Thursday, October 18, 2012

An update from Zathlazip about life after her outing

After I posted Social Mob Justice: The Outing of Zathlazip, I got an email from Zathlazip. With her permission, here’s what she had to say:

I saw that you put an analysis out there of what happened to me in 2008 with WisCon. I appreciate the parts about me being mobbed, because I do feel that's accurate.

As for the folks who contacted the university, that did happen, but my graduate advisor was very understanding. He actually thought it was funny, and he teased me about it for a few weeks, but I had a very difficult time seeing this as so entertaining. After one of the WisCon attendees went into my office, I was afraid to go into work, and I was so stressed that I ate very little. I eventually did have to go to a doctor about the stress and not eating enough.

I did have to contact the police about the harassment, and a very nice policeman who honestly didn't really know much about social media was as considerate as he could have been.

A letter was mailed to my advisor and to a dean at my school, and my advisor did show me the letter. It made some claims that I didn't agree with, and was written by someone claiming to be an adjunct professor who had authority in the academic sphere. I was never contacted by any dean or any member of the administration about it. It doesn't surprise me, because the convention was not associated with the university and I hadn't broken any laws. Some people have claimed that I had signed some kind of form saying I wouldn't harass anybody, and that that's the reason I should have been booted from graduate school? I don't remember any such form. It's generally school policy and decent sense not to harass people, but I just wrote a thing on a comedy forum and took it down when other people got mad; I never went after any of these individuals with intent to harass them. Anyway, story short, people at the university felt more sympathy than anything else.

To see what was still happening with my reputation, I checked the web every once in a while to see where my name was popping up. In 2009, I think, there was that issue of coffeeandink being outed with her real name. I generally stay far, far away from feminist blogs nowadays, but I found it because I had done a search on myself. In one of her posts showing how upset she was about this, she actually called me out by name, saying that the person who had done this to her was just as bad as [my full name]. I contacted her about the hypocrisy of this, and she did change it to only my first name.

This year, I was contacted by a reporter at the UK version of Glamour magazine doing a story on internet trolls. I told her that I still get panicky thinking of the harassment I received, but I agreed to do the interview nonetheless as long as she didn't use my real name. She asked me some questions, then wrote an article as if this was first person with me speaking. A few of the details were incorrect, like that it implied I joked about a transwoman going into a women's bathroom (which would have been a despicable thing to do) instead of the actual case of me being snarky about a transman going into the women's bathroom, but overall I believe it generally covered how things were going for me. The interviewer asked me if I felt like I was internet famous, and I said something like "No! Of course not! People forgot about this a week or two after it happened. But with internet caches searchable, I'm just hoping that I can get a job with this degree I've worked for years to obtain." I tried not to cry during the interview, but bringing up all these memories of what people tried to do to me was tough.

I'm not sure if this will affect my future job searches or not. So far, it hasn't seemed to, but in this economy I really wish I didn't have to worry about it. I don't think about WisCon or being terrorized every day anymore, thankfully. I don't like that I generally have to mention this thing when I start dating someone, because eventually they'll probably do a search on my name, but I guess a dirty internet past happens to a lot of people these days.

Another thing... I knew they had a panel about me and issues relating to what I did at the WisCon in 2009. At that same hour that that was happening, I skydived for the first time. If people want to be stuck in the past, they can do that, but I wanted to show myself that I'm about progress, moving forward, and making my own life better.

It may be four years too late to convince people I'm not really the boogeyman, unfortunately. I hope that my current optimism about my life doesn't make anyone think that what they did to me then was okay; getting over what people did, and what's out there with my name on it without my consent, was a struggle that I wish didn't happen to anybody who wasn't a public enough figure to have experience handling it. Without friends, family, and academic support through it all, I think the outcome could have been much worse.

I did get my PhD this year, and I'm so thankful that the work I've put in paid off. I've had a lot of support from my academic advisors and the administration at the university, and without them I couldn't have made it through. I'm incredibly thankful and honored to be able to say I do have a doctorate now.

In 2010-2011, I wrote a grant proposal to my university to bring in female environmental engineers to speak at my university about their path to professional success and what they recommend for mentoring female engineers in college and graduate school. Although the gender ratio is equaling out on the college level (less so for engineers than scientists, but there are still improvements), I've seen a lot of women drop out of graduate school, and I've seen others leave the possibility of going for an academic position to instead follow their male partners to wherever their postdoc or professorship position brings them. The grant was funded, and I got co-sponsorships from a couple other departments, and I was able to coordinate the trips of female professors to come here. It was a great experience.

Thankfully, no one who approved my grant proposal, and none of the professors I invited, took notice of the WisCon issue, otherwise I doubt this would have been so successful. It gives me a lot of hope that the Google bombing didn't reach the level where I couldn't even contribute to the furthering of professional women even if I had wanted to!

You're welcome to use any of this that you want, or not. I just wanted you to be a person who knew what happened after May 2008. Of course, please don't use my real name. I'm not planning on changing it, because I have a doctorate under it and am proud of who I am.

If anyone wants to help make this right, the solution is very simple. If you do a search for my real name, and your own blog pops up as a result, go to that post and change it to my user handle, Zathlazip, instead. It's likely that making this change will not much affect the interest or frequency of hits you'll receive. If you are the administrator of or contributor to a wiki that has my real name and personal information, such as what school I attended, change it to my user handle instead and remove or make more vague the personal information. If your blog does not give out my real name, but you are the friend of someone who does have a blog giving it, please ask them to change my real name to a user handle. Changing my real name to a user handle was done for the WisCon Chronicles and did not take away from the message of the book. It will help me, a real human being with a real life ahead of me, move forward, and it may help the community move forward too. Thank you.