May 09, 2007

On Hypocrisy

A lot of things really piss me off in life, in general, but hypocrisy probably tops the list. One thing that especially bugs me is the phenomenon whereby victims of hate and intolerance become the haters and...intolerators? I've noticed this a lot in the queer community, and it makes me embarrassed to be associated with the group. (I can really only talk about Harvard, but I feel that this is not a local thing.) Example:

"I just found out that John's a ___. Can you believe it?? Eww!"

Replace the underscores with "queer," and we all get (understandably) upset.

Replace the underscores with "conservative Christian," and you get a statement that I've heard coming from the mouths of my friends on multiple occasions.

In the queer community, the first statement is homophobia, but the second is an in-joke. I find it downright sad that people who have dealt - personally - with assumptions made about them based on an identity think that it's okay to make the same sorts of assumptions about other groups of people. I find myself constantly defending Christians, Republicans, Right to Life folks, True Love Revolution folks, and it bothers me that I find it necessary. Just like not all queers are promiscuous fuck-ups who are against traditional family values (although some are,) not all Republicans are snobby tools who hate queers (although some are.) Talk smack all you want about homophobic individuals, but please stop assuming that their views represent their religion or political persuasion or associations.

This has been on my mind for quite some time, but it was an editorial in today's Crimson that made me finally write it. To summarize, an editor from The Salient writes about how the publication represents a very small minority of conservative opinions on campus. (Something I've always assumed, but was pleased to see in print.) We (Quench) have been mocked and quoted in The Salient before, and as a non-white, female, Jew I really have no love for them. However, what's that quote again? "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." (Thank you, google.) The editorial writer talks about how he often disagrees with the opinions and practices of the publication even though he's an editor. Keeping that in mind, I hope that people will stop associating The Salient and hate speech with Conservatives who don't even have a part in the magazine.

I just ask that next time Righty groups come up in conversation, you think a little more about what you really mean to say.


mk said...

Interesting. This is a discussion that comes up a lot in various places, and it's interesting to see the many justifications for the behavior.

One of the most common I've seen is making a distinction between (majority) groups or individuals with access to power directing slurs/epithets/othering language toward (minority) groups or individuals with historically less access to power (to use your example, a straight person saying "Can you believe John is queer? EW!") and the reverse--something akin to a queer person denouncing "breeders," or what have you.

I've heard plenty of folks (even, or maybe especially, in progressive circles) justify their use of language as the ol' "speaking truth to power," yet bridle when "power" speaks the same language.


the spinster said...

Hear hear. I just finished a paper for library school called "Are evangelical Christians an underserved population?" You should have seen some of the death stares I got as I presented it.

emily2 said...


(whenever i gently remind fellow libs not to engage in the same type of stereotyping associated with the right - or the same nefarious tactics that barely pass for "debate" - i've been called a "self-hating mary cheney wannabe". but then when i post on, i often get called a "gay leftist." sometimes i feel that neither side is willing to have an honest debate.)

Anonymous said...

...being relatively new here (invited by WTTO, I believe), I hope that this post is in the spirit of this forum...

Avoiding stereotyping and a rush to judgement are definitely good things, but sometimes people with morally repugnant views in fact do represent the public views of the group they are part of... and to suspend judgement about political groups and affiliations (distinct from identity groups and affinities) too easily can mean that we end up swallowing a soft-pedalled view of some pretty vicious political positions.

Republicans are an interesting example. I think that folks who claim to be in favor of LGBT equality and yet belong to the Republican party deserve to be seriously questioned about where they stand. And this includes LGBT folks who, after more than a solid two decades of virulent homophobia running Republican party politics and policies, still belong to the Republican party because they are "against big government" or want "lower taxes."

Additionally: Power can sometimes be a murky thing in an arena like a college-- elsewhere I think the power differentials can be much sharper. I spent the last 3 years in a heavily conservative district in PA in which the intimidation of Democrats by the radical right was rampant: this included theft, vandalism and threats.

In response, two faculty members at my college, one Republican one Democrat, wrote a letter to the school paper saying that it was important that everyone respect each others political opinions. But that implied that Democrats were somehow engaging in an equal level of voter intimidation as the Republicans, which was simply untrue. A simple message of "let's all get along respectfully" disguised the reality of rampant voter intimidation directed from Republicans against Democrats, and not in the other direction.

At the end of the day, I'm all for not stereotyping and avoiding caricatures... but I'm also skeptical of the idea that people and political ideologies that do not respect you deserve respect in return. Also I'm skeptical when political ideologies and groups with a great deal of clout and those who affiliate with them claim victimhood because some people are mean to them... when, at the same time, those political ideologies and groups are engaged in systematically stripping other people of their civil rights.

maudite entendante said...

RMJ - you were indeed invited by WTTO, and also by me, and not only was the comment in the spirit of the place (as I see it), but have you given any more thought to writing posts/pages with us? *smile*

As someone who's been called "heterophobic" for ... umm ... being queer, as far as I cal tell - and "anti-Semitic" for being Palestinian and opening my mouth - I agree that saying "there are idiots on both sides," or "both sides do bad things and they need to stop" does make it seem unfairly as though both sides are doing things of equal gravity and are equally responsible for a shitty situation. Even if I *did* say bad things about straight people as a group, or about every single member of the Israeli government and military, or about all Christians, or whoever - nothing I said would have even a fraction of the power of a statement made or an action taken by a member of one of those groups who happened to desire to harm me. Taking them all together as a social group, I can't hurt these people, no matter what I say or do, and to pretend otherwise is cynical and disingenous. I suppose this is another re-statement of MK's point (or MK's interlocutors' point) about "speaking truth to power," or "I can say that, I'm oppressed."

I don't think, though, that "it can't cause harm to the group if I say something about them" translates to "I should feel free, and perhaps even encouraged, to talk shit about Christians." Even aside from the fact that it's not nice, and often not true, it's also not helpful. Taking cheap personal potshots at (for example) conservative anti-gay evangelical Christians allows them to keep claiming that they're the victims here; that their children are being brainwashed and indoctrinated by the liberal mainstream and they have to fight to defend themselves (cf my post on the Brokeback lawsuit); that The Gays are picking on them and it's Just Not Fair. Do we care so much about preserving our technical right to be catty to power that we'd willingly hand over that kind of ammunition?

emily0 said...

*raises hand*

Guilty. I am fascinated with early Christianity and totally repulsed on a visceral level by modern Christianity, my beloved Christian friends and family notwithstanding.

For me, it's a personal issue. I have an instinctive revulsion due to a personal spiritual crisis I had as a child and I hafta work very very hard not to react negatively to Christians - even my friends.

*sigh* We all have our weak points, it seems.

icarus said...

re: M.E.'s comment:

"Taking them all together as a social group, I can't hurt these people, no matter what I say or do, and to pretend otherwise is cynical and disingenuous."

I guess, for me, it's rarely that simple. For instance, you mention the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and that you have been called "Anti-Semitic" for talking about the conflict. Setting aside the problematic conflation of Jewish/religious identity and Israeli nationality, I think it's important to think about where your views and comments may come from as well. You are an American, living in America, and regardless of your identification with a Palestinian identity, you do not live that daily reality or experience political realities on a personal level. However, Israeli and Palestinian citizens, BOTH of whom did not ask for, and who suffer most from, this conflict, do.
Israeli children who are killed in bus bombings and grow up in fear, are also oppressed - by the hatred and ignorance on the part of leaders from *both* sides of this conflict. Within Israel, Arab-Israelis face discrimination and torn identities as a result of divisive rhetoric, policies and treatment on the part of multiple factions.

I guess what I'm saying is, just because one side of a conflict (and I dislike putting it that way, because I think in most situations there are multiple sides and groups, with both overlapping and also conflicting identities and motivations) possesses more power and privilege, does not mean that they are *necessarily* the only ones who suffer, and I think that, even when we try to speak to issues of oppression, we also forget our own privilege, national location and differences in emotional and lived experiences.

tea cozy said...


To weigh in on the "heterophobic" thing... I'm having trouble articulating what I want to say, but here goes. I agree that it's a different matter for a minority group to use offensive language or rhetoric than it is for the reverse. However, as an "ally" (whatever that means), and particularly as a female ally, I have been known to cry/otherwise freak upon hearing the word "breeder." Breeder in particular really bothers me, and here's why:

I associate the word "breeder" with what I think is a similar phenomenon: gay men riffing on how disgusting and scary and dark and disturbing vaginas/female genitalia are. OMG WTF. I was in a bio section with a gay male friend, and we were dissecting flower ovaries, so naturally we started talking about vaginas, and all of a sudden this smart, articulate friend of mine is going off on how unimaginably disgusting a certain part of my anatomy is. In what universe is that acceptable? It made me want to go all Catherine McKinnon on his ass. So I guess what I'm trying to say is that, in my experience, there's often a disturbing sexist undertone to language like "breeders." Similarly, the undertone to "Christian" or "conservative" seems to be an (often regional) elitism which, removed from the discourse of politics in which we usually encounter it, is on its own a very destructive thing.

wannatakethisoutside said...

I agree that it's very important to be cognizant of where power fits into the equation.

I don't want to derail the conversation but I don't think the Israeli/Palestinian comparison fits at all. I was going to say more than that but I think that's all I'm going to say because I want to focus on the issue that Aurora and Emily0 brought up.

Perhaps this is my misinterpretation but when I hear someone bring up being a "christian conservative" as aurora suggested, I think they are bringing up a political philosophy. Personally, when I see "conservative" attached to "christian" in this way, I read anti-gay, often combined with a bit of racism. Everyone who I know who has used the phrase "christian conservative" to describe themselves has done it as a way of publicly showing their anti-gay, sex-negative opinions.

I think that laughing off a group of people who define themselves by their opposition to your existence or the morality of your existence is so fundamentally different than a person of privilege (eg. a straight person) laughing off a person targeted by oppression (eg. a queer person) that I'm not sure what you are getting at.

They can say whatever they want. I think they should be able to say it. But I will laugh at them, and I will not feel badly because I am "making assumptions" about them. If they meant something different than this typical definition of "christian conservative," then I will listen, but in my experience, people use the "conservative" modifier to define themselves in opposition to a marginalized group's existence. That's not a viewpoint I have to respect.

Teacozy - I agree about the breeder/sexism issue and hope everyone got a chance to read this recent QueerToday thread about gay sexism. (It doesn't apply uniquely to so-called heterophobia but applies more generally).

The sexism issue aside, though, I really do not interpret anti-straight prejudice in at all the same way as anti-gay prejudice. I think that anti-gay prejudice leads to oppression because it is combined with power. Anti-straight prejudice just leads to people like me feeling awkward in a conversation or at a party on occasion. Not a big deal. Personally, I choose to stay (as long as I am invited in the space), because I know that I am forced to feel awkward about my sexuality much less frequently than others are. But I know that I have the privilege where I could make a choice to leave that space and go hang out with people who won't think twice about my sexuality, or even acknowledge that anyone isn't straight in the first place. That's what privilege is. It's not always being treated better - it's having the choice to go somewhere where you will be.

(PS. Teacozy - I'm not saying we disagree because I do think the sexism issue is key but I am just thinking about instances where so-called "heterophobia" is in its pure form.)