Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Bully To You! (or "The Best Defence is a Good Offense")

I recently oversaw a lively discussion around my Facebook post on the subject of Caitlyn Jenner's public coming out and new name. Only one person rejected my suggestion that Caitlyn's decision was brave, choosing to identify her deviation from "normal", and his own self-confessed "Victorian" standards of morality as reasons why he could not applaud her choice as I had. My friends are my friends, I love them all, and I love him as well, as misguided as I believe his opinion is on this issue. I tried not to be insulting, but I cannot help being contrary. A large number of my friends jumped into the conversation to confirm my voice on this issue (which warmed my heart :), and the entire discussion completed without bloodshed or anybody calling anyone else Hitler, so I believe that overall it was a positive experience.

Annie Leibovitz, you DO know what you are doing!

However, although only one person spoke up, I am sure that several others simply chose not to express their displeasure with my point of view. How do I know? Because I'm sure that a large number of people I know are still uncomfortable with the transgender issue. Hell, I have a lot of friends who are still uncomfortable with the issue of homosexuality. In fact, some of my friends may have stopped reading when I used the word "Hell" in my previous sentence. People have a lot of different ideas about what is moral, and being challenged by ideas that you don't agree with is offensive to most of us.

So, a discussion started on my Facebook post because I offended someone. Which was honestly my intent all along.

I've discussed at length how I don't like offending people. But the truth is that sometimes in order to change minds you have to cause some offense. Or as Tyler Durden puts it, "You wanna make an omelet, you gotta break some eggs." Of course, that phrase itself is offensive if you believe Mike Vuolo, and maybe that just makes my case stronger. You can't help offending people, but you can try to intend the best things when you do.

Durden: great quote, terrible role model.

Every single day, someone, somewhere, who doesn't fit into our normal gender categories, will kill their self because they don't know how they are going to make their life work in our society. This is in spite of the widespread changes that I have seen in my lifetime in our society's attitudes towards LGBTQ persons. There is still a number among us that wants to tell these people that they are unnatural, that they are not normal, and that they should just shut up and suffer in quiet.

I won't feel bad if I say something that "offends" these people, although I wish I didn't have to do that. I believe that their attacks, as passive and even as innocent as they may seem to be, are many times worse than the discomfort I make them feel when I bring up these issues. Because the target of their words are vulnerable, people who did not choose their situation, and who are being denied the support of others in their lives where many others would not have been left stranded so. In short, to speak against LGBTQ people for their LGBTQ-ness is simply an act of bullying.

If anything makes me lose my cool, it's bullying. I am a feminist, I am an LGBTQ ally, I am sensitive to race issues, and I am a critic of religious authority; all of these mostly because in each case you have a vulnerable group (often a minority) being pushed around by a powerful majority (or dominant minority). I think it's unfair, an my sense of justice will not allow me to side knowingly against the abused. It takes me back when I see good people acting like bullies or condoning bullying, and it really upsets me when they don't seem to recognize what they are doing.

...said no victim ever.

I have several times seen the above meme on Facebook, and every time I grit my teeth and take a break from the computer. And this is frequently posted even by people whom I love, and who I know love me, and who think that the above message is true. And probably people who were never bullied themselves, because they would know how offensive it is to blame bullying on the victim for not "standing up".

Trust me on this one.

I don't like talking about this, but I will. It didn't happen a lot, but it did happen. I wasn't physically harmed, but I was afraid that I would be. And I don't think I deserved it. I mean, yeah, I was smaller than most everybody in school. Not the smallest. I was a bit weird. Not the weirdest. I guess that made me a good enough target from time to time. But I'm pretty sure that standing up on my own to my bullies would have been futile. In fact, the few times I got close to trying that technique were among the scariest for me. Oh, what I would have given to know that at least one other person would stand beside me and tell the bully to go away - just one person wearing a pink shirt so that the Bully would know that I was not a safe target! But I knew there was nobody, and I was powerless.

If only they had these when I was a kid.

But we have changed our approach, and the idea might make you uncomfortable - as if agreeing that these kids needing help from others is somehow admitting that we didn't teach them how to be strong enough - maybe the pink shirts themselves are not the best technique, but having the confidence that those around you are not going to just stand by when you are in distress is worth its weight in pink gold. In schools that implement and and revise their anti-bullying programs, basing them on psychology and science rather than emotion and knee-jerk reactions, the programs are helping. It's not preventing bullying entirely, but it is preventing it often enough that it makes me hopeful.

Look, I know if you posted this, you didn't mean to hurt me. How could you know? You honestly thought that this is a reasonable solution to bullying. I get it. But it is like people who think they are doing good by showing "tough love" to LGBTQ people, saving us from the moral downfall of civilization, or saving them from God's wrath, or whatever nonsense explanation they may have for it. People need to understand that there are a lot of vulnerable people out there, and sometimes the only thing those vulnerable people need is for others to stand with them.

When we support the bullies, we do not help ourselves. Even if the bullies claim to be silencing something that we may find offensive. When the Muslim gunmen rolled into Charlie Hebdo and killed everyone in sight, they were not the ones made vulnerable. The artists at Charlie Hebdo were attacking an idea, an idea that they believed was causing a lot of pain, and they were attacking it with pencils. The gunmen were attacking people, and they did it with bullets. I was glad to see the popularity of #jesuischarlie, and I became livid when I saw that many of those who had the ability to stand up for Charlie Hebdo (and all of us who are critics) chose not to by refusing to publish the drawings, or by equivocating on whether not not the gunmen had cause to attack.

"All is forgiven." What kind of grace must it take to draw this after a dozen of your friends have been murdered? Yet Luz will no longer draw Muhammad, because he knows he stands alone.

It made me sick to my stomach, to be honest.

A few times since, groups have taken it upon themselves to "draw Muhammad." Although I may not agree entirely with the motivation of these groups, they are doing something that needs to be done - they are standing up to the bully. And as vile as they may be, I support their resolve, and I hope that more groups continue to do this until the terrorists realize they cannot keep their critics quiet. Only then will the killings end.

There is only one way to stop a bully. It is to make them understand that when they try to bully one, they must contend with all. You may attack one newspaper for publishing a comic, but you can't attack them all. You may push around one of the kids on the school bus, but you can't push them all around.

And you may disagree with one person's lifestyle, but there will be many, even those who do not participate in that lifestyle, who are going to stand up. And sometimes when people stand up against you, you will be offended.

I sympathize, but I cannot stop making you feel uncomfortable. It's my duty.