Saturday, 5 December 2009

Why we can't always have a 'productive' conversation

This piece originally appeared at Womanist Musings where Renee has very generously allowed my random musings to appear on her excellent blog

Why we can’t always have a ‘productive’ conversation

Today I had the oh-so-wonderful chance to have a long, detailed conversation with a clueless straight person about sexuality in general and male homosexuality in particular. Not malicious - but certainly ignorant, wallowing in privilege and approaching the conversation as mildly interesting gossip.

It started with a joke: “Age of consent is weird. At 16 now you can have a fag up the arse but not a fag in your mouth.” Yes. Amazingly enough I didn’t laugh. And the sad thing is this is actually not only about the 6th time I’ve heard this joke, it’s the 6th time someone has told me this joke, knowing I was gay, AND EXPECTING ME TO BE AMUSED.

It wasn’t a fun discussion. It was long, full of stereotypes, lots of ignorance and enough cringe worthy moments to make me feel down, tired and generally not a happy person. We had “gay” used as a negative descriptor (and a good 10 minutes of totally not getting why that bothered me), we had gay sex referred to as sickening, we had the oh-so-fun ‘you’ve never slept with a woman so you can’t KNOW you don’t like it,’ a couple of more “jokes” (“it’s funny so it’s not offensive.” Really? Because I’m not laughing and I am offended, so I guess you failed twice. Oh yes, do try again, I‘m sure all gay people love your attempts to find a homophobic joke that makes them laugh) and many of the standard fodder that makes me want to stab someone.

Yes, all very awkward and unpleasant and I’m not sure any of the conversation made any difference because there’s a difference between hearing and caring. But that’s not really the point here

The point is, I knew where this conversation was going within the first 10 minutes - gods, the first 5 minutes. The opening lines, even. I knew that I was heading into a long, unpleasant and awkward conversation that was likely going to throw a lot of straight privilege at me, push a lot of painful buttons and generally leave me frustrated, tired and feeling like shit. In short, within 5 minutes of the conversation starting I wanted it to end.

How do I know this? Because I’ve had exactly the same conversation and variations of this about a squillion times before. All completely unoriginal, all tiring, all painful and all immensely frustrating. And I’m quite sure over half have been utterly, completely pointless wastes of my energy and mental health.

My point?

My point is sometimes I can’t do it. And that’s a shame because, even if most failed, I know some of these conversations HAVE worked. I know some ignorant people who bought a clue, listened and did their best not to do it again. Yes, it can be productive. Yes it has worked. Yes calmly and reasonably answering all the ignorant questions you’ve answered a thousand times or politely objecting and explaining why something was offensive can and does work. It’s half the reason I ramble so much about sexuality on this LJ.

And sometimes I can’t do it. Sometimes I’m tired, I’m in a bad mood or I’m just sick to the back teeth of the whole damn hetero-normative world, it’s ignorance, it’s insensitivity and it’s endless reminders that I don’t belong. Sometimes I’m annoyed because it should be damned OBVIOUS why I don’t find that joke funny, or why I get angry at being called “fag.”

These conversations are painful and tiring and frustrating. They’re very personal (they can’t help but be), they force me to confront homophobia and homophobic ignorance head on. They force me to endure it and slog through it. They force me to be vulnerable. They force me to expose that vulnerability to someone who, at best, may clumsily trample all over me and at worst may deliberately do some stomping.

So my point again?

My point is I know I shouldn’t snap. I know I shouldn’t lose my temper. I know that I should have a productive conversation. Because it can be productive. It can be useful. I KNOW I do myself and all GBLT people out there a lot more good by calmly and patiently having the conversation.

And I think that applies to every marginalised person - regardless of their marginalisation.

We know that being clam, polite and gently correcting and explaining is the best

But we can’t always do that.

Because it hurts

Because we’re tired

Because we’ve spent countless hours doing exactly the same damn thing before.

Because we don’t have the time, energy or inclination to do so.

Because moving in a world that devalues you is hard enough without having to give a running commentary to clueless privileged people.

Because sometimes we’re angry or upset or hurt or offended or scared.

So my point again?

It’s not necessary to lecture me - or any minority for that matter - on the tone of our arguments, on our anger, on our snapped reply and furious rebuttal. You don’t have to tell us that a calmer response would be better. That we should answer those questions. That we should be more moderate, more calm, more reasoned and cold and logical and sensible.

You don’t have to tell us this. We know. But we can’t do it all the time and you can’t expect that of us. And if you do expect it - well, perhaps you don’t know how much it costs