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Linda Tirado's Poverty Tale: Not Quite Fake, Far From Accurate

By Cathy Young - December 13, 2013

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“KillerMartinis’” pre-fame forum posts make enough mention of financial difficulties to dispel the notion that her claims of hardship are simply fabricated.  But they also clash, disconcertingly, with Tirado’s current self-presentation. For instance, less than two weeks before “Poverty Thoughts,” she was asking for input on “turning my kids' room into a forest” (“I want them to want to play in their own spaces and leave my china cabinet alone”) and discussing “awesome tutorials on making tree stump and mushroom stools.”  In a follow-up post, she wrote, “I don't want them spoiled, so I don't want more toys, but I would like them to wake up thinking that life is really cool.”

Gibes about the forest room infuriate Tirado’s supporters, who angrily accuse critics of begrudging nice things to the poor.  But that’s not the point.  The point is that this Linda Tirado—the one who hangs out on Internet forums a lot, ponders the design of forest rooms, and seeks advice on having extramarital affairs because her marriage has grown sexually and emotionally unsatisfying—does not exactly sound like a struggling mom/student/worker too busy to sleep and too tired to think.  The disconnect between the two personas is even more jarring in light of Tirado’s more recent claims of suffering near-constant pain and low-grade fever from infections caused by her untreated dental problems.

Tirado may not be a “scam artist” or a “fraud,” but her online history does suggest that she is prone to shading the truth.  In 2008, during the controversy over the Mormon Church’s involvement in the campaign for California’s same-sex marriage ban, she made a post on a website for Mormon dissenters in which she repeatedly described herself as gay—when, in fact, she was married to a man with whom she had been together for about five years. Sexual identity is a complex issue, and some people continue to identify as gay even when in a long-term relationship with an opposite-sex partner; nonetheless, Tirado was clearly presenting an image of herself that didn’t quite match the reality of her life.  And, while her “should I cheat?” post asserts that her husband was “the first empenised person I’ve ever been attracted to,” I stumbled on a Reddit comment in which she mentions an ex-boyfriend.

More relevant to the story that catapulted her to fame, in a post on Reddit about a year ago Tirado wrote that she “manage[s] a fast food restaurant”—referring to the employees as “my crew”—and shared a spirited tale of putting an obnoxious customer in her place after being “called to the counter” to deal with the woman’s complaint.  That’s rather a far cry from the “poverty thoughts” narrator who is relegated to the kitchen because of her unsightly teeth.

About those teeth: The reason Tirado dramatically displayed them on camera is that, after her November 25 interview on Huffington Post Live, many people were startled by the lack of any visible damage to her teeth.  In the video, she sarcastically thanks the doubters, saying that their skepticism was a compliment on how well she has trained herself to look normal—despite a broken denture that could fall out any time she laughs or chews.  Yet in the same clip, Tirado coughs vigorously at one point, with no apparent ill effect.  When she removes her partial denture, the missing upper front teeth are clearly visible but there is no evidence that the denture is broken.

In any case, if Tirado can present a normal appearance—and, despite claims to the contrary, there are plenty of moments in the HuffPost Live interview when she shows her teeth while speaking or smiling—this seriously undercuts her claim that her bad teeth keep her from getting a decent job.  (In fact, her second job—of which her autobiographical post says only that it pays better than the one at the restaurant—is a “respectable” one with a disability nonprofit.)

Sorting fact from fiction in the Tirado story is an almost impossible task.  And yet, ultimately, without any investigative reports at all, her supposedly eye-opening essay on poverty falls apart under the weight of its own paradox.  If “now that I have proven that I am a Poor Person that is all that I am or ever will be,” if being poor fatally saps one’s ability to strive and plan for the future, why is the author not only working two jobs but going to college? 

Even one of Tirado’s biggest boosters, The Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim, picked up on this contradiction, telling her in the HuffPost Live interview that the drive she projected seemed at odds with the sense of hopelessness she had described. Tirado’s response was that she wasn’t describing the permanent mindset of a poor person, but the thoughts and fears the poor must regularly wrestle with. But if she had written that to begin with, her post would have had a very different message. Struggling with defeatist thoughts (rather than being crushed by them) is not a particularly good reason for irresponsible behavior.

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Cathy Young writes a weekly column for RealClearPolitics and is also a contributing editor at Reason magazine. She blogs at http://cathyyoung.wordpress.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at @CathyYoung63. She can be reached by email at CathyYoung63@gmail.com.

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