A tumblr post recently came across my dashboard that summed up an issue I keep running into (often with folks who I consider friends). The original blog, feministpixie.tumblr.com, has been deleted, but the words are still true:
“Oh, so because I’m straight I’m not allowed to have an opinion on [insert LGBT issue here]”
I’m an english major. I know next to nothing about science, engineering, and astronomy. Sure, I think space is cool. I’m very supportive of NASA’s efforts. I might even have an opinion on where we should send the next shuttle or how much money we should spend on space travel.
But at the end of the day, my opinion on the matter is not valuable. I’m not going to enter into a discussion about the next shuttle launch with a bunch of trained scientists and expect them to take me seriously.
Sometimes, your opinion is not valuable. Sometimes, you aren’t qualified to enter a discussion.
And, lets be honest, straight people’s opinions are valued in literally every other situation. Hell, straight people get more awards for lgbt “activism” than queer people themselves.
If you really can’t accept that sometimes your voice isn’t the most important in the room, you might need to get over yourself.
Recently I’d re-tweeted something someone else retweeted in which a person commented about some “no homo” behavior he had observed in the real world with a comment about how fragile some people’s masculinity seemed to be. A friend jumped on the tweet to lecture me about how there were plenty of other reasonable explanations for the observed behavior, specifically saying the observation was the moral equivalent of an anti-gay slur.
I pointed out that the original observer was summarizing something he saw in a 140-character tweet, and might have left out a lot of other cues that he might have observed to deduce that the guys in question were homophobic. To which the friend replied, “That’s like gaydar, which is fun, but—” and then went on for a bit, concluding with the tired old chestnus, “I try to just mind my own business and not judge strangers in public.”
There are several things to unpack here:
- Gaydar isn’t merely a game. Gaydar isn’t accurate (though there is science to show that it is more often right than random guesses). And I’m sure to a straight person someone claiming to have gaydar is just about fun and giggles and guessing who might be part of the family. But that isn’t what gaydar is. Gaydar is an outgrowth of a survival mechanism. In a world where people are gay-bashed (sometimes to death), a queer person learns from a very early age to start looking for signs of who might be a friend, and who might be an enemy. Gaydar is just one manifestation of that.
- Therefore, keeping a wary eye for possible homophobes is not being judgmental. Again, as a queer person, I don’t have the luxury of minding my own business in public. I have never had that luxury. It isn’t just the bullies that beat me in school. It isn’t just the junior high coach who called me “faggot” all the time. It isn’t just the stranger on the street who shouted the word “faggot” and other things at me as I walked to work years ago. Gay bashing still happens. It isn’t just the occasional nutjob who goes on a mass shooting and kills 49 queer people in a single night. We never know when it might happen. So again, from an early age we look for warning signs, non-verbal cues, et cetera. We learn to avoid certain types of people, not because all of them are violent homophobes, but because some of them are and not being careful is risking more just getting our feelings hurt.
- It isn’t always about you. I get it, you’re not a violent homophobe. You may share some superficial characteristics or behaviors that a stranger might interpret the same way, but you would never attack someone. That’s good to know, but this isn’t about you. This is about our own safety and our experiences.
- Being thought of as possibly homophobic is not the equivalent of being gay bashed. I also understand that when you, a straight person, read about this sort of thing, you get your feelings hurt because you think that queer people who don’t know you might think you’re a homophobe because you act in a similar way. I’m sorry that your feelings are hurt, but your fear of being judged doesn’t balance out against our very real fear of being attacked. You’re not going to have to go to an emergency room to get stitches in your feelings. Your loved ones won’t be going to a funeral for your feelings. We, on the other hand, very well might get beaten or worse if we just mind our business and be ourselves around the wrong person.
I hate the fact that I still have to check myself constantly. I hate the fact that I can’t just be in the moment when I’m out in public, especially with my husband. I hate the fact that I have to keep an eye out for how strangers around me are acting. I hate the fact that I always do a quick assessment of our surroundings when I’m in public with my husband and one of us calls the other “honey.” I desperately yearn to live in a world where I can just mind my own business and not pay attention to how other people talk or act or what their facial expression is when they look at me, et cetera.
Believe me, I really wish that I could just mind my business.
But I can’t. Instead of getting upset because someone might misinterpret some of your behavior and be careful around you, be thankful that you don’t live in that same fear.
Stop straightsplaining. We really do understand homophobia far better than you ever could. That’s just a fact.
Oh, straightsplaining again! Hurrah! Thank you, so much, anonymous straight person, for explaining homophobia to me. How foolish of me to think that my 50+ years of surviving the slings and arrows of homophobia gave me any understanding of it.
Okay, let me clarify a few things:
Fact the First: you are correct, not every gay man is a sissy. Bully for you for being so open-minded!
Fact the Second: there are actual studies that show that, while not all queer men are sissies, at least 75% of boys who exhibit the characteristics causing them to be labeled “sissy” during childhood grow up to come out as queer.
Fact the Third: no matter what their actual sexual orientation, every boy who ever lived in our society who exhibits any of those gender-nonconforming behaviors was bullied because of them.
So, whether you believe that Shirvell is a closet case or not, my assertion that homophobic bullying is part of the root of his insanely over the top obsessively vicious homophobic campaign against that college student is still valid. You’re barely technically correct that we don’t know Shirvell’s orientation for certain (though I’m 99.99999% certain that he is queer of one sort or another). But the sheer level of sissy behavior one sees in any of the video interviews Shirvell gave back when he was defending his campaign tells me that he wasn’t just bullied occasionally as a child, but quite viciously and continuously. And we know from many studies that enduring that kind of bullying is one of the sources of adulthood excessive homophobic attitudes and behavior.
While we’re on the topic of those studies: those studies also show that the more virulent an adult man‘s homophobic attitudes and opinions are, the more likely it is that their body will exhibit involuntary arousal at the sight of scantily clad men. In other others, the more homophobic, the more likely that they are a self-loathing closet case. Add that to the study above, and it’s possible that my 99.99999% assessment is too low.
Fact the Fourth: I was a sissy. My childhood bullies included not just my classmates, but many of the adults in my life: family members, some teachers, and many adults at church. Yes, during my early teen years I was verbally homophobic. In my later teen years the only reason I wasn’t was not because I had become enlightened, but rather because as I had given in to my hormones a number of times, I wasn’t willing to be a hypocrit. But I was still convinced that I was going to go to hell for giving in to those feelings. So I understand Shirvell’s situation.
I do feel sorry for Shirvell the child. I know he had a horrible experience, even though I don’t know all the details. However, he’s an adult, now. He’s been exposed to information about sexual orientation, including the medical studies that it is not a choice (and therefore, since part of the theological definition of sin is being a willful disobedience, that means homosexuality cannot be a sin). He’s had more than enough time to start coming to terms with his childhood trauma and at least make the decision not to be the kind of bully that made his childhood hell. He has very emphatically chosen not to do so. Shirvell the adult deserves not one iota of sympathy. Not one.
Fact the Fifth: Please understand, I’m not stereotyping Andrew Shirvell as a gay man, I’m stereotyping him as a self-hating closet case—and he’s given us so, so much ammunition. It’s not just about the way he prances or speaks, it’s what he says as he’s ranting about the imagined sexual depravities of the targets of his homophobic rants—he simply sounds like he spends an inordinate amount of time imagining queer sex.
And there isn’t a plausible heterosexual explanation for that.
Note: Comments on this entire blog have always been moderated. Specific commenters have been whitelisted, but everyone else’s comments sit in a queue until I approve them. And I don’t see any point in approving comments that are insulting, or obviously coming from sock puppets or—such as the comment alluded to here—indicate the person isn’t interested in listening.
On the other hand, a friend of mine mentioned that she was getting in line to see the movie again, and immediately her tweets were replied to by a bunch of random internet guys spewing various derogatory comments. Accusing her of getting in line again to “make up for it being a flop” (which it isn’t; Sony is very happy with the numbers), for instance. Explaining to her why she shouldn’t like it, and so forth. Several people have jumped in on it, including some guys claiming to be friends and not disagreeing with her, but upset that she isn’t tolerating the other dude’s opinions.
Why are her tweets getting that response and not mine? I did a little checking around on Twitter and saw several other male friends who have commented how much they liked the movie, and none of them are getting arguments from random internet dudes. But several women I am acquainted with have posted virtually identical comments about the movie, and they’re getting harassed.
And make no mistake: if you tell someone that they are “silencing”dissent when they don’t agree with you after you come into their space (which is what you are doing when you reply to someone’s tweet or blog post, et cetera) and tell them that their feelings are wrong, then you are harassing them. And when you’re a guy trolling through social media looking for women expressing opinions that so you can correct them, you are a mansplaining douche. I know you’re going around looking for women to argue with, because you’re ignoring nearly identical statements from other guys. You may not consciously realize you’re doing it, I’ll grant that, but when you see both my comments and my friend’s, but you only argue with her? Yeah, you’re being that kind of jerk.
And please, Internet dudes, don’t try to mansplain away another dude’s mansplaining.
You don’t have to like the movie. That’s fine. But don’t try to convince someone who has already seen the movie and loves it that they don’t actually like what they like. And don’t try to prove that the movie is bad. When you do that (when we do that) we’re being jerks.
And I say “we” because I slip up and do it, too. A lot. I have explicitly asked certain friends to tell me when I cross the line from trying to discuss something to bullying someone for disagreeing with me. It’s a behavior many of us learned growing up. When someone disagrees, we push back. It is so easy to go from pushing back to pushing down.
Yeah, we made our opinion known publicly. You’re allowed to have a different opinion and express it in public. But don’t be a dick about it. Being a dick is not going to persuade the other person to agree. It isn’t. And here’s the thing: if what they like isn’t hurting you, there’s no reason to try to persuade the other person.
I push back hard on certain political topics because actual people die because of some policies that some people support. People dying, people living in poverty, people suffering injustice, people not being able to get health care… those are all things worth arguing about. But a goofy comedy? Let it go.
I want the new Ghostbusters movie to succeed because I loved it and I want to see more movies like it made. So yes, I’ve recommended it and told people how much fun I had and in some cases I’ve offered to buy people a ticket to see it. Because I genuinely believe they will enjoy the movie, perhaps as much as I did, but even more because I want us all to be able to enjoy more movies like this. I want little girls such as the one whose father posted a picture of the Ghostbusters costume she made with her existing toys to see movies like this and know they can be the hero, too. And yes, I want little boys to see this movie and know that their sisters and girl classmates and neighbors can be just as much a hero as they can. I want everyone to know that they can be someone’s hero.
Even you, dude bros. I want you to be heroes. And the first step is to stop being a mansplaining jerk. Salty is great when we’re talking about snack food (especially parabolic potato chips), but not in social interactions.