Friday, April 26, 2013

how to talk about queer issues and not sound like a jerk

When queer identified folks with more LGBTQ knowledge than most approach heterosexual people or other queer identities with less knowledge, the typical "first impression" is pretty... well, terrible.  I've seen those knock-down, drag-out fights about issues more than I'd care to admit, and more often than not I am frustrated by how the person of knowledge fails to get through to the other person.  I've found that often, it's not because the straight/less informed person is immediately shutting down the information, but because the informed party busts in, guns a-blazing, with this preconceived notion perhaps that the other person is going to be stubborn and unruly just because they may know less, or because they are straight.

I see people who could have learned a lot being turned away from that knowledge by being chastised for their ignorant queerness, or ridiculed for their straightness.  It's a tricky thing for me, because there are, too, some straight people who DO (see: my family) get belligerent and oppositional about their beliefs.  And we, as knowledgeable queers, have become jaded by our past experiences and it colors how we treat those situations in the now.

So, you've taken Peers for Pride and have learned so much about LGBTQAI+ issues that you are busting at the seams to "school" others who have not had the chance to had the same experience.  And hark!  You overhear a straight/less informed queer person out in the world having a slightly problematic discussion.  What do you do?

> Go up to them and give them what's for!

Well, maybe you should introduce yourself first.  After all, if you don't know this person very well, it may seem slightly rude or presumptuous (even if this person is saying comments you may not be fond of) to just address the comment they've made.  They are people first and problematic thinkers second, after all.

> Call them an ignorant straight person/slam their privilege in their face/tell them they're homophobic/racist/cisgenderist/sexist!

While any of these things may be true, it may be slightly off-putting to a person to be immediately insulted about a comment they have made, and it may be at this point that a person shuts down to a potentially eye-opening conversation.  Remember, not everyone has the same access to information as you do, and you may even be speaking to a future ally who just has not been properly equipped.

> Okay... then address their comment gently, asking them what they meant by it?

There we go!  That's a little bit nicer, and seeing how gentle and non-confrontational you are, they may be more willing to talk.  And asking people how "they feel" about their own words tends to open them up more to productive conversation.  Then, after you've asked them their feelings, it's appropriate to mention how what they have said may have hurt/offended you.  Here is where you can detect if the person is genuinely interested in being a decent human being, or if they will blow you off. If they continue the conversation, interested to learn more, then it might be appropriate to tell them about privilege or "-isms", but introducing those concepts too early could mean the death of that conversation.

And there you have it!  And remember, all of these things can be applied to Facebook, too... but Facebook conversations are much more kindly held over private messages, rather than on open statuses where everyone and anyone can see it.  Have fun changing the world!!

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