Ah, here come the think-pieces about Orlando. I keep writing and re-writing this and deleting a rant about them, uncertain whether I'm "allowed" to have feelings on the topic. The fact that I even have to ask myself, "Am I allowed to have an opinion?" rather than, "Is my opinion informed and at least kind of reasonable?" is one of the biggest problems I have with the practice of identity politics, so fuck it. Here it is.

Some lady -- I think it's a lady; everyone is using feminine pronouns -- apparently wrote a thing declaring that cis het white people are not allowed to comment on anything that happened in Orlando. How dare you offer condolences now when you are so silent the rest of the time, usw. I expect in a week or two someone else will write one decrying a lack of supportive commentary from the mainstream, oblivious to the flaw in their logic. If no one is allowed to comment unless they've been commenting all along, but they're not allowed to comment at all if they can't prove they occupy the correct little wedge in your Venn diagram... well, then you're going to get an echo chamber surrounded by a ringing void, aren't you?

It has been my observation that, no matter what circles you run in, the proportion of people who are asshats is pretty constant. Maybe 10%. Most of them are just oblivious and self-absorbed, like the louts who won't take their backpacks off on the train. About 10% of the asshat population is so dedicated to their craft that they rise beyond mere asshattery into the fine art of asshaberdashery, which is when you are such a colossal asshat that you force otherwise normal humans into temporarily being asshats as well just to fucking deal with you. Cis het white people are good for a lot of examples, mainly because statistically there are loads of people in that category in my neck of the woods; for more information on this, see Fox News, C-SPAN, and almost literally any other mass medium where people are allowed to talk. Other cohorts seem to be similar, proportionally speaking. I figure the columnists who run on a constant fugoid cycle of  'how dare you speak' to 'how dare you stay silent' and back are the social justice equivalent.

The idea that you should listen to people instead of just assuming you know what they're thinking is a good one, but the way I see it applied in social justice circles bothers me, and it took me a long time to figure out why. It seems to have morphed into another one of those zero-tolerance policies, which states that no person can ever understand any of anyone else's lived experience. There's no allowance for kinda-sorta getting it well enough to communicate. It presumes, a priori, a complete failure of empathy in the same way that pop feminism presumes I wander around in constant fear for my life; that the body acceptance movement presumes I hate the way I look; that diet culture presumes I live in mortal terror of becoming fat; that the organic food industry presumes I am concerned with the genetic purity of my groceries; and that Evangelical Christianity presumes I am in unremitting danger of being tempted by Satan. There was once a germ of a good idea at the center of all of these things, but over time they have drifted into the belief that everyone is fundamentally a destructive failure of a human being, and the only way to avoid this is to second-, third-, and fifteenth-guess everything you say and do, to make sure you're not somehow transgressing.

There is a name for this. It's called "having scruples". We use 'scruples' today in the casual sense of 'a conscience', but the original technical meaning comes from the Catholic Church, where it describes a state of being so self-debasing and afraid of inadvertent sin that you tie up the confessional for hours every week, obsessively detailing everything you might have conceivably done wrong. Even the Catholics thought this was a bit excessive, and invented a shorter term for it so that everyone could go home to Sunday dinner while it was still Sunday.

There is a lot of space between "your opinions are not paramount to this discussion" and "shut the fuck up". This blog resides smack in the middle of it, right on the corner of I Have A Bunch Of Thoughts About This Street and You're Probably Bored At Work Right Now Anyway Avenue. I try to stay in the general vicinity of "I wish to express condolences and support, and would like you to tell me about your experience so I can figure out if I have had similar experiences myself, and whether we can communicate on that basis." Since I am in the US, at least for now I am allowed to express anything that is not a threat, a direct incitement to panic, or actionable slander without legal consequences, which means that I can say things to friends and gauge the reaction before I start spouting off to strangers.

I have a lot more to say about how I see social justice principles being misused all over the goddamn place, but I will hold off on it until I can write them up in such a way that I do not want to punch walls when I read it back. For now, I am going to support my local LGBT* community, which in my case means going to see the premiere of Spider Cult! The Musical, which was written and produced entirely from scratch by some friends of mine who are queer in pretty much every conceivable sense of the word. I love their weirdo brains, so at the odd times that I actually have money, I give them some in exchange for entertainment.

Comments

  1. Thank you for mentioning asshaberdashery, which I have loved ever since I first saw it on the interwebz. I needed that unexpected guffaw.

    I think, particularly, when it comes to emotions, unless I, as a writer, sit down and live with them for a while, they come out super-super-dumb. And I think people who are saying "NO ONE UNDERSTANDS ME/US WAILY-WAILY, especially not YOU/THEM WAILY-WAILY" need to sit the fuck down in a corner and waily waily on their own for a while.

    I got into a small marshmallow roast this week about how we need multiple voices and people need to stop shutting each other out of talking about topics just because we don't agree about everything. I find disagreements fun, though, and I appreciate different perspectives. I feel appreciated and seen as a person by you, and I feel that you appreciate all of your friends, whether we're queer or not. I don't think being different from me invalidates your opinions and experiences, and maybe, in fact, you can see things that I can't related to queer culture, something that really needs to change that I can't see since I'm too close to it myself. Please never stop talking about these kinds of things: I also think there are some things in this post that are pinging my tiny brain about Brexit, but I can't cohere the pings right now.

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