First, I want to thank everybody for their ongoing support of Kelly and me. The past two months of focusing on our health has been beneficial to each of us, though we each still have a long way to go. It’s been wonderful to see the community that continues in our absence.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the impact that So You’re EnGAYged had on my health. The site was (and is) awesome – it gave me so many opportunities to make new friends, learn new things about building a website, and be a part of a cause that I deeply care about. However, over the past year or so, all of this began to be overshadowed by one thing: awful, hurtful e-mails.
I anticipated getting some hate mail. Every website does! When we started SYE, we thought it would come in the form of bigoted comments, and we focused a ton on moderating thoroughly. But I was wrong. The hate mail wasn’t from homophobes or random readers. For every 100 awesome vendors that we talked to, there was one terrible email from a wedding vendor that left me in tears.
Rarely were these vendors bigots – I want to make that clear. The hate wasn’t about our cause or about the LGBT community. It was that these vendors weren’t getting their way, and they felt entitled. They didn’t recognize that we put our readers before our vendors – that readers are, and will always be, our #1 priority.
If we felt that a vendor’s website had heteronormative language on it, I’d ask them to revise it. If a vendor had no reviews on a third party website, I’d ask them to email us again when they did. We would never reject an applicant in these cases (it takes a LOT to get an official rejection from us), we would always ask them to revise and contact us again when it’s updated. We even offered a free guidebook to help them change any heteronormative language to inclusive language. We did everything we could to help vendors be good fits for the site in all the kind ways we could think of. For context, here is my form email to vendors who didn’t meet the inclusive language requirement:
Hello [Name] – Thanks so much for your application. I did notice that you have a few cases of heteronormative language (where it’s assumed that the reader or visitor is a part of a heterosexual couple) on your website, such as “[example copied from their site]“. We wrote a free guide on how to update your language to be more inclusive; could you please update your client-facing materials to be 100% inclusive and let me know when you’ve done so?
The nasty responses started with one or two that Kelly and I just laughed off. We believe in SYE and we believe that our rules are fair. I’m a pro at handling conversations politely and not playing a mean person’s game, and I took on the vendor communications. But as we continued and grew, we started getting more routine emails that weren’t real responses to the above message. They were more hateful, more nasty. The main kinds I’d receive were:
- “I’m gay, how DARE you not automatically accept me!”
- “I think you’re making up the word ‘heteronormative’! By eliminating the words ‘As the bride watches the groom walk down the aisle’ I will be offending straight people!”
- “You are straight. You have no idea what it means to be a part of this community, you bigot!”
- “Your site is TERRIBLE. I am withdrawing my application! How dare you say those things to me! YOU are TERRIBLE!”
Mostly, people just didn’t read the guidebook, and didn’t understand that “inclusive” language meant “applies to LGBT and straight couples alike”. Remember, these probably came in once or twice a month – not very much, right? But, like many of you already know, hateful words are much stronger than any other kind of word.
I might receive one of these emails, then receive another five emails from pleasant, terrific vendors. Not even twenty nice emails could alleviate the sadness and frustration I was feeling from the nastygrams. A few this year even had me questioning my self-worth – what was it I was doing to not be able to prevent these emails from coming in? I’d updated the vendor application countless times to make it super clear what our requirements were, even linking to the guidebook there. I felt totally worthless and like I’d failed. Nothing I could do could stop these words from appearing in my inbox. There was nothing I or others could do that would make me feel better after reading them.
I have Crohn’s disease, a chronic disease that is triggered by stress for me. After a week or so went by after a bad email, I’d start to forget about it. That was really the only thing that’d make me feel better. But still, my body wasn’t having it. As I continued to deal with random awful vendor emails, my Crohn’s would flare. No matter how positively/politely I thought I handled a response, I would still feel frustrated and upset. No matter how ludicrous a vendor’s words were, they still hurt.
I decided to write this post as a message to everyone, not just vendors. Everyone needs to remember how much their words have an effect. The internet can feel like a lovely, anonymous place where you can say what you want and you won’t see the impact it has on others. But it has a very real impact, one that for me was part of our July decision to stop working on real weddings and vendor listings.
I’m so glad that no vendors whose words stung would have made it near our vendor listings, and I’m so thankful for all of the terrific vendors who are up there. But health comes first, and our July decision has come with its own set of nastygrams from vendors (“but you should make an exception for ME!”). It’s reassured me that our decision was the right one.