A huge and ridiculous debate irrupted on twitter today. The topic was ‘hate speech’. “Red Steeze”, a writer and an editor for a publication called “The Wilderness”, and an individual not known for sugar coating things said this:
“Calling me cis is violence against me.”
I can’t really describe what’s going on, other than it seems to be taking something to an extreme, for the sake of being extreme. Here’s a link. Red Steeze also said this, which somewhat validates my assertion.
The whole debate prompted a discussion between myself and a few of my own friends. We all grew up in a place that had very liberal views on hate speech. As my friend Chris put it, “I was taught all the hateful discriminatory “fag/nigger” shit growing up too, some from my own family! So, I had [my fair share of] cognitive dissonance when I began to realize it was all grossly generalized bullshit.” That’s the kind of place I’m talking about- “down south” as they say. Reading that from him made quite an impression and immediately recalled a memory involving Chris and another friend, John-a memory and an experience centered around this very debate.
It was one night in 2002 at a party in someone’s basement. I hadn’t seen John or Chris in a while, so I immediately walked up to say hello. Some pleasantries were exchanged, as well as some intoxicant, as one tends to do at parties in basements. Chris complimented me on my jacket we all inquired about our academic endeavors. John began explaining some minor collegiate inconvenience, and as an empathetic gesture I replied, “That’s gay..” That’s when the room stopped. John’s eyes went to the floor and Chris stared intensely in my direction. “Oh..” Chris said, “could you explain to me what you mean by ‘gay’?” in a rather annoyed tone. “Um…that sucks?” I replied not really aware of what was going on or what I had done to upset Chris. “What do you mean? How can something like an inanimate object be gay? Does a chair have intercourse with a chair,” Chris scoffed, “of the same sex?” Chris said looking around the room. By now our conversation had garnered attention from the room.
Being young, I naturally dealt with the humiliation through anger. I took a deep angry breath and started to say, “You know what I–“, but that was all I could get out, before John calmly interjected with “I’m gay Grant.” It was something I was not expecting to hear. I was forced, on the spot, to grapple with all the emotions of finding out someone close to you was born “differently” than you thought. Also, it was clear I had just stuck my foot in my mouth. So, I humbly mumbled “My bad John.” Being a party where people were inebriated, there was plenty of mockery to go around, but John would have none of it.
“It’s cool, don’t worry about it.” He just laughed it off.
He, the offended, made sure all individuals judging my momentary humiliation, ceased immediately. I suppose he could see the wheels turning in my head.
“Was he gay in school?”
“What did that mean now?”
He had seen people in this situation before and seemed prepared. He allowed no one to point out or take pleasure in my vulnerable moment. He provided a wide path to walk my thoughtless statement back upon and gave me infinite latitude when explaining myself. Basically, he stopped a social form of bullying.
He said “You’re not awful, you just didn’t know.” He even gave me an amazing compliment on my ability to wrap my head around things quickly, to understand, and my ability to see an honest perspective and not judge it. It was touching.
It was a surreal moment. Out of all the hurt and belittling suffered by the gay community, here’s my friend John, walking me through something. Making sure belittlement wasn’t projected on to me. He had no spite or animosity. In fact, he seemed more than happy to explain “some things” as far as how to conduct one’s self around gay people, and other things like, why the community as a whole is so protective of it’s own. We later went to Steak-N-Shake that night and shared his experience that I knew of, being his classmate, but didn’t fully understand. I’ve repeated this story a few times and it had positive effects on people, so his kindness rippled.
I also, didn’t fully understand Chris’s reaction to the whole thing, at the time. It wasn’t until this recent debate about ‘hate speech’ on social media was ignited, that I did. Chris and I spoke about that night recently, via messaging, in it Chris said, “I wasn’t looking for approval of the group, I didn’t need social approval of my then excessive personal conviction. That was a subconscious persuasion tactic most likely, but not group approval. Or, so it seemed from my perspective. See, two different perspectives. Also, I was taught all the hateful discriminatory ‘fag/nigger’ shit growing up too, some from my own family! So, I had [my fair share of] cognitive dissonance when I began to realize it was all grossly generalized bullshit. My lashing out at you was really lashing out at myself for being angry with myself for going along with the bigot bullshit for so long due to my environment. I was projecting as the psychoanalysts call it.” He was being protective, we had grown up in a place where John could have been seriously harassed, or even worse, had people know his sexual preference. Chris knew in high school, I didn’t. That’s where our perspectives differed.
My point with this is, if you’re going to label something hate speech, you should probably be able to explain why you think it’s hateful. Also, when you do choose to have this discussion, don’t have it on twitter, not if you actually want to grow from the experience.