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Toxicity in Action

Hi, my name is Sidney Joel Stokes, and recently I was cyberbullied. Hard.

Let me explain.

Last week, I woke up to a message from a friend, saying that after reviewing all my posts about Elizabeth Warren, he decided to go from not voting in the CA primary, to being all in for Elizabeth Warren. I felt SO proud. It feels good to hear something you did contributed to getting a vote for a candidate you believe in. Now my friend and I go back [REDACTED] years and one thing we also both enjoy doing is going to circuit parties. So, in talking with him I made a joke about how we’re gonna deliver the “all important” circuit queen demographic for Warren and that led to the idea of “Circuit Queens for Warren.” My friend Jaime, of OMG Designs, made a logo and from there, shirts were made with the idea that the profits would be donated to the Warren campaign.

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I had 15 shirts printed and had sold 12 within the first 2 hours and was able to donate over $150 to the campaign and y’all…I was so proud. So much so I posted the photo on social media, the ‘Gram, the ‘Book, and Twitter.

….and that’s where it all went wrong.

It started innocent enough, people liking, laughing, saw the humor of it, but very quickly I saw the first shady response. That person’s tweet, as it would turn out, would become the least of it. Once Bernie Bros and Bots got to it….it became vicious.

The tweets that followed said, but were not limited too:
-Called me a faggot.
-Said I was on meth.
-Called me disgusting.
-Said to get braces….faggot.
-Slut shamed me
-Said to clean your rug.
….ok, to be fair, that last one was very true and I have since vacuumed….good looking out troll.

Now look…I post tweets in various states of undress, pics and videos from drag shows and other assorted nonsense all the time….but somehow this one brought out the vicious and vitriolic nature of Twitter.

I have always been proud to take stances, I am proud to support Warren, and while I don’t circuit that often anymore, but baby….I can crack a fan, in beat, to the best DJs from Brazil to Tel Aviv, turn an in theme lewk, know where we are going for the afters, AND the after afters kiki. If that makes me a circuit queen, then hand me the tiara and I’ll wear it with pride.

That said, my dad always taught me to pick my battles, so from Twitter, I took the photo down. I didn’t want to, but I got sick of getting notifications that chipped away at my mental health with each alert. They were things that only played into my inner saboteur’s negative narrative of myself. So, I deleted the photo. Did it give a win to haters? Well if they wanna consider cyberbullying someone they don’t know as a victory they clearly have nothing else going on in their lives, so they can have it…I still kept it up on my Facebook and Instagram, which you can see for yourself @TheSidJoShow *winks to Spencer operated camera*

Luckily, I have a great support system who called me, who texted me, who checked in. They reported tweets and defended me. While I was shaken I knew I’d be fine.

Just cause I was fine didn’t change the fact that I kept thinking about this. It all ended the second I took the photo down, and the storm had gone as if the lightning never struck and the thunder never roared. This was my first time really having this happen to me. I needed to break it down, it started by acknowledging the protection my privilege of being a white cis male afforded me from this in the past. The second thing was that in social media we put ourselves in a bubble of, mostly, like minded individuals so for the most part, I’m in agreement with people I follow and most who follow me back are in agreement with me. Save for people who say ARTPOP is bad…which it isn’t….it’s great. It’s avant garde and people decided to hate it before they heard a single note of musi—ok…I digress.

The tweet that I made crossed into a realm not based in politics but in political fandom, a realm that has little to nothing to do with logic based political discussion. I mean, I found a silly way to raise money for my candidate, Elizabeth Warren, but was attacked by Bernie supporters. We both support a progressive agenda and vision for America. But then you have some of these supporters using homophobic slurs as means to support their candidate? That’s not just anti-progressive…that’s literally what Trump supporters do.

Trolls are trolls, if you look for the logic you’re gonna come out it more crazy, more confused, and no closer to having your answer.

This doesn’t just pervade and pervert our political process, it runs its toxic course through fandoms of any kind. Just look at The Last Jedi. Kellie Marie Tran, a newcomer to the series who brought some more diversity to a universe devoid of it. How was it received? TERRIBLY. A character you could tell they wanted to rise, she fell. Not because of the script, but because of an online backlash. In the recent follow-up, The Rise of Skywalker, her screen time was all but non-existent. Whether you liked Rose or not is irrelevant. Kelly Marie Tran got hate, racist hate, sexist hate, and she ultimately left twitter. She couldn’t even enjoy something she dreamed of. This same thing happened to Leslie Jones, Lizzo, starting to notice a pattern? Women, women of color, people who are different from the straight white male take this heat. It’s to the point where we can see it coming from a mile away. Some things are closer….and I can see it. What is it? Well what happened recently?

…the Season 12 premiere of Drag Race.

It is no secret that as our beloved show has garnered more mainstream success a toxicity amongst the fan bases has begun to bubble to the surface and has managed to lay atop each season like a film of bile. Every queen seems to have to deal with the worst of the fanbase the minute the get in the race and never manage to shake them. I caught up with Los Angeles legend, season 10 contestant, Drag Race’s Christmas Queen, and longtime friend of the site Mayhem Miller who has sadly had first hand experience dealing with this very topic.

Sidney Stokes: When did you first notice any of the online hate and how did you initially respond?

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Mayhem Miller: I first noticed it during my season when I would get messages or tagged by the fans and see horrible comments referring to me a “n word” and such. People would try to invalidate my 18 years of work in the business as a successful queen solely based on my placement on the show. I received death threats and was told that I would be attacked on stage. To the recent encounters where I’ve been encouraged to kill myself.

At first, I wouldn’t engage the negativity but I quickly realized that I was internalizing all that energy and it was affecting me deeply. Bad behavior and lack of manners will continue if it’s not corrected. So, I decided on some cases to take back my power and teach those people how to act properly when corresponding with me. And then exercise my right to BLOCK them from further disruption of my peace.

SS: That’s so awful. I’m truly sorry you had to deal with that.

Do you find that every queen have to deal with some form of this toxic online hate or do you see that some get it more, or more harsh than others?

MM: Absolutely not. Not all the queens get it on that level of severity. Sure, all cast members come across a fan or two who don’t particularly care for them but death threats and racial slurs…I think not. It’s sad to say, but mostly the queens of color are the ones who get it the worst.

SS: As the new season begins, what advice can you offer to people, who are either gonna appear on Drag Race or will never set foot in the workroom, on how to handle online hate?

MM: I always encourage the new girls to enjoy their moment and not allow the toxic fandom to ruin the experience. I remind them to stay humble, to be appreciative of the opportunities that may come their way and be respectful…but don’t take no shit!

I am aware that this article isn’t gonna stop trolling, it’s not gonna end toxicity in the fandoms, I only WISH I had such power. So what is the call to action? What is the point? Pity Sidney, some mean people said mean stuff to him over a silly shirt? No. We can do more. We can be better. We can make sure our interactions online are not contributing to hurting someone. If we see our friends engaging in behavior we can reach out and help them be better. As queer people our lives exist in a world where we face hate. More so towards people of color, more so for people of trans experience, and much much harder for trans people of color and not one thing in my experience last week holds a candle to what other have to sadly endure simply for existing.

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If we see our queer family being taking heat from trolls we can step in. We have seen the fatal effects of bullying on the strong and on the young. If you see someone being trolled, being bullied, whether you know the person or not, you can show them support. You won’t stop a troll but you can make sure others feel supported. Show people there is good out there. A simple show of support can make all the difference in the world to someone.

We live in a scary time and have an uncertain future, let’s try our best to balance the dark with the light. Let’s be the support of others, cause who knows when it will be our turn to need that support in return.

Written By

Sidney Stokes lives in an loft apt in the gayborhood of New Nerd City on the Planet Pop, but outside of his head…he lives in Los Angeles where his interests are as vast as and spread out as LALA Land.

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