Please Stop Dirty Deleting

Okay, folks, now that I’m a little more back to having a real internet presence, I’m excited exasperated resigned to talking in more depth about queer identities generally and how power imbalances in musical and artistic life (plus, you know, everyday life) impact us. Perhaps of note is that this will probably include more ground-level education than I’ve had to do in the past—while at the time I started blogging it was at least somewhat safe to assume everyone sorta knew what feminism was, I’m quickly realizing my online circles are roughly divided into two groups: people who are super queer-savvy (and usually queer themselves) and folks who haven’t done all that much reading on the subject.

I know a fair bit, but I’m not a great end-all-be-all source. I’ve started compiling a collection of threads, posts, and other really informative output on various aspects of queer identities and struggles over on my Discord, and y’all are welcome there if you want to check it out. It’s worth noting that at least on the blog, some of the topics I discuss will intersect with other topics I’ve written about before, because plenty of the same oppressive tools affect folks with different marginalizations! So if something sounds familiar, that’s probably because it is; what we’re focusing on is the effect it has on a specific community.

Today’s discussion, for example, centers around emotional labor, which I’ve talked about before. My last post functioned more as a general introduction to the topic, plus my best attempt at explaining how frustrating it is to be constantly asked for more and more of this energy when so often it goes unrecognized and underutilized by the people I give it to. As an educator reaching a wide audience of people I have varying relationships with, some of this is part and parcel for the job, but the moment my labor is then exploited by people who assume they’re closer to me than the rest of my audience, it becomes assumptive, disrespectful, and inappropriate.

See, people who have seen me teach often enough—in person or in a virtual setting—tend to assume, for a time, that I’ll teach whenever the moment arises. However, like the rest of the populace, I have a limited number of hours and spoons in the day, and that’s not always feasible (or what I want to be doing). I already do more labor than I realistically have the energy for. And that, folks, is why it’s exceedingly frustrating when someone decides they don’t like that labor and opts instead to take it all away.

Dirty deleting, for those who are unfamiliar, is when an OP or commenter on some sort of online interaction starts an engagement, receives substantial pushback, and then nixes the entire thread out of reach. These pile-ons can happen in groups or regular posts/comments, but the core of dirty deleting is a decision not to face accountability for what is usually at best a solidly bad take. And while on the surface it may be understandable that someone wouldn’t want to be flame-roasted in a public forum for all to see, let me break this down for you as someone who’s both an educator and a product of Silicon Valley’s know-how on internet engagement.

The fundamental thing we have to remember is that if someone is getting critiqued like there’s no tomorrow in responses to a post or comment, it’s because they introduced an idea that inspired a great deal of pushback. Sometimes this is a vocabulary slip-up or an honest mistake; other times, it is an intentional introduction of bigotry in some form or another. Either way, it is almost always something that causes or perpetuates direct harm toward a specific (usually marginalized) demographic, and it is met with accordingly upset, though at times still clear and compassionate, resistance. People get upset or uncomfortable that they are being critiqued loudly and unabashedly, and they (or, on occasion, another entity) remove(s) their post.

Everything disappears, until someone posts screen shots.

And yes, sometimes this is done to shame people for deleting—especially in moments where the group or forum has explicit rules against deleting posts. It’s a form of community management that reminds people they broke the rules, but there’s another important aspect of screen shot sharing: it allows the work people did in the replies to remain.

This isn’t just another iteration of “the internet is forever.” It’s an acknowledgment of one important truth: that when you present an idea to any group that includes an audience, your ideas may rub off on them. As such, when you show up with bigoted and/or otherwise harmful takes and somebody else sees them, they might walk away thinking the same way you do. Those of us who engage in educational work online (especially with strangers) often step in to mitigate the spread of those harmful ideas. OP may not necessarily learn from or appreciate what we’re trying to say, but the person who’s stumbling across that specific harm for the first time might read our replies and realize what OP is proposing isn’t okay.

That labor often carries the most weight and bears the biggest impact on our communities. Not its impact on the people we directly respond to—how others coming across the thread will use our additional information to influence their own understanding.

The other important thing about dirty deleting, which I very briefly touched on above, is that many people who are taking the time to grapple with an OP from an educational or correctional standpoint are doing so directly in the face of stereotypes and stigmas that are directly harmful to them or someone they love. A lot of my 2021 so far has consisted of staring transphobic ideas directly in the face despite the toll it takes on me as a genderfluid person. Can confirm: it sucks. But many of us do the work anyway, despite knowing we will hurt for hours or days afterward because of it. We do this in our online communities, our workplaces, our peer groups, our friend groups, our families, our relationships, sometimes because it’s at least something to do to work against the crushing weight of carrying it all around by ourselves.

And very little online shit pisses me off more than when I spend a long time (maybe fifteen minutes, maybe hours) on responses that will educate while making clear that a certain position is unacceptable for its bigotry, only to have it all taken down.

This has happened somewhat regularly in the last six months, but two instances in particular stand out to me. The first: a take on Black motherhood and jazz shared in the ASU Jazz Facebook group where I and others critiqued a small but important portion of the post. We were met with immediate resistance by a student. After a significant thread of responses and continued harassment via DMs by the same student, an admin of the group deleted the thread entirely. Despite receiving promises from friends still in the program that it would be followed up on, we never found out who made that call (and, as a result, never got to privately tell them why that was disrespectful to our labor and particularly white-supremacist/old-boys-club-ish). Deleting that thread didn’t stop that student from showing up in multiple people’s DMs and demanding personal, complete education and wide-ranging discussions beyond the scope of the topic at hand. Everyone pushing back on the idea was white, actively doing our best work to make sure white supremacist stereotypes about Black women weren’t settling in to that community’s online home, and a faculty member took the whole thing away. We didn’t get screenshots in time, so all our work was lost. (Hence why I now assume no forum is safe.)

If we’re talking about abuses of power, shutting down an entire post so you can coddle a white, cishet student’s feelings as he continues to storm in people’s inboxes (or hide your extreme institutional discomfort that members of your community are pushing back against harmful stereotypes) is… a pretty blatant one.

(Btw, if said student reads this and shows up in my inbox again, no, I will not be entertaining him.)

The second moment of this happened recently, with the dude/bro discussion on my pronouns post. That one was particularly shitty on a personal level, because a) it happened on my own timeline, b) the post was already an extremely vulnerable moment, and c) the person involved had DM’ed me to assure me they wouldn’t delete. (Then they… did.) Thankfully, I’d taken screen shots of that one, partly because I liked my teaching and wanted to make sure I could reach for the same words later. I posted them all, which led to a discussion (still in the comments) about dirty deleting and why it’s bad. The harm was not intentional, but it took the wind out of my sails and made me far less interested in engaging with people who were asking about my pronouns.

On their faces, these aren’t life-changing moments (particularly the ASU one). They’re not going to be the things that send me running for the hills, never to be seen in online spaces again. A lot of my male peers would shrug sympathetically and tell me it’s a good thing I’m strong enough to handle this stuff, but the thing they often don’t consider is that these moments are stepping stones to more harmful, violent ones that do force us out of spaces for a long time (or permanently!). I got to talk about some of these with Monica Shriver on her Brave Musician podcast early last year, and I’d like to get into them more in the future. This far, my favorite way I’ve ever talked about them went like this:

“Intersectional feminism isn’t a couple big, obvious moments of struggle a year; it’s a continuous, everyday effort that must engage our friends, families, and colleagues as well as those who might more actively stand against us. It’s not something we can turn on and off at will or put on the back burner until something major comes along.”

It’s pushing back on those seemingly-innocuous linguistic microaggressions—and supporting others when they choose to do the same. It’s building programs and studios where you don’t prioritize white, cishet, male comfort over the voices of those advocating for marginalized people. It’s doing the work every day to look critically at what’s going on around you and constantly asking: “is this how these people should be respected and loved?”

I don’t see a whole lot of that around a lot of my communities. There’s still a lot of erasure, of interruption and dismissal, of throwing marginalized voices under the bus. There’s retaliatory firing of leaders working toward radical inclusion (yes, The Nash, we’re going to talk about that sometime). There’s a continual sense of apathy that I’ve been talking about intermittently since I wrote about paying your dues. It hasn’t changed, in Phoenix especially. And yes, the pandemic makes community harder, but most of the scene refuses to take a long look at their own actions and ask who their actions are marginalizing, and that’s the first step.

Be better. Get used to marginalized voices teaching you things you didn’t know, even when they’re angry and not the civil, overly-polite platitudes you’ve been taught you’re entitled to. Community accountability comes from everyone.

Stop dirty deleting.

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