“I know you.”
Now that I think of it, I should not have dismissed that first, odd text out of hand. Unsolicited troll-y texts have been as common as transphobic politicians long before this age of Trump. I've deleted enough friends from the pseudo Libertarian, Christian right that being chastised on an ongoing basis about my decision to embrace my womanhood was far from unexpected.
Still, unlike spammy one-off ads and auto-checked butt-texts that annoy the senses, there was something weirdly intense about those three simple words: I, Know, and You. But, dismiss them I did. No reply. No phone number googling to attempt an identification, no emotional acknowledgement at all. As with classic, real-world bullies, the philosophy of ignoring them and quickly moving beyond such nonsense was generally best for ones psyche as well as for real outcomes.
Twenty-four hours later, this cavalier attitude was put to the test.
“Your mother was a whore.”
Okay, the “your mother is a…” trope might be taken in jest between middle school friends. Such exchanges were akin to the laugh track of a failing ‘80’s sitcom. The remark actually felt closer to something out of an uncensored reality tv show from the '90's. In either case, there were sophomoric laughs to be had...if you were expecting it, but as it was, an anonymous matriarchal taunt sizzled with threat--even if the statement had been true.
Nevertheless, I restrained myself. Having been bullied from youth for wearing feminine clothes, for acing all my math tests, hell, for being too nice to people who were mean...it thickens your skin. I've learned that acknowledging the hate, however juvenile in form, is to give them an energizing win. Hollywood may have taught us Americans that fighting back equates to a path of dignity, but in reality escalation rarely turns out good for anyone.
Thus, by ignoring the hateful text, I sought to be the better person, so I simply blacklisted the phone number and moved on with my day.
“I’m not bullying you.”
The text was sent from a completely different number, but I knew in my gut it was the same person. Now I became concerned. “Three is the charm,” goes the old adage. Well, I was anything but charmed. Now I knew I had someone willing to sleeve himself (could it be anyone except a him!) into a new number for the sole purpose of disrupting my life.
It’s at this point that I decided to turn my IT experience into an advantage. I employed all the standard protocols. I invoked a dozen dark-web index searches, multi-layer packet header analyses, and dynamic IP location tracking. All this ended up telling me...absolutely nothing. The freak had covered his tracks by tunneling through a series of high-security foreign servers using SMS data packets that were dead generic. Whoever was on the other side of this daily text knew his shit enough to remain completely anonymous. Then again, he could’ve simply followed guidelines from a digital infiltration sub-Reddit to engage high PM secrecy. My only recourse now was to step up the social analysis angle.
The culprit was terse to the nth degree. The masculine bent of the texts were strong but admittedly my position was biased. The fact that my lack of response had no effect in repelling the taunts was the most unusual aspect of this cybercrime. Still, knowing all this was a start, even though I had insufficient data to submit to authorities. The complaint would merely be dismissed and I'd be more anxious for submitting myself to the bureaucratic hassle. Best to wait another day or two, gather more information and insight, and proceed from there. Of course, there was always the hope that three unanswered texts might dissuade any further attack messages.
“Not a talker, are you?”
No such luck. This guy definitely had a sociopathic edge to his messaging. Normally I’m pretty demure. At first, the internal admission that I was a woman had been fraught with constant anxiety in an unsupportive culture. Many in the LGBTQ+ community up their aggression levels to combat such backward thinking, participating in protests or at least finding a refuge in the rainbow community. But for me, in the depths of Pennsyltucky, real-world support networks were simply nonexistent. Virtual groups abounded, sure, but for me they never seemed substantial. I was my community.
In spite of persistence, I refused to take the bait. This cyberbully was subtle; I’ll give him that. The brief statements didn't even degrade me personally. There were no long tirades expounding the sinfulness of non-binaryism, nor any manifesto mandating evolutionary heterosexuality. Weirdly enough, I didn't even detect a tone of derision. If anything, the social analysis seemed to imply this was a sibling reaching out to give me a love-imbued ribbing. Ok, maybe that’s going too far...or not far enough.
“I am you.”
And with that last and final needling text came the rub. Such an outlandish identity statement puzzled me to no end for decades. I’ll spare you the rollercoaster of internal melodrama that ensued. Thinking back on it now, I was compelled away from the path of least resistance toward one of self-reliance and confidence. A drawn-out Netflix Prime series would spend twenty episodes on the twists and turns I went through. I’ll cut to the punch line, to the realization that the cyberbully was actually my future self.
You say you want details. Well here's the Tik-Tok version: after that last annoying text I spent my final year of high school buried in the Wikis. I delved into the intricacies of quantum physics and higher math to escape my anxiety. Finding refuge in theoretical sciences permitted be to ascend the academic ladder and participate on CERN experiments involving tachyons. Basically, tachyons are “hypothetical” particles Richard Feynman conjured up more than half a century ago, and uniquely they travel backward in time.
It was at that point I realized I needed to be the cyberbully for my fifteen year younger self. Suffice it to say, with a little old-school coding it wasn’t too difficult for me to piggyback an SMS script on a tachyon signal and send it back to the ‘20s. It was decidedly easy to create those taunting texts.
Asides aside, those mercurial taunts are what nudged me to hone the very talents I needed to pursue a challenging career. And yes, I was tempted to mess with the continuum further, but the 2020 U.S. elections had so many complications already that pushing the entire world’s luck to attain President Warren seemed foolish and outright dangerous.
Of course, no story turns out perfect. As a trans-woman I feel welcome sometimes and unwelcome at others. I have a couple close friends, but haven't had any luck finding a romantic partner just yet. Still, I persevere on my journey, silently singing to myself the words of that 20th century diva at every turn: “loving yourself is the greatest love of all.” Sometimes, just for fun, I'll Snapchat that very line to myself. Upon receipt, it never fails to bring a grin.
Jakay Allan Bechtdel, out.
(this tale was sparked into existence by my friend Rhonda, who is a time-travel enthusiast...well she loves time travel stories...as to her use of time travel in her daily life, I cannot comment)