Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Civility and Shared Realities

Over at Alas, A Blog, Myca wrote a satirical post regarding civility in conversations about rights. A snippet:

"I think that as our understanding of what it means to be a parent evolves and our understanding of how damaging homophobia is evolves, we must consider the possibility that opponents of Same Sex Marriage are, by teaching their children homophobia, abusing them, and ought to have their children taken from them.

I’m going to lay out some of the best arguments for taking the children of SSM opponents from them and placing them in foster homes, or, preferably, with SSM proponents. I understand that this conversation may be painful for opponents of Same Sex Marriage to participate in, but I’d like to encourage them to participate civilly, while encouraging SSM proponents to recognize that this argument (that SSM opponents are engaging in constant child abuse),while true, is likely to be painful for them. One thing I do want to be really clear on is that any conversation must be civil, and anyone engaging in uncivil behavior will be banned. This isn’t going to be about name calling. This is going to be about what horrible parents SSM opponents are, and how they deserve to lose their children."

For some background, this post was a response to a piece Barry Deutsch posted at Family Scholars Blog, acknowledging that a discussion about how conversations about marriage equality will often hurt LGB people, even when equality opponents are making relatively reasonable arguments.

I don't think Myca and Barry's pieces are necessarily in opposition to one another.

Barry's acknowledges a reality: Opponents of equality often say things that make LGB people feel attacked and unsafe.

Myca's takes it a step further, and acknowledges another reality: Even though opponents of LGB equality often say things that make LGB people feel attacked and unsafe, they often simultaneously expect LGB people to be near-perfect paragons of peace, civility, and kindness in response or else the conversation will not be allowed to occur.

Of the opponents of same-sex marriage who are, or like to think of themselves as, nice people who aren't bigots, I question whether many of them have an understanding of the extent to which their arguments still can be hurtful. If these hurt feelings are even acknowledged, I know such people often dismiss them with statements like, "the truth hurts sometimes" or "the real reason you're upset is because you're gay."

These statements, of course, usually only make things worse.

In the book Social Engineering, Chris Hagnagy lays out some basic ground rules for communication. In the context of political debates, I think one is really important:

"Never take for granted that the receiver [of your communication] has the same reality as you."

The realities of living in the world as a heterosexual person are different than those for someone who is lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB). Just as many Progressive White People like to say things like "I don't even see race, aren't we all just humans?", some straight people don't understand why LGB people Insist On Identifying As LGB.

It is laudable claim, in one way, because the person appears to be expressing an interest in society no longer stigmatizing certain aspects of one's identity. But, what is problematic about the claim is that it glosses over the inconvenient truth that we are not yet living in that utopian society where all people are treated the same, or where laws impact people the same, no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and other aspects of their identity.

Living in a society where homosexuality is stigmatized means, on a tangible level, that, on top of not having our relationships recognized in most states, many LGB people: do not feel comfortable showing affection for partners in public (like, even just holding hands), are afraid to talk about our relationships in the workplace, have others continually question our morality and "normalcy," fear acts of violence for being seen as gay, and often fail to receive validation and support from religious communities and family members.

Part of possessing privilege in a society means that a person doesn't necessarily know they have it. And, with that in mind, I strongly question whether many opponents of SSM are aware that the above circumstances are the realities for many LGB people. We just aren't starting this conversation from the same place.

That is, I, as a lesbian, do not have the same reality as a heterosexual woman who opposes SSM. She, for instance, may claim that "no one cares" about my sexual orientation, but as a point of fact, many people actually really do. They care a lot. And not in a good way.

Furthermore and relatedly, I think that in public discussions about same-sex marriage, some opponents of SSM equate being called a bigot to living in the world as a marginalized LGB person. What I appreciate about Myca's satire is that it really illustrates the absurdity of that moral equivalence by, perhaps, helping heterosexual opponents of SSM imagine living in the world where a repugnant policy that intimately and negatively affected their lives was framed as a legitimate debate in which they have to be very nice about engaging.


You Say Bullying, I Say PC Gone Too Far (and Vice Versa)

Conversations About Civility

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