There are a lot of things about me that shock people, but one of the most shocking seems to be my lack of unmitigated open-mindedness. I’ve surprised many a person with how close-minded I can be to, say, dating a Christian or promoting the work of an unapologetic anti-trans bigot. As someone who struggles for acceptance, I am supposed to be accepting of all things. Anything. Even things that harm me and mine. Because Tolerance!
As you might suspect, I’m not on board with this line of thinking.
In the quest for a better society, the idea of judging anyone for any reason has seemingly become verboten. I can’t help but feel that some nuance regarding why generalizing and stereotyping can be bad has been lost in the shuffle.
I don’t think that judging people based on what they call themselves and with whom they associate is such a bad thing. In fact, in the case of self-identified choices in affiliation, it would be far more unjust to the person to totally disregard what they’ve said about themselves to me.
To be clear, I am not speaking of affiliations over which people have little to no control. I am strictly referring to aspects of identity that are chosen, at least to a greater extent. Very few things are wholly chosen or wholly imposed, but there are certain aspects of identity-related affiliation that are more chosen than not.
For example, not believing in a deity is not necessarily or really a choice, but deciding to call oneself an “atheist,” “agnostic,” “anti-theist,” “Bright,” and/or “apatheist” is a choice that conveys information about oneself. That most of us make choices about what to call ourselves based on the situation at hand indicates how much of a choice the labels really are. I know that I am not the only atheist blogger who sometimes mumbles something about not caring for church instead of proudly declaring my atheism. Saying who I am is not always worth the struggle nor is it always terribly germane.
Another example, one where there is far less disagreement about choice, has to do with sexual orientation. I could call myself “bisexual,” “pansexual,” “queer,” “omnisexual,” or any number of other self-identifiers that convey the information that I am attracted to people across and through the gender spectrum. Aside from “omnisexual,” which I wasn’t aware of at the right time and place for it to appeal to me, I’ve used all of those terms and more to self-identify based on the spaces I was in and the people with whom I was communicating.
It would upset me to think that people would think that my choice in self-identifiers was completely meaningless. It seems ludicrous to disregard people’s affiliations and statements about themselves in favor of “not generalizing.” Not everyone has the time to get to intimately know the nuances of every single person they ever encounter in any context. Labels are useful in that they are meant to convey information quickly and easily to facilitate interactions where deeper exploration is not possible.
It’s not unfair generalizing or stereotyping to assume that someone’s chosen affiliations mean something about them. Otherwise, why would they have chosen that affiliation? If someone chooses to work for a certain organization and/or ally with certain people, that says something about them; it is not at all unreasonable for others to make an assumption or two about them based on said facts.
Even if someone fell into an affiliation by accident and without thinking through exactly what it means for and to them, that in itself tells me something about them: That they aren’t terribly meticulous about this particular part of their life. That they don’t vet closely or very carefully, or they don’t exercise a particular level of caution about their allegiances. That I can’t trust everyone whom they call colleague and/or friend based solely on that affiliation. That it’s up to me to examine the groups and organizations that they endorse before throwing in my own support. That it might be best to not mention certain sensitive bits of information around them. The list goes on.
Before you ask, yes, I’ve been on the ugly end of people making assumptions about me that were untrue for me based on my affiliations. Although it certainly stings when such things happen, the miscommunication is on me as the outlier in terms of people with said affiliation. It is my duty to clarify myself and my position, not the job of the outsider to figure out the subtle nuances of my particular life. In such situations, it’s very much my job to clarify that I don’t agree and/or endorse certain aspects of that affiliation, not theirs to pretend as if my affiliations mean nothing to and say nothing about me.
On that note, I would like to thank those who have the courage to take the initiative in letting me know about the issues with my chosen affiliations. I want to make an informed choice about the labels I use, the people with whom I associate, the groups I promote, and the events I endorse. I couldn’t do so without the much-maligned ideological purity police. I want more of that and less “non-judgmental” posturing in my life, please.