As a queer woman of colour, the internet has played a huge role in my life. It has offered me a massive pool of resources on gender and sexuality that were just not available to me in real-world spaces like school. Even more importantly, it has given me a community and a space to be comfortable with who I am.
Last year, for instance, I took the plunge and finally wrote about my experiences as an asexual person in India, and the internet became a great space to cultivate my sense of self. At the same time, though, I saw the many, many oppressive behaviours of the outside world replicated online.
It was only recently that a friend of mine logged onto Facebook one day, to find a photo of himself transformed into a homophobic meme. And it wasn’t long before I too was confronted by these toxic attitudes.
The more vocal I became, the more people felt the need to counter me, and tell me they knew me better than I did. A former professor from my own university even went so far as calling me a “pretentious wanker.” Each time something like this happened, I was reminded what a hostile place the Internet can be, especially if you stick out like a queer thumb.
Having already put myself out there, so publicly, I dreaded the thought of being ridiculed or turned into a meme. But one day it hit me – what if I could preempt it all, and make my own memes, or something as visually engaging? So, I started making short comics, modelled after things that were said to me, and the things that I wanted to say back. I even gave them a custom hashtag – #DailyCommuteDrawings, and tried to address hate and ignorance in an entirely new way.
Pretty soon my doodling ceased to be a private exercise, and became something that people in my network could also get a laugh out of. In the process, I found a way to respond to bullying and harassment online, as well as address issues that needed attention – from everyday microaggressions against women and queer people, to internalised misogyny, and much more.
As it turns out, looking back and laughing about it really does do the trick sometimes. Counter speech (no matter what form it takes) has always been a way to challenge negative, unreasonable and oppressive attitudes that many people have about things they don’t quite fully understand. Making ourselves and our experiences more audible (or in my case, more visible) helps us take back control of the narrative.
Bullies and harassers online should be reported and blocked, but it’s also worth engaging other people in a conversation about why the harassment isn’t okay. And the more breakthroughs we can have with those in our circle, the better we can secure the internet as space to express ourselves.
Enjoyed reading Shambhavi’s web comics? Make sure you share this ahead on Facebook because the internet is #NoPlace4Hate!