Get up, stand up

5 03 2013

I’m not much for trigger warnings.

I’m not opposed to their use—I think bloggers who have a sense of their readership and who actively cultivate a “safe space” are justified in warning their readers—but I’m not someone for whom a safe space is a priority. I don’t actively try to cultivate an “unsafe” space, but I neither do I take care of my readers in terms of helping them to avoid topics which upset them.

I’m sorry if I do—that is not my intent—but as I generally take a chin-up and tits-forward approach to political and social matters, I presume my readers will as well.

Thus, my mixed reaction to Oberlin’s cancellation of classes in response to a series of racist incidents on campus.

On the one hand, I get it: take the time instead to address this as a collegiate community, make sure everyone is okay, safe.

On the other hand, I think: really? Cancel classes on account of some hateful assholes?

Back to the one hand: Some students undoubtedly are upset by the actions of the sheet-covered dipshits, feel targeted, threatened, and otherwise singled out. And other students are undoubtedly upset that these sheet-covered dipshits are wrecking their community by targeting, threatening, and otherwise singling out their classmates.

These students need to be supported by the administration and their fellow students in both public and private, and the racists need to be called out for the hateful shits they are.

However—and this is the other hand—I don’t know that dropping everything to have a campus-wide conversation “challenging issues that have faced our community in recent weeks” is the best way to go either. I wonder if this doesn’t make conversations about racism, sexism, and homophobia an emergency phenomenon, something to be dropped after the emergency passes.

Even more, I wonder if the emergency approach doesn’t somehow disempower students and faculty, as opposed to saying, We can—and will—handle this.

It’s also possible that shutting down the campus gives too much “credit” to the  hateful shits: Someone who parades across a campus with a long and honorable tradition on issues of equality in a fucking Klan outfit should be mocked for the troll s/he is.

And how should trolls be dealt with? If one can’t ignore them—and the Oberlin community probably can’t ignore them, not if if wants to support those who feel targeted—then they should be confronted, mocked, and in no way given any satisfaction for their shitty deeds.

Both hands: this is a tough call. I hate cancelling classes, but if Oberlin sees fit only to cancel a day or two’ s worth to address this, that’s not an unreasonable response.

But it would also be good if, as part of that not-unreasonable response, instead of focusing solely on the harm and the recovery, they offer a sense of resilience. Support those who feel threatened, absolutely, but also let it be known that the trolls who scrawl hate are small and mean and to be pitied rather than feared.

What was that old fake-Latin phrase? Nolite te bastardes  carborundorum—don’t let the bastards grind you down.

Those dipshits in sheets aren’t worth it.


It Gets Better

29 09 2010

This is a terrific idea—and one you probably already know about:

Dan Savage, profane sex columnist (is there any other kind?), author, and alternatingly-amusing-and-irritating pundit, had heard one too many stories about queer kids who killed themselves, and decided to do what he could to buck up all of the rest of those kids who aren’t supported in schools or loved at home: he set up the It Gets Better project on YouTube, posted a video (with his husband, Terry) of his experiences, and invited queer adults to add their own stories—all as a way of reaching out and hanging on to those kids who might just let go.

It’s a wonderful idea, and it’s wonderful that so many adults have contributed to this project.

(I won’t be making a video because my bisexuality only emerged in the past couple of years; whatever difficulties I had in high school could not be traced to my sexual orientation.)

I do, however, have one observation: Some of these videos—the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus vid, for example—include exhortations to the kids that they should just be who they are, that in a few years they can get out and find a place where people will love them for themselves.

A beautiful thought; alas, it is not enough.

This is in no way a critique of the project: no one project can do everything, and, as Dan pointed out in his column, there are other resources that adults should support and kids should turn to. To remind this particular adolescent community that it’s okay to be queer, that the problem is with the bullies and the hateful and not with them, is exactly what so many of them need to hear.

But some of them won’t hear this. For the kid who feels that who he is is awful, for the teen who believes that her real self is bad—to tell those kids that they just need to hang on to their real selves and everything will get better is to miss the fact that them, their sense of their real selves is the problem.

They hate themselves because they are queer, or because their inherent badness made them queer, and thus they might believe that they deserve to be bullied: the problem isn’t that the bullies don’t know who they are, but that they do.

Maybe these videos will help a gay kid to reconsider himself, to question her belief that to be a lesbian is to be bad, and to help those kids find a way out of their self-hatred.

It would be wonderful if that would happen.

But it’s not enough to tell those kids that they can survive the bullies when they can’t survive themselves.

It Gets Better is a start. It tells so many gay, lesbian, bi-, and trans teens that there is so much more in life for them, and that they can make it through these tough high school years to liberate themselves into that life.

But we also  need a way to reach those self-hating kids, to tell them that not only can they live a better life, but that each and every one of them deserves that better life.