Last week, I was very fortunate to have a piece of mine published on The Washington Post‘s new dating and relationships blog “Solo-ish.” The piece is called “The hardest question for me to answer on a date: ‘How many siblings do you have?’” It is the first time I’ve had something published that addresses my brother and what my life has been like since he died. This is easily the most personal piece I’ve had published, not only because it touches on what life after loss has felt like, but because it addresses my dating and sex life.
I felt a few pangs of anxiety at the thought of strangers reading about my personal life, but then I remembered that exposing and exploring those aspects of my life are part of me being a writer. That is not be true for everybody, and most of the time it isn’t for me–fiction is my primary medium. Writing has always been my way of making sense of the world, and after my whole life broke apart and I had to reassemble it in a new way following my brother’s death, I realized writing was part of my healing process.
I wanted to publish this piece. I wanted other people who have lost a loved one to see this aspect of grief addressed. We always think of life after death in big ways, but it’s the day-to-day parts that are often the hardest.
Of course I received the requisite comments, unwarranted advice, and subtle or not-so-subtle slut shaming for talking about my personal life online. Being a writer is such a funny thing. We engage with the world through our work, but we rarely have the opportunity to say no to that dialogue. I know that by putting my personal life online, I am inviting people to respond (and the responses won’t always be positive), but the frightening thing about the internet is that it gives anonymous commenters this sense of security that they can say anything they want to a writer because the writer took the first step and put their work out there.
The internet is real life. I was reminded of that while watching the brilliant John Oliver address online misogyny, revenge porn, and violence towards women on his show Last Week Tonight. If I were to have read my essay at a bookstore, I doubt an attendee would stand up and call me a selfish millennial (or something along those lines; I only scanned the comments on my piece for a moment before I shut it down and walked away), but online, people feel they have free range to say hurtful things.
I recognize that in our modern internet culture, I can’t have it both ways as a writer. I can’t have the freedom to write about whatever I want without someone attacking me. It’s a sad reality, and it will only worsen the more I publish. But it won’t stop me. Being silenced is far worse to me.
I recommend watching the full clip below of John’s response to the internet’s treatment of women: