For this post, I was planning to write about the Christy Mack case. For those of you unaware, entrepreneur, model, and adult film star Christy Mack was recently beaten beyond recognition by her psychotic ex-boyfriend, UFC fighter Jonathan “War Machine” Koppenhaver. Enraged by the online victim blaming and support for Koppenhaver, I was going to talk about misogyny, patriarchy, and the ongoing need for Feminism in a world where domestic violence and the dehumanization of women seems to be getting worse. That’s what I was going to write about. Then a post appeared on my Facebook news feed, and my plans changed. As important as the Christy Mack case is, and as much as that discussion will be had in a soon-to-be written Outspoken Ally piece, I feel compelled to prioritize the hurtful ignorance of the phrase “it’s just a joke. Don’t be so defensive.” It’s not that I’m downplaying the importance of domestic abuse awareness, but thousands of people are writing about that every day. I have seen relatively little about the harmful messages in seemingly harmless phrases, and the urgency of the issue is apparent as LGBTQ people continue to suffer; and too often die.
The other day I logged onto Facebook, and saw a post that said “Ladies, if your boyfriend ain’t excited about huntin’ season, it’s probably time you both see other men.” A close friend of mine commented with “just because you don’t hunt doesn’t mean you’re gay,” and was promptly told “it’s just a joke. Don’t be so defensive.” Now, I reacted to this on three levels (only two of which are relevant, but allow me to briefly indulge). First, I find the idea of sitting in a tree stand and waiting for a deer to walk by, the preferred practice of this particular individual, to be a lazy activity not worthy of the term “hunting” (there, I said it). Second, the stereotype of gay men being effeminate, dainty, and apparently afraid of firearms, is frankly absurd and without foundation. Third, and this is the most important one, is that the dismissive attitude toward those offended is a big part of the problem surrounding homophobia in general. To say “it’s just a joke” is to say that it’s okay to make fun and laugh at people based on demeaning stereotypes that invalidate their personhood. To say “don’t be so defensive” is to make you feel guilty for taking it seriously. What this means is that people think they are justified as long as they qualify their ignorant mockery as a “joke.” With the added guilt trip, this is worse than hiding behind bigotry disguised as an “opinion.”
When I was growing up, I was picked on from time to time. Grades 7, 10, 11, and 12 were particularly difficult for me, although not unbearable. Whenever I took offence to a verbal attack of insults and slurs, I was told to not be “so defensive. It’s just a joke. Seriously, what’s wrong with you?” Apparently it was okay for these people to say whatever they wanted to me, and the offence taken was my fault. As long as they masked their hurtful intentions under the guise of a “joke,” I was seen as the bad guy when I retaliated; and a lot of us suffered this kind of treatment at the hands of the “popular kids” in school. Now, think about how that made you feel, and try to imagine enduring those same taunts as a minority person. Imagine being an LGBTQ teen and being called a “faggot” on a daily basis. I’ve been called that, and I can guarantee that although I was hurt by it, it’s a hundred times worse for teens who are actually LGBTQ. You see, I was having gay slurs hurled at me because being gay was seen as a shameful thing … but I’m actually heterosexual. Had I been LGBTQ, my very personhood would have been under direct attack. Those slurs are meant to hurt, provoke, and degrade their victims. Jokes are funny, ridicule is not. When you say something that causes offence, you do not get to tell the offended party that their feelings are invalid. Your intent to joke is irrelevant, what matters is the outcome. You tried to say something funny, somebody got offended, and it is now your responsibility to hold yourself accountable, understand where you went wrong, and apologize.
This is not a difficult concept, yet so many people remain unable to grasp it. I have to add, because it’s relevant to the overall issue, that the person who posted the aforementioned hunting post is an evangelical Christian. The reason I bring this up is because there is a widespread belief among liberal Christians that the conservative evangelicals are not true Christians. It is true that for all of the preaching they do about love and compassion, evangelical Christians are the first to bear false witness. Where the reasonable thing to do when you don’t know something is to seek out the information, the evangelical churches encourage proselytizing bigotry and ignorance, and condemning the proverbial speck in their neighbour’s eye. Hypocrisy is the order of the day. Those who claim that these are not true Christians, however, are forgetting that their hateful counterparts have just as much Biblical support for their hypocrisy and ignorance as they do for their love and compassion. You may point to the Sermon on the Mount and say that Jesus was full of love and acceptance, or you may point to the Sermon on the Mount and say that Jesus exercised hypocrisy when he said that “not a jot or tittle” of the law would be changed, before going on to change several laws. The point is that scripture can be used to justify love AND hate. No one denomination has a monopoly on biblical truth, they are all equally valid in the scriptural sense. This subjectivity is why Christian belief is not benign, and the same applies to bigotry masked as a “joke.”
Minority people are often held down and denied equal opportunity by way of cultural attitudes. These attitudes are kept alive by the hidden ideas and biases in our everyday discussions. This includes thinly veiled “jokes,” “opinions,” and “figures of speech.” When hateful ideas are promoted to the level that we currently have, disastrous results begin to occur. Every time an LGBTQ teen commits suicide, it is the result of this system. You see, your actions may not be causing death, but the ideas you’re relaying are responsible for it. Attacks, murders, suicides, and beatings, are all made possible by the spreading of hateful ideas. Your “joke” may have been the last straw that caused a boy to hang himself in his bedroom closet. Your “joke” may have been what made three teenagers think it would be funny to film themselves raping a drunken classmate. Your “joke” may have been what convinced Shawn Woodward that it was okay to beat and permanently disable Ritch Dowrey on an otherwise regular Vancouver night in 2009 … all because Mr. Dowrey offered to buy him a drink.
I’m going to leave you with a link ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYSVMgRr6pw ). This is the song “Take Me To Church,” by Hozier. It portrays the scary extremes of homophobia, extremes that are daily realities in many parts of the world. Those extremes are only possible because of the ideas behind them … ideas often spread by “jokes.”