Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Arguments of Tolerance.

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.
Spending time talking to annoying family, annoying colleagues (now with religious blokey, who has finally deigned to talk to me. Alas.) annoying pub philosophers, annoying straight person who, for some gods forsaken reason thinks I care about their input on my life and, of course, no end of people in the net means I often find patterns in the endless homophobia debates. The same screeds and memes keep being repeated (usually by some clueless straight person who thinks that “Adam and Steve” is somehow ORIGINAL for crying out loud) to such a degree that I have started copying and pasting responses to save myself time.

Some, obvious foamings of hate, are barely worth countering (though, tiresomely, we have to). But today I’m going to poke at some of the terms I’ve seen used by many of our allies to fight for us that make me cringe. I consider them the Arguments of Tolerance and they give me grey hairs they do – let us look at a few.

“We’re all sinners” “Let he without sin cast the first stone.” “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” 

This is a common one. And you know what it says? It says being gay is sinful, yucky and wrong but there are many many many sins out there that people commit every day. So many and we’re all imperfect, flawed, none of us are doing it right so how can you judge someone else on their imperfections? No, better to reflect on the ways you can improve as a person rather than judge others on how they can improve, right? I mean, how can you say other people are doing it wrong when you yourself aren’t doing it right?

A very nice, reasonable sentiment (well in many cases anyway). But not in this context.

Because this sentiment ACCEPTS that being gay is wrong/sinful. Sure it says that you should be focused on yourself rather than sticking your nose in next door and muttering about how wrong/sinful your neighbour is – but it still says that being gay is wrong.

 “You’re also ignoring X and Y sins that the {holy book of choice} talks about” 

A variation of the above – habitually people do pick and choose which verses are still “relevant”

Problem, we’re again letting the message of “being gay is wrong” stand. We’re not saying that there’s nothing wrong with being gay, we’re not saying that regarding gay people as lesser or inferior is wrong, we’re not saying treating being gay like a sin or disease is wrong. No, we’re saying that it is wrong but we can ignore it just as we ignore x and y as well. That’s not an affirmative message. That’s not a message that rejects bigotry. I’m not even sure what the message is supposed to be here – either a message that all these rules are nonsense/out of date/out of context/whatever or a mutual agreement to be slackers.

“People are starving, we have war, torture, poverty, global warming, but you’re obsessing about gay people?”

Another argument that looks sensible on the face of it. I mean, if someone is on a moral crusade to make the world a safer, most just, more free, more moral and generally better place then surely they have a whole lot of work cut out for them. They have a list that can probably circumnavigate the Earth to get through of sheer evil fuckery that happens every day. Surely, putting all this effort and money into fighting gay people is a messed up sense of priorities?

Except – homophobia isn’t a matter of bad priorities. When you say this it suggests to me that, yes, gay people are a problem – but they should be item 497 on the list, not item 1. It misses that we shouldn’t be on the list of the world’s problems at all – we’re not a problem, we’re not an issue, we’re

“Hate the sin not the sinner” 


Sorry, involuntary reflex. I’m sure everyone agrees that this is vile. But they miss the nuance – because this also often comes up with “it’s okay to disagree with homosexuality but don’t…. fight laws/commit hate crimes/whatever”. Or, “disagree with homosexuality but express yourself differently.” Or “homophobia is not okay, but it’s okay to express your view point/opinion/bigoted scabby arse you insist on showing to the world”.

It is NOT okay.

This stems yet again from saying sexuality is behaviour rather than personhood. You cannot separate me from my sexuality, you cannot hate my sexuality without hating me. It is not okay to hate me. It’s not okay to disagree with my personhood. It’s not okay to have an opinion that I am inherently less than other people.

These are just a few, I’m sure you’ve all come across many many more. What unites the Arguments of Tolerance? Well they’re about Tolerance, not Acceptance. They all concede that being gay is naughty/bad/wrong while purporting to protect us. They don’t reject homophobia, just how that homophobia is expressed.

If you think being gay is a sin then you are a homophobe. If you think being gay is wrong then you are a homophobe. Pure and simple. There is no way to be a nice homophobe and there is no way your homophobia is justified. Homophobia is wrong – pure and simple and that, ultimately, is what we need to push forwards and the battle we need to fight.

Linked to that – there is nothing wrong with being gay. End of. It’s not a sin or a crime or an aberration or a disease. We don’t have to be cured, we don’t have to change, we don’t have to abstain. We shouldn’t be ashamed, we shouldn’t hate ourselves, we shouldn’t be reviled. What do you think these message send our vulnerable? Do any of them affirm and reassure us? Do any of these messages accept us? Do any of them take the bottle of pills out the hands of our despairing and tell them “you are wonderful just as you are, you are worthy of living, of existing”?

Do you think these patronizing pet phrases address any of that? Do any of them send the simple message that being gay is okay? There’s a reason why Pride is so important – because gay shame is so prevalent. These pathetic “tolerant” messages just further push gay shame, and we’ve had more than enough of that.