Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Observations From Internet 'Asplosions

[TW: Homobigotry, threats, misogynistic language]

It is a strange thing when Christians say that the world has too much love and that we need less of it.

This Catholic woman's blogpost on having to endure the horrors of living in a society where same-sex couples show non-sexual affection in public has received quite a bit of attention for that reason. The post is, in my humble opinion, a real exercise in *clears throat* sharing some problematic messaging. A snippet:

"The same people who say I shouldn't impose my morality on them, are imposing immorality on me and my children to the point that I literally have a hard time even leaving my home anymore to do something as simple as visit the park. And this is freedom?

...Today we decided to go to the park. We live near a nice park that is safe, clean and quiet. Two of my daughters were in the sandbox, one on the slide, the other on the swings, and as I lifted the baby out of his stroller I looked up to see four women laughing at a baby boy as he was swinging in one of those bucket baby swings. That seems harmless enough, but I'm so sensitized to the strangeness in my community that I've developed this ever-present jumpiness whenever I'm in public. Sure enough, two of the women, so happy to see a baby boy laughing, embraced and remained standing there rubbing each other's back in a way that was clearly not just friendly affection.

This is my community. I find myself unable to even leave the house anymore without worrying about what in tarnation we are going to encounter. We are responsible citizens. We live by the rules, we pay our taxes, we take care of our things. I'm supposed to be able to influence what goes on in my community, and as a voter I do exercise that right. But I'm outnumbered. I can't even go to normal places without having to sit silently and tolerate immorality. We all know what would happen if I asked two men or two women to stop displaying, right in front of me and my children, that they live in sodomy."

Not surprisingly, Stacy's post attracted quite a number of comments. Instead of centering my post around the problematic content of her original post, I want to have a conversation about the conversation her post generated. Here is a narrative of events, from my perspective:

1. Two women were expressing love and affection in a peaceful manner while playing with a baby in a park. Stacy observed this display in silent judgment. Then, on her blog, she expressly judged this activity as "strangeness," "immorality," and a display "that [the women] live in sodomy." On her blog, she also objected to a couple more instances of same-sex couples showing affection for one another in public, non-sexual ways.

2. Her original post received hundreds of comments. Many of the ones critiquing her post were civil; many of them were not. Many of the comments applauding her post were civil; many were not.

The very first comment applauded Stacy's post and referred to a world where same-sex couples can publicly express affection for one another as "horrifying" and a "Culture of Death."

The second comment read:

"LOL. I'm sorry. But gay people at the park???!?!?!?! Being affectionate? And happy? And functioning?

Yeah. Being able to smile and kiss my boyfriend in the park is freedom. And that has nothing to do with IVF."

To which Stacy responded:

"Case and point. I can't even vent frustration on my Catholic blog without being harassed for objecting to immorality.

....Could I ask you, please, to never kiss your boyfriend in front of children(!)"

Stacy categorized the second comment as "harass[ment]," but not the first.

3. In a later update, Stacy clarified "I never wrote that I wanted to ban anyone from going to a park or that I hate anyone."

4. Allegedly, one member of "the LGBT community" called Stacy a c*nt and wished violence upon her children.

In response to this comment, at the top of her original post, Stacy asked: "Do you understand now why we are uncomfortable?", implying that her original post was predicated on the belief that LGBT people are monsters who want to inflict violence upon her children and that's why she doesn't want to see same-sex couples showing affection for one another in front of her kids.

5. Stacy claimed that in her original post she merely "expressed frustration - not hate, not intolerance, not judgement [sic]....".

6. For receipt of criticism, harassing comments, and threats, Stacy wrote a later post talking about how she had "accept[ed] martyrdom*."

She also apologized for any hurt she had caused while also encouraging the hurt people to question whether the hurt was caused by her, or by "something else." Wiping her hands of responsibility for causing harm, Stacy explained that the people upset by her post weren't actually upset by her comments but because they know they are engaging in "immoral behavior."


So. These things happen on Internet, and they happen a lot. I see it mostly when anti-LGBT Christians talk about LGBT people, but it probably happens with other in-groups and out-groups as well. A Christian will write a blog post expressing an aggressive judgment against LGBT people and then is all surprised that LGBT people will meet that hostility with hostility of their own.

The Christian will over-react to mild, non-aggressive criticism, such as Commenter 2's, above, by framing it as "harassment" and will react to genuinely hostile commentary by treating it as proof that all or most LGBT people are the villainous monsters she already knew they were.

In two directions, are profound misunderstandings.

The first is the Christian's belief that they are doing LGBT people a favor, and that it is not hostile, to tell us that we are immoral, destroying society, and representative of a "Culture of Death." Even though Stacy's post is the apotheosis of judgmental since its very thesis is an expression of her (and, coincentally, "God's") opinion on the immorality of same-sex couples, she claims that her post did not express judgment.

Even though she expressed a dislike of the fact that same-sex couples were participating in public spaces and in manners just as heterosexual couples were, Stacy claims that her post did not express intolerance.

And, even though her post expressed a detestation of same-sex couples and being exposed to their displays of affection in public, Stacy claims that her post did not express hate.

Stacy may believe that her post is a paragon of non-judgment, tolerance, and love, but to a person in a same-sex relationship, and by any dictionary definition of those words, her post is anything but. I am reminded of the CS Lewis quote:

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their consciences."

Many Christians sincerely do not understand that they torment LGBT people with cruel judgments, intolerance, and hatred that they proclaim are simply "God's truth. They, like Stacy, believe that our real source of suffering spawns from being gay, rather than from people like them using powerful religions to tell us over and over and over again how it's a totally objective statement of fact that homosexuality is immoral.

Call it a "missing sensitivity chip," hetero Christian privilege, or plain old unkindness, but many Christians have a fundamental lack of insight into the amount of spiritual and verbal aggression they inflict upon LGBT people. Hearing it from Stacy, you might think all she did was, as she tells it, "sit quietly on a bench while a homosexual couple engaged in a mild PDA".

So, sure, she sat in silent judgment of the couple when the "mild PDA" happened. But she seems to forget the part where she then went to her public blog, typed out a judgmental, intolerant, and hateful diatribe for all the world to see about the immorality of two women daring to share, in public, their delight in a baby and how "her" society is going to hell in a handbasket. And, she seems to forget that when a person shares her opinion in public, that other people are then entitled to share their opinions about her opinion.

The second misunderstanding, coming from some LGBT advocates, is the belief that meeting the Christian's aggression with further aggression is justified Because She Started It. Many LGBT advocates did react with civility and an apparent wish to engage Stacy in civil conversation. Unfortunately, Stacy did not seem capable of engaging such people, no matter how civilly they framed their critique, without perceiving their remarks as "harassment." Frankly, and as evidenced by Stacy's original post, it seems as though the very existence of avowed LGBT people in the world is "harassment" to some Christians, so you can imagine how it's perceived when an LGBT person tries to actually converse with such a person.

So, I understand the anger. I understand the frustration. I have been on the receiving end of that "how dare you try to talk to me about my hateful opinion of you" schtick many times.

Yet, it's still not acceptable to engage in actual harassment, use misogynistic slurs, or make threats against people like Stacy. Not only is it cruel, out of line, and possibly illegal, it sets the movement for equality and acceptance back.

By meeting Stacy on her level, the level of hostility, LGBT advocates have confirmed in her that not only is hostility an acceptable tool in this "culture war," but that LGBT people are deserving of her continued hostility. Failing to recognize her own cruelty, as evidenced by her "Accepting Martyrdom*" post, the hostile commentary she received seems to have cemented her conviction that she possesses the ultimate truth about morality and that, despite tangible anger and pain she has caused in many people, she is a possessor of "peaceful courage."

I'm not trying to be a smarmy, holier-than-thou hypocrite, and I fully acknowledge I've been less than perfect about Internet conversation in the past (and likely will be imperfect in the future too). Rather, I'm acknowledging the reality that many anti-LGBT people already think we, LGBT people, are horrible monsters. And, working within that reality, LGBT people and allies need to speak with an awareness of how our words may and may not reinforce that message to people like Stacy. Working with my anger about statements like the one's Stacy has made, I try to negotiate that awareness, however imperfectly, on a daily basis.

(*She changed the title of her post to "Accepting Evangelization" after a commenter suggested the martyr thing might have been a bit over the top).

(Tip of the beret: Fannie's Room reader Sarah brought this incident to my attention)

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