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

Jul 052010

***Cross Posted***

Thanks to my lovely partner, I had the opportunity last Wednesday night to go check out the new movie with Annette Benning, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo, entitled The Kids Are Alright.

Now, the basic plot, as advertised, is that there is a lesbian couple, who have an 18 year old daughter and a 15 year old son. The son convinces the daughter to get in contact with the sperm donor that provided said sperm to create the kids (each mom carried a child). They meet him, and now the family dynamic changes, and the movie ensues.

Voila. It’s supposed to be cool and trendy and did super well at Sundance. I had some hopes for this movie, in that it was showing an LGBTQ family as a REAL family, not as hot and sexy lesbians, or those with issues coming out, or any of the other many ways lesbians have been portayed. They have kids, they have a dining room table, and a house, and conversations and the same issues that every other type of family has with communication, and teenagers, and so on…

And now, for the spoilers. If you don’t want to hear about the actual movie, stop reading now.

Ok, so basically, you have fairly happy family. Some issues, like all families, but there are two teenagers, and two moms, and everyone seems to communicate fairly well and get along, although the moms definitely could have used a couples counselor to help them work through a feel control/free-flowing hippy issues.

Then suddenly, the sperm donor (Paul) is brought into their lives. Jules (Moore) is a more woo-woo, free flowing femme-ish type, and is open to him. Nic (Benning) is a bit more andro/butchy, and seems to be nervous (understandably) about letting this guy into their kids’ lives. Long story short, Nic starts doing Paul’s (Ruffalo) landscaping and BAM. They kiss. And if that wasn’t enough, they start having sex, and the noises she makes with him are waaaay different and seemingly “better” or “more satisfying” (according to the movie) than the sex she has with Nic. She tells him she’s married, she’s gay, she loves Nic, but then, more sex between Paul and Jules. Jules keeps it a secret from Nic until they have a family dinner at Paul’s place (Nic is willing and trying to get to know him better), and Nic goes to the bathroom and finds Jules hairbrush…and hair in the drain (like at their home), and then in his bed. The movie ends with them removing Paul from their lives and getting back together and talking about how marriage is tough, but they love each other and will work through it.

My beef? It’s two fold. First of all, this movie perpetuated lesbian stereotype right and left, from the drinking massive amounts of wine to the butch/femme to the station wagon of sorts to the watching gay-male porn, to the being woo-woo and wanting hugs in unison (you’ll have to see it to get it). It made a big deal out of Jules not shaving her legs (gasp!). And worst of all, it perpetuated the stereotype that lesbian relationships don’t work out not because of family/relationship/communication/wants and needs issues, but because truly, all every woman, lesbian or not, wants is OBVIOUSLY a man. Every woman must have a penis in order to feel fulfilled. It also perpetuates the idea that lesbian (or gay or queer) relationships are not as “real” as straight marriage; Paul seems to glaze over the fact that Jules is married to Nic, and even suggests that he and Jules start a life and family together at one point, as if her 18+ year marriage to Nic was completely invalid. Way to give the anti-gay movement fuel for their fire about how dysfunctional lesbian families are.

Issue two? The fact that I feel that this movie is going to stir up even MORE biphobia in the queer community. For some reason, we as a community tend to exclude bi folks as being queer, as if them having a relationship with a cis-man (bi women) or cis-woman (men) makes them “less” queer. Now, while Jules never openly identified as bi, her sexuality was clearly a bit more fluid that just “lesbian/gay,” as she openly enjoyed sex with Paul. So basically, we have a queer or bi acting woman on screen, cheating on her lesbian wife with a man. Which seems to be the issue that is ALWAYS brought up when biphobia rears its ugly head; don’t date bi-women, because they’ll leave you for a man.

Now, I know that this generalizing statement is bullshit. As if dating a lesbian-identified woman will somehow protect you from cheating/being cheated on. Infidelity hits ALL types of relationships, regardless of the gender or orientation of the partners. Period. However, movies like this seem to reinforce this misnomer, that bi-women of any sort will always end up going for a man. NOT FUCKING TRUE.

So in the end, I AM glad that their is a movie bringing lesbian visibility to the big screen, as I think this movie will be a hit. I did like that it was a lesbian family, with gender presentation diversity in the two women. However, I have a LOT of reservations about how the content of this movie will be used against the LGBTQ community by those who are against it, as well as the issues surrounding bisexuality that this movie may serve to worsen.

And those, dear readers, are my thoughts on the upcoming movie The Kids Are Alright, to be released July 16th at an Indie theater near you.