For seven years, I have been gathering donations of menstrual supplies for homeless people and dropping them off at emergency shelters. I started doing this because I was in a bad way. My hearing loss had become extreme and my career was tanking. So I needed a way to rebuild myself and I did it with tampons and pads.
Along the way, I got a cochlear implant which much improved my hearing but there was no way really to recapture my career at its height – once you slide, you slide – so I decided to be productive and amazing in other ways than the ways I had been for many years. Menstrual supplies continued to be a thing for me. No one else in town was doing it and it became my territory.
So this effort is both simple and complex. Getting people to donate supplies and cash requires effort, skill, and some charm. I’ve never been an especially charming person but I’ve developed. I’ve learned to appreciate people and celebrate their generosity and do it in a way that is from the heart which required, you might guess, finding my own heart.
For years, I’ve counted out donations and put them into pink garbage bags that I load on to our truck and deliver around town. People are usually happy to see me show up, sometimes they help me unload, they ask if I want a receipt and I say no, I just drive off like the Lone Ranger. But because it makes other people want to donate, I often take pictures and I post those pictures on social media. It’s part of showing donors where their investment is going – to this shelter, that one, to this outreach program, and so on.
This week I posted pictures on social media of a big donation at a local emergency shelter and within minutes I was accused of supporting a facility that discriminated against LGBTQ people. Having known the shelter and its staff for twenty years, I knew this accusation to be false. If anything, the shelter in question was exemplary in its welcoming, non-judgmental character and had often been the place that accepted people that other shelters were unable to serve. So, of course, I defended the facility.
Then ensued more criticism on social media, more accusations, on into the night. People uninformed about homelessness but intensely concerned about LGBTQ discrimination piled on. It was astonishing to me – my little good hearted self stuffing my pink bags with tampons and pads as a way to keep my footing in the world – I was getting lambasted.
So I went to bed and when I woke up I realized that I’d been bullied. By well-meaning people, maybe, but bullied nonetheless. Rat-a-tat-tatted by people who so thoroughly believe what they’re saying that they can’t, for a minute, countenance an alternative point of view. Barraged. Today, because of a comment someone made, I realized that I had been introduced to ‘call-out culture’ – a new name for ganging up on someone, not in person, but on social media for some offense, in my case, dropping off tampons and pads to an unacceptable place but it could have been for a poorly worded tweet or a dumb mistake or whatever.
I decided not to take it. It’s that simple. I deleted comments on social media that were offensive and I did it with no apology, violating my allegiance to free speech and just deciding that certain things weren’t going to take place in the social media space that I control. I felt a little close-minded about it, like I wasn’t willing to entertain different points of view, but the points of view weren’t just different, they were hostile and disparaging. And just like I wouldn’t stand in the middle of the street and have a gang of people yelling at me, I decided that I wouldn’t sit at my laptop and see one unpleasant comment after another in my feed. So I erased them.
But this is where we are now. We are in a new era of flame throwing, a not so brave new world of casting aspersions on people and institutions, assailing people’s intentions and integrity and when they respond, accusing them of being defensive, unable to ‘handle the truth.’ It’s so crummy and so dumb. But so tempting, especially now, when there is so much on social media that any one of us detests and could speak volumes to. Drop a Trump line in the water and I want to be on it like a blue shark. But I don’t, not anymore, not for a long while. If I really disagree with someone, really disagree with them, I move on, I don’t say anything. Unless it’s Senator Ron Johnson, then I let it rip. Otherwise, I’m Miss Manners.
I report all this tonight to get it off my chest. And to sort out what I think which is what writing is actually for, you know, like Joan Didion said and I’ve repeated a thousand times, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.”