Monday, November 7, 2011

Conversations About Civility, Part I

[content/trigger warning: this post contains an example of a misogynistic/transphobic slur, fat shaming, and references to threats]

I had a hunch that my post over at Family Scholars Blog (FSB) advocating for civility on both sides of the Gay Culture Wars might result in some pushback from QUILTBAG allies. I speculate that some of the comments would have been different, and my motives questioned less, had I only published the post here in Fannie's Room, rather than at FSB as well.

While I am somewhat used to having anti-QUILTBAG types assume all kinds of things about me, my personal life, and my beliefs based solely on my "avowed" sexual orientation, it is a more rare experience to have allies make very personal, and very wrong, assumptions about me and my motivations. The experience and the conversation generated, however, did raise some important points regarding civility, dialogue, and internet communication:

1. Internet Privacy

One gay male commenter (and I note his gender and orientation because it becomes relevant) tried to pressure me into using my real name in blogging. Even after I requested that he respect my choice to use a pseudonym, which I did not make lightly and that was in response to threats that I, and other feminist bloggers, regularly receive, he (wrongly) assumed that I was closeted about my sexual orientation in my "real life," that my choice was a "disservice" to gay people, and that I was dishonest. He said that he has been threatened and assaulted in his life too but that didn't stop him from using his real name in one comment, suggesting that therefore I too should reveal personal information about myself on the Internet.

Feminist bloggers, especially those more prominent than I, regularly write about threats they receive in response to their blogging. In light of that, and for other reasons, I see many legitimate and valid reasons for people to use pseudonymity and anonymity in Internet interaction and blogging. Even if gay men (or anyone else) are threatened, harassed, and assaulted, I question the appropriateness of them equating their experiences with those of women and then auditing the choices and risk management strategies that we (or anyone else) make to stay safe online and in our daily lives.

2. "Concern Troll"

Another commenter said that I was "concern trolling" - as though I were merely posing as a pro-LGBT commentator(!) and arguing that LGBT people just need to be less "shrill" about asking for equality. Another found it "amusing" that my first post at the "homophobic" FSB "scold[ed] gay people."

Now, I know there are many gay men who are feminists and allies to feminists and women. But, I will articulate my frustration with the many gay men who are ignorant of basically the entire feminist blogosphere, even though the feminist blogosphere is incredibly supportive of equal rights for gay men. Like, I didn't just spring forth from the aether on November 1, 2011, the day of my first FSB post. I've been blogging almost every day since 2007, oftentimes about LGBT rights. Because I'm a lesbian who supports LGBT rights.

Secondly, given the number of times I have been told I need to Watch My Tone, the first dude's comment just made me LOL. Seriously, I'm basically an expert in having dudes tell me to chill out about rape culture, misogyny, and sexism. For instance, ironically, a different LGBT rights dude in that very same comment thread made a sexist comment about, what he referred to as, my post and comments' "listen to mother," "scolding," and "uncivil" tone and later that I deserved his comment because I "make feminism part of [my] blogging identity" (LOLWUT?).

I contend that what really bothered more than a few Team Tolerance members was that I was assertively arguing with men while being a woman. How dare I. Funny thing is, once you scratch the surface of a so-called liberal/progressive man's sexist slip-up, one often finds that bigger ones are revealed. The "little things" are often based upon pretty large *clears throat* problematic worldviews.

See, the "listen to mother" guy then tried to explain himself by saying that women and men just have different communication styles, and that men in social movements are direct and aggressive, while women are "passive-aggressive" and "scolding."

Although, he kind of slunk away after Internet's Gender Genie said that I actually communicate like a man and that he communicates like a woman. Whooops!

So anyway, believe me, I think it's incredibly important to make the distinction between statements that are (a) assertive arguments against inequality and "isms" being mislabeled "shrill" or "aggressive" and (b) an "ism"-based personal attack on an opponent (or ally), such as calling Ann Coulter a "hot tranny mess," accurately being called out as hostile.

My piece was intended to be the latter. We're just not being honest as LGBT people and advocates if we can't admit that people on "our side" are sometimes out of line and capable of harm. There have been, in fact, times I think my tone harsh or my words uncivil. Yet, there have also been times when opponents have inaccurately called my tone or words uncivil as a silencing tactic. It is crucial for those involved in contentious debates, on all sides, to be able to accurately discern when the former and the latter are happening.

Anyway, there's a lot to digest here, so I'll continue this post tomorrow.

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