The strange case of Sophie Miriam Herold, the “peaceful blogger” who thinks people should strive to be “normal” or forfeit all right to life, has split opinion. Is she simply young, misguided and angry, pouring out opinions that she will regret in later years, or is she a greater menace than that? If Polari’s Villains column – where this story ran yesterday – were to cover all the homophobic and transphobic commentary on the web it would need to be run by a team of hundreds. The targets selected, therefore, are individuals or organisations that wield influence, or those who actively fight to take away people’s rights.
Herold is actively waging a war against LGBT people through the medium of the internet. She is attacking people directly, and she gathers information in order to out people who are not ready to come out. This is, therefore, not solely about opinion. This is about action. If I were to write about how I’d like to, say, bully anyone with bleached hair, it would be a terrible thing, but (excepting incitement) it would be no more than disagreeable opinion. If I were to go out and start bullying anyone with bleached hair it would be actionable. Herold is actively bullying and outing people who, at times, have something to fear in coming out.
It turns out that Herold has been at this for a while, and offering up an email address that is in fact unusable. It is not just a phase. In a message on Project Queer a year ago she challenged a young lesbian to “grow up … face the serious side of life and behave normally.” And then she adds, “Being with a man can be hard, I know. They are disgusting, simple minded and horny all the time. But you have to face that, you have to go through that!” It is almost hard to believe it is real, to be honest. But the name, the email address, and the reported tactics of this person are hard to ignore. One account is closed down and a new one opens up with the same ideas and intents behind it.
This is where the anonymity of the internet makes this situation really difficult to assess as well as monitor. Is this one person? Is it an actual 21-year-old woman, as she claims? Quite a few blogs running the story were using a picture of Herold. Polari in turn used that picture only to learn that this was not the right person after all. It is a terrible moment when you realise you were caught up in the pandemonium and made a mistake like that. This raises questions about how we can best approach homophobia on the internet and what we can do about it. If an individual or organisation is in the public sphere, then I think it is reasonable to use their image, as it is verifiable. Otherwise it is not.
In the aftermath of this story, it is time to ask hard questions about what our values are, and what our tactics should be when those values come under sustained attack.