In the past week or so, I’ve dealt with hate speech directed at me in real life and online, and it barely blipped on my radar. That’s the gay experience I’m having right now; a stranger on the street called me a faggot, and I barely have time to think about it.
(By the way, I live in Ann Arbor, so I’m dying to here about how people don’t get called faggots in liberal urban America…)
Anyway, what I really want to talk about this week is the cascading nature of hatred. I am here to posit that there is no benign level of hatred.
Straight friends often in the past have expressed that I am being a killjoy for calling them out on their shit. Shit like playing music with overtly homophobic lyrics, monitoring each other for “faggy” behavior, making it clear they prefer gay men to be “manly,” and invoking the gender binary as a guide for behavior.
Nothing quite got to me, though, like the way friends reacted when a man outside a book looked me in the eye and said, “You’re a faggot, and I’m going to kill you.”
If you need the context – not that it should matter, but here goes – I was attempting to warn the young women he was creeping on all over town that he was lying about what drug he was giving them. I couldn’t tell what it was, but I had enough experience with what he said it was to know that wasn’t it. I was trying to be discreet, but I guess he found me out. Hence the “you’re a faggot, and I’m going to kill you” thing.
Also, in case you’re wondering, I got right up in his face and I said, “I am a faggot,” and then to the best of my recollection I swished the fuck out of Dodge.
Later when describing this to friends, a shocking number of them went out of their way to say, “well, he wasn’t being homophobic when he called you a faggot.”
Because, in case you’re wondering, straight people are in charge of when people are being homophobic or not. Wouldn’t want my big nelly feelings or lived experiences getting in the way of straighty’s truth bombs.
Maybe…maybe what they meant is that he had no way of knowing whether or not I were gay. Which is maybe true. And wicked so hard not the fucking point.
This reminds me of that straight guy friend you have who will say something homophobic and then bring up how he got called a faggot when he was a kid, so it’s all cool or something.
Straight guys who’ve been called a faggot and therefore think calling people a faggot is no big deal get to feel that way because nothing can take away how fucking cool it must be to be a straight white guy in this world. When some straight guy gets called a faggot he gets to laugh it off because he was the wrong target. He can’t hear that dog whistle.
I want you to really fucking think about what my friends were asking me to believe. They wanted me to feel comforted that he didn’t mean I was going to die because I was gay per se, but because attempting to stop sexual assault was faggy on my part. Because what a brotherly straight guy would have done, I suppose, is go along with his plan to lie to women about what he was drugging them with.
I was supposed to be comforted. I wasn’t a faggot, I was a “faggot.” Well, I’m so glad we got that all cleared up!
This is why I call you out on your acts of hate even when you think they’re benign. Because nominally liberal straight people in liberal urban America will look me in the eye and tell me faggot’s “just a word,” or some other such bullshit.
What you need to believe to make that true is far more insulting to masculinity than anything I could ever do. Thinking that a man ending up dead for trying to intervene in crimes against women is a faggy thing to do is why there is no safe level of hatred.
People do become desensitized to hatred. Our society is a bubbling cauldron of racism and sexism and homophobia. We live under constant exposure to personal and institutional oppression and marginalization, but privileged people have the privilege of not noticing the pervasive air or bullshit.
Singing along to that homophobic or misogynistic lyric means you will tell gay friends hate speech isn’t so bad. It means you will laugh at that next gay joke, and then tell you’re gay friend, “hey, but not you!” Then you’ll start saying things like “people are too sensitive these days.”
And then before you know it, you’re calling a woman who challenges you a slut and then complaining about how “nice guys” finish last.
There is no point at which you are liberal enough to be “just a little homophobic.” Or racist. Or misogynistic. You don’t need to let your hair down or blow off a little steam. And if you, congratulations, you’re actually a bigoted asshole. But if you’ve come to that realization, I welcome you, because you’re easier to combat when you’re not pretending to be the model liberal straight white dude.
Bottom line: I need to know you have my back when I’m not there. And if you think I’m a joke who can’t take a joke, well then I can’t fucking trust you. And if you don’t believe me when I tell you that hate is hate, then why do you even want to say you’re on my side?
Commit to stopping hate when you observe it. I’m tired of trying to infer whether or not someone’s a friend by the tone of their voice when they say something homophobic or sexist. You shouldn’t need your laurels to prove you’re a friend.
Make other straight men accountable to make manliness and masculinity better. That’s something real you can do now and every day.
Big Mama Schlomo