Your Gay Friend Doesn’t Speak For Me

A few months ago, a friend of mine, whom I know not to be racist or homophobic or otherwise filled with hate posted a comment on Facebook to which I took offense:

The cars with the reindeer decorations are gay. I have seen 2 today

I replied by saying that I didn’t realize cars could be gay, to which she said this one was.  I said, “Dislike” since Facebook hasn’t been kind enough to provide an “I don’t approve of this” button – yet.

A friend of her’s, someone she knows face to face (I’ve only known her through on-line interactions) responded and said that there’s nothing wrong with saying “gay”.  I agree, and I said so before adding, “it’s not OK to use ‘gay’ as a derogatory statement.”  He provided a nasty, spiteful comment that doesn’t bear repeating and that really demonstrated to me that there’s still a long way to go, even in the realm of gay’s bashing each other.  And I opted to see my way out of that conversation.  The last thing I saw before “hiding” that “story” from my timeline was a statement from my friend who said that she meant no harm by it, that she would never want to hurt me and that there was no “cause for ‘ugliness'” as a result of her comment.  She said that her gay friends have “given me permission” to make gay jokes.

The other day, after a much too long absence from her blog, she talked about “Me and my bestest queer* are going to…”  The asterisk pointed to a footnote that read, “*He allows me to call him the queer so it’s fine.”  One has to question:  Why was it necessary to point out his permission, if “it’s fine.”  Clearly my friend is aware of the potential for offense at the comment.

First, let me say that I am not calling this friend out, personally.  This is a commentary on society, which uses these two relatively recent events as examples of the issue I’m discussiong.  I’ve made a point of not naming her and I’m pretty sure she’ll be the only one who knows who I’m talking about, so let me also say that she is the only one who could out herself if she chooses to comment on this post in a way that will make it clear that she’s the one I mean…

Second, let me say that I know my friend is not a homophobe and that she does not personally harbor any ill will or negative feelings about me, or the gay community as a whole.  On the contrary, she loves us.

Third, let me say that I don’t, personally, take particular offense at the use of the word “queer”.  Webster’s dictionary defines the word queer as:  Different from the normal or expected : strange.  So, maybe I should take offense at the word, but I don’t.  Just like I don’t take offense at the word gay.  Personally, I am gay, and that’s not a bad thing.  I am not queer, because there’s nothing different or strange about me.  However, when those words are used to describe anything or anyone with a derogatory connotation involved, then those words are offensive to me.  And they ought to be offensive to you, too!

So here’s the thing.  In discussing this friend of mine and her “bestest queer” (whom she revealed to me, in a separate communication, that she refers to as “the queer”) she can call him whatever she wants in private conversation between the two of them.  If he has no problem with her referring to him as “the queer”, than more power to them.  If he doesn’t feel that saying something which she clearly doesn’t like “is gay” is a derogatory use of the word, and she wants to say it to him; more power to them.  But just because the two of them don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, doesn’t mean the whole world agrees with them.  It doesn’t even mean most of the world agrees with them.  And I’ve got news for the two of them:  It doesn’t even mean that the majority of that particular community agrees with them.

So, okay.  The two of them are having a private conversation and she wants to tell her friend that cars with reindeer decorations on them are gay, and he thinks it’s funny, but they happen to be having this conversation in the middle of a restaurant and other people hear them.  That is not a private conversation and instead of making a funny joke, they’ve just utilized hate speech.  To the people in that restaurant, they’re not two people having a joke, they’re a couple of homophobes (or at the very least, very insensitive people), using a perfectly valid word that describes a perfectly valid portion of our society and comparing them to something that is unwanted and negative.  You can make the argument that “it’s a private conversation between the two of them” if you want, but it’s not.  It’s just not.  (Certainly Facebook isn’t.)    And just like that (*snaps fingers*) It’s not “okay, because my gay friend gave me his permission.”  Your gay friend doesn’t speak for me.

But let’s take this just a little bit further.  Let’s say my friend and her “bestest queer” agree that it’s not okay to use this language in public, but they are sitting around in the “bestest queer’s” living room using gay slurs (in a “humorous way”) and making jokes in which the term gay is used in a derogatory manner and they both think it’s funny and they’re completely at ease with it.  How long is it going to be before one of them slips in public and makes one of those jokes where other people can hear (or read) them?  When you allow yourself to think of something as being okay in private, before long you start thinking it’s okay in public, too.  Before long you lose your perspective and you stop censoring yourself when it’s appropriate to do so.

Even worse!  Suppose my friend and her “bestest queer” think I’m crazy and there’s just no way they would slip up in public and so it’s okay to make there jokes in private, just between the two of them.  This friend of mine has a young son; a toddler.  If she and her “bestest queer” sit around her house behaving this way, not only are they losing their own perspective of what’s appropriate, but they’re setting the example for her son that it’s the proper way to behave, or even worse teaching him that there really is something wrong with being gay, teaching him to judge, hate or otherwise criticize homosexuality, and if he happens to be gay, there’s a good chance that he could feel shame and fear of telling his parents because it’s been portrayed as something to be made fun of.

Outsiders do not get “inside jokes”.  The people around you can not read your mind.  The only thing people can go by, in understanding your beliefs and developing a sense of who you are, is your words.  It is necessary, therefore, that you use a sense of good judgement in determining how you use certain terms in modern society.

A person can make the argument until he is blue in the face that he doesn’t mean any harm with the use of certain words, but the bottom line is, when you use a term, like say, “gay”, in a context in which that term does not fit by definition, like say, “cars with reindeer decorations are gay”, one can only go by what they hear (or read).  Webster’s dictionary defines “gay” as:  1. Merry.  2. Bright and lively, especially in color.  3.  Inclined toward social pleasures.  4.  Homosexual.  — n. A homosexual.  I don’t think cars are capable of either emotion or sexual identity/behavior, therefore, I can only assume the statement is a derogatory statement which should not be made.

The bottom line is this:  No matter what is in your heart, when you make a statement that has a negative context and you use a term that describes a particular section of society (particularly one that is already persecuted) to convey that negative context, you are, in fact making a statement of hate.

And it should. not. be. done.

Nate Berkus Will Destroy Your Marriage

I read this amazing article on The Huffington Post the other day.  Wouldn’t it be nice if every parent could be as insightful and loving as this one:

… The first time you’re born, you identify the people in the room as your family. The second time you’re born, you identify the whole world as your family. Christianity is not about joining a particular club, it’s about waking up to the fact that we are all in the same club. Every last one of us. So avoid discussions about who’s in and who’s out at all costs. Everybody’s in, baby. That’s what makes it beautiful. And hard. If working out your faith is not beautiful and hard, find a new one to work out. And if spiritual teachers are encouraging you to fear anyone, watch them closely, honey. Raise your eyebrow and then your hand. Because the phrase repeated most often in that Bible they are quoting is Do Not Be Afraid. So when they tell you that gay people are a threat to marriage, honey, think hard.

I can only speak from my personal experience, but I’ve been married for nine years and barely any gay people have tried to break up my marriage. I say barely any because that Nate Berkus is a little shady. I am defenseless against his cuteness and eye for accessories and so he is always convincing me to buy beautiful trinkets with our grocery money. This drives your sweet father a bit nuts. So you might want to keep your eye on Berkus. But with the exception of him, I’m fairly certain that the only threats to my marriage are my pride and anger and plain old human wanderlust. Do not be afraid of people who seem different than you, baby. Different always turns out to be an illusion. Look hard.

Chase, God gave you the Bible, and He also gave you your heart and your mind and I believe He’d like you to use all three. It’s a good system of checks and balances He designed. Prioritizing can still be hard, though. Jesus predicted that. So he gave us this story. A man approached Jesus and said that he was very confused by all of God’s laws and directions and asked Jesus to break it down for him. He said, “What are the most important laws?” And Jesus said, “Love God with all your heart, mind and soul, and love others as yourself.” When in doubt, Chase, measure all your decisions and beliefs against that. Make damn sure that you are offering others the same rights, courtesies, and respect that you expect for yourself. If you do that, you can’t go wrong…

Read the rest of the article here.

Rides and Monkey Poop

“I’m in the process of getting over myself,” I told the small band of do-gooders sitting around me.

It was my weekly meeting of advisors for my Building Emergency Response Team (BERT) program and we were discussing deployment of our website.  This website isn’t a new idea, nor is it a new product; it’s just something that hasn’t been in our control and hasn’t been properly maintained

Years ago, I asked for access to the site so I could make sure the data relevant to my buildings was kept current.  I was told I would have it and then the matter died there with no fulfillment or follow through.  The site remained out of date and the person whose job it was to maintain it, the person who, coincidentally enough holds the title of “systems administrator”, couldn’t be bothered to keep up with it and wouldn’t post the updated information in a timely manner.  No one seemed to care about this, besides me… and my 230 “clients” who utilize the information that was chronically out of date.

My little band of helpers and I started looking for another way to make this information available.  My company has its own “Facebook” type site on the intranet and we set up a group for the BERT program, but the information we were discussing, that needed to be readily available and easy to find, would get lost on that site as newer items were added and pushed that information further down the page.  Not everyone on my council is as jaded as I am.  Some of them still hold the mistaken belief that things can be done properly around here.  They wanted me to ask for access again.  I explained to them that I had done so more than once and that the end result is always run-around and disappointment and it’s reached a point where no one wants to listen to me about it any longer.  The perception is that I’m the rabble-rouser, troublemaker and that the Systems Administrator is doing nothing wrong.  So some of the more optimistic participants of the group took it upon themselves to contact my boss’s boss on my behalf and request the access for me.

Somewhat to my surprise, no one got upset that it was requested.  No one came down on me for stirring things up, or for sicking my “underlings” on them.  A week or so later, I got a simple e-mail with a user name and password and a link to the administrative portion of the site, ironically hosted on WordPress.

On closer examination, however, I discovered that the site I had been given access to was an entirely new site.  The old site had not been on WordPress and the decision had been made to move everything over for easy of use.  As I perused the information that was available, I discovered that none of the properties that I work with were included in the site.  No pages even existed for my properties.  Nearly a week later, I got an e-mail from the Systems Administrator asking me to let him know when I had time to talk (on the phone) so he could show me how I could create the pages.

I discussed this with my manager and the conclusion that we agreed on (shocking, I know) was that it is the Systems Administrator’s job to build the site; the only thing I had ever wanted was the ability to keep the downloadable documents up to date.  My manager sent an e-mail to the Systems Administrator and CC’d me asking him to create the pages for our buildings so that I could update the documentation.  His response?  “The pages are created, Kevin just needs to copy and paste them from the other buildings.”  My manager didn’t respond and no additional action was taken until a couple of days ago when I sent him my own e-mail and copied my boss saying, “Can you tell me when the pages for my buildings will be created so that I can add the documents to them?”  His response, once again, was to tell me to let him know when I was available so he could tell me how I could create them.

Now, rationally speaking, I realize that it’s not going to be all that difficult for me create the pages and customize them to my buildings.  I realize that it will get the job done more quickly and my cohorts and I can get on with our project.  Ultimately, I understand that it’s the thing to do.  It makes more sense, I suppose, at least to most people, and it would be a lot easier on me, just to go ahead and do the work and get on with my life.  I get that… Really.

But the problem is, I can’t bring myself to do it, at least not yet.  I have such an egalitarian perspective on life that it stops me being able to shrug my shoulders and go on with the work.  I believe so strongly in right and wrong, fair play, that it hurts me to do something that I feel violates that sense.  I see it as a much bigger picture than just me getting my website built.  Here is a person who doesn’t do his job and pushes it off on other people.  A person whose customer service (and we are his customers) sucks.  He makes no effort to understand his customers’ problems, he doesn’t communicate his answers clearly and he doesn’t do what’s asked of him, by the customers he serves, in anything like a timely manner. 

And no one does anything about it!!!

Something needs to be done, and of course I realize, I’m not the one to do it.  No one will listen to me; I’m only one man.  Only then the thought comes to mind, “Martin Luther King, Jr. was only one man.”  Except, I guess he wasn’t only one man once he actually accomplished something.  He was a leader of many men and women who believed in his cause and followed his example.  Something I’m not going to be able to do here and in this situation.

I have yet to convince myself that my creating these web pages isn’t an endorsement of this persons behavior, and while this is a simple and small thing for me to do and only a small part of his job, it literally makes me ill and angry to consider doing it for him.  I mean, literally, I can feel tears burning behind my eyes just thinking about it.

How do I make this rational knowledge of simplifying my own existence translate into a psychological peace with performing the act?  I do not know!  Because it’s not fair!

K’s father has a saying, “A fair is a place you go to ride the rides and step in monkey poop.”  (Actually most of his dad-isms involved poop in one way or another.)

I wish I could figure out how to reconcile the knowledge of what has to be with my reality of its wrongness…

I’m still in the process of getting over myself.

A Good Talking To

I stumbled across this poster today and thought it was really good.

How many times have we heard “What that boy really needs is a good talking to!”?  Too many, I think.

How much time do we spend just trying to be heard?  Much too much, for sure.

How much time do we spend just trying to listen to other people?  To really understand them?

Mary Lou (whoever she is) may be on to something.