Many thanks go out to those who helped me with editing and revising this: Stephanie, Ophelia, Danny, and especially Alex, who generously copy-edited this for free and could really use some help right now.
There are some who claim that if only we were all away from this Internet thing, everything would be alright. According to this theory, perfectly nice, decent people suddenly morph into complete monsters lacking any and all humanity online. Trolls, their defenders, and people who hate technology all chant this “He means well” and “I’m sure she’s nice if you get to know her not-on-the-Internet” bullshit.
And it is bullshit.
What’s after the jump might count as drama-blogging and discusses some very unpleasant things using appropriately unpleasant language. It is an account of the in-person time I have spent with John Rael, Emery Emery, Heather Henderson, and Ryan Grant Long.
Over the weekend, as planned, I attended the opening of Amy’s art exhibit, A Woman’s Room Online. I found it powerfully evocative of the feelings that accompany being surrounded and trapped by online abuse and harassment. The exhibit created a lot of good conversations and attracted, for the most part, an awesome crowd with whom I enjoyed conversation both serious and silly.
Two members of the self-identified less-awesome contingent that showed up stirred up old, very unpleasant memories, while another facilitated an experience that probably ranks among the weirdest I’ve ever had.
Early in the evening, Emery Emery and Heather Henderson made an appearance. (If you don’t know who they are, Emery’s quotes in the recent Oppenheimer piece about Michael Shermer will give you an idea.) As soon as I realized they were there, I decided to stay in my little corner by the bar, far away from them. Amy had plenty of other support — from supporters who weren’t recoiling from the memory of a certain party room at a certain conference a few years ago.
In 2012, when I had been a Skepchick for less than a year and was not terribly recognizable, I attended my first (and my only, despite the proximity) TAM. Late in the game, one of the Surly Amy TAM grant recipients had dropped out. Amy asked around to see if there were any takers, and I said yes. I thought it could be fun; why let free admission to one of the most expensive conferences go to waste? I ran afoul of DJ Grothe before I even got there because he thought I was getting the grant due to Skepchick nepotism rather than circumstance.
In the hopes that When I first entered the conference area, I immediately noticed the anti-feminist, elevator-joke-rehashing, Rebecca-Watson-hating crap written on the free space whiteboards. In the hallways on Saturday, I encountered John Rael, who wore fake Surlyramics jewelry intended to mock Amy (Amy was right there with her vendor table). Between his statements of support for “parody” accounts intended to mock feminists, I introduced myself as one of the Skepchicks. He made a show of being polite to me and later even tweeted that it was nice to have met me at TAM. I never replied to that tweet.
Strike one against the theory that internet assholes are just misunderstood, secretly nice people. His behavior was manipulative and disingenuous.
By the time I saw David Silverman, I was happy to find someone I knew wasn’t an out-and-out anti-feminist troll. David was already acquainted with my partner and me; he invited us to come by the American Atheists party room later. As we had spent far too much money doing the “cheap” Vegas stuff on Friday night, we gladly accepted. We got to the room around the time David had indicated, which turned out to be a bit early. In it were but a handful of people, including Emery and Heather. After greetings were exchanged and drinks poured, conversation turned to those fun-ruining, awful Rebecca Watsonites — and stayed there.
At some point, PZ Myers came up, and my partner started to defend him. I grabbed his hand and gave him a look that was a warning about attacking people on their turf. I realized they didn’t know who I was — at that point, they had no reason to — so I stood up with my partner and tried to leave with some dignity intact before I burst into tears or lashed out. I said something along the lines of, “I need to tell you who I am. My name is Heina Dadabhoy, and I blog at Skepchick. I feel it’s only fair that you know. I don’t feel I could presume to tell you what you can and can’t talk about, so I’m going to leave you to your conversation. I hope you have a good night.”
They wouldn’t have it. After boldly declaring that I could blog or livetweet anything they said for all they cared, they then softened and claimed that they were so sorry they had made me uncomfortable. They were, they said, happy to refrain from talk about hating feminism, loving harassment, and all the other things that led me to want to leave. I still really, really wanted to leave, but felt it would look hysterical and paranoid after they’d offered to change their conversation just so I’d stay. So stay we did, but the conversation did not change to exclude references to everything they so loathed. Instead, they’d bring things up, begin discussing them, then extravagantly “apologize” to me and abruptly stop.
This went on for no more than an hour, but it felt like an eternity. I felt that I couldn’t leave without looking unreasonable, but they were clearly very invested to talking about what made me uncomfortable regardless of their posturing. Perhaps they were actually consciously interested in making me uncomfortable. I’ll never know for sure. What I do know is that I was saved when the rest of the partygoers arrived. Later, they started recording a podcast that started with a joke about rape, and we finally left.
Strike two against the theory that internet assholes are just misunderstood, secretly nice people. Their behavior was manipulative and disingenuous.
The American Atheists party room experience left me feeling hopeless about the future of skepto-atheism. I didn’t write about it at the time because I felt there were many much-worse stories out there — and there are. If it weren’t for getting to witness Pamela Gay’s awesome talk and recording an awesome video with Ashley Paramore (who had an even worse time at that TAM), I’d call my first and last TAM my only regret in life. Not long after, I launched my Kickstarter for A Skeptic’s Guide to Islam explicitly with my TAM experience in mind: I wanted to be sure that disingenuous pro-harassment types weren’t the only people kicking ass in the movement I’d come to love.
At the art opening, another anti-feminist reminded me of the resolve I’d felt back in late 2012.
Around 10 PM, after three hours of awesome conversation, I was ready to leave. Instead, I was pulled back into conversation by someone I like with whom I hadn’t gotten to speak that evening. The first person she introduced to me was a “Ryan”. I said hi as I shook his hand. Upon hearing my name, he asked me if my last name was Dadabhoy. Delighted at being recognized (I’ve come a long way since TAM 2012 but I still get a kick out of being recognized), I asked him how he knew me. I was told that I knew him and I asked how. Everyone pussyfooted around the answer. I asked him if he blogged or tweeted; he said no and remarked that some people have jobs.
It finally came out that the man before me was none other than Ryan Grant Long: Eshto. Until he recants his abominable actions, I will never call him “Ryan”; Eshto is the name and identity and persona he has built and actively chosen, the name by which he has threatened and antagonized and harassed people I know and love dearly. He has since deleted (update: and reactivated. and deleted.) his Twitter, but has a professional site for his artwork.
I didn’t bother to hide my disgust. As I recoiled, Eshto tried to shake my hand again. I refused and passive-aggressively joked that I would be soaking my hand in bleach as soon as I got home. I pointed out that if he were really there to be nice to even awful Skepchick/FtBully types like me, he’d rather shot himself in the foot by making his snide little joke about bloggers. He admitted it was a “cunty” thing to say but blamed the two bottles of wine he had drunk already.
As I’m of the in vino veritas school of thought, I asked him if the wine had planted the thought in his head or if it had revealed what he actually thinks. In my experience, I said, wine hardly created thoughts, it revealed thoughts usually kept to oneself. He condescendingly informed me that alcohol didn’t work that way and asked if I’d been around drunk people before. At my affirmative, he asked me how old I was. I called him on talking down to me and was told that not only is Eshto my age but that he is unemployed.
I somehow manage to be employed full-time, have a rich social life, be polyamorous, volunteer, engage in activism, blog, speak, and tweet. It galled me that the unemployed Eshto, who used to be known for tweeting, had the nerve to make a joke like that.
Eshto then claimed that he and Amy hugged and that she whispered into his ear “I’m going to kill you and everyone you love”; according to Amy and the person who pulled me into the conversation with Eshto, this never happened.
I was kept in the conversation as only a sober person trying to keep her cool can be. Eshto asked if he could say that I was pretty since he is gay and therefore cannot be attracted to me; I expressed indifference. At some point, the conversation took a turn for the very queer: methods by which to freak out straight people. I told them about how I freak out straight men who fetishize my queer side by telling them about the weirdest things I’ve done with butch lesbians. I got caught up in telling the story, as I am wont to do, and Eshto offered me a high-five at the end of it. I unthinkingly gave him one out of reflexive habit. Two seconds later, I mentally doubled the amount of bleach I planned to use on my hand.
At some point, Eshto accompanied someone else who was going out for a smoke. There was some commotion. It turned out Eshto had leaned on one of the windows in such a way that led to more than cracks. I took a picture of it. Eshto started railing on and on about how I’m going to blog about how he is a misogynist for breaking a window at CFI-LA on Skepchick and Pharyngula. I said that he must have mistaken me for someone who would blog about such a thing and informed him that I don’t blog at Skepchick anymore and I never have at Pharyngula.
At that point, I think he was trying to win me over since, despite all his efforts at being drunk buddies, I was very obviously not warming up to him at all. After we got back inside, he declared anyone with whom he drinks and has a good time a friend for life. I reminded him that I hadn’t been drinking. He persisted, asking about the “having fun” part. I insisted that no, he was still not my friend. He made for the door. When asked where he was going, he said “to go get hit by a car”. He was followed and talked to out on the sidewalk by the street. From the top of the stairs outside the door, I called out to both people but Eshto didn’t respond and left in a huff.
Strike three against the theory that internet assholes are just misunderstood, secretly nice people. Eshto’s behavior was manipulative and disingenuous.
Oh, and in case Eshto or his friends are reading: For the record, I kept my word. I would never call someone a misogynist for drunkenly breaking a window at CFI-LA. That would be rather silly.
Update 10:15 PDT: Eshto is back on Twitter and wanted to clarify that he doesn’t smoke. I’ve edited the part about him going outside to reflect this.
Update 3/25/15: John Rael wanted me to reword this to clarify that he didn’t make explicit statements in favor of harassment and rape jokes. While I do think his participation in the conversation in question fell in line with the general atmosphere of hostility and specifically anti-feminism at TAM that year, he feels that I should state only what I specifically remember him saying rather than my impressions based on his words in the context we were in. That’s fair, so I am honoring his wishes.