It May Be An Echo Chamber, But I Can’t Survive Without It

Photo by Elijah O'Donnell

Clara Barnhurst

I’m an argumentative person. I find that discussion helps me learn; I like to know why people think as they do and that usually means coming out and asking. However the the discussion goes, I know more by the end. I can’t really lose. At least, I couldn’t lose when I was hidden. It’s different now.

While I refuse to give credence to the TERF view that I was raised with male privilege — it’s more faceted than that — I have to accept that before I was aware of my gender identity I wasn’t threatened by discussion on certain topics. I wasn’t explicitly aware that a few billion people in this world want me dead. I was quick to make it a thought puzzle that a few billion people wanted a few million people dead and it wasn’t upsetting to me.

Hindsight says I did have an emotional reaction that wasn’t that of someone who held the thoughts outside their sphere, but I wasn’t aware that my feelings were different from the white men around me. My female friends (the majority of my friends have always been female) would justify it by saying I was raised well, and I couldn’t deny that my mum gave me a powerful example. Of course, we all know it ran deeper than that.

Since Trump came into office, I have to admit I’ve done a lot of retreating. I retreated from the news generally some time in the 90s when my dad, a professor of news media, stopped consuming the news in any form. I figured if he didn’t have to keep up to write his books, I didn’t have to bother either. My wilful avoidance intensified once it became clear that I was an active target. I couldn’t face it.

I’ve had many conversations about echo chambers. Usually laden with criticism: why do people refuse to go find out how the ‘enemy’ thinks? Isn’t that the best way to outsmart them? Know thy enemy, right? We would laugh at how conservatives would bury their heads in the sand, except so were we. Well. I was, anyway.

The thing about intellectualising problems so we can have a discussion — raising points ‘for the sake of argument’ — is it requires distance. The issues have to be removed from us in order to have a proper discussion of them. We can’t be too emotionally involved, or we have to be able to set our involvement aside for the discussion to happen. I can’t do that anymore.


A few billion people in this world want me dead. The Trump administration wants me worse than dead, they want my obliteration. How do I step away and have a discussion about that? This isn’t some extremist group that does violence, where the victims caught in the crossfire are essentially random. This is an orchestrated effort to destroy me and everyone else like me. A final solution.

The rise of this madman and the Christian Taliban is the result of American politics disenfranchising voters. That much is obvious. People are angry and they are looking to anyone who appears on their side. I can understand this stuff, but I can’t set aside the whole wanting-me-dead part of their policy long enough to really talk about it.

Politically, I’m more of an anarcho-socialist: I hate them all. But I’ll still vote ‘cause I’m not going to smash the state today. I depend on a system I hate and until we have an actual revolution I’ll work with the system I have. Evolution will do.

Photo by Brian Wertheim

The thing I didn’t recognise about echo chambers before is they keep people sane. My mental health isn’t going to withstand exposure to mumsnet every day. I can’t allow myself to spiral out over a discussion with Trump-thumpers, as my mum calls them. I need my echo chamber.

I don’t believe the flip side is the same. I don’t think white supremacists are so threatened by the opposition that they start considering suicide as I do. I don’t believe that the people that want me dead are losing sleep over what we say about them. Their echo chambers aren’t safe spaces that insulate them from true threats; they aren’t being threatened.


That’s the crux of it: we aren’t threatening them in any meaningful way. It’s possible that’s why the significant number of white women that voted yes to white supremacy despite, or maybe because of, the oppressive misogyny that came with it. They felt as though they were somehow immune. All too often, people advocate policies that target the undesirable without understanding that policy punishes everyone.

The thing about being the target is I can’t ignore that I am prey to these people. I’m asked to stop and consider some finer point of sociology and I can cognitively understand what they mean, but I’m unable to stop myself from feeling under attack. Anxiety rises; my discussion head is lost. The debate rationalises violence against me and mine.

It’s important to note that I am frustrated with my inability to talk about it. I want to have the discussion. I want to pick things apart and understand. I need to fight this and finding the space to study why people believe things is part of knowing how to fight. But I’m vulnerable, I’m frightened and a government wants to make me disappear. I can’t begin to understand such a thing.

It’s easy to study the things that don’t affect you. It’s no bother to be civil about the outrageous when you aren’t the target. It’s OK to stress yourself and delve into the other side when your mental health problems don’t hinge on the issue. On matters of misogyny, transphobia, and the fact that a few billion people want me dead, I can’t do any of that. Maybe I am a coward for shutting it out, but I see no other choice.

Comments (2)
No. 1-2

It's not a simple thing. You need to know enough to protect yourself but not so much you become overwhelmed. Historically, people were not that aware of us. We transitioned and disappeared for our safety or moved somewhere very liberal where we felt safe. People would see "us" on TV, but never looked for us in their daily lives. So be blended and went quietly on with our lives. It's only been in the last 10 years or so that Trans people have become so much more public about everything. With the passage of Gay Marriage the politician's spotlight has moved from the LGB to the T. It's the same boring arguments they used against the gay community now directed at the trans community. Unfortunately we are a fraction of the size of the LGB community and thus need stronger allies. Since this will "splash" onto the intersex community we may find some help there. So I read the news, then I take my granddaughter to the park or playground. All that matters to her is her "Gamma" loves her and that's good enough for me.


I've been a news junkie for years, but since realizing that I'm transgender, the news hurts in a way it never did before. Just like you said, reading about how this or that group wants people like you to suffer/not exist is not just an academic exercise anymore, its painful.

I haven't figured out what to do with the news. One the one hand, I want to stay aware so I can "fight back." But on the other hand, it's hard to fight back when the terrible news hurts so much that I want to shrink into myself and hide or disappear. This post all of it. Thank you for posting it.

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