Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Conversations About Civility, Part II

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

This post is a continuation of yesterday's, where I discussed some of the conversations and issues that arose in response to my post on civility at the Family Scholars Blog:

3. Bullying

The discussion about whether oppressed groups had a right to engage in hostility, brought up another point. No single universal definition of bullying exists, but is it possible for members of oppressed groups, in this case LGBT people, to be bullies? Or, is bullying only an act of the more powerful against the less powerless, as another commenter argued? What if the bullying (or "bullying") takes place among the powerless against the powerless? Or the oppressed against the oppressed?

This conversation point, to me, was the most compelling of the contrarian points raised. Bullying does seem to require an imbalance and abuse of power. Although, I would argue that the Internet has given the less powerful more power to transform themselves into bullies, especially when we're talking about cyber-bullying. Or, maybe definitions of what constitutes power become trickier when the Internet is involved?

And whether or not one meets a given definition of "bully," I do maintain that members of oppressed groups are still capable of inflicting harm upon those who are privileged (and oppressed). Indeed, that seems to be a point of hostility, right?

I also question the effectiveness of using bullying as a weapon to eradicate injustice. By meeting hostility with hostility, we legitimize its use and, in a sense, transform ourselves into our hostile opponents. When the homofeminstcommieliberal revolution is won, do we want it to be led by those who have won the war by equating their opponents with the frothy remnants of anal sex and mocking anti-gay women's weight? What happens when you become a critic of such leaders about one issue or another and they do the same to you? How about when they engage in hostility, even now, toward other oppressed groups that they don't perceive as being worthy of the same human dignity as gay people? Or, maybe we think gay rights are the only rights that matter?

To quote Melissa at Shakesville:

"Listen, if your revolution doesn't implicitly and explicitly include a rejection of misogyny and other intersectional marginalizations, then you're not staging a revolution: You're staging a change in management."

4. Dan Savage

In a way, I regret even bringing up Dan Savage's campaign against Rick Santorum. Over at FSB, some people defended Savage like zealous fanboys, which served mostly as a distraction from the main argument of my post, which was to advocate for greater civility all-around. When the convo turned into Dan Savage has done MORE for gay rights than YOU ever will, it seemed as though I was dealing with some people who found it hard to fathom that the left was being criticized from the left. Like, maybe it didn't fit into their binary paradigm of Good and Evil? As though, obviously, anyone criticizing other left-leaning people is obviously a secret agent of the right or something.

People began claiming that I was taking away the "powerful tool" of hostility and that I was denying people the right to be angry. When, no. I am all for anger and believe it's a powerful force for change, I just don't think righteous anger gives us a right to engage in aggression and hostility. Especially when people have ever-shifting defnitions of what is and isn't acceptable hostility and which -isms are acceptable tools in furtherance of some Greater Cause.

I'm not objecting to making strong, powerful, and dignified arguments that are fueled by anger, I'm not objecting to mocking people's opinions and agrguments. I'm objecting to ridiculing people's names, calling certain anti-gay women "ugly cows" and "trannies" and calling anyone who opposes LGBT rights "wingnut loonies." (Opposition to LGBT rights isn't usually a matter of mental illness, is it?). I object to people claiming to be totally against sexism (and other -isms) while, as our friend Jay did, later dismissing a person concerned about sexism as failing to be a "serious person with interesting ideas." (See also, a change in management not being a revolution).

5. Opponents of LGBT Equality

Opponents of SSM were not that active in the comment thread, which kind of surprised me. Going into the post, I kind of assumed it might piss them off too, and maybe generate some comments like "We're not ALL like THAT." But alas. Maybe they were eating popcorn on the sidelines of an inner-LGBT-ally convo.

But, I did appreciate that David Blankenhorn participated in the conversation and acknowledged that it was a failure of his side that they didn't condemn overt anti-LGBT bigotry on a regular basis. It is a huge failing on their part. Prominent anti-LGBT people and opponents of SSM don't often listen to us, but they do listen to the Important People (ie- the Normal Straight People who oppose SSM).

The only anti-LGBT person I have seen opponents of same-sex marriage (SSM) condemn on any regular basis has been Fred Phelps, who is so extreme and widely recognized as a bigot that criticizing him isn't risky or brave. Instead, many opponents of SSM form alliances with one another, even those with obsessive Oppose Everything Gay agendas, like Peter LaBarbera, that are far from some of the more nuanced positions commentators at FSB take.

Until opponents of SSM begin condemning the more virulent and hostile voices on their side, they too should recognize that they will probably never be able to generate trust among many QUILTBAG people and aliles. They won't convince us that most opponents of SSM are nice, civil, and supportive of LGBT people. And, speaking for myself, it's difficult to take some people at their word that they're not bigots and that they condemn hatred/bigotry when they are resoundingly silent about a lot of it.

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