Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Your Friend Deserves Better

This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.

Ok some things hang around far too long. They're not only wearing out their welcome, but they're lurching around, rotting, smelling like an extra on The Walking Dead.

And most certainly one of them is that old, stinking excuse “I have X friends” (or cousins, or co-workers or employees or someone who once passed you in the street) and it's related zombies “My friend said X”.

Apart from anything else, it's useless. I'm always amazed when one marginalised person says “hell no” and then some privileged person turns round and says “but my friend says...”. Why? Why does your reported friend overrule the marginalised person in front of you saying it's not ok? Sometimes even multiple marginalised people are supposed to bow to this. Does your friend have the grand imperial veto or something? Supreme Godfather of the Gay Agenda? International President of all Black People? Supreme Dictator of Translandia?

Shockingly enough, even if your friend did say that (and more on that later), marginalised people do not have the same experiences, the same triggers, the same hurts, the same tolerances, the same minds. Your friend's lack of triggers, lack of offence, lack of hurt do not invalidate the hurt in front of you. This is especially true when I see such wonderfully ridiculous things as quoting a Lesbian friend over a Trans person's offence, or a South Asian friend over a Black person's hurt.

It's also highly disrespectful. I cannot imagine how using your friends like that – as a tool? As a pass? As a get out of prejudice free card? That's so dehumanising – you're using your absent friend as a weapon, a rhetorical flourish... yeah, that wouldn't impress me.

And I'm not even sure how reliable such testimony is. Firstly because, yeah, I'm going to be honest, the minute someone invokes their minority friends I tend to doubt the existence of said friends. Especially since some of these people must have a whole stable of minorities to invoke in times of privileged screw up. I swear, Dora, the black, trans, poor, disabled, jewish lesbian must have sooo many friends, she must be invited to all the best parties (to hang around in the corner until the conversation piece is needed anyway).

But secondly, I doubt it because without context knowledge or full disclosure there's no way if the (often conveniently edited and slanted) reports of what other people say actually reflect their opinion on the issue at hand. Hey, I'm a lawyer, I have no love for hearsay because it's so unreliable and so dubiously abused.

And y'know what? If my friend turns to me and says “was I homophobic?” then I'll probably lie. Or sugar coat. Or avoid. Or change the subject. Because, amazingly enough, those conversations are awkward, triggering, painful, no fun and generally something to avoid like door to door salesmen. Does anyone like arguing with their friends? Does anyone enjoy calling their friends out or slapping them upside the head? Even with the closetest and most trustworthy of friends you feel comfortable with are still not going to make for an easy and fun conversation – and, let's face it, a lot of us have a circle of people who call us friends that we're not alll that friendly with (especially with the thrice becursed GBF trope that has caused women who don't even know my name to decide I'm their bestest friends evaaaah!) 

I'm the last person my friends should invoke as an expert on how much they're not a homophobe because if they were I probably wouldn't have given them an honest answer at least not entirely. Frankly, my most usual response to when they've given me grey hairs is to leave the room.

So when people say “but my gay friend says” (or any marginalised friend for that matter) I tend to think that there's some poor fool who spends a lot of time biting their tongue, cringing inside and trying to find a way to change the subject or head for the hills. And the more they invoke their friends to cover up some privilege the more I feel sorry for this hypothetical (and possibly mythical) friend.

Can we just stop this? It's disrespectful, unhelpful and ugly. And, frankly, I think we've all reached a point where the minute someone invokes a “friend” we think the whole “discussion” is over. It's like the new Godwin.