Jul 272011

A great (and somewhat snarky) piece by intern Katie Davis on frequent ways people use unacceptable language, and the excuses they make about it once they are called out. Katie also makes some suggestions as to ways to actually talk to pe0ple about why it’s not ok/can be hurtful to use language in such ways.

Sometimes I think that narrow-mindedness is like the flu: it’s highly unpleasant, contagious, and comes in waves. It’s been a challenging week for me, one in which I’ve been consistently privy to the homophobic/transphobic/queerphobic remarks of the people around me. I’m not talking about teaching moments in the classroom–– I’m talking about day-to-day interactions with strangers, coworkers, friends, and family. And while listening to hatred and prejudice is upsetting enough, I’ve found myself even angrier and more exasperated by the “defenses” posited by those whom I’ve confronted about their comments.

As far as bad excuses for bad behavior go, there seem to be a few particularly common ones that folks caught using hate speech like to toss around. Though I sometimes feel like responding to these excuses with nothing but a shocked silence or an “Um, NO,” I’ve learned over the years that, in order to (a) present an argument coherent enough to potentially change the offending party’s way of speaking in the future and (b) prevent my own head from exploding in frustration, it’s best for me to keep a few good rejoinders in my back pocket. These are some of the common lame excuses I’ve
heard and some of the more successful arguments I’ve made in response.

1. The Michael Scott Defense

Excuseplanation: “I wasn’t using [insert homophobic slur] to talk about gay people, I was using it to talk about something that I think is stupid.”

I call this one the Michael Scott Defense because there’s a line on The Office where Steve Carell’s socially inept character, Michael Scott, responds to
accusations of homophobic speech by remarking: “Did you know that gay used to mean ‘happy?’ When I was growing up, it meant ‘lame.’” While the line’s meant to highlight the character’s insensitivity and foolishness, there really are people (some of whom I’ve encountered) who feel that it’s entirely acceptable to use homophobic slurs or use terms associated with the LGBTQ community as slurs to talk about things they dislike.

Response: “No one person, including you, gets to choose the meaning of words. You may say that you weren’t using that word to refer to gay/bisexual/trans/queer people, but historically that word has been used to refer to people who identify as such. When you use ‘gay,’ for example, when you really mean ‘stupid,’ you’re saying essentially that gay=stupid. And that’s a huge problem. If what you mean is that rush hour in traffic is awful, why not just say that? You’re message will be more clear, and you won’t offend people.”

2. The “Behind Their Back” Defense

Excuseplanation: “Well, I would never call an actual gay person [insert slur].”
Ughh. I hear this one way too frequently, often when people don’t know that I’m queer. This excuse usually translates into either “I didn’t mean it that way” (See The Michael Scott Defense) or “I would never say that to his/her/hir face.”

Response: “Hmm. So you have the ability to discern the sexuality of every person you meet? Don’t you think it’s possible that you could encounter an ‘actual gay person’ and not even know it? Anyways, if you know that that’s an offensive enough term that you wouldn’t say it to an LGBTQ person’s face, why would you say it at all?”

3. The Comedian Defense

Excuseplanation: “It was a joke! [Comedian/Comedy show] says it all the time!”

This excuse tends to put me on the defensive: I love comedy, and I think going through life with a sense of humor is important. But that doesn’t mean I have to see humor in “jokes” that simply restate social prejudices. That kind of comedy’s not just offensive–– it’s also just plain lazy.

Response: “Aren’t good jokes supposed to change the way we think? I have a sense of humor, but I don’t really see the ‘joke’ in denigrating a minority group. You’re free to enjoy whatever kind of comedy you like, but I think I’d rather not join you in that one.”

Feel free to use these in your own lives, or add other excuses/replies in the comments

Nov 202010

Today, November 20th, is National (and International) Transgender Day of Remembrance. In the last few years (and this video is from last year, so there are more names and faces to be sadly added), over 100 people have been murdered for their gender identity/presentation. This doesn’t even take into account the hundreds and possibly THOUSANDS of people who are assaulted based on their gender, and tens of thousands more who are harassed each and every day.

Please watch this video. Again, it’s a year old, so many people are missing, but if you cannot take nine minutes out of your life to remember those who we have lost due to violence against the transgender community, what does that say? After you watch it, please think for a moment, or two, or ten, what YOU can do to create change in your community, in our community. How can we make it stop? This is completely unacceptable and heartbreaking. No one should have to be scare to leave their home due to their gender, and they should certainly not be scared of being killed. This is flat out wrong, and regardless of your politics, or religion, or moral views, is is NEVER ok to hurt and/or murder someone because of who they are. Ever.

If we don’t stand up and create this change, no one will. Stand up for people who are being harmed and whose voices are being heard. Create change, NOW. And always, always remember those we have lost.


Oct 202010

Today is October 20, 2010. It is the day people have claimed as spirit day, to come together, unite, and stand against bullying. I believe it is specifically designed to support the stop of homophobic and transphobic bullying, but really, let’s be honest. All bullying needs to stop.

Whether you’re calling someone gay, or teasing someone about pronouns, or stuffing freshmen in trashcans, or being racist, or playing practical jokes, or emotionally, mentally or physically hurting someone, it’s not ok. Period.

We get in a cycle. We were bullied, so it therefore, SOMEHOW makes it ok for us to bully others. I heard it all the time in high school; they threw eggs at us, so we should throw eggs at next year’s freshmen.

No. Stop it. NO ONE, and I mean NO ONE should have to endure bullying. Not at any age, not for any reason. Period.

So stop policing people’s gender. Stop making fun of people for how they present themselves. Stop trying to out people. Stop making fun of people’s heights, weights, hair, race, age, gender, orientation, ability levels, class level, you name it. Why the hell would you do that? Is it because you’re afraid that if you don’t bully others, someone will bully you?

We need to stop bullying period, whether it is words, or physical actions, or cyber bullying, or stupid pranks played on people. This affects far more than just the LGBTQ community, although that is currently at the forefront. This affects all teens and young adults; all youth can be and usually are negatively affected by bullying, whether they are the ones doing it, or the ones being bullied. We need to protect the youth we have, help to create safer spaces for them to learn and grown.

The make it better project is one step. Let’s empower youth to create change in their own communities. Let’s give options to get out aggression other than hurting people. Let’s create communities of varied identities where people can share themselves, and feel safe with their peers.

Let’s ASK THE YOUTH. As adults, we can come in with all sorts of fancy schmancy “answers” to these situations, but honestly, kids, teens and young adults know what they need more than we do. They know what’s going on, what needs to happen, what needs to stop, what spaces need to be created. So let’s ask them what they need, and how we can help, and then help them,

I’m wearing purple today, not because I love Gogol Bordello (although I do). I’m wearing purple today in remembrance of all those over the years for whom bullying has pushed over the edge. For all those who have been hurt, directly and indirectly, by bullying. But I am also wearing purple today to encourage the creation of change, in looking towards the future. Without change, we are nothing.

Are you wearing purple? And what are you going to do to back up your statement?


Spirit Day 2010

Oct 082010

Hello all,

I’m absolutely positive that you have heard of, in some way or some form, of the tragedy of multiple suicides by youth who were the victims of anti-LGBTQ bullying. Notice I don’t say the “gay suicides” — regardless of gender or orientation, NO ONE should have to deal with being bullied. Who are we to assume their identities? And when we say gay or LGBTQ in front of suicides, it depersonalizes them, puts them in a grouping, and takes the blame away from the bullies.

Below is a video from me. It’s part of both the It Gets Better project, as well as the Make It Better Project (LGBTQ youth empowerment). I think it is incredibly important to also give these youth the power to educate, find allies, build communities, and stop the bullying, in addition to reminding them that it almost always gets better, and that we need them to survive in order to beat the homophobia and transphobia, and create a better world for the entire community.

I’m not very erudite in this clip. I didn’t have a script, I messed up a few times, I’m awkward and the angle is off, and I mess up what I meant to say at one point. However, it is 100% from the heart. I hope that it touches at least one person, or at the very least, touches you enough to make your own video, or to volunteer in your community, or donate money, or support these projects that help support and empower youth. It is high time that the climate changed, and I’m not talking about global warming.


Other resources:
Trevor Project

Oct 072010

Many people are talking about the It Gets Better campaign. I myself am filming a video for it. I think that it is a fine project, and support all of those contributing to it.

However, I think that it is also important to create change in the schools now, rather than just put a band aid on it until they grow up. BOTH are important messages. There is another organization now called the Make It Better Project, which is using social media, videos, the web and more to empower youth to create change in their own communities right now.

Please check it out and pass it on to any you feel might find it relevant.


Aug 252010

Special thanks to Holly over at Menstrual Poetry for passing on this call. As a fellow survivor of sexual harassment, assault and violence, I think this is a wonderful idea, and an amazing way for us to get our voices heard, and to stand up against a society that still condones such behavior. While this particular anthology is geared towards women and trans identified authors, I also want to make it clear that men can be (and have been) victims and survivors of sexual violence as well. People of all genders can commit sexual violence against people of all genders, reminding us that this is not a women’s issue, it’s not a feminist issues, it’s a PEOPLE’S issue.

If you feel so inclined, please considered submitting to this. If not, please think about writing on your blog about your experiences, or at the very least, passing it on. If you’re not a writer, perhaps you can donate time or money to one of the many local non-profits who work on sexual violence prevention and helping survivors. Still not into it? Support RAINN, the Rape and Incest National Network.

Only together can we create change.


Call For Submission

Dear Sister, edited by Lisa Factora-Borchers, is an anthology of letters and other works created for survivors of sexual violence from other survivors and allies. It is a collection of hope and strength through words and art.

The pathway for a survivor of rape and sexual violence is an unlit road of pain, isolation and doubt. In the weeks, months and oftentimes, years following, the healing process can be difficult to navigate without a community surrounding her. Imagine a compilation of literary arms bound together to offer words of understanding, solidarity and love. Dear Sister is an accessible and inclusive offering of hope, voice and courage; seeking writers and artists who wish to light a piece of that road and lift up other women in her healing.

It is an impossible task to write a letter to every survivor of rape, to every woman who lives with an invisible scar. Instead of thinking of the face of the person you are writing to, reflect on the image of an unlit path, a road with no clear footing. Your offering will be one light, among many, to make visible what was previously unseen, to illuminate what was hidden. You are providing a few more steps for someone to walk steadily toward their own recovery. Your words can be an anchor, a meditation, a prayer, a strong embrace or a gentle touch. The purpose of this anthology is not to retell stories of assault, but to help others regain a sense of balance and wholeness.

Mindfully move beyond what is commonly said and reflect upon radical companionship. Write what you wish for her to know and never forget. And if you lose focus, look deep into a mirror and reflect: What would you want to be told if you were in the darkness?


Dear Sister primarily seeks letters but will accept poems, prose, essay and drawn art that can either be scanned for entry. Maximum word count is 1,000. Deadline for submission is November 1, 2010.

Women and transpeople of any race, creed, background, citizenship or non-citizen, ability and identity are encouraged to submit their words and work to uplift others in the healing stages of post trauma and violence. Both English and Spanish are accepted. All questions can be directed to dearsisteranthology@gmail.com.

Submissions can be emailed as an attachment with “Dear Sister Entry” in the subject to dearsisteranthology@gmail.com.

Hand written letters can be address and mailed to:
Dear Sister Anthology
P.O. Box 202468
Cleveland, OH 44120

Note from the Editor

Rape and sexual violence thrive in the silence of our homes and communities. Outreach must be wide and intentional if we seek to hear from those who are silenced. Please forward this to as many individuals, groups, organizations, listserves, websites and agencies that come to mind