When I Can’t Argue Inequality: Homophobia and Vulnerability

I’m an activist. I’m outspoken about my opinions and willing to argue them. I put my views out here on the internet on a regular basis, knowing that at any point anyone could see what I have to say and respond. I do it because I love to discuss, share and persuade. I love to communicate and write and find common ground amidst all of our differences. It’s interesting. It keeps me on my toes and learning every day.

I discovered something today, though.

Geoff’s Shorts posted the other day about about his support for marriage equality. He’s been getting a lot of comments and, as us bloggers are wont to do, popped a message around a few of us asking us to take a look and contribute to the conversation. Since I’m a great big badass queer activist, I figured I’d take a look.

I couldn’t.

That doesn’t happen very often. You can’t hang out around social justice bits of the internet very long without developing a thick skin. And I’d thought that when it came to homophobia, I’d calloused up a long time ago.

I hadn’t. I haven’t.

I started reading comments detailing calm, friendly arguments against marriage equality. Everyone on both sides discussing things nice and rationally. That is, as rationally as you can get when one of the arguments is inherently irrational. I made it about three or four comments in. Then I had to stop.

Maybe callouses come and go. Maybe you need to get them periodically toughened-up. Maybe it’s just that I’m a few days out of a wonderful week with Ladyfriend, feeling a bubbling kind of besotted and missing her badly. Maybe it’s hard because homophobia doesn’t just attack our selves. It attacks our deepest and most intimate relationships. It hits us right where our hearts are, right down where we make ourselves the most vulnerable. Right there in the giddy longing of crushes and sweet joy of love, where we can’t help but feel every damn thing because that’s what love is like. It’s where we are at our most tender. And that’s a wonderful thing.

It’s funny, though. When I hear yet another bishop yammering on about openness to life and fundamental disorderedness, I roll my eyes and continue on. This week or so as they’ve been claiming that people can’t marry someone of the same gender because we can’t consummate our relationships? I giggle. And then I offer to send them some handy diagrams. The WBC picketing yet again? Eh, whatever. But ordinary, thoughtful, well-spoken people detailing why they think that the love I have for some people is inherently inferior than the love I have for others? That one hits me where I live. Y’know how words can sometimes feel like a real punch? How they can stop you in your tracks, leave you dizzy and disoriented and vaguely ill? Yeah. That.

It’s funny, because feminist issues rarely hit me in the same way, although they have a similar potential to mess up my life. I can talk about reproductive rights and workplace inequality and abuse and all of it. Not always calmly, but the worst I’ll get is angry.

I guess that attacking our relationships has always been a way to get to people. Not just queers, of course. All of us. Isn’t jealousy often just a response to feeling like our relationships are threatened? And jealousy can feel overwhelming physical. Primal. Like the deep desire we often have to protect our families and the people in them. You mess with my family, you mess with me. It’s the same thing, I think.

It worries me. I want to talk about the things that are important to me. Love matters to me. I have so many conversations I’d like to have here, not just about queerness or polyness but about everything around those things- how we make relationships, what they mean to us, how we create and live them and what it means to be purposeful and considered in the kinds of relationships we have. And I know that in having those conversations I’m opening up one hell of a vulnerable place.

What do you think? Do you know what I’m getting at here? Do you feel the same, or is there an issue that gets to you in a similar way, to the extent that you have to be careful when and how you can engage with people on it? If it’s something that is close to your activist heart, how do you protect yourself?

When I Can’t Argue Inequality: Homophobia and Vulnerability

12 thoughts on “When I Can’t Argue Inequality: Homophobia and Vulnerability

  1. 1

    Racists, sexists, homophobes, transphobes and all kinds of other hateful and bigoted people can often make you feel small and alone on the internet. Those of us who believe in equality and solidarity often scroll through comment sections, conclude that everyone on there seems to live in some paralell racist, sexist, homophobic universe and get too angry/sad/overwhelmed to post a response. So their bullshit goes unchecked. It’s left to stand. They and many of the readers are left with the impression that the bigots represent the majority of people, BUT THEY DON’T. To combat the hate on many Swedish news sites and forums activist Kawa Zolfagary started a hashtag, #AldrigEnsam. It means “never alone”. You use it when you’re trying to discuss something in a rational way on the internet and people respond with hatred and bigotry, or when you are challenging bigots and feel like they are drowning out your message and give the impression of representing the majority. You Tweet or Facebook a link to where you need help together with the hashtag and other people come to help you. Let’s start an English language hashtag of our own and use it on Twitter or Facebook when we’re fighting the online hate and need help. Tweet or Facebook a link to where you need help together with the hashtag #NeverAlone.
    Please share!

    1. 1.1

      That is a bloody brilliant idea. I’m lucky- I have a blog that a few people read and enough fellow activists and allies around that I can write something and find solidarity. Everyone doesn’t have that.

  2. 2

    I often find that I feel that way when people make disparaging remarks about disabilities or hearing people toss around retard/handicap/etc. as an insult.
    I think it’s as you said the primal instinct to protect our families and those we love. I feel that if someone insults me, well I’m a big girl, I can take it and respond or I can decide they’re not worth the time of day and walk away. If someone insults my sister,that most beautiful of people that I was lucky to have as a sibling, or her disability, I find that I go from being a relatively mild mannered sark to a complete psychopath! I know longer want to be articulate and give a reasoned argument about why they’re wrong, I just want to kill them.

  3. 3

    I suppose when we start to feel like that, its can be a hint to stop and take a breathe and take time out for ourselves. To be with the ones we love, no matter what others say.

    We all have our day that we just cant argue the bullshit anymore and need to stop and take stock. Maybe thats what you need for the moment, recharge and then you take them on with renewed vigour and show them how irrational you are!

    Btw love the idea of the #neveralone tag!

  4. 4

    I definitely hear what you’re saying. I don’t think the homophobes really think about it – when they hate the idea of same-sex couples, they’re not thinking that it’s on par with how they feel when they love someone, or achingly long for someone from afar, or giddily float through the start of a relationship, or the sweet contentment of something long-term.

    They think they’re talking about a single aspect of our lives, as if it’s in fact on par with a job, or a hobby. But it’s not; it’s who we are and how we love. Love and desire are some of the most fundamental foundations of what makes up a human being, and if you attack the foundation, the whole person wobbles.

    It’s vulnerable because it’s just so basic, and it means so much to us as individuals. As much as it affects us as a group with rights and such, it ultimately attacks us as individuals, because we love as individuals; and we can only hide in the group for so long before the hate penetrates to the core of our lives ie the other person whose life we share, whether we’ve found them yet or not.

  5. 5

    I’m right there with you. I get the same way when discussions about rape start heading down Victim Blaming Lane – which, it seems, they inevitably do. There’s just no way for me to calmly and rationally discuss the issue when I’ve got white-hot sparks flying from my ears and setting my hair on fire. =/

    Same thing with sexuality issues. A good friend of mine recently came out as bi to some folks, and got the old “But how do you know if you’ve never been with a girl?” for her trouble, plus some stress about how others in her life are going to view the news. When she expressed her concerns to me, I told her I would cheerfully tell anyone giving her a hard time to stick it up their ass on her behalf. I don’t know if that’s necessarily the appropriate response – but, well, it’s the closest I’ve ever felt to Mama Bear mode. Ain’t nobody gonna mess with my fledgling queer* friends.

    I think, sometimes, you do have to take care of yourself – step back from the activism, the vitriol and hatred and irrationality of the opposing side, and forgive yourself for not fighting every fight. It helps to know there are others standing nearby who will keep fighting on your behalf, till you’re strong enough to jump back into the fray.

    *I am using “queer” here as a blanket term for “non-normative.” Apologies if I’ve misused the term.

  6. 7

    I was able to read the comments and I commend Geoff for replying to a lot of the them. I think this is probably because I don’t really have much interest in Marriage .. (just not for me). I see it as a civil rights issue if they can get married then we should have the right as well simple as and any of the stupid arguements that are put forward just wash over me cause there is in my opinion- no arguement. They usually all go the same way … blah blah the sanctiy of marriage .. blah blah well if gays can marry then why can’t I marry my dog … they can’t bring children in to the union (like marriage is just about propagation) SIGH blah blah blah. I think most people in Ireland agree that we should have the right to marriage. What really gets my goat is the anti abortion loons …. I spend hours wasting my time replying to comments on various articles/posts and I really don’t think it makes much difference I just get worn out by it all. I think the ‘never alone’ idea is a great one !! unite and fight the bigots together.

  7. 9

    I know what you mean. For me, that issue tends to be rape culture. I just can’t have a calm, reasoned discussion with someone claiming it doesn’t exist, or, worse, that women just have so many reasons to falsely accuse men of sexual assault. I can’t.

    Yet when I see some loon like Limbaugh spouting that kind of stuff I just laugh.

    When it’s a “normal”-seeming person, though, I can’t.

  8. 11

    As a queer activist and writer, I spend a lot of time convincing myself that the only way out is through. By which I mean, no matter how much it hurts I find myself wading into conversations with people, knowing I’m going to get hurt and angry and want to curl up in a ball and cry at my girlfriend until her arms wrapped around me make me feel centered again. I know I’m going to hear things about myself and the way I love that are going to strike at the very core of my being, and it’s going to feel like hell.

    But the only way out is through– and the only way through is to have the discussion, over and over again. To make myself vulnerable and accept the pain as growing pains, growing pains I have to feel because I have the ability to keep fighting when the pain has subsided and there may be others who do not. I don’t know how to protect myself– I feel, intensely, and that means I’m vulnerable.

    So instead of protecting myself, I focus on aftercare a lot. And I write about it.

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