Civility and Shared Realities

12.13.2011, 9:00 AM

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 Barry’s post here, acknowledging that dialogue 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 or they claim that sexual orientation doesn’t matter or isn’t relevant.

I think many people mean well in saying this. And, 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 and that, therefore, we 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 insist 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. For heterosexual opponents of SSM, they can now 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.


14 Responses to “Civility and Shared Realities”

  1. Mont D. Law says:

    [“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.]

    This harder call then you might think. The knee jerk reaction is – this is lunacy – but in Canada we have an analogous situation, where the children of some skinheads were teaching their kids that black people and other minorities deserve to die.

    Manitoba Child and Family Services seized the kids from their home after the girl showed up at her elementary school with symbols used by white supremacists drawn on her body. The father is has now filed a charter challenge:

    “”(The mother) and I were excellent parents to our biological child (the boy) and to (the girl), both before and after the children were apprehended. I believe that there is no legal basis for the children having been apprehended in the first place,” the father wrote.

    “State removal of a child from parental custody is a serious interference with the psychological integrity of the parent and infringes every parent’s right to a fair hearing pursuant… to the charter,” the man’s lawyer wrote.

    The mother is also a real prize:

    “(The children) goose-step all the time. It really is adorable, it’s more fun when we’re in the mall and I do it, too,” she wrote.

    The court will decide the extent to which the beliefs as expressed by the parents are legally protected and whether educating their children in these beliefs entitled CFS to apprehend the children.

    So far this is working it’s way through the courts. I would be surprised if the parents loose and I am not sure I would want them to or to have the children of homophobes ceased.

    But do people here see teaching this kind of hatred to children as child abuse but teaching that gays are sinful and disordered and should have their civil right denied them is okay.

  2. fannie says:

    Karen,

    But for some people it is. Really.

    I don’t think it would be fair to call all marriage defenders haters or bigots, but your quote suggests (very unrealistically) that every single person who opposes SSM is definitely not a hater or a bigot.

    But some people demonstrably are. Should I start pulling quotes too?

  3. fannie says:

    I mean, it’s not hard to find problematic statements uttered by opponents of SSM. They’re in old court cases, they’re in DOMA’s congressional records, they’re all over the Internet.

    I know many places to look. Like, take a comment thread at the National Organization for Marriage’s blog:

    “Bryce,if we do nothing to penalize the formation of same-sex couples we are allowing them to fester in our society,harming everything they touch.”

    This is not, like, a rare or isolated opinion. Notice how none of the other SSM opponents call out this man’s rhetoric.

    Are you really suggesting that hatred and bigotry is rare or non-existent among SSM opponents?

  4. Myca says:

    It’s not about bigotry or hate

    No, absolutely, you’re right! The campaign to take the children of SSM opponents away from them and place them in state-run homes has nothing to do with bigotry or hate. It’s the result of caring about children, and not wanting them to be abused or sexually molested.

    I certainly have no personal animus against you, or indeed, any opponent of same sex marriage, but facts are facts. The idea of a same-sex marriage opponent parenting is simply logically impossible.

    —Myca

  5. fannie says:

    Karen,

    This is kind of difficult to talk about if we’re not talking specifics, but I do agree that there are problematic people on both sides of this issue. My very first post here acknowledged that.

    Your above quote to Opine Editorials, however, didn’t qualify the statement in any way. It simply said “marriage defenders aren’t basing their values on bigotry or hate” implying that no marriage defender is hateful or bigoted. Which was why I asked.

    This “we’re not bigots” narrative is becoming so popular among prominent marriage defense groups that it’s not at all clear to me whether many opponents of SSM actually think that bigotry and hate directed at LGB people is over.

    Getting opponents of SSM to acknowledge the reality of anti-LGB bigotry and hate can be, frankly, like pulling teeth. When the acknowledgement comes, it often comes with some sort of qualification about how “both sides” are mean or “less than savory.”

    Like, there’s no acknowledgement of the power differential that exists in a heterocentric society between heterosexuals and LGB people, or the systemic and historic oppression of LGB people. And so, oftentimes, opponents of SSM morally equate being called a bigot with anti-LGB bigotry itself and I think that moral equation is kind of absurd.

    And so, while I agree with you that people on both sides have said and done some problematic things, I wonder what specifically you are talking about. What constitutes, to you, unsavory pro-SSM behavior and speech? And why do you think people are engaging in it? What motivates them?

    And, do you have a reaction to Myca’s (satirical) proposal?

  6. fannie says:

    Karen,

    I think people are motivated by different things. But, the point of my post was to share some of the realities that many LGB people deal with. My hope was that if opponents of SSM better understand our daily lived realities of living in a society that is still homophobic, they might better understand some of the anger and aggression toward opponents of SSM.

    I think, too often (and I’m not accusing you personally of this, because I haven’t see you do this), opponents of SSM frame LGB people as being Totally Violent And Aggressive For No Reason At All, and there’s no analysis or understanding of how this aggression doesn’t happen in a vaccuum. Many LGB people feel as though we are under attack by powerful political, “pro-family,” and religious groups, and because so few opponents of SSM speak out against hate and bigotry directed at LGB people it’s difficult to separate out which SSM opponents do and do not agree with the hate and bigotry.

    Anyway, no need to respond again or anything. I just wanted to share some more of where I think some LGB people are coming from. I hope you and your family have a nice holiday season too.

  7. R.K. says:

    And, do you have a reaction to Myca’s (satirical) proposal?

    What is Myca’s (satirical) proposal being morally equated to, in particular?

  8. Myca says:

    Part of my point … an important part of my point … is that personal anti-LGBT animus, hatred, and bigotry don’t matter at all. Not one bit. Not in this discussion, anyway.

    When you’re promoting policies that are inherently insulting to LGBT folks (like, “the children of SSM opponents should be taken from them”) and justifying those policies with claims that are inherently insulting to LGBT folks (like, “because they’re not real parents anyhow”), then whether it comes from a place of love or a place of hate doesn’t make a lot of difference … just like it wouldn’t make a lot of difference to you … because you’d just be worried about losing your kids.

    There is a larger discussion about how to have a civil disagreement when one position is simply uncivil.

    And, look, I’m not saying that therefore SSM opponents should never be able to express their opinions, but I also don’t want to pretend that “everyone be nice” is a solution when one group of people is saying “we ought to have the same rights and privileges as any other american citizen” and the other is saying, “no you shouldn’t.”

    I mean, how do you have a civil discussion of segregation, right? Or a civil discussion of why miscegenation ought to be illegal? It’s not that it’s impossible, it’s that when it’s possible, it’s possible because one group is remaining civil despite the behavior of the oppressor group.

    “Lets have a discussion about how people like you shouldn’t be allowed to vote,” isn’t civil, even if you say please and thank you and address your opponent as sir.

    —Myca

  9. fannie says:

    RK,

    I’m not sure Myca’s satire is necessarily “morally equating” laws against SSM with laws that would take away the children of SSM opponents, but I do think that, from the point of view of the people who would be most personally affected by such laws, they are both repugnant.

    So, I interpreted the satire as illustrating how, due to their perceived repugnancy, when such laws are treated as a matter of legitimate debate it can really trigger the anger, fear, and hurt of those who are most affected by them. And further, these laws’ capacity to trigger doesn’t seem to be well understood by supporters of such laws, who consider it out of bounds when supporters of the laws are called bigots and who (rightfully, in my opinion) demand civility when people oppose uncivil laws.

    That’s why the “everyone be nice” claim that Myca refers to, and that is often demanded of SSM supporters in these conversations, feels so incoherent. It’s a fact that LGB people are often hurt by opponents of SSM and the existence of DOMA and various state bans on SSM (whether that is intended or not), and so the conversation often feels like “everyone be nice, except for opponents of SSM, who don’t have to be.”

  10. R.K. says:

    Fannie, though I had much more to say here I’ve been unable to take the time to be on this blog much over the past week. I would like to return to the subject you raised here (and Myca’s statement), however, if you decide to bring it up again in a later thread.