I’ve been reading this great book called ‘Dumped – Stories of Women Unfriending Women‘ and after an awful night of not being able to sleep, I decided to write my own experiences of rejection.
At the tender age of 9, I left Unley Primary School and my best friend Zoe to spend a year at another school in the Adelaide Hills, closer to where my parents had moved. During that year I made two new best friends, got along great with most of the other kids in my year level, wrote my first novel-length story, and generally very much enjoyed my school life.
A year later, my parents decided they wanted to move back to where we’d been living before. That meant going back to my old school.
I didn’t mind. I was excited, in fact! I had very fond memories of Unley and, at 10 years old, was already nostalgic about studying there again. Furthermore, Zoe was there—someone I’d grown up with and who’d exchanged half of those ‘best friends’ pendants with me before I left—and I was excited to rekindle that friendship and go back to the way things were. On my first day back, I rushed around the playground before school, looking for her. I was wearing our old best friends pendant around my neck to show her when I found her.
She was sitting off to the side with another girl who I didn’t recognise.
“This is Sally,” Zoe told me, apparently eager to introduce us. “Sally plays the cello, too.”
I was confused by all of this. Zoe played the cello? She’d never played the cello before I left!
I don’t remember how the rest of the conversation went because my impression of it was that Zoe couldn’t stop gushing about how great Sally was (which may or may not be what actually happened), that I immediately very much disliked Sally (which was definitely to do with my impression that Zoe was gushing about her) but one thing I remember very clearly is the image of them walking away to go and do best friend things without me. It’s one of the clearest images I have: them sitting together on a specific bench, facing each other and thick as thieves.
I stood there where they’d left me, spun. It never occurred to me Zoe would have a new best friend. I had assumed things would simply go back to how they were. It was a nasty shock.
I can only really guess at what happened next because my memories of this year are a series of traumatic silhouettes, but I was always very forthright so I suspect I probably told Zoe that I didn’t like Sally, Zoe then told Sally, and Sally then told her friends: a group of older, prettier, more popular girls who then swore vengeance on me in Sally’s name.
For the rest of that year, Sally’s friends would degrade me to my face whenever they saw me. Their first point of business was the point out how I had no friends, because who would want to be friends with me? It was no wonder Zoe preferred Sally to me! I was ugly, fat and boring. When my homeroom teacher failed to protect me against this bullying in class, they left me notes telling me that I was such an awful person that not even the teachers liked me. I was weird.
Recess and lunch became about finding places to hide from them so they couldn’t continue their campaign of making sure I understood what a waste of oxygen I was. Unfortunately, those places were usually out of bounds places on school grounds which meant that I’d get in trouble from teachers about being places I shouldn’t be, which only provided more fuel for my bullies to snicker behind their hands at me as I got punished.
Even at 10 years old I was an avid writer, and I remember one of them once snatching my notebook away from me to do a dramatic reading mocking everything that was written there.
No one stopped them. The teachers didn’t stop them. My parents didn’t stop them. None of the students stopped them. My impression of that year was that I was very, very alone.
I have this incredibly vivid memory of Clare Calendar, their ringleader and someone who was much taller and older than me, shouting in my face about how she hoped I’d get hit by a car on the way home from school.
Later, looking back on that year, I can see I went from being a self-confident and happy person to being withdrawn, self-doubting and depressed. I started comfort eating that year, too. Despite the fact Clare would constantly taunt me about being fat, I wasn’t—not yet. Later, I would be. I am now.
The following year my parents moved again, this time interstate. At my new school I was bullied again and this time the whole class joined in. I don’t recall anything I could have done to incite that treatment of me other than the fact I was ugly and wore glasses—not that bullying the ugly kid with glasses hasn’t always been a fine traditional in itself.
My fellow students broke into my locker and sticky-taped my tampons all over my locker and called me ‘dildo girl’ (the difference between a tampon and a dildo was apparently not well understood at 11), and once, in drama, we were all asking anonymous questions of each other via notes as a class-bonding exercise, and someone wrote me a note that another kid read out, “How often do you stick your flute up your pussy every night?” It was a reference to how all the kids decided I must have to masturbate a lot because who would want to fuck someone as ugly as me? After that incident, I can clearly remember hiding in a cupboard to avoid going to drama class.
To make matters worse, I was already self-conscious about my body from my experiences the previous year, so when I wore very baggy clothes on casual clothes day, all the students joked about my ‘maternity’ wear.
When I got caught smoking at that school, my parents moved me to my fourth school. I had a reasonable time there compared to my other schools, but I do still remember the students giving me a nickname ‘George’ after George Costanza from Seinfeld, because I was ugly, short, fat and boring.
Between then and now, through high school, university and a good 15 years in the workforce, I’ve had loads of therapy to try and rebuild my shattered self-esteem.
I didn’t realise how shattered it was, though, until I had a very nasty experience in fandom three years ago.
I joined the Overwatch fandom expecting everything would be like my old fandoms: collaborative, enthusiastic, and just a big pile of excited fangirls screaming about characters and creating content. It was like that for about two months. During that time, I wrote dozens of little fanfics about my favourite ships, I made friends with another ship writer—let’s call her Voice—and generally had a good time.
Then, I got my first piece of hate mail. It was a shock, because people normally messaged me to ask me life questions or say how much they love my stories.
“lmao what a fucking joke. This is why old white women shouldn’t write brown women. You’re a fucking disgrace and I hope you fucking die”
I sat there for a moment. What had I done wrong? Shit, I must have written something inadvertently racist. I went a poured over my fics that contained the character mentioned to see if I could figure out what I’d fucked up. I couldn’t, but I unpublished the fic I thought they might be talking about just in case.
I went to bed, shaken in a way I couldn’t explain.
The hate mail didn’t stop there. ‘everything you write is a fucking joke’ was the next one, and ‘I never would have bought your book if I’d known how fucking racist you are you piece of literal shit. Can’t wait to throw your garbage in the trash where it belongs when I get home’ and then, simply ‘pls kill yourself’.
All the messages were anonymous, I couldn’t tell who they were from and I couldn’t ask them what they were referring to. I also couldn’t figure out what I’d done to be labelled racist. I assume I’d written something accidentally insensitive in one of my fics (as white writers are apt to accidentally do), but when I made a post on my Tumblr asking people to point specifically to the stories they had issues with and tell me specifically what I’d done wrong so I didn’t repeat the problem and keep hurting people, I didn’t get an answer.
But I did get more hate mail. It got more nasty, and more personal. They’d call me an ’boring old white woman’, ‘ugly white bread’ and ‘literal fucking scum’.
I remember specifically one time my ship-writing friend and I posted a fic at the same time: hers got loads of gushing praise and mine got loads of vitriolic hate. I remember crying and telling her I was jealous of her because of that—something I thought I could trust her to hear and understand, but something would very much later regret telling her.
I pulled back from the Overwatch fandom a little after that because I was having such awful experiences in it and couldn’t figure out what I was doing so wrong, and Voice subsequently went on to make new friends. To her credit, she tried to pull me into her new friendship group, but I felt—well, I didn’t feel like I gelled with her new friends. I got bad vibes, so I left the Skype group. I continued receiving hate mail without understanding why, and I continued to cry over it and feel horribly confused and deeply disturbed by it.
On January 4, 2017, a series of awful things happened:
Someone affiliated with Voice’s new friendship group made a call-out post about me, alleging all sorts of fucking horrible things, like ‘receipts’ on how I am horribly racist, ‘receipts’ on how I apparently encourage minors to date adults and therefore am an abuse apologist, ‘receipts’ on how I apparently groom minors (???) and an OMG! SCANDAL! About how I’d apparently written an incest fic once—that one point was the only part of the post that’s true. I enjoy writing gritty, complex subjects and I’d written a fic that included an analysis of incest some years before that. Apparently the existence this fic proved all the other awful things about me were true.
To my horror, Voice’s new friends reblogged that post to warn people about me. They even added commentary to it and to their blogs about how they’d always known I was garbage.
When I went to Voice to point that out and ask her what the fuck was going on, she said, “For my own mental health I’ve decided I can’t be friends with you anymore. Thanks for understanding”.
Her new friends gloated on their blogs about how Voice had chosen them and not me.
I later found out that those first horrible hate messages I got were actually because of her new friends; Voice’s new best friend had been spreading rumours about me brownfacing on twitter for months, and that was why people were calling me racist: over something I never did. I’d spent all these time assuming my writing was horribly racist and it wasn’t even about that.
Voice’s new friend had been keeping receipts on me for months, in preparation to call me out.
They’d all been gossiping about me for months—Voice included—even before they’d pretended to befriend me.
As I scrolled down Voice’s new friend’s, twitter reading all this horrible bullshit about myself, I was chilled to the bone by a realisation: Voice had chosen to be friends with this person over me. She considered someone who behaved like this was better for her mental health than I was (I was apparently too ‘depressed’ and ‘jealous’ for her—harking back to that one time I told her I was horribly jealous everyone loved her writing while I was getting so much hate). For the first time since I started receiving all that hate mail, I felt like exactly what they were calling me: worthless garbage.
It was like I was 10 years old again, watching Zoe walk away from me with her new friend.
After that, I had a breakdown.
I’m still pulling myself out of that breakdown, and still untangling all the threads of bullying throughout every aspect of my life. Still trying to find pieces of my shredded self-esteem amongst the wreckage with the hope that one day I’ll be able to piece them back together.
The thing I grapple with is that my ex-friends are still very close with the bullies they dumped me for. Meanwhile, I struggle to make and keep close friends because I just don’t trust people. I especially don’t trust women. I struggle with this horrible split desire of both desperately wanting a close-knit friendship group the type in which my bullies always seemed to be nestled in, and being deeply untrusting of any women-centred friendship groups with any sort of central person or ringleader. Twice more since 2017, I’ve observed women-centred cliques call-out and personally degrade people not in their group for stupidly petty things, twice more I’ve also observed them excitedly create content with each other, be each other’s best cheerleaders and be loving and supportive of each other.
It doesn’t seem fair that people who intentionally hurt others get to have that: they get to be creative and love themselves while I’m the opposite. I struggle so much to write now, I write completely alone, and I find it very, very difficult to be confident and have any faith in my abilities.
It doesn’t seem fair they get trust people, feel loveable, and feel like they have value while I don’t.
In fact, I was crying to my wife a few nights ago that I want to daydream that I’m best friends with Jaina Proudmoore, but my daydreams always get ruined because I literally can’t think of a single reason she’d have any interest in me at all. After all, I’m ugly, fat and boring, aren’t I? Literal garbage.
I’m still learning the hardest lesson: in the end, life isn’t fair. The Western concept of Karma doesn’t exist, and the bullies always win. Bullies get to live great lives and never be accountable for how they hurt people. They get to have people like them, like their creative content and think they’re wonderful. They get to go on to do good things and change the world, and they get to have strong friendships regardless of what they’ve done. It’s the people they hurt who are left cleaning up in the end.
I’m my life I’ve had loads of incredibly positive experiences, but it’s these traumatic ones that have ended up defining me, as much as I spend a lot of time, energy and money fighting against that.
These awful people have shaped the course of my life much more keenly than any of my positive experiences. It doesn’t matter how many books I write, how many people tell me they love my stories or how many of my friends reassure me I’m loveable and worth something, I’m still locked in an internal struggle with who I still feel I really am.
In the end, I’m still that ten year old crying alone in the corner of the library because I’m fat, ugly and worthless.