i need to write about this because i am on the verge of explosion. so, my boyfriend joined a soccer team. i was psyched about this, because he was on a softball team when we lived in boston & he always seemed to have a lot of fun socializing with people, running around, etc. plus, at one of the games i attended, the first baseman fumbled an easy catch & the ball sailed through the stands & hit a dude right in the nuts. it was hands down the most hilarious moment of 2009 (probably not for him). j’s soccer team hasn’t had any games yet–just a few practices. but still. i think it’s nice for him to get a break from having his nose in a long, tedious book about the history of great britain. & i was kind of looking forward to attending his first game on sunday (j’s 30th birthday) & cheering everyone on.
until…see, i feel weird writing about this because it’s not technically my fight or my problem in a direct sense. but it’s pissing me the fuck off & i need an outlet. so i’m not going to use names or identifying details. what happened is that apparently j’s team was communicating online about setting up their next practice session & somewhere along the way, one team member made a “joke” that involved calling another member a “fag”. j called that shit the fuck out (as i would have done). the folks on his team are fairly well-educated graduate students who by & large seem to think of themselves as halfways liberal (this is lawrence, after all, even if it is kansas), but a couple of them got pretty defensive nonetheless. the dude who made the fucked up comment retorted with that old chestnut, the tone argument, basically saying that he didn’t appreciate the manner in which j called him out. my beef with the tone argument is pretty simple: it prioritizes the dominant privileged narrative (straight white dudes, in this case) & creates a dynamic where offensive/oppressive behavior can only be called out in a way where the offender/oppressor’s feelings don’t get hurt–regardless of how hurtful their fucked up remarks may be the the folks calling them out. which isn’t to say that i think people should avoid using epithets solely because they hurt people’s feelings. i am more concerned with the way casual epithet use helps to normalize & reify systems of oppression that lead to violence & marginalization. which, as far as i’m concerned, is all the more reason to hate the tone argument. if you’ve done something to normalize violence & hatred of an oppressed population, i don’t care if your feelings get hurt (even though i am a big adherent of hating the argument/behavior, not the person, when possible).
i guess a couple of other dudes jumped in. one said that he found j’s “holier-than-thou act tiring”. which, how insulting & dismissive can you get? i am the first to acknowledge that j can get condescending when he is pissed off, & it’s not my favorite of his habits, but not liking to hear the word “fag” get tossed around as an insult is hardly an act, & in calling folks out on it, j has zero interest in showing off like he is so much more radical than anyone else. apparently someone else defended the term as an “inside joke” among friends (indicating that j is apparently not their friend & needs to shut up & fall in line if he wants to enjoy an extra-curricular activity with everyone else) & that j shouldn’t judge before he understands the context (is there any context outside of actual queer dudes ribbing each other where that kind of language would be okay?), & he also accused j of “hiding behind” the internet. which made me laugh, because j is the last person on earth to pick a fight with someone on the internet. i have lost track of how many times i’ve tried to tell him some internet political drama & he has replied by saying, “you know what would fix this problem? if you stopped giving a fuck what people on the internet say!” i mean, this is beyond internet drama. this is fucked up bullshit coming from people that j sees everyday at school & at grad student social events & at soccer practice, etc. j’s school contacts are his default community for the time-being, & it is unfortunately populated to a certain extent with dudes who apparently think that calling each other “fag” is the ultimate in cutting edge, witty, original humor, & that anyone who has an issue with it is putting on a “holier-than-thou act” & is clearly just humorless & out to wreck everyone else’s fun.
j said to me, “there are times when joking about sexuality is actually funny because it’s playing on traditional conceptions of masculinity & male friendship,” but we agreed that a soccer team comprised primarily of straight-acting/passing/being dudes who unquestioningly adhere to & actively reinforce mainstream tropes around american masculinity is not exactly fertile ground for that kind of subversive humor.
by the way, this is FAR from the first time this kind of shit has been an issue. i haven’t been to a single function with j’s classmates so far where SOMEONE (not always the same person, which just goes to show how extensive this problem is) hasn’t said something fucked up. there was the time that one of j’s classmates held forth on a lengthy monologue condemning women who lie about being raped. i’m not sure i’ve ever been to an event with this crowd yet where someone didn’t call something “gay” at some point (as an insult, of course). people have made AIDS jokes. dudes have questioned each other’s sexualities, called each “pussies” or “girls,” etc. people have called things “retarded”. (not all of these people have been students up at the school or even from lawrence, but that’s not really relevant.) several times, dudes have gone to great lengths to explain exactly what they find sexually attractive in women, as if any woman gives a fuck besides maybe their wives/girlfriends (because, yeah, some of these guys are actually married). a few times, j &/or i have spoken up to let whoever was being fucked up know that we weren’t appreciating their remarks. occasionally, this has been met with a quasi-respectful cessation of fucked up comments, & a few times, it’s been met with a whole load of asshole defensiveness & posturing. we haven’t spoken up every single time because a) we need to sleep sometimes, & b) it gets fucking tiring for us to bear responsibility for speaking up every single time. personally, it’s gotten to the point where i have started begging off many of these events/avoiding some of j’s classmates because i just don’t have the energy to either call them out when they inevitably say something fucked up, or smile politely & look the other way. to be fair, i have met some pretty awesome people in lawrence. i am establishing my own social life outside of the things j does for school/with his classmates, so i do have a pretty sweet little crew of folks that can be counted on to “get it,” & a lot of them also happen to be students. this type of behavior is a general problem in all aspects of society–certainly not limited to a handful of folks in j’s program.
j made the excellent point last semester that grad students are largely aiming to work in the field, as professors or researchers or whatever. after they finish their degrees, they’re heading off into the world to get jobs, largely at academic institutions, & the people they are rubbing shoulders with now (in school, at conferences, etc) are the people that are going to be informing their professional lives for years to come. & many of those people are women, queer, of color, trans, such forth & so on. so using oppressive language freely & without compunction, either because you mean it or as a “joke” (& it’s always been my opinion that the things we joke about are the things that actually matter to us, & that reacting defensively belies a much stronger ideological attachment than you believe/will admit to; in other words, people who make homophobic jokes have an ideological attachment to homophobia &/or actually find homophobia genuinely amusing for whatever reason), can seriously fuck up your professional future. j made this point in reference to a classmate who has staggeringly obvious issues with women. this dude is going to be in a world of hurt in his professional life if he has to work with/for women, as he inevitably will, unless he gets his shit together & checks his misogynist hang-ups.
the weird thing i have noticed is that a lot of folks know how to say “the right things” in the right circumstances–like in a professional setting (class, a conference, meeting new colleagues, etc), but then they let their hair down & let the bullshit fly in casual settings, like at a party or, obviously, soccer practice. & obviously, it’s the things you say when your guard is down that are the things you really think. i just find it all really disgusting. & as far as accusations of j being humorless or not knowing how to interpret a “joke”: the very first thing i ever noticed about j was his amazing sense of humor. he’s the funniest person i have ever met (well…he may be tied with amanda colianni) & absolutely zero percent of his humor hinges in any way on marginalizing or oppressing other people, or even hurting their feelings. i have never been amused by “comedy” like “south park” or sarah silverman, & maybe some of that shit is just a matter of taste, but i think a big chunk of it is ideological. i am reluctant to sit here & say that what i think is right & what everyone else thinks is wrong, but…the responses that j got when he called that dude out seemed to indicate that people’s only issues with j are that he made them feel insecure & defensive about their privileges. tough shit, says i.