First of all, there are few things that really offend me. I myself partake in the darkest of humorous riffing back and forth with my friends. Some of the stuff that is said if not taken in it's proper context could sound really bad if someone were to just step into the situation, but really it's just to get reactions from each other and the prized outward guffaw. I think it's something we all do, but there is a definite difference between the lines of dark humor and being malicious. This brings us to what I want to talk about his week, and raise a discussion on what's acceptable behavior because sometimes I'm horrified from what I find seems to be...
A friend of mind is getting married in the fall and one of the groomsmen has been sending chain emails around for a few weeks feeling out the tone of what he should do for the bachelor party. The guy really wants to take a trip to Vegas as well as have the obligatory local celebration for my friends near domesticity.
As the email was passed along more and more and I could see what people were thinking, it seemed (like me) that folks were just fine with the local gathering and that a big trip seemed a little much for people right now. You could tell that the guy was getting a little frustrated with the feedback and after a few days of getting responses of people uninterested, wrote back with the following...
"Well this sounds like the gayest bachelor party I've ever heard of. I'll be sure to be there my pink tuxedo and have my Cosmopolitan in hand."
When I read that my blood pressure and heart rate immediately shot up and I was livid. Why? I don't even know the guy, he has absolutely no affect on my daily life, and right now I can't even remember his name. Was I having a bad day? I don't think so, but all I know is that I was startled by my reaction to what was obviously a very insensitive and condescending comment not to me, but to the gay community at large. I sat there for a bit until I got up and walked away still offended by this individual's untaught choice of words.
When I look back on my childhood, I can see that I was introduced to the gay community and the homosexual lifestyle at a very young age to do the fact that many of my family friends were gay when I was growing up. My mother worked in the hair/fashion industry in the 80's and that's just how it was. I remember distinctly one day in elementary school when the topic of gay friends came up (diversity class maybe?) and I was one of the few people who seemed to be comfortable talking about it. It was just part of my life, and seemingly part of few of my peers at the time. A few of my mother's friends in the gay community died of AIDS when I was very young as well and so I think I was exposed to that at an earlier age as well. As I grew up, I noticed the term "gay", "faggot", and "homo" used all the time in the sports teams I played on, in Boy Scouts, and other male dominated activities. Due the environment I grew up in I always cringed and was left with a bad taste in my mouth when I heard talk like this. One time when I was around 10 or 11 I myself used the term "faggot" in discussion at a baseball game and was disgusted with myself afterward for a long time. I didn't believe what I was saying when I said it, and looking back think it was probably little guy stuff trying to find out what worked for me. That didn't.
So getting back to the email, I was grossed out by the ignorance that someone my age in this time in the world would use, much less in a public forum thinking that it would get a laugh. I instantly felt taken back to the time of being younger and the lack of understanding how somebody felt that this was funny/that other people would respond well to that. I tried to resist writing back due to the fact that I didn't know what I could say that would get across to the guy, wasn't my responsibility, and that over email tone and purpose can't be interpreted. Though I knew better I ignored my better judgment and chose to write back with the following...
"That's ignorant man."
Yeah, not my most eloquent writing but that's all I could muster without going off on the guy. Again, not my problem but felt I had to defend something (someone) that probably has to do with my own issues regarding the subject. After I sent it I felt bizarre as and slightly embarrassed that it would more than likely would come off as some half-communicated passive aggressive comment. Also, I was disturbed to see that I had sent it to everyone in the email chain inadvertently.
What reaction did I hope to get back? Was I hoping for some massive life view shift from this guy? I don't think so, but for whatever reason I felt he needed to be called on it. Maybe the fact that I accidentally sent it to everyone would be some sort of embarrassment based realization? I was reaching here.
After a few minutes, this is what he wrote back to me...
"Nope, looks right to me. :)"
Now I felt really bad. Not only was it really offensive, but now through probably some form of public defensiveness he was validating it. I knew right then the trip down this road stopped for me and didn't want to participate any further. Then I started receiving more emails addressed to me with the following messaged...
"Yep, sounded right the first time."
"Can't think of any other way to put it."
"Couldn't agree more."
I honestly don't know the name of the feelings I had as I read these replies. It wasn't anger, it wasn't an urge of writing back to defend my position, I think it was just sadness. Sadness based in the form of a collective ignorance that I know exists everywhere but personally hadn't experienced/come into contact with in a long time. I felt again like I was 11 trying to explain to my peers why that wasn't ok to refer to people in that way and again seeing that it's the current accepted form of racism in our society today. I've been told by some of my inner circle over the years that I just can't walk away from certain situations without interjecting when I feel that something is really wrong, even if they have nothing to do with me. That might be true. Sometimes I feel the need to point things out to people and most of the time I guess when that happens it's due to injustices I feel I see towards others, or ignorant behaviors affecting in ways the individual might not be aware of. Likewise, I expect others to point out behaviors of mine in the same way if I exhibit them. That's the only way we learn right?
There's no solving/nice ending to this story which is maybe one of the most frustrating parts. Though I didn't want an apology, I deep down probably hoped that some kind of reflection might happen. What I got was the exact opposite, but that's the chance we take when we go out on a limb; "doing the right thing" is subjective isn't it?
After that day I've been thinking about the dark-humor based riffing that a few of my friends and I do and though it's in no way related to the topics I've been talking about here, I'm going to be more aware while it's going on. Lighthearted, over the top, and aimed at eliciting reaction for sure; you'll still never know how you can affect others without knowing it.
(As I was going to post this, news came across the wire that the California Supreme Court upheld the Prop. 8 same-sex marriage ban.)
We Are All Alike, On The Inside.