Following is the full transcript of actor, writer and activist Dylan Marron’s TED Talk: How I Turn Negative Online Comments into Positive Offline Conversations. For the speaker’s full bio, please visit here.
Hi. I’ve received hate online. A lot of it. And it comes with the territory of my work.
I’m a digital creator, I make things specifically for the internet. Like, a few years ago, I made a video series called “Every Single Word” where I edited down popular films to only the words spoken by people of color, as a way to empirically and accessibly talk about the issue of representation in Hollywood.
Then, later, as transphobic bathroom bill started gaining media attention around the United States, I hosted and produced an interview series called “Sitting in Bathrooms with Trans People” where I did exactly that. And then —
Sure, I’ll take applause. Thank you
And then, are you familiar with those unboxing videos on YouTube where YouTubers open up the latest electronic gadgets? Great, so I satirized those in a weekly series, where instead I unboxed intangible ideologies like police brutality, masculinity and the mistreatment of Native Americans. My work — Thanks. One person applauding, God bless. Mom, hi!
So, my work became popular. Very popular. I got millions of views, a ton of great press and a slew of new followers. But the flip side of success on the internet is internet hate. I was called everything From “beta” to “snowflake” and, of course, the ever-popular “cuck.” Don’t worry, I will break these terms down for you. So, “beta,” for those of you unfamiliar, is shorthand online lingo for “beta male.” But let’s be real, I wear pearl earrings and my fashion aesthetic is rich-white-woman-running-errands, so I’m not angling to be an alpha. Doesn’t totally work.
Now, “snowflake” is a put-down for people who are sensitive and believe themselves to be unique, and I’m a millennial and an only child, so, duh! But my favorite, favorite, favorite is “cuck.” It’s a slur, short for “cuckold,” for men who have been cheated on by their wives. But friends, I am so gay, that if I had a wife, I would encourage her to cheat on me. Thank you.
Let’s take a look at some of this negativity in action. Sometimes it’s direct. Like Marcos, who wrote, “You’re everything I hate in a human being.” Thank you, Marcos. Others are more concise. Like Donovan, who wrote, “gaywad fagggggg.” Now, I do need to point out, Donovan is not wrong, OK? In fact, he’s right on both counts, so credit where credit is due. Thank you, Donovan.
Others write to me with questions, like Brian, who asked, “Were you born a bitch or did you just learn to be one over time?” But my favorite thing about this is that once Brian was done typing, his finger must have slipped because then he sent me the thumbs-up emoji. So, babe, thumbs up to you, too.
It’s fun to talk about these messages now. Right? And it’s cathartic to laugh at them. But I can tell you that it really does not feel good to receive them. At first, I would screenshot their comments and make fun of their typos, but this soon felt elitist and ultimately unhelpful. So over time, I developed an unexpected coping mechanism.
Because most of these messages I received were through social media, I could often click on the profile picture of the person who sent them and learn everything about them. I could see pictures they were tagged in, posts they’d written, memes they’d shared, and somehow, seeing that it was a human on the other side of the screen made me feel a little better. Not to justify what they wrote, right? But just to provide context. Still, that didn’t feel like enough.
So, I called some of them — only the ones I felt safe talking to — with a simple opening question: “Why did you write that?” The first person I spoke to was Josh. He had written to tell me that I was a moron, I was a reason this country was dividing itself, and he added at the end that being gay was a sin. I was so nervous for our first conversation. This wasn’t a comments section. So I couldn’t use tools like muting or blocking. Of course, I guess, I could have hung up on him. But I didn’t want to. Because I liked talking to him. Because I liked him. Here’s a clip of one of our conversations …
[(Audio)…. Dylan Marrion: Josh, you said you’re about to graduate high school, right?
Dylan Marrion: How is high school for you?
Josh: Am I allowed to use the H-E-double-hockey-stick word?
Dylan Marrion: Oh, yeah. You’re allowed to.
Josh: It was hell.
Dylan Marrion: Really?
Josh: And it’s still hell right now, even though it’s only two weeks left I’m a little bit bigger — I don’t like to use the word “fat,” but I am a little bit bigger than a lot of my classmates and they seem to judge me before they even got to know me.