Friday, December 28, 2012
Just read this at Whatever, in which John Scalzi talks about his attitudes towards trans people. Basically, what he says is: all things being equal, we should try to support people being happy with their lives. In other words, basic decency. The post reminded me of a couple of experiences I had back in college that cemented the way I feel about LGBT people and acceptance in general.
First: two of my three flat-mates my sophomore year of college were gay men. Neither was out at the beginning of the school year, and one did not come out until after he graduated college, but we had an idea about both. I roomed with one of them. I was not modest. It didn't bother me.
One evening, the other man (I won't mention names because it's not important) came to my door and told me there was something important he had to tell me. He came out there, to me, though I probably wasn't the first one he told. My (unthinking) response was to shrug my shoulders and say, "Cool!" In retrospect, I probably should have been more supportive, but it didn't register on me at the time how big of a deal it must have been for him. I was a bit of an idiot back then.
Second: my sophomore year, a freshman named Alex joined the Harvard Band (I will mention first names this time because it's relevant). He was cool, though we never really hung out. About halfway through the year, my then-girlfriend and I were reading the Crimson and there was this story about this female student named Alice who was a trans-man and who was running into all sorts of problems because she wanted to room with men and use the men's bathroom in her dorm. I don't remember my exact reaction, though I suspect it was not as tolerant as in the previous story. At some point I must have said something to the effect of "who is this girl?" to which my girlfriend responded, "That's Alex, from band."
It had never occurred to me that he wasn't biologically male1. Knowing him helped me relate to the story and his plight. I realized how dumb judging him was. I felt chastised. Of course he should be allowed to live with dudes - he's a dude!
1 I might have been the only one who didn't know; like I said, I was a bit of an idiot back then.
The incident reinforced what I already knew instinctively: that people are people and as long as they're not hurting us we should just let them be who they are. I can't say I haven't screwed up since, or that I don't have any biases. I've said some pretty dumb things to and about LGBT people in my life, mostly out of ignorance. I can't say I don't occasionally find homosexual imagery unpleasant, but again, that's a visceral reaction, and the same one I'd have to watching two people I don't find attractive making out. I don't let it color my appreciation of those people as human beings.
Like Scalzi, I don't expect a cookie for being decent to people. That's what everyone should do, all the time. But I also don't understand it when people flip out about LGBT stuff. I mean, ultimately, what's the big deal? If Bob wants to make out with Charlie, or Alex had the misfortune of being born Alice, how does it affect me? Isn't it better for them to be happy?
To be honest, as many terrible people as there are in the world, as much bigotry, racism and assholery, I kind of feel like anyone operating at the level of "Decent Human Being" deserves a cookie.
There's a time and a place for positive reinforcement, but a lot of stupidity also comes out of people expecting praise for not being jerks. I think if someone has a history if intolerance and shows improvement, they deserve praise and positive reinforcement.
But no one should expect every queer person, woman, person of color, etc. to constantly tell them, "Thank you for treating me like a human being." Privileged people are already used to expecting cookies from everyone. But providing those cookies is exhausting. It is better to get people used to not getting a cookie. The friendship and mutual acceptance of the people they treat with decency should be enough reward.
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