on the space. In groups focused on activism, having actual allies involved can be very important, since they can use their privilege to advocate for marginalized folks. Allies should keep themselves informed on what needs to be done–does your city lack anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ workers? Are city officials being held accountable for police violence against trans people of color? Do local healthcare providers offer competent care for LGBTQ patients? Allies absolutely have a place in all of these battles–although the agenda should be determined by LGBTQ folks, and marginalized groups within that spectrum should especially be included in that. (Yo, LGBTQ groups: you need people of color and trans people in leadership roles.)

But what about spaces focused more on community building or support? Again, it depends. I like the fact that my LGBTQ band welcomes allies because that means that I can encourage straight cis friends to join and play music with us. Although the space is very much queer, having allies present doesn’t detract from that at all.

The reason that works is because the band is primarily a place to make music and have fun, not to meet potential partners (though I’m sure that happens), have deep discussions about gender and sexuality (though that almost certainly also happens), or kvetch about straight allies (I don’t think that really happens).

But when allies show up in places that are more explicitly for emotional support and creating a safe space, it doesn’t sit right with me. It can keep us from having painful conversations that need to be had, because in my experience, most allies eventually fail to restrain themselves from making well-intentioned but cloying comments about “but I accept you for who you are!” and “you just have to be yourself and you’ll find your special person someday.” In fact, even having the conversation I’m having with you right now would be impossible, because allies feel personally attacked by it and jump in with “so I guess we should just avoid all spaces where LGBTQ people hang out, then?”

When allies are present, I’m much more likely to end up explaining exactly why I feel the way I do about a given situation rather than receiving support around it, or having others chime in with their own (relevant) experiences. For instance, when I’ve tried to discuss the issues I raised in this article with allies, they typically say stuff like, “But surely there are other queer women out there who want to date women” or “But if you’re attracted to all genders, what does it matter which gender your partner is?” Fellow queer women and nonbinary folks tend to say, “Wow, that’s exactly how I feel and it’s so painful.” Guess which response is more helpful to me, and which leads to a more healing conversation.

But what bothers me even more about allies in queer support spaces is the reasons they give when asked why they’re there. The ally who says, “My queer friend asked me to join when I asked how I can better support them” is few and far between. Usually they say things like, “I just really care about supporting LGBTQ people” (despite the fact that we establish these spaces in order to seek support from people who share our experiences) or, worse, “I want to learn about issues facing LGBTQ people.”

So here we are, talking about our most painful and personal feelings, while “allies” gawk on silently so that they can “learn” about us. That doesn’t sound like a support group; it sounds like a zoo.

There is, in fact, an abundance of ways for people to learn about issues facing LGBTQ people. There are now hundreds, thousands of books and blogs like this one. There are LGBT centers in most cities that sponsor educational events open for everyone. There are public lectures, readings, open mics, museum exhibits, and other resources in most cities. Just in Columbus, just this past week, there have been so many things to do:

Looking forward, there’s even more stuff:

  • Thursday, September 21 is the monthly Columbus Queer Open Mic at Wild Goose Creative.
  • On September 23, the Ohio History Center and the Gay Ohio History Initiative (GOHI) will be hosting an LGBTQ Community Day, which will feature the museum’s collection of LGBTQ-related historical items. There will also be a screening of Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens, a documentary film about Columbus’ drag scene, followed by a panel discussion with some of the performers.
  • Also on September 23, Bi Local, a group supporting bi/pan/queer folks in Columbus, presents its annual Bi Visibility Celebration, featuring burlesque, comedy, and more.
  • On September 26, BQIC hosts an open mic night.
  • On October 1, the King Avenue United Methodist Church hosts Darren Calhoun, a Black Chicago-based activist, photographer, and worship leader who will discuss the intersections of racial and LGBTQ identity.
  • On October 4, the Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization (BRAVO), an organization that works to eliminate violence against LGBTQ people, will host a training on that subject.
  • On October 19 and 20, the Equitas Health Institute hosts its annual conference, Transforming Care, which focuses on health disparities in the LGBTQ and HIV+ communities. Julia Serano will be speaking!
  • On November 4, the Capital Pride Concert Band, which I play in, performs at the Lincoln Theater.

So there you go. In about a month and a half in Columbus, which isn’t a particularly large or bustling city, you can learn about stopping homophobic/transphobic violence, health disparities affecting people with HIV, Ohio’s queer history, supporting your queer/trans child, how religious spaces can become more inclusive to queer folks, why drag is a haven for some LGBTQ people, how mainstream LGBTQ communities alienate and perpetuate racism against queer and trans people of color, and why Alison Bechdel is a fantastic human being. No need to insert yourself into queer support spaces.

But most of the time, this conversation gets shut down before it even really gets going. It happens in four stages:

  1. A queer person brings up the question of allies’ place in a given space/community and says that they’re not entirely comfortable with allies sticking around just to…ally themselves or whatever it is they’re doing.
  2. An ally points out that they’ve learned so much from being in this space, and that if everyone REALLY wants them to leave of course they’ll leave, but that would make them very sad because they’ve been very supportive and have learned a lot and the LGBTQ community can’t make progress if it shuts itself off from allies, and besides, they would NEVER demand excess emotional labor from queer people and expect them to explain everything and so on.

  3. Another queer person points out that we can’t just avoid everyone who isn’t like us forever, and also makes the (in my opinion) much more relevant point that you can’t “ban” allies from a space without also banning anyone who joins as an ally while actually being closeted/questioning/passing/etc.

  4. The conversation is over, nothing is clarified, and nothing changes.

The thing is, everything all of these hypothetical people just stated is true:

  • Many queer people are uncomfortable with the presence/participation of allies in certain spaces.
  • Many allies learn a lot from being in queer spaces.
  • Many allies do participate in queer spaces without demanding excess emotional labor (but of course, sometimes it’s just the fear of those demands that makes some queer people uncomfortable when allies are around, and/or you just don’t want people who can’t possibly GET IT listening to what you’re saying)
  • Many allies would indeed be sad if they were to be kicked out of queer spaces.
  • Many queer people are NOT uncomfortable with the presence/participation of allies in any of their spaces.
  • The LGBTQ community would not make much progress if it shut itself off from all allies (but that’s not what anyone suggested)
  • We really can’t just avoid everyone who isn’t like us forever (but that is also not what anyone suggested)
  • You cannot (enforceably) ban allies from a space without requiring everyone to out themselves, even if they aren’t ready to.

So what’s to be done with this set of conflicting truths?

For starters, these conversations always seem to leave out the obvious fact that there are many different LGBTQ spaces out there. Nobody ever advocated banning allies from all of them. It is okay for some spaces to be for LGBTQ folks only, and others to be open to everyone. It’s understandable that we disagree about exactly which spaces should be which, but that doesn’t mean that anyone is advocating banning allies from everything ever or cutting ourselves off from everyone ever.

Furthermore, while it’s true that enforcing an ally ban would mean making people out themselves, that’s not the only way to achieve an ally-free space. The other way is for allies to choose to stay out of that space.

And when I say “allies,” I don’t mean “people who might be perceived by others as allies.” I mean exactly what I described earlier: people who know with relative certainty that they are straight and cis. They’re not here because they’re questioning their identity. They’re not here because they’re thinking about starting hormones. They’re not here because they really want to have a same-sex partner someday but haven’t yet. They’re here because they are very aware that they are straight and cis and care about LGBTQ people.

Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but I do believe that there are allies who are capable of reflecting on this critically, of thinking to themselves, “You know what? My support isn’t the support these folks want in this particular space, my voice isn’t the one that’s needed here, and these folks don’t necessarily want to be ‘learned from’ right now, right here.”

And I do believe it’s possible to create a space that rests gently in what seems to be a contradiction: we know that this space is not a space for allies, and yet we won’t make assumptions about anyone’s identities in this space, and a person who “appears” to be straight and cisgender isn’t necessarily an ally–but nor are we assigning them a queer or trans identity before they claim it for themselves.

In closing, I’m going to address something I hear from allies very frequently, which is that they’ve made the LGBTQ community their main social outlet because other cishet people are likely to be less progressive and respectful of left-wing politics and personal expression (i.e., the straight cis man who likes to wear nail polish or flowers in his hair sometimes).

Leaving aside the fact that the LGBTQ community has many of its own issues with inclusivity and that plenty of progressive people exist outside of that community, I get it. This does tend to be a relatively accepting space compared to the rest of society.

But the reason it got that way isn’t because queer people are somehow inherently, biologically better than anyone else. (Well, the jury’s still out on that.) It’s because we made it that way, and we had to make it that way because we didn’t have any other choice. Queer people are not intrinsically less judgmental or bigoted than anyone else, but we needed a space where we wouldn’t be automatically hated because of how we look or who we’re attracted to. Sometimes, like curb cuts on sidewalks, this benefits people who weren’t necessarily the target audience.

So, my gentle challenge to allies is this: rather than (only) benefitting from the safer spaces painstakingly carved out by others, build your own. Find men who are open to emotional vulnerability and who challenge toxic masculinity. Find women who are committed to platonic intimacy with other women rather than centering their entire lives around the men they date. Find people who shrug at gender roles. Shut down your friends’ transphobic jokes.

“But, Miri, it’s not that easy,” you’ll protest. Believe me, I know. It wasn’t easy for us either.

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The Role of Allies in Queer Spaces

I Still Feel Anxious About Communication Every Day

I get asked a lot about how I set boundaries or communicate my feelings or do anything else in that constellation of terrifying interpersonal tasks.

Sometimes people are looking for concrete suggestions or scripts because they’re simply unsure how to put their thoughts into words. But more often, especially these days, they already know how to do that. So there’s usually something tacked onto their request, almost as an afterthought, although it’s really the main thing on their minds: “How do you set boundaries…without hurting their feelings?” “How do you tell someone they’ve upset you…without having an anxious breakdown about it?”

These are the questions I can’t really answer. I guess there’s strategies, ways you can make it easier for yourself and the other person. But you can’t control how other people feel, and often you can’t control how you feel either.

So how do you make myself vulnerable and communicate what you really feel without being anxious about it?

Maybe you can’t.

Here’s a confession: despite the fact that many people identify me as a role model when it comes to communication skills, I am not free of anxiety when it comes to communication.

Sure, it’s better than it used to be. I find that the more I cultivate relationships in which everyone intentionally and honestly shares their inner experiences–so that it’s not just me blabbing about my feelings all the time–the easier it gets. As I build up histories with people who are gentle with my vulnerability and who let themselves be vulnerable too, I gain trust that that vulnerability won’t implode, and that eases the anxiety a bit.

But I can’t tell you how to set boundaries and share your feelings “without anxiety.” I don’t do it without anxiety. I do it with anxiety, every single time.

Every time I set a boundary, I feel afraid that the person will lash out or abandon me. Every time I share negative feelings, especially negative feelings about someone’s actions, I worry that this time it’ll be too much, it’ll be the straw that broke the camel’s back, and they’ll decide that dealing with me and my feelings isn’t worth it anymore. Every time I am honest about my depression and anxiety–which often means letting them out into the open rather than suppressing their symptoms–I fear that people will recoil and withdraw.

I hate telling people they’ve hurt me. There’s no satisfaction or schadenfreude in that for me. I hate knowing that they might feel like bad friends/partners and that their guilt will be painful. Every time, I wish I could keep it to myself and get over it so that we wouldn’t have to talk about it and I wouldn’t have to take that risk. But I have to, or else those relationships will rot from the inside out.

I hate telling people I can’t make time or space for them in the way they’d like. I hate knowing that they might worry that I dislike them, and I hate that, honestly, sometimes I DO dislike them because I can’t like everyone. I hate that a lot of the time, giving them a reason would turn this into the kind of honesty that’s no longer kind or helpful. What’s someone supposed to do with the knowledge that I think they talk about their trauma too much and it exhausts me, or that they talk too loud and fast, or I don’t find them interesting because we don’t really care about any of the same things?

In my communities, we tend to cheer people on in their boundary-setting and emoting, applauding dramatic demolitions and disclosures in the hopes of helping each other feel better about being vulnerable. I’ve been praised for it and heaped praise onto others, relishing someone’s crisp shut-down of an online troll or a thoughtful post about their emotional needs.

But for the most part, real communication isn’t an Upworthy moment. It isn’t You Wouldn’t BELIEVE What Miri Did When Her Partner Accidentally Made Her Feel Like A Piece Of Shit. It’s more like, I’m crying and I hate myself for crying and I hate myself for saying that I hate myself because I’m not supposed to say that anymore and I’m trying to tell you that I hurt.

I suppose I should feel somewhat hypocritical for advising people to be honest about their feelings even though I have panic breakdowns about being honest about my feelings, but I don’t, because it’s not hypocritical. I never said it was easy; I only said it had to be done if you want better relationships than your parents had, or at least ones that don’t look like a TV sitcom.

The good news is that your communication skills aren’t measured by whether or not you can implement them without panicking, crying, or stumbling over your words. They aren’t really measured by anything at all, but if they were, it would be by your willingness to approach that scary swamp and wade around in it, and maybe even get stuck in it sometimes.

Nobody ever said you have to feel good about it.

You just have to do it.

And I can promise that it’ll get easier, and I can also promise that it probably won’t get easy.

I’m coming around to the conclusion that those feelings I described–the fear of abandonment, the guilt, the panic–are, like their cousin awkwardness, just the price of admission to being human. They certainly make it a lot harder to communicate openly, but they don’t make it impossible.

Those feelings are there because they speak to real possibilities. Sometimes you ask someone to stop hurting you and they decide that they’d rather not bother with you at all. Sometimes you try to set a boundary and the person would rather argue about it than respect it and move on. Sometimes you express your feelings as kindly as you can and people still take it personally, feel attacked, and blame you.

The only way to not have any anxiety about communicating is to do it falsely, or to stop caring if you lose people you aren’t ready to lose. Neither of those options appeals to me at all.

So if you could know–and accept–that you’re going to feel anxious and uncomfortable about speaking your truth no matter what, and if you could release yourself from the responsibility of controlling or preventing those feelings, what would you do instead?

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I Still Feel Anxious About Communication Every Day

What’s the Appeal of Anonymous-Message Apps?

When the latest anonymous-message app, Sarahah, was hitting my newsfeed–everyone seemed to have an account–I initially felt that same mixture of revulsion and curiosity that I felt when its previous iterations trended—, Formspring, whatever that Facebook app was ten years ago when there were still Facebook apps. This time I decided to examine the feeling.

I used to say that I don’t participate in these apps because I know that I’d just get unrelenting sexist abuse and then have to wonder which of my alleged “friends” sent it, but this time I realized there’s more than that. There is that, true. You don’t get to be a female blogger for 14 years (that’s more than half my life) without realizing how much of the internet wants to make you feel worthless and small.

But when I’m honest with myself, the compliments feel kind of gross to me, too. All of it feels gross to me. All of it is appealing for some very human reasons–which is why I have no judgment for my friends who choose to take part–but none of it contributes to the type of social interaction I want to have in my life. Even at its friendliest, it impedes direct communication and honesty. It that way, it does the opposite of what it’s supposed to.

Something I’ve noticed during my awkward and at-times painful immersion into Western culture is that white Westerners often view people and relationships in a very acontextual way. They dislike the idea that some actions (such as lying or violence) might be unethical in one context but ethical in another. They dislike the idea that someone might seem one way in one social context, and another way in another. That, to them, feels like dishonesty or “not being true to yourself,” even though that person might experience all of their many facets as equally authentic (or inauthentic, for that matter).

In this view, others’ opinions of you aren’t really supposed to matter–sure, those opinions might hurt or feel good, and they might impede your social/professional/romantic life or enhance it, but the truth of who you are is who you know yourself to be. Others’ feedback can be helpful to you in understanding that, but the context of that feedback isn’t particularly important. That means that the identity of the person giving it isn’t particularly important, either.

I used to see it this way, or tried to, when I used these apps back in high school. If someone sent me an anonymous message saying that I’m ugly and need to change my hairstyle, I would seriously wonder if I should change it–even though that message might’ve come from someone I know to be a bigot. If someone said that I’m arrogant and full of myself, I thought, maybe I am–even though that message might’ve come from a sexist man who thinks that all women are arrogant if they aren’t simpering, apologetic damsels.

With these anonymous message apps, we’re meant to feel bad when someone insults us and to feel good when someone confesses they’ve had a crush on us for years–but for me, nowadays, those things mean absolutely nothing when divorced so entirely from any sort of social context.

Someone out there thinks I’m ugly. Someone thinks I’m their soulmate. Someone thinks I’m not nearly as smart as I apparently think I am. So what? I’m pretty sure I could go through the dictionary, find every adjective that could possibly be applied to a human being, and find someone, somewhere, out of all the thousands of people I’ve interacted with in some way throughout my life, who would describe me using that word.

So what?

I would feel positively gleeful if a sexist man I can’t stand thinks I’m ugly, and I would feel horrified if my boss has been in love with me for years. I would feel devastated if someone I’m interested in thinks I’m ugly, but delighted if they’ve been in love with me for years. (Well, maybe. That’s a bit much. But the point stands.) But when you take identity out of it, these anonymous messages are really just random blips of language floating in a void, totally context-free and mostly meaningless.

But besides the fact that it doesn’t really mean anything, I also think it’s harmful to healthy communication and relationships. To start with the obvious example, if you’re still hanging around on my friends list even though you can’t stand me, that’s not a healthy situation. You should unfriend me. If we are good friends and you’re upset or angry about something I did, and you don’t feel like you can tell me directly, then something’s very broken in our friendship. Either I haven’t created a safe space for my friends to hold me accountable for hurting them, or you have such a negatively distorted view of me that you don’t trust me to accept accountability.

Either way, something is fucked up and messaging me anonymously about it won’t fix it, not least of all because I won’t even know who it is that I’ve hurt!

Likewise, if you want to express that you have a crush on me but you don’t want me to know it’s you, something’s weird. What’s the point of anonymously telling someone you’re interested in them? Obviously nothing can actually happen. They can’t let you know that they’re interested too, and you can’t find out that they don’t think of you that way so that you can start moving on. Sending an anonymous message gives you the illusion of having “done something” about the feeling, except of course you really haven’t—even if you vented to a friend about it, you’d at least be getting some commiseration about it from them. This way, all you’re doing is inflicting some mildly frustrating curiosity on your recipient.

Most people who enjoy using apps like Sarahah enjoy them because of the thoughtful compliments they sometimes receive, often detailed explanations of how the person felt inspired or supported by whoever they’re complimenting. I find these messages really sweet, but I wonder–again–what the point is of sending them anonymously.

If my friends feel inspired or supported by me, of course I want to know, because it feels nice and because I want to keep doing what I’m doing right. But if they don’t tell me who they are, then I can’t connect their praise to any actions on my part. And if they don’t feel comfortable telling me directly, again, I have to wonder why that is.

When I found myself wanting to make a Sarahah account, I realized that what I really wanted was a social landscape in which I can trust people to say what they mean and mean what they say. A landscape in which people (compassionately, if possible) let me know if I’m harming them rather than seething silently about it, and tell me when I make their lives better rather than assuming that I’m confident enough not to care about compliments.

And, sure, it’d be nice if someone I like turned out to have a crush on me. (But in a totally O. Henry-esque twist, my conversations about this with a friend who has similar views about it as I do led us to tell each other that we’re both interested in each other. No anonymous apps needed.)

But Sarahah won’t bring about that kind of trust and openness. If anything, it’ll only harm it further.

The more I thought about it, the more uncomfortable I was with the ways in which Sarahah weaved itself through my newsfeed. It was like the junior high cafeteria all over again, but digitally. Folks would post screenshots of anonymous crush confessions, inviting the sender to “let me know who you are! ;)” as friends tried to guess their identity in the comments. They’d post criticism, too—fair and unfair—and their friends would fill up the comments with furious denunciations of the anonymous critic and how they “have no idea what they’re talking about, you’re one of the kindest people I know.”

It seemed less about “feedback” and more about connecting with the (non-anonymous) people responding to it, which I suppose isn’t surprising—like I said, anonymous messages don’t really facilitate any actual connection.

After grappling for a while with the question of whether or not to make an account, I ended up sharing some of these thoughts on Facebook and inviting my friends to reach out directly if they had anything to say to me. A few did.

But the best thing—the only thing, really—that I can do to create the types of social interactions I want is to model them myself and to continue showing myself to be the type of person that others can safely give feedback to. And that is maddeningly difficult and slow-paced, and I don’t blame anyone for reaching for anything that seems like a shortcut.

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What’s the Appeal of Anonymous-Message Apps?