I recently got involved in an argument on Twitter regarding whether LGBTQ+ people needed to be ‘nice’ to cishet people (straight men/women who were assigned the gender they identify as at birth). The general gist of the argument is that it is not LGBTQ+ people’s job to make cishet people comfortable, that if LGBTQ+ people don’t stand up for themselves and fight back, then they’ll never get respect and equality, and that things never change if you’re polite and reasonable. 140 characters is incredibly hard for me to try to get my opinion across, so I thought I’d bring it to here.
However, before I published it, I did some research, asked one of the people on Twitter to give their opinion (thank you, although I won’t mention names as I’m aware they disagree with parts of this and I don’t want people assuming they do agree with those parts), and ended up changing some of my own opinions (particularly on making people uncomfortable and protesting) and learning some new things. So, this is a heavily altered version. Note that it is probably far too general, idealistic and it is my opinion and world view – but then I have really difficulty understanding why everyone ideally shouldn’t just be treated the same and I strive to do that in my life. A recent Facebook discussion has altered my perception on taking societial bias into account in some cases and I’m sure I’ll do a post on that eventually.
Note this is my opinion, and I know I tend to write my blog posts in a lecturing style, and it may ramble as some of my opinions have changed & evolved while writing.
It’s important to note that I’m all for everyone being themselves and asserting their right to be themselves, whether that is trans lesbian, queer non-binary, or straight man. Everyone has the right to exist and be themselves as long as it doesn’t harm another person. Existing and being your authentic self shouldn’t involve harming anyone – i.e. people shouldn’t need to feel superior over minorities to be themselves. Sadly society is currently not entirely positive towards LGBTQ+ people and other minorities (i.e. the crazy American toilet laws and the equally mad First Amendment Defense Act) There’s a good reason I’m not out as agender to my family even in the UK – although I’m starting to think I probably should be, given how much I talk about gender, poly and equality! Society as a whole needs to change so that LGBTQ+ is accepted equally as valid and natural – and it’s not necessarily the responsibility of the oppressed side to change this, although it’s important to note that change will not happen without some form of impetuous pushing it forwards.
First, I would like to say that non-violent protest is always the best option. This has been studied – and found to be twice as effective as violent protest; although it very much depends on the nature of the issue. In the case of LGBTQ+ rights I believe non-violence is the preferable option, regardless of the fact that the Stonewall Riots that gave birth to the modern movement were violent. While I think that violence may be the spark that births a change in society, I don’t believe that it is needed to create long term and lasting change.
This is especially true in the modern era where peaceful protests can be organised and advertised worldwide within moments over social media and violence isn’t needed to bring the protest to the attention of the general public, although I will admit that it can be hard to get the mainstream media to cover non-violent protests sometimes (for example I don’t recall seeing any coverage of Muslims marching in London against ISIS last December.) Sadly violent events tend to draw the attention of the general public. Modern technology also means that the society being protested against, especially at a Governmental level, have far more ways of putting down a violent protest, whereas during older eras the protestors and the forces sent against them were relatively equal on weaponry and defense.
There will always be people martyred for a cause, i.e. the Suffragettes, but as Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence stated: “doing something silly is the woman’s alternative to doing something cruel. The effect is the same. We use no violence because we can win freedom without it; because we have discovered an alternative”. While the Suffragettes broke windows, chained themselves to railings and threw themselves under horses (which admittedly injured the horses) the violence was done to them (and to themselves), rather than by them to other people.
I believe there is a difference between protesting a situation and a cultural issue and insulting people (which could be seen as verbal violence). Objecting to your own treatment and oppression and being angry about it is reasonable and expected, however insulting or deriding the person who is doing the oppressing is unlikely to help other than cement their negative opinion and making them less likely to engage in useful dialogue. While it is no one’s ‘job’ to convert a bigot, and LGBTQ+ people definitely aren’t, and shouldn’t be, responsible for changing other people’s opinion about them, it is worth not making things worse, or causing their bad opinions to become further entrenched. That is not pandering to the majority, or trying to change them, it is simply not engaging in throwing negativity back and forth.
I have an issue with anyone insulting anyone else due to a characteristic such as gender, race, sexuality, and so on. Even for an oppressed minority, I believe it is unhelpful and counter-productive to insult the majority for a failing of their own identity; while it might give a feeling of satisfaction, I think it makes you as bad as anyone who insults you. It’s also hypocritical for a section of society that wants everyone to be respected for their own identity to mock all cishet people for the actions of a few. You can object and call out an insult or wrong opinion without insulting the person back. I think I now understand the negative concept of respectability politics – suggesting a black person act more ‘white’ or a gay person act more ‘straight’ to be accepted- however I don’t think that asking minorities not to insult the majority is asking them to act more like the majority – it’s asking them to act like a decent human being in general.
I can also understand that there is a possibility that the privileged cishet ‘side’ could use the idea that everyone should be ‘nice’ to control the tone of the conversation, but I don’t think being non-violent stops people arguing, being emotional, demonstrating and behaving in a way to promote their cause and their feelings. You can do that without going into violent (both physical and verbal) direct attacks at individuals regarding their characteristics. There is a difference between showing your feelings, opinions and thoughts and directly insulting someone for the same things they’re attacking you for. I will admit that calling someone a ‘bloody idiot’ for their opinion on polyamory is a good way to destress, however calling them a ‘stupid monogamous bastard’ isn’t acceptable to me as it’s just doing what they did to me back to them and making monogamy sound negative, which it isn’t, intrinsically.
The idea of tone policing (shown in a Robot Hugs comic) is one I’m aware I’m at risk of verging into; I think saying ‘I think that 99% of able bodied people don’t give a damn about us!’ isn’t insulting where as saying ‘All cishet men are rapists’ or mocking all cis people, is – the same as saying ‘All autistic people are stupid’ is insulting. I feel there’s a difference. I may be wrong, after all, saying ‘I think autistic people would struggle with this book’ could be seen as assuming things about all autistic people and being insulting that way. It’s a careful balance between the two and generalising, while useful (particularly with making people uncomfortable) can also be inaccurate, although directing insults at an individual person about their characteristics rather than about their ideas is just as bad. Everyone is an individual. I just believe that no one should aim to hurt another person due to things they can’t change. (Religion is a different issue I’m not touching with a bargepole.)
I’m also not saying that LGBTQ+ people should have to ‘behave better’ than cishet (I hate that term, but it’s a useful shorthand) people to be accepted in society. I think that not insulting people would be a benefit to everyone involved for a more harmonious relationship; I’m not saying either side should be the one to ‘go first’, or be ‘better behaved’, but it’s childish to refuse to put your tongue in before the other person does. My support for everyone is conditional on being a decent human being – I am unlikely to support anyone being verbally or physically violent towards another person. I’ve heard the argument that no one makes change happen by being ‘nice’, however I refer back to non-violent protest being more successful.
I think – hope – that there is a global understanding of what being a good person is which is common across all races, sexualities, genders and religions. I’m also aware that’s hugely unlikely and the KKK’s version of ‘good’ and ISIS’s version of ‘nice’ are not compatible, but I did warn you I was an idealist.
I can think of very few situations where mocking or insulting someone (as opposed to having a loud active debate or discussion where feelings are allowed) would actually change their mind rather than supporting their negative view. I do, however, realise that insults against LGBTQ+ people are personal, and it would be unreasonable to expect anyone to not bite back in the face of that. I just don’t think that it does the LGBTQ+ cause any good to be the instigator of personal attacks. A protest against an idea, or a concept, is less personal and more likely to create discussion and internal consideration in a bigotted mind. Most people can be reasoned with; a coherent logical argument may do far more to change an individual’s mind than insulting a part of their own identity. People get defensive when insulted, and making them angry or upset is only going to reinforce a negative image. I believe that there is a difference between insulting a person and objecting to an viewpoint – ‘You’re being silly!’ vs ‘That idea is silly!’
It is not up to LGBTQ+ people to make cishet people comfortable, and indeed making cishet people uncomfortable can be useful and challenge the status quo. For example the front cover of the latest National Geographic issue is making many people uncomfortable, however it is raising awareness of trans issues and challenging people’s preconceptions and ideas. However, there is a difference between making people uncomfortable by, say, kissing your same-sex partner in public, and insulting them, either on an individual basis or as a group (‘Well, all cis people…’) There is also a difference between showing your emotional feelings regarding an issue (see the Robot Hugs comic again) which may make people usefully uncomfortable, and attacking someone personally and directly with the intent to harm – although, again, I stress that if someone insults me, I may well insult them back, even though I know it’s not the best thing to do, because, hey, emotions.
There is also a difference between flaunting your sexuality/gender to ensure people notice it and take account of it, and doing something that wouldn’t be socially acceptable for anyone, such as a gay man giving his same-sex partner a blowjob in the park. The first may make people uncomfortable and cause them to examine why it does so, which is good, but the second would cause people to be uncomfortable who may well assume they were uncomfortable due to the sexual act in public, rather than the participants. Plus the second is illegal. The way someone is made uncomfortable can make a big difference to their reaction – and introspection.
If someone is fine with a certain gender/sex/religion doing something, they should damn well accept all genders/sexes/religions doing that thing and the same with disliking something. It’s also a balancing act coming down to if someone did/said X to you, would you find it acceptable? If not, then why is it acceptable for you to do it to another person? Regardless of gender, sex, religion, age, and all the other variables. If someone insulted me regarding my speech problem (yes, I have one, and yes, I’ve been insulted over it), then I’m not entitled to insult them for, say, their ginger hair.
As an aside, insulting public figures, such as Donald Trump, I think is a slightly different thing as it less about insulting the person and more insulting what they stand for and the ideals that they support. But then I think insulting Trump’s orange skin in unacceptable, but mocking his opinions on marriage is fine. And, yes, I think Trump’s clothes, hair and skin aren’t very well done, but then I don’t like other styles of dress/makeup and I don’t feel I have the right to mock them for it – or you’re validating people who mock more marginalised fashion choices being able to do it just because they don’t like it or think it look ridiculous.
People shouldn’t have to explain themselves or why they identify the way they do – I can’t easily explain why I don’t identify with any gender – and I understand why after a period of time it’s easy to get fed up with explaining, being insulted, hurt, or ostracised (Relevant image from @asymbina) and react badly to the 1521st time the questions are asked. However, expecting people to be accepting of something they don’t understand or identify with is a difficult request. People are generally afraid or fight things they don’t understand as has been seen throughout history.
It’s not anyone’s responsibility to educate someone else, however I think that being willing to help people understand – especially if they’ve not interacted with a LGBTQ+ person before – is a good thing. It is only by people educating themselves and listening to others’ experiences that they learn, which in turn brings acceptance. In my case, I’m grateful to people for taking the time to educate me – just because I am agender, poly, and bi, and have opinions doesn’t mean I in any way can speak for everyone under the LGBTQ+ label.
I believe that LGBTQ+ people should fight – via non violent protest – for the same rights as cishet people, marriage, adoption, work, etc, and cishet people should have the same rights as LGBTQ+ (civil partnerships for example would be nice) – and the two groups should work together for new rights that affect everyone.
But don’t insult an individual unless they – purposefully – started it by insulting you. Get angry with people, argue against them, be passionate, but insults don’t help anything other than make you feel a bit better at getting revenge. It is not your responsibility to make someone comfortable with, or explain, your gender or sexuality if you don’t want to. It is however your responsibility to be a decent human being.
A good article on respectability politics I found while researching: https://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/the-rise-of-respectability-politics
As for myself, I’m aware that I suffer from prejudices and probably inadvertently support some damaging social ideas, such as thinking someone might not be that intelligent due to their style and job. Which is hypocritical as people have thought the same about me due to my voice issue and the fact I’m not bothered about my looks! However I am consciously working on myself to overcome those ideas and thoughts and work on improving my own perceptions and removing dangerous biases. And yes, it is work when I also can at the same time be utterly blind to when positive bias needs to take place to counter societal and cultural negative prejudice. I know, it’s contradictory.
I’m also deeply musing on the concept of the people with power and, for example, how if [majority] said jokingly that they wanted to get rid of [minority] then it would be laughed off by others in the majority and the minority would be powerless to defend against it, but if the situation was reversed, then they would be swamped by the majority crushing the ‘rebellion’. I’m having trouble getting my head around with regards to how the power balance can be shifted in a positive way to empower [minority] and give them the same social power and rights as [majority], and what the [majority] needs to lose to do that. Limiting [majority]’s right to insult [minority] and allowing [minority] to insult [majority] freely would not only breed resentment (although it might equalise things somewhat) but my notion of ‘fair’ objects to that. Maybe I need to look at my idea of ‘fair’ – Although I’m aware that it is biased as I can be a selfish lazy self-centered idiot, but I do try to be fair.