Those People

After my last foray to Wednesday class, I stopped for lunch (also breakfast, because I Failed to Plan that day) at the nearby Burger King where I like to dine after class because I am, by my very nature, a contrarian weirdo, or something like that*.

*That said, my usual meal is either a Spicy Chicken Jr. or a Whopper Jr. paired with a small order of french fries and a sugar-free drink — sometimes tea, sometimes diet soda, because they have one of those snazzy soda machines that allow you to concoct your own flavor, like Raspberry-Lime Diet Coke, or Cherry-Peach Sprite Zero. In short, this is not the picture of giant-hamburger American excess one might imagine.

At the table right beside mine, two older gentlemen were talking about “those people.”

“Those people,” the gentleman beside me pronounced as I settled into my seat, “have no sense of responsibility.”

In this case, Those People happened to be gay people — the speaker went on to recall a man who’d been a communicant at his church for years and years before coming out, ditching his family (evidently in a rather dickish and unloving way), moving to Florida (land of cranky retired dentists and tropical excess, I guess?), and getting into trouble with drugs and alcohol.

Right then, I found myself wishing that I was both more gregarious and less bound by the Yankee convention which insists that it’s poor form to horn in on the conversations of strangers, because I would have liked to break in with, “So would you say that no heterosexual man in your church has ever done the same thing?”

Because I’m not a betting man (or a betting mystif, or a betting … whatever), but I would bet on that — because while it’s a dick move to leave your family in the lurch (particularly in a culture that worships the idea of the nuclear family in the way that American culture does), and also a dick move to buy up all the property in Florida before I get a chance (yes, I’m joking … kind of), these are things that people of all sexual orientations, from all walks of life, do on a regular basis — and especially men**.

**Especially men (and especially-especially white, nominally-Christian, hetero, cisgender men), for whom the social consequences in American culture are far, far lighter than they are for women who leave their families or, for example, transpeople of either gender who do anything, but especially leave their families.

Here’s the thing.

I’m sure countless heterosexual men have left their wives and children, moved to Florida, and developed substance-use problems — but, when that happens, almost nobody attempts to tar all heterosexual men with that brush.

Almost nobody ever implies that white, heterosexual, nominally-Christian, cisgendered men who behave that way do it just because they’re white, heterosexual, nominally-Christian, cisgendered men.

Instead, people mostly conclude — correctly, I think — that white, heterosexual, nominally-Christian, cisgendered men who act that way do so because they’re jerks.

~

Recently, there has been a spate of scandals involving right-wing Evangelical men who have similarly been giant, hypocritical dicks to everyone, but especially to women.

The knee-jerk cultural reaction has been to roll our eyes about Those People; to tar all Evangelicals with the “You’re A Scummy Jerk” brush (note to self: must make “You’re A Scummy Jerk” brush for Photoshop).

And while I might disagree with the American Evangelical culture as a whole upon a great, great many things, I think actually branding them all as jerks is a bridge too far.

Yes: there are elements within the culture itself that are pretty questionable; that perhaps abet the behavior of some of these guys.

But there are many good and decent people — even many good and decent men — within that culture, too — and many of those good and decent people try to actively discourage ass-hattery.

Moreover, as far as abetting posterior*** millinery goes, the more mainstream secular culture is hardly guiltless, here — the culture of the mainstream also abets misogynistic bullshit.

***Or is it asinine millinery? Brits! We need your help! In the UK, are they ass-hats, or arse-hats? ‘Murkin lacks the distinction.

It just does abets in different ways: some subtler, some less subtle, not all less hypocritical (virgin-whore complex, much?).

However, when someone from the mainstream culture acts like a dick, we agree that he is a dick and we move on (even, oftentimes, when we really should cast some of the blame on mainstream culture itself).

When someone from a minority (even someone from the way-out, Quiver-filling Christian Patriarchy minority within the Evangelical minority) acts like a dick, though, we point to it as proof that all men (or women, or what have you) from that culture are dicks.

And that’s just dumb. In fact, it’s kind of a dick move.

Some gay guys are dicks who handle coming out in the worst possible way and make stupid decisions afterwards.

Some Evangelical guys are dicks who prey on women and girls (and/or boys and men, for that matter).

Some plain old regular heterosexual guys are also dicks who do all the same stuff.

Some Muslims are cretins who clearly don’t understand the Q’uran; some Buddhists are jackwagons who miss the whole point of the Buddha’s teachings; some Atheists are overweening jerks who think they’re smarter than everyone else.

But it’s not because they’re gay, or men, or Evangelicals, or Muslims, or Buddhists, or Atheists.

It’s because they’re jerks.

This is further evidenced by the fact that they continue being jerks after they change religions, come out of the closet, declare themselves Pansexual, or what have you: unless, of course, the new group’s ethical tenets actually inspire them to shape the frack up — maybe they adopt the practice of Right Speech, or start adhering to the Campsite Rule, for example.

Jerks who are also Those People are not jerks because they’re Those People … unless when we say Those People we mean Jackwagons of all stripes, in which case, I guess, bring it on.

Jerks are jerks because they’re jerks, no matter what the excuse****.

****This isn’t to say that cultural issues don’t enable the hell out of jerks, or that jerks can’t be reformed. They (cultural issues) do and they (jerks — well, most of them) can. If we ignore cultural issues, we indirectly enable burgeoning jerks and excuse their posterior millinery; meanwhile, if we believe that jerks can’t be reformed, we essentially give them a pass to go on being jerks because, in short, they can’t help it. So, basically, we can and should address cultural wellsprings of oppression (WITHOUT BEING JERKS OURSELVES, okay?), and we should kick jerks in their jerky faces and send them to De-Jerkification Camp … or, you know, use the Power of Example; the Power of Clear, Potent, Quiet, Withering Disapproval; and Our Grown-Up Words to encourage them to be better people. Because most jerks are not actually sociopaths, and people who are not actually sociopaths respond well to Withering Disapproval. Oh, and also to encouragement.

~

I write this because this experience was, in a word, enlightening for me: I found myself suddenly confronted with one of my own prejudices — my unexplored willingness***** to accept on face value the premise that the Evangelical dudes currently all over the newsmedia are jerks not because they’re jerks, but because they’re Those People.

*****You probably know that feeling: “Of course he did [X stupid thing,] he’s a [Y]!” … the one where you have to stop and ask yourself, “If I replaced [Y] with ‘Black person,’ would I still feel like it was okay to think that?”

To be fair, there is a degree of understandable “pride goeth before the fall” sentiment involved: when you set yourself (and your culture) up as a public arbiter of morality, then flout that morality and get caught, people can perhaps be expected to be a little smug about it.

By the same function, we also tend to be a little smug when we’re nine and our ten-year-old cousins declare that they can jump higher than we can because they’re bigger, and then fall on their big stupid faces when they try. All humans are jerks, sometimes, though mostly to a lesser degree than Jerks Who Make The News For Being Jerks.

What can’t be excused is a culture that claims to judge individuals on their own merits, not on the basis of which group they belong to (whether it’s an ethnic group, a sexual-orientation group, a religious group, or what have you), and then decides that it’s okay to make an exception for a certain group******.

******Even here, I guess, there are a few exceptions: when a group defines itself specifically by hating another group or groups and doing harm to people who fall into that group or groups, and that’s specifically part of the mission statement of the hate group, then, yeah, we can kind of conclude that Bob committed or participated in the commission of X atrocity because he’s a member of X Hate Group. Group dynamics can get really hairy at that level. That’s a Post For Another Time, but probably also for someone else’s blog.

In short, frankly, that’s exactly what those of us in the minorities-usually-recognized-as-oppressed have been battling.

We want to be understood as simply people, not as Those People.

We want to go about our lives like everyone else, and when our fellow Not-Those-People-Oppressed-Minority-Members do stupid, butt-faced, jacktastic things, we don’t want everyone else to say, “Well, that’s just how Those People are.”

Because we’re not.

And they’re not.

And you’re not.

~

This is about the most political post I think I’ve ever written here, so I think I’m going to stop for now.

Please understand that I’m not condoning the actions of any of the people in question — not those of the guys on the news, nor those of the gentlemen at the table next to mine at Burger King, nor even my own.

Nor do I think, as I touched on above, that there aren’t some serious cultural issues at play in many minority cultures. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wrung my hands in despair over the number of gay guys that buy into what can be a pretty heartless, dehumanizing meat market niche within the queer universe and treat each-other like crap; I can’t tell you how deeply I believe that no culture should abet the abuse of women, children, elderly people, people with disabilities, or … well, really anyone, but especially anyone in a position of reduced power.

When the so-called strong harm those weaker than themselves, they demonstrate that they are not really strong, but simply bullies (and, as such, not just jerks, but pathetic jerks).

As for gay dudes having no sense of responsibility … I invite anyone who thinks that to chat with my husband for an hour.

The man is pretty much convinced that he is single-handedly responsible for the safety and fulfillment of the known and unknown universe.

Maybe you could convince him to put just a bit of that down?

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About asher

Me in a nutshell: Standard uptight ballet boy. Trapeze junkie. Half-baked choreographer. Budding researcher. Transit cyclist. Terrible homemaker. Getting along pretty well with bipolar disorder. Fabulous. Married to a very patient man. Bachelor of Science in Psychology (2015). Proto-foodie, but lazy about it. Cat owner ... or, should I say, cat own-ee? ... dog lover. Equestrian.

Posted on 2015/10/22, in compassion, life and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Firstly, if you want to swear it’s always arse, not ass. I’m not just saying that because I’m a native arse-speaker but because ‘ass’ just doesn’t sound rude enough. It’s more like a four year old’s attempt at saying something naughty than a real swear word.

    But yeah, I’m with what your saying in this post, even though I’m guilty of applying the same sort of negative essentialism myself. What particularly gets my goat is the permanent open season on ‘potentially dangerous’ lunatics, even though the mentally ill in general are less violent than average and even focusing on high risk subgroups such as those who become psychotic yields nothing like the correlations you get for other population profiles (e.g. young men who play contact sports). Funny how when there’s yet another mass shooting no-one ever suggests denying weapon permits to white males, despite the fact they’re hugely over-represented among shooters.

    But there’s one group for which negative generalisations are perfectly justified. Americans. I mean, they even eat at greasy junk food joints and think it’s cool to wash it down with bizarre concoctions of fizzing chemicals. There’s something wrong with those people.

    • Funny, the first thing I thought when I re-read this after posting it was, “Gee, I could’ve mentioned the mentally ill among my various Those People.

      Thank you for the clarification about arse-hattery. It is comforting to know that my initial instinct was correct! I was thinking maybe there it could be, like, a hat for a stubborn ass, but that just lacks the same savor, doesn’t it? Not as salty; not as earthy. Definitely hairier, but that’s neither hair nor bare here nor there.

      Agreed on all points, esp. WRT Americans.

      THOSE PEOPLE are definitely wackos.

      –Canadian for the Day, chemical concoctions notwithstanding 😀

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