22 Jun I Got Called Delusional for Asking a Hetero Man Not to Joke About the #OrlandoShooting
As most of you know, on Sunday the 12th of June one of the deadliest hate crimes against LGBT people in the United States took place at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, resulting in the death of 49 people, and leaving 53 others wounded. I remember when I found out about it because I was sitting on my bed with a friend whose face suddenly drained of all colour before she read the news article to me aloud. This was before we knew of the identity of the gunman – a 29-year-old cisgender male who was a regular patron of the nightclub.
As a queer, pansexual woman, I feel strongly about the issue because I know how hard it is to find safe spaces where one’s identity is both understood and respected, but I also acknowledge my privileges as a white cisgender woman. The term cisgender refers to an individual who identifies as the gender they were assigned at birth. For trans, non-binary, queer, asexual, homosexual and other marginalised people within the LGBT community, finding safe spaces is incredibly rare. This makes it all the more horrific that such a violent hate crime took place within one of these seemingly “safe” spaces. When it comes to the internet however, I have learned that there really are no safe spaces. No matter who you follow or surround yourself with online, you are bound to run into all kinds of toxic micro-aggressions and at times outright violence.
So, there I was browsing Facebook when I stumbled across a joke that a (cisgender heterosexual) man had made at the expense of the victims who were killed in the Orlando shooting. I felt my blood boil which tends to happen whenever I encounter this kind of blatant insensitivity, and it continued to boil as I eyed the wall of comments in support of this joke. People I knew and respected had liked this man’s status – applauded him for it. How could I not say anything? I decided I had had enough and posted a status of my own which stated my feelings toward the situation, this individual and their joke. And thus began more than a week’s worth of cyber-bullying, slut shaming, misogyny and defamation in my favour.
I spoke out against the micro-aggression of a cisgender male. I spoke out against his joke which punched down and trivialised hatred; and yet I was branded the “bad guy.” This kind of scenario is not unique though. Women are quick to be ridiculed, shut down or blamed when condemning a man for being violent. God forbid, a well-known man. We need only look at the media’s reactions to Amber Heard when she spoke up about Johnny Depp’s physical abuse; or Ke$ha when she revealed that her manager Lukasz Gottwald (or Dr Luke) had raped and assaulted her; or the numerous rape victims of Bill Cosby, or celebrity porn-star James Deen.
Although everyone should care about the safety of oppressed people in society (in this case, I’m talking about the LGBT community because, let’s face it, we exist!), it’s clear that not everyone does. If you are a heterosexual cisgender person who is bold enough to joke about LGBT people, chances are you aren’t fully aware of the enormous privilege you have been granted. Perhaps it’s hard to understand the severity of hate crimes which you will unlikely be the victim of. Perhaps when you are so far detached from these issues, you feel that whatever commentary you make about the situation is inconsequential.
We’ve all encountered an individual who will say things like “it’s just a joke” or “words are harmless” to deflect the blame when they are called out for promoting violence, albeit unintentionally. Thing is, violence perpetuates violence. When you make a rape joke, you are contributing to rape culture. When you trivialise hate crimes against LGBT people, you are contributing to social problems such as homophobia, transphobia and queerphobia, which can result in violence as extreme as murder.
If you think long enough about the common saying we were told as kids, “sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never harm me,” you might realise it isn’t really true at all. Psychological and emotional abuse is just as damaging to a person as physical abuse is. Perhaps even more so because people who experience these forms of abuse do not have any physical scars to show for it and so their accountability is often questioned. This leads to victim blaming and a wide range of problems which probably deserve to be discussed in an article of their own.
Instead of being met with an apology however, the perpetrator told me that I am too “sensitive” for calling him out and continued to defend his jokes to a T. Once again, at the expense of oppressed individuals. I quickly realised that a lot of the things being said in response to my message (or behind my back just for the sake of it), mostly by men, were deeply misogynistic. Things like “ladies, put down your pitch forks” rang loudly in my mind along with “feminazi” and “get off your high-horse.” And then of course, there’s the guy who posted a song which implied that I ought to be raped. I wondered how many of these men would have reacted the same way to my call-out if I too were a man. It’s unlikely that I would have had people speaking about my sexual orientation or urging me to be raped if I were. Oh, and I certainly would not have received a private message from a stranger reminding me that all I needed was a d**k to make my problems go away.
From “crazy” to “sexually frustrated” to “she wears chokers so she must be good at deep-throating,” I was fully throttled by a community of people who were so hell-bent on supporting their friend, that they misdirected their anger to the point of futility (and in doing so, proved why we so desperately need to keep battling sexual and gender violence). Where their anger should have gone was to the individual who, to do this day, refuses to apologise for the “jokes” that he has made or take responsibility for his actions. Instead, he posted a five-page long spiel about how he has a dark sense of humour so that makes it okay. It didn’t help that when I emailed the infographic about sexual violence (above) to the perpetrator for educational value, I was declared a “delusional ***t” all over social media. Although I’m still confused as to which part of this story makes me the delusional one.
Are people really so blind or caught up in their own privilege that they cannot acknowledge when they or their friends have done something wrong and potentially destructive ? Granted, we all have different opinions of what is right and wrong in this world. But issues such as sexist or homophobia for example are not opinion-based matters. There’s a quote that I read somewhere which goes like this: “You are entitled to your opinion as long as your opinion does not infringe on anyone’s right to exist.” I think we need to bear that in mind before we start defending things that should never be defended in the first place or attacking people for defending the safety of those who are marginalised.
I’ll end off with some Janis Ian wisdom (the one from Mean Girl’s not the real Janis). Because really, I think that we have to remember that most of the evil in this world continues because those who have the power to try stop it never do. It’s easy to stand by idly by when people are being victimised or attacked, especially when it doesn’t affect you. It’s easy to make cruel jokes. It’s even easier to laugh at the jokes being made. What isn’t easy however is to stand up against these micro-aggressions, even if that means standing alone and facing torment from your community, because you know in your heart it’s what the world needs.
The world doesn’t need more heartlessness. The world needs empathy. Think about that next time you consider giving a joke your thumbs-up when it punches down on other people or perpetuates violence.