By Jon Higgins, Ed.D. (DoctorJonPaul)
There are a lot of things to hate about the pandemic. From not being able to see your friends and family regularly, to being limited in the time you spend out of your home—much of the pandemic has left people feeling isolated and disconnected. However, both technology and social media have helped many people find new ways to build community with the help of apps like Clubhouse.
Clubhouse, which is still in its beta phase, grants iOS users the ability to convene with people in different locations in real time, by invitation only. From topics ranging from politics to social justice, many of the rooms created by said users create the opportunity to learn about the thoughts and opinions from both celebrities and ordinary people who might have some important thoughts to add.
Although many have praised the app for how it has amplified Black and Brown thought leaders making positive strides in their fields, there is always a downside. One of the more prominent disadvantages to this app is how marginalized people with intersecting identities—mainly queer Black individuals and other queer people of color—have been treated on the platform.
Clubhouse has fueled a culture of misinformation that has led to targeted violence for queer and trans people both on and off the app. Several individuals, including myself, have been in rooms that were marketed as safe spaces where other users began to make a mockery of LGBTQ+ experiences. Simple conversations about music and entertainment have often led to firestorms around celebrities and other prominent figures and included dialogue that was highly homophobic and transpobic. In moments that I have tried to indicate misogyny or transphobia, I have been “moved to the audience” (a feature that only a moderator has) mid-sentence or removed from the room completely. I have also experienced people finding me on other platforms and trolling me for my advocacy in Clubhouse rooms, driving me to briefly make both my Twitter and Instagram accounts private.
The biggest con to Clubhouse is that many of the safety precautions its creators have implemented are actually a double edged sword. While the app notes that recording and screenshotting these moments are prohibited, this rule keeps LGBTQ+ individuals from collecting necessary evidence to report those who engage in harmful conduct on the app. Moreover, there have been stories of Black trans women who have had their accounts suspended for defending themselves against perpetrators of transphobic behavior on the app because other users have mass reported them being allies—or for simply existing in these spaces.
Beyond the gaslighting and the constant feeling that everyone on the app is trying to sell a false narrative of what it means to be queer in this world, Clubhouse has overall made many LGBTQ+ people feel unprotected. I have spoken to several LGBTQ+ colleagues who have noted that their usage of the app has decreased because not only does it feel like a chaotic distraction, but also a space that is continually off-limits to them. For many, it’s not just the moments of homophobia or transphobic rhetoric on Clubhouse, but the feeling of exhaustion that accompanies having to educate others about why what they share on the app is problematic without very few allies to aid this process.
Ultimately, Clubhouse illuminates a greater problem in our society—that Black/Brown LGBTQ+ people can’t always be the target of violence while simultaneously educating the perpetrators of said attacks. In similar ways, it’s not women’s responsibility to teach men not to be sexist or Black people’s job to teach white people not to be racist; these parallels are clear. Clubhouse’s creators need to address the consistent toxicity on the platform in addition to straight, cisgender people being committed to advocacy in shared spaces.
As it was once said, “with great power comes great responsibility,” so does having privilege. We can’t talk about creating inclusive spaces for “us” when we are constantly using the tools of the oppressor.
Now invite me to that room when you are ready to have THAT conversation.
DoctorJonPaul is a writer, educator and thought leader who focuses on the intersections of gender, race, and media. You can follow them on social media by using the handle @DoctorJonPaul.