Roisin Kiberd is the author of The Disconnect: A Personal Journey Through the Internet, available from Serpent’s Tail.



Kiberd’s essays have been published in the Dublin Review, the White Review, the Stinging Fly and Winter Papers. She has written features on technology and culture for publications including the Guardian, Vice and Motherboard, where she wrote a column about internet subcultures. Having spent some time in London as the online voice of a cheese brand, she now lives in Dublin.


Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

Launched in 2011. Books. Literature. Writing. Publishing. Authors. Screenwriters. Etc.

Support the show on Patreon





Email the show: letters [at] otherppl [dot] com

The podcast is a proud affiliate partner of Bookshop, working to support local, independent bookstores.

The Blogger’s Wife

1) I have an idea.
2) It’s called The Blogger’s Wife.
3) I’m not sure if it’s a story or an essay.
4) It’s about a woman who’s married to a blogger and if someone leaves a shitty comment on one of his posts she tracks down their IP address and shows up at their house and duct-tapes them to a chair

levi-neptuneTwenty years ago, in 1994, the internet was very different from today. This was long before blogging, before the idea of social media (Mark Zuckerberg was only ten years old), and two years before Sergey Brin and Larry Page started the project that would end up becoming Google. It was the year that Lycos and Yahoo! (then known as “Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web”) were founded, that someone registered www.sex.com, and the White House, then occupied by Bill Clinton, moved online at www.whitehouse.gov. It was also the year that Levi Asher founded a website called Literary Kicks at http://www.charm.net/~brooklyn.1 It was one of only 2,738 websites occupying a rather uncluttered and unorganized internet, and it survives today as one of the longest running websites around.

 chris ruenI can tell by the sound of your voice that you are famously handsome.



Your voice—it sounds famously handsome.

To me it’s just nasal.


Fascinating. So, how was your recent sold out event at the New York Public Library with David Byrne?

Great! My head didn’t explode, which was a plus. There will be video of the event online soon. I’ll post it via one of my many online presences-es.

freeloading cover imageThe Future, on Repeat

On a January morning in 2010, nervous congregants gathered in a San Francisco auditorium. They awaited revelation, if not rapture. Silicon Valley’s far-flung diaspora joined the revival from afar, holding virtual vigil. With bent backs and glazed eyes, they stared at the live video feed streaming across their computer screens. Soon, the prophet of the information age would reward his followers and offer a new vision unto the people.

Inside the auditorium, eager eyes darted back and forth across the stage, straining to see their digital media savior. There he was! Applause thundered: dressed in his uniform of black turtleneck and blue jeans, Steve Jobs finally entered from stage left.

The innovative new web series H+, a project helmed by Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men), is set to roll out its first episode on YouTube August 8.  The multi-perspective, piecemeal narrative revolves around a deadly virus unleashed on a futuristic population implanted with an HPlus chip, designed to enable instant and continuous internet access.  But it’s not only the series’ online venue and big-name backers that make H+ particularly ambitious.  It’s the potential for audience interactivity with the order in which the story elements are presented.  As series creator John Cabrera recently explained to Wired:

The U.S. House of Representatives is debating legislation that could fundamentally change what types of content we’re allowed to access over the Internet, and the resulting outrage has sparked a heated ideological debate.  But for some reason the media isn’t talking about it.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (or SOPA, as it’s widely called) was introduced in October by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). It’s a boldly ambitious plan to give copyright holders — and the courts, by proxy — better tools to fight the profligacy of online piracy originating from foreign websites.

In a nutshell: SOPA would give copyright holders the power to file lawsuits against sites that they believe are aiding in the pilfering of their goods, be it music, movies, TV shows, video games, or the distribution of tangible, counterfeit consumables. Judges could file injunctions against Internet Service Providers or individual websites, forcing them to block access to foreign sites deemed in violation of U.S. copyright law.

Included in the bill is an immunity provision for Internet providers that proactively remove “rogue” sites from their registries. In other words, SOPA attacks Internet piracy not by going after sites that create and supply nefarious content, but by censoring ISPs and search engines that enable their availability, knowingly or not. Specific targets include payment providers (like PayPal) that facilitate transactions with spurious sites, and ad services (like Google’s AdSense) that promote copyright infringing content in search results. The bill’s authors are aware that many of the Internet’s biggest bootleggers operate overseas. Because attorneys general can’t round up foreign DVD pirates, they’ll instead punish U.S. sites that facilitate a portion of their profits.

SOPA currently has thirty-one Congressional sponsors. A companion bill in the Senate, the Protect IP Act (better known as PIPA), was passed but is currently on hold and awaiting further debates. Given the noted support that SOPA has received from both political parties, it’s important to mention that the divide over the bill is economic rather than political. Supporters and detractors comprise a who’s who in the supply chain of the digital commerce world: on the former side you’ll find virtually every U.S. broadcast and major media company, as well as manufacturers like Sony, video game giant Capcom, comic publisher Marvel, the Motion Picture Association of America, and the Recording Industry Association of America, to name a few; on the latter is a groundswell of opposition from creators, artists, grassroots advocates, and Internet leaders like Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Wikipedia, Reddit, and non-profits like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and the ACLU.

Supporters of the proposed bill believe that SOPA gives copyright holders some much needed legal teeth to curb online theft.  Opponents—and I count myself among them—argue that this is yet another example of the government’s increasing tendency to provision our freedoms under the auspices of safety. It gives the U.S. Department of Justice unprecedented authority to trowel the Internet for content it doesn’t like, in effect taking on the role of content arbiter.

To say that the opposition has been vocal would be an understatement. In January, Wikipedia announced it would shut down the English portion of its site for 24 hours in protest of the legislation. [Happening 1/18, at the time of publication.] Co-founder Jimmy Wales also said he’d pull all Wikimedia content from hosting company Go Daddy’s servers in opposition to their SOPA advocacy (Go Daddy has since rescinded its support of SOPA, claiming it now opposes the bill). Social site Reddit has staged a boycott against pro-SOPA companies, targeting anyone who’s in favor of its passage. Unlikely political bedfellows such as Rep. Ron Paul, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, and Al Gore have joined forces to denounce the bill.

Given the historic magnitude of what’s being proposed inside the Beltway, it’s decidedly unusual that these bills — and the deluge of opposition — are being almost completely ignored by major U.S. television news networks. A January Media Matters report claims that SOPA and PIPA have received “virtually no coverage from major American television news outlets during their evening newscasts and opinion programming.” The report, based on Lexis-Nexis database searches that analyzed newscasts dating back to when SOPA was introduced in October, found that ABC, CBS, Fox News, MSNBC, and NBC devoted a sum total of zero time to this issue during prime evening newscasts.

Some networks bore minor exceptions. In December, CNN featured a single snippet on The Situation Room that mentioned SOPA. And while Fox News hasn’t touched the issue, host Andrew Napolitano broached the subject on sister channel Fox Business Network.  Otherwise, major broadcast news outlets have responded to the possible passage of one of the most historic media and copyright bills in American history with complete, unanimous silence.

It comes as little surprise, then, to learn that the parent companies responsible for this blackout are, without exception, noted SOPA supporters. News Corporation (which owns Fox), Time Warner (which owns CNN), Viacom (which owns CBS), Walt Disney Corporation (which owns ABC and ESPN), and Comcast/NBCUniversal are all current advocates of the legislation. The media’s blatant disregard for the issue shifts from coincidental to damning when you consider the obvious relationship between the services these companies provide and what they seek to gain from SOPA’s passage.  Faced with the harrowing realization that their old business models are obsolete, U.S. media companies are attempting to quell hemorrhaging revenues and maintain market share not by adapting to the age, but by stifling online commercial and social behaviors. It’s the equivalent of burning down the house to protect one’s property from theft.

And speaking of theft, it should be mentioned that piracy is indeed a real issue.  Copyright holders should be able to protect their intellectual property and make money from their work.  The problem with SOPA is the means by which it would attempt to achieve these ends.

Here’s what’s wrong with it:

  • First, it’s unconstitutional. Our ability to access information—whether it’s in a book or on a website—is a right guaranteed by the First Amendment. Moreover, in its current proposed state, judges can grant a court order against sites if a copyright holder presents evidence regarding a violation, without representation from the defendant. Owners of sites accused of enabling pirated content can have legal action taken against them without even being aware of it. SOPA denies legal recourse and violates the principles of due process.
  • Second, it could prove economically disastrous. Our nascent Internet advertising industry (like Google’s hallmark AdWords program, where sponsored links germane to a user’s Google query appear next to search results) could collapse under this new model. The pro-business rhetoric coming from those supporting the bill is a joke, considering the revenue and job-killing possibilities it possesses in its current form.
  • Third, it’s crudely ineffectual. The practice of “IP blocking” is akin to relocating a store’s address so potential customers can’t find it, but this is a laughably temporary salve. Offending sites can simply create a new domain name or enlist a browser plug-in to redirect users to a new site, practices many of these sites already employ.
  • Finally, it’s sweepingly broad; it goes further than what’s necessary to combat sites peddling counterfeit goods. The specific tactics this bill proposes — pruning entries from the Internet’s library of addresses — threatens important security protocols, meddles with the core infrastructure of the Internet, and ultimately undermines the egalitarian principles upon which it was built. In the end, a few very trivial benefits will come at a huge cost to cyber security and the notion of online expression as we know it.

Both SOPA and PIPA are, at their essence, a matter of bewildering impracticality and gross political miscalculation.  This is underscored by the fact that neither the bills’ authors nor their Congressional supporters sought input from the tech community regarding possible security concerns or how its proposed tactics would affect the Internet’s present ontology. It’s yet another example of Internet law being written not with the interests of the public in mind, but rather to appease the demands of the special interest groups that fund Congress.

Government-imposed Internet filtering is a practice common in countries like China and Iran. If SOPA becomes law, the U.S. will embark on a dangerous precedent. And as extreme as it seems, the likelihood of SOPA passing through Congress in one form or another is actually quite good. Internet law has become a Congressional cause célèbre in recent years; between SOPA and PIPA — and a flurry of incoming drafts currently being written on the Hill — it’s clear this is an issue that isn’t going away. The U.S. is currently one of only seven countries that doesn’t filter Internet access. But if the recent traction of these bills is any indication, that might not be the case for very long.


In the first year of the new millennium, instant messaging was the fastest growing communication technology of all time.  Of its then 60 million purported users, Cecile and I were two young employees of a public relations agency hyping Internet start-ups and video game companies who cared only about the words we sent each other.

We sat in separate cubicles that shared a wall.  Its segments fit together unevenly, leaving a narrow opening.  We volleyed noiseless messages back and forth, five feet apart.


natm: fine i quit
cecilero: ok i will miss u
natm: you should come too
cecilero: where will u go?
natm: neptune or maybe mendocino
cecilero: i can see your left hand through the space
natm: i’m very serious

cecilero:  this is typical

To promenade means to take a leisurely walk, to see people and be seen by people. In Sidewalks: Conflict and Negotiation Over Public Space authors Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris and Irena Ehrenfeucht write that wealthy urbanites in 19th century America “claimed the streets and attempted to insert bourgeois decorum into urban bustle.” These citizens “strolled to display their social status and define their respectability by the differences they created.”

I am sick of the fucking internet. I’m not supposed to say this because I am a child of technology. When I was 12, my big brother got us on AOL. He was in a chat room for fans of the Allman Brothers Band and introduced me to all these people. As they all said hi to me, I felt shivers running up and down my spine. I was so excited I couldn’t stop moving.

Chat rooms felt like a dark closet full of strangers, outrageously intimate. I liked to engage in religious debates the most. I also wanted a boyfriend but found teen chat rooms annoying. I would stay home when the neighborhood kids went out to play because I didn’t like them and preferred to talk to strangers on the internet. I mailed my cheer-leading pictures to a boy in New Orleans who may or may not have been a real person.

I hang out with real geeks because I wish I was one of them. I am uncool in the non-hipster way of being uncool. As in, I’m too awkward to get along with normal people but I don’t know any programming languages. I taught myself HTML once upon a time and thought I was pretty badass, but I couldn’t stay afloat once CSS came on the scene. I know how to crimp a Cat 5 cable, and I can put together a PC. I married my husband because I thought it was hot when he wrote code.

Every now and then I get this need to be well informed about the world, and I go on a news binge. Last week, it was a combination of Norway, Lulzsec, the debt ceiling and Google News Badges. Those badges don’t update properly. The thing says I read 5 articles about Norway, so I started reading a lot of articles on different topics. Then I read like 20 on Anonymous, but it wouldn’t update. I have a bronze Norway badge. I am disappoint.

Although it damn near made me kill myself over the weekend (only a slight exaggeration), I go back to Google News on Monday like an addict looking for inspiration. There are people out there breaking the law and pissing people off and making a difference in a way I can never do. It’s totally possible that the things they’re doing all completely wrong. I’m not convinced anyone is doing anything that’s not completely wrong.

I am a project manager. I am a rule follower. I respect authority.

Every few months, I decide I’m not really a writer. I am angry that I went to college and even more so that I went to grad school. I wish someone had told me how worthless it was. I’m not saying it wasn’t fun or that I didn’t meet lovely people and learn some stuff, but look, I discovered yoga at age 16, and I knew I wanted to teach yoga at age 17, yet I dropped that idea and went to college because that seemed like the appropriate thing to do. I am so tired of the appropriate thing.

If I had followed my instinct, I would have a career by now.

I try to tell myself this is my dharma, that karma put me here. I tell myself I’m here to learn something, and I’m working extra hard to learn it as fast as possible so I can get the fuck out of this cubicle and start doing what I wanted to do all along. Did I really need all those student loans to have this realization, karma? I am $32k in the hole for a degree I will never use.

I don’t mean to be such a downer about it. I mean, I can use a semicolon like nobody’s business, but I rarely do because most of the time it’s pretentious. I fucking love run-on sentences.

I’m tired of buying things. I hate things. I hate stuff. I hate clutter. It’s not just the laptops littering the living room but also the server racks down the hall from my bedroom, and also the ones in the basement, and the miscellaneous cables scattered around the technological wasteland that is my house. It’s also the unwashed underwear, the piles of recycling, the perpetually half done renovation projects, the stacks of unread books and magazines on the floor and dust bunnies, my god the dust bunnies. And furthermore, it’s Twitter and Facebook and Google + and Google Reader and Google News and my two blogs, one of them disused. It’s also IRC and GChat and once upon a time AIM and ICQ. It’s also Skype and Ventrillo and Stickam and Daily Booth and Youtube.

There is a BMW being born on my behalf and a loan check to prove it. I feel like a teen mom except I’m not a teenager, not a mom, and not a reality TV star, but my life does have that familiar ring of this is not really- this- this- this is not really happening

You bet your life it is.

I am often afraid that if I said what I really thought about the world, I would be burned at the stake. Maybe I should just make peace with that. After all, this flame proof suit will not last forever. Maybe sometimes it’s better to douse yourself in gasoline and go for the fucking glory.

Maybe I should be a little less dramatic.

Some days I just want to get a lot of tattoos and become totally unemployable as a way to force myself out of the corporate world. One day I will. If I achieve only one thing in life, it will be becoming unemployable.
I hate the way journalists on television say “hacktivists” like they’re trying to drive home a clever pun. They deadpan the news like the world’s worst comedy troop telling grand sick joke. Why hasn’t anyone hacked Congress yet? Those guys are the real assholes, right? I wonder what kind of delicious secrets they’ve got. Just a thought.
A guy walks into a universe and says “God? Is that you?” and the Pope says, “Yes, son, take off your clothes.” The headlines spew sex scandals and it’s all the same to them whether you’re a rapist priest or a member of congress who fails to grasp direct messaging. If there are genitals involved, they’re all over it.
Sex crimes are our favorite joke, but trading legal tender for an orgasm will cost you your career. Sometimes I hate the world.
Every generation has its drama. We all think we’re in the middle of something new and brilliant. They had Kennedy and Nixon and all those poor dead boys, and we have about half the world protesting, a handful of countries with no governments, and a digital revolution that is not at all what we were hoping for, no matter what you were hoping for.
Tomorrow. I swear. Tomorrow I’m getting that tattoo.

As part of a series of ongoing efforts to better serve our community, a large portion of individual users will be asked to submit returns this year.We refrain from using the word “taxes.”Suffice it to say that if you are reading this, you have the good fortune of being a part of this exciting new initiative!Please take a moment to complete the following.Our sincere hope is that, one day, ours will be the only annual form of its kind you’ll need to file!

1) Were you aware that you would be asked to pay for your 2010 use of Facebook’s services? If no, check all lines below that apply:

My mom’s on Facebook, and I’ve accepted her friend request. (Hi, Mom!) She doesn’t own a computer, she doesn’t own a cell phone, she still deposits checks and withdraws cash by walking up to the bank counter, but she’s been on Facebook for a few months now, which is long enough, as she informed me (actually, when she was just a few weeks in), to learn more about me by clicking links than she’s learned from me in person. She found one mention of herself in my online writing—it was on this site, in my self interview—and she took issue with it. She wants you to know: That hummingbird that got into her bedroom? She tried every other way to get it out, she tried for hours, before she killed it with bug spray. It was horrible and it was late at night and she needed to go to bed.

It’s not that pre-Facebook I hid my writing from my mother, or from anyone, exactly. In the nineties, I co-published a zine called Maxine, and I included in it writing of mine that was sometimes sexy, sometimes weird, and almost always personal—for example, I collaborated on a comic loosely based on my best friend and I that involved cunnilingus. And I sent the copies to my parents. I sold copies to co-workers. Devil may care! I liked the feeling, actually. I liked the combination of accepting ownership but relinquishing the fantasy that I could control others’ perceptions. It felt very different than finding someone listening at the door or rustling through my stash of journals and love letters. (You know you did that, Mom!)

In fact, publishing personal writing on paper felt like an anecdote to privacy invasion. I’m not sure why online writing feels like something in between. Is it just because it’s more likely that something online can worm its way anywhere, easily? That it wouldn’t be a magical, fate-ridden thing for someone I knew to stumble onto a blog post the way it would be to stumble onto a zine? All it takes is being bored at 2 AM. What’s that old girlfriend doing. What about that cousin who I played doctor with once. What about that daughter. She always kept the room to her door closed. She always had her nose in some book or up in the air. She’d always give me this look, like. . . . And now, when she finally does call, she’s too busy to talk.

My mom knows her own inclinations. She says that’s one reason why she doesn’t want a computer: she’s a voyeur; it’d be too tempting. She did her Facebook sleuthing this summer, when she was living with my sister-in-law, whom my brother has been divorcing for years. They’re still fighting over money and visitation and blame. I told my mother that it was a bad idea, that things would get awkward. And they did. She was on the phone complaining about it one day, perhaps commenting about the quality of my sister-in-law’s mothering—and her appearance and her eating habits and her housekeeping—without realizing that her hostess was sitting on the porch just outside the open window. When my mom walked out there, Stephanie told her, “If you don’t like it here, you can leave.”

When my husband and I found my mother snooping around our windows the summer before, when she was house-sitting down the street, we choose not to say anything. We just pretended it had never happened.

My mother, who when I told her I had quit smoking, said, “That’s not very sociable, is it?”

My mother, who when I told her as a new parent that I didn’t have time to go shopping for sales said, “If you’d get off your high-horse and go to McDonalds once a week you’d have one night a week to go shopping.”

My mother, who was actually very concerned about nutrition when I was growing up, and who insisted for awhile that I eat cubes of cheese in the morning, for fat and protein. I did not want to eat cubes of cheese in the morning; they disgusted me. So I did what any self-respecting kid would do: I palmed them and later slipped them into a drawer in the playroom.

And my mother, upon discovering the colony of cheese cubes—by this time with edges turned a waxy blood orange and sides coated in powdery mold— became enraged and made me eat them as punishment. It was a Mommy Dearest moment, her towering over me and brandishing the plastic spatula with which she sometimes spanked us, me choking down a cube or two before pushing past her to go retch into the toilet. I can still see the hunter-orange curdles floating in the shining white bowl—my mother kept a very clean house. But she is no Joan Crawford. She didn’t make me eat any more after that, and cheese was taken off the breakfast menu. So I think I won that round.

Yes, when it comes to my mother, I am a perpetual adolescent who will—obviously—air old and dirty linen in public to score a point.

Although this is the first time I am doing so. In a piece that I am posting to the internet.

As a kid, I was the kind of good girl who was secretly, sneakily bad.

In first or second grade, I went to the bathroom and locked all the stalls from the inside before crawling out of the last one and going back to the teacher with a report: I couldn’t use the bathroom; someone locked all the doors. “Probably some sixth grader,” the teacher said, “who thinks she’s being smart.”

When I was in sixth grade—an impeccable student—I had already developed a taste for bad boys, and I befriended the grottiest trouble-maker in class, Scott Bilow. He was actually a pretty nice kid who had a rough lot. His dad was a drunk, and a good day for Scott was when he was sent to the bar to get his dad and was invited in and given a Coke instead of a back-hand. Scott had stories to tell, and dirty poetry to recite, and I was all ears. One ditty ended with the memorable line: “Sister’s on the corner yelling pussy for sale.” I thought on that a lot. The pieces were just starting to add up for me. Sometimes, if we had indoor recess or whatever, I’d play a game he taught us where I’d hold a pencil and follow directions that resulted in the spelling of fuck or shit or mother fucker on the lined, grey paper of his writing tablet.

When the teacher found these pages in his notebook, she took him out in the hall and hollered at him. The rest of the class couldn’t hear his side of the conversation, but we didn’t need to:

“What did you say?”

“You’re trying to tell me Zoe Zolbrod wrote those awful words in that awful handwriting?”

“Zoe Zolbrod has beautiful handwriting and she would never write those dirty words!”

Thirty years later, I’m still proud that I accepted the blame. The teacher was so dumbstruck at the dissolution of her categories that I don’t think either Scott or I was ever punished. Or maybe the punishment was just a note home to my parents, still married then. They wouldn’t have given me a hard time for something like that. They might have congratulated me on taking responsibility when I could have skirted it. Honesty was their big thing. As a teenager, especiallywhen some of my friends physically feared their parents or were routinely denied freedoms—my mom and dad let me get away with a lot, as long as I told the truth.

So, my mom’s on Facebook  (welcome, Mom!) and that’s what’s inspiring me to trash talk her to you all and to post this up on TNB. But I’m not sure whether I’ll link to it. And my mom’s back home now, no longer living with my sister-in-law’s laptop and internet connection. She uses the computer at the library sometimes, but it’s not open at 2 AM, and during business hours, well—she still works part-time as a care-taker for elderly people, and she plays tennis, and volunteers, and shops the sales. (She basically clothes my children with her findings, saving me needed time and money. She’s the only person who has ever watched the kids overnight or over two. She . . . but I digress.) So she might not see this. And if she does, I’ll own up to it. These are some facts. Shrug. Nose in air. Laid out just so. That’s all I’m saying.



Melbourne, Australia, Friday 13th, 11:13pm-ish.


Pan in on SIMON at his computer. SIMON is 28, dark-haired, with an air – no, an aura – about him, perhaps something around the eyes, that seems to say, ’24 hours later, I’m still amazed by the fact I made a conscious choice to start drinking Swedish strawberry cider last night, and, 24 hours and kilos of bacon later, I’m still amazed by how hungover I remain. You tricked me, Sweden. Again. Fuck you.’

Also, he’s really VERY HANDSOME; like Cary Grant, Billy Zane, and someone who onlookers would describe as ‘really very handsome’ all rolled into one.

Soundtrack: This Busta Rhymes – AC/DC mashup that SIMON cannot seem to stop listening to right now.

We see the small red notification informing SIMON he has received a new message appear on the Facebook taskbar. The message is one in an ongoing conversation between SIMON and his friend DARCI in New York. Regrettably, this conversation is about FRED DURST (not present in the scene). The discussion focuses on how anything can be made funny by adding FRED DURST to the equation or rather, SIMON’s half of the discussion focuses on this.

SIMON then makes a reference to the once-famous phrase ‘DON’T FAKE THE FUNK ON A NASTY DUNK‘ and how he finds it just as hilarious as the existence of FRED DURST.

We see SIMON, suddenly inspired, update his status to read ‘SIMON… NEVER FAKES THE FUNK ON A NASTY DUNK.’

Moments later another red notification sign flares into life. This time, it is the small square with rounded edges that sits at the corner of the little blue world globe, letting SIMON know someone has commented on his status. He clicks on it.

Note: Simon remains VERY HANDSOME, but the moment is about to get ugly.

Not Simon, though.

CUT TO: Focus on the screen, where one of SIMON’s friends has commented: ‘Gay.’

SIMON: does that kind of reverse whistling/suck in air thing you do when you see someone bark their shin on a car door and draws back from the computer into the cushions of his chair.

End scene.


Now, it was about this time we hit trouble.

Seconds after the first notification, a second friend, from the same group, left a comment on the same status: ‘Double gay.’ A third, again from the same group, left another: ‘Triple gay.’

And I just went… Really?

And that was when I realised that maybe I was about to get caught in the middle of a nasty dunk. And if so, then no matter what else I did, the one thing I could not do was fake the funk.


The Nasty Dunk

See, I know these people – some of them for over twenty years. They’re among my best friends. None of them are hate criminals, if that’s a term.. They’re tertiary-educated, cosmopolitan, well-traveled types. They’re not close-minded or mean or particularly bigoted, or at least, my experience of them, which is a fairly comprehensive one, says to me they are not.

On the other hand…

It took maybe twenty seconds for my brain to itemise all the 21st rules of speech and political correctness involved. Everyone involved was and is past the point of ignorance; we’re all internet users, we’ve all been exposed to the difficulties of comment culture, we’re all past the point of being surprised by online speech. And a quick Google search revealed no one had split the gay lingual atom while I wasn’t looking; there hadn’t been some mass acceptance of the term as fair game.

And so that’s where I was: the term gay denotes a particular sexuality, and the term gay was being used as an insult, so, therefore, we’ve got textbook discrimination here, right on my Facebook page, where I am both the owner and the owned of any information that goes back and forth.

With acknowledgment of that fact came the confirmation of my suspicion that this was indeed a dunk I had on my hands, and, furthermore, a nasty one. My question to myself was what would constitute faking the funk, and how could I avoid such an outcome?


Faking the Funk

As I saw it, there were a number of options available to me, many of which would constitute faking the funk – the very situation I wanted to avoid.

Funk Fake #1: Over-seriousness.

I’m a firm believer in the use of humour and discussion to deflect and resolve conflict, especially on the internet, when disaster is never further than a LOLFAG! away. Not every situation calls for charging out, guns blazing – doing so can often be counter-productive, because it only makes people dig in their heels and sound off all the louder. I didn’t want to start a giant debate or flame war, because, given that I assumed these people were probably hanging out, and drinking a little, and working themselves into a mentality of poorly-thought-out teasing, rather than expressing any deep and true homophobia, bringing the hammer down wasn’t an option that would do any real good for anyone.

And because, really, when the shoe’s on the other foot… fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.

Funk Fake #2: Under-seriousness.

But at the same time, if I was to just let the issue slide… that would be a tacit endorsement of speech  I don’t agree with. To engage positively with the name-calling or to say nothing would be to indirectly say ‘Hey! You can use the word gay as an insult, no matter how minor your intent or disconnected from definition, and that’s perfectly OK by me, Simon Smithson!’

It’s not as if I thought the whole world was watching with bated breath; the goings-on on my Facebook page were hardly going to carry over to influence much of anything, anywhere, ever. But still…

Would that go on my passport?

Simon Smithson: Feels OK about discriminatory insults. Facebook proves it.

I could see, in my head, a vision of trying to get back into the USA, and the staffer behind the immigration desk looking at me, looking at my passport and reading those accusing words, then looking back up at me… and slowly narrowing his eyes.

Of course, in my head, he is a member of an ethnic minority. And transgendered. And he/she’s a Scientologist. Who likes Yanni. And the film Glitter.


The shame.

My shame, I mean.

Although the transgender customs official would be right to be ashamed of liking Glitter.

That fantasy aside, all I could think of was this at the 1:30 mark.

Funk Fake #3: Total and Complete Hypocrisy.

99% of humor is based on laughing at someone or something. There has to be an object, which means, no matter how you slice it, there’s potential for someone, somewhere, to be offended. And I laugh at horrible things all the time. I make inappropriate jokes, delight in the shattering of taboos, and if you show me a sacred cow, then I’ll tell you a story about how it cries during sex and also, it’s fat. And we should eat it. Because its tears make it taste sweeter.

At the same time… I pick my audience. And I’m aware of setting. Context changes everything; it’s why the line ‘that’s what she said!’ is funny; why you don’t swear in front of children. It’s why we don’t, when asked by our new girlfriend’s parents how our day was, say ‘It was retarded!’ It’s why you don’t have the same conversations with your girlfriend as you have with your grandmother.

Unless they’re both performing on stage in the same North Korean sex club at the same time.

Because we’re not idiots.

Funk Fake #4: Weird Co-Opting of a Crusader Identity.

Because, just like Ludacris, whose words I try to live by every day, especially when it comes to bitches… man, I don’t want to do that. I want to have a good time and enjoy my Jack, or, rather, my Swedish strawberry cider.

It’s midnight. On a Friday. I don’t want to set off down some moral pathway where I start to define myself as someone who voices disapproval of the possible infringement of the right of a group of people to enjoy an existence untainted by bias¹. I certainly don’t want to end up in some foggy internet netherworld of political correctness and high horses and debate over definition and intent.

Especially because it’s unpleasant and unappealing and nobody likes it.

And yet, here I am. I’ve been put here.


You dicks.

Funk Fake #5: Freedom of Speech.

Which is something I believe very strongly in. Where does my subjective truth about what is acceptable or not end and objective truth begin? Can I be justified in calling people out for expressing whatever it is they’re going to express? Isn’t that, like, Communist, or something? It’s definitely Russian, I know that much.

Can I balance thoughts of consequence against thoughts of censorship and find that the scales tip one way or another? Don’t we have freedom of speech on the internet, of all places? We’ve certainly got freedom of porn. All of these questions welled up before my eyes.

But then three sweet, sweet words emerged in my head: right of reply.


Then I figured fuck it. I’d just delete the offending comments, the writers would, I hoped, get the message, and we’d all move on with our lives.

I deleted them, and then thought Ah… damn it. Deletion isn’t really explicitly saying hey, don’t do that, but… ah well. The problem has been dealt with.

Seconds later, more comments appeared from the same people. About censorship, me being a gay little lesbian², uberhomo, quintuple gay (you skipped quadruple, idiots)… et cetera. And I thought damn it! I’ve forgotten the law of the schoolyard! Don’t fuel the fire!

And then I thought Wait, what? I’m 28 years old. These people are 28 years old. And no matter what they say about censorship, there’s no way they’d use the term gay pejoratively in, say, a job interview; they’d self-censor at the drop of a hat and jump squeaking through any hoop that was put in front of them.  They’d contort themselves into mewling pretzels to avoid the appearance of bigotry.They just think they can get away with it in this specific instance.

My next step was to write something non-engaging and non-condoning. I searched for the perfect phrase, and, again, found three simple words.

‘Dude. Not OK.’

To me, that was the perfect pitch of disapproval without judgment or self-righteousness.

It didn’t work.

So I followed it up, explaining that on my personal Facebook page, my online representation of my day to day life, I would censor who and what I pleased, and I don’t condone the use of the word gay as an insult.

Again, this didn’t work.

And I thought You know what? Harvey Milk wouldn’t put up with this bullshit.

Also, I’m getting disrespected here. And yeah, that really kind of pales in comparison to the larger issue, but still… this whole thing is really getting out of hand.

Three times, I had expressed my disapproval. I don’t know what it is about the magic power of the number three, but, there are the three aspects of God, luck runs in threes, apparently the Condor has three days… and so I said to myself The next person who mouths off… well, we’ll just see about that.

At this point, a friend from high school, and the same group, who had been previously silent, lumbered into the discussion and dropped the g word, and subsequently became a cautionary tale of the power of the block button.

A tingling taste, like raw power, or sherbet, or a delicious, fizzy mix of the two, spread across my tongue.

Before anyone had caught on, one of the earlier perpetrators commented again. “You’re so concerned about people saying gay on your stupid facebook page. That’s gay in itself.”




And I don’t care if you are my best friend’s girlfriend.

My phone started to ring at this point, and I ignored it. More comments appeared, this time about hurt feelings.

Not from the people I’d blocked, of course.

Because they couldn’t comment any more.

I spoke to another, unrelated friend about this today.

‘Did you give them any warning?’ she laughed. ‘Maybe they didn’t know that you were going to block them.’

‘Well,’ I said.

‘They fucking know now, don’t they?’


This kind of censorship and debate is a new experience for me. I haven’t found myself in a situation before where I’ve felt the need to tell someone they can’t say something, or that I disagree with a public statement they’ve made, on grounds of discrimination.

I’ve certainly been told in the past that I’ve said things that are out of line.

Which is probably fair, in practical terms, if nothing else.

But it raises the question – who’s to say what’s allowable, and what isn’t? Who is to say, objectively, what can and cannot be said, in which theatre? Who is to say what the appropriate steps to engage with such discussions are?

The answer, frankly, is clear.

I am.







¹ – these are also Ludacris lyrics
² – as if I’ve never been called a lesbian before

Invaders! The enemy is at the gates, and he looks just like us, but with better teeth. And really, we want to be his friend. And there are no gates. I’ve filed this piece under “Rants” and with good reason: I’m about to get right off my bike about British English’s gradual erosion and the slow, insidious advance of a simplified (dumbed down) form of American English.


I have a confession to make, and it’s a hell of a thing to admit to in my first post to a classy writing website like this. I mean, I feel like the guy in an Obama shirt at the Klan rally, but I really want to start off on an honest footing here at TNB.

I’m not a reader.