The hate that dare not speak its name

2013-06-28 12:08

Used to be, people were pretty shy about being gay, because it could get you in lots of trouble. Crazy, crazy, trouble. Not just being beaten or killed, but stuff like attempts to use mandatory hormone therapy to “treat” it. And this was a horrible situation. Thing is, this didn’t mean gay people didn’t want relationships, it just meant they had to find subtle ways to indicate that they might be interested in such things. (People who read a lot of Pratchett may recognize a similarity to his dwarves, who do not distinguish between male and female in most contexts, considering it a rather personal thing, making their courtships rather more complicated.)

That’s not as true as it used to be. Sure, there’s still people who are not “out”. There’s still people whose parents do horrible things upon finding out that they have a gay kid. But it’s gotten a lot rarer. And the thing is, while “general acceptance” may be a fairly long way out, overt hostility has become something which is unambiguously shameful in the eyes of mainstream Western culture. And that part is sufficiently widespread that it’s not just true among “supporters” or “allies”, but just in general among the population.

Which results in a curious parallel situation. People who want to express contempt for gays can’t just come out and say it or they’ll be shamed and ostracized. So they have to try to sort of subtly hint that they would be receptive to such things, without actually saying them. They have to speak in euphemisms. They want to produce signals that other homphobes will recognize, but other people won’t. And of course, there’s always the risk that someone is just sounding them out to raise the alarm.

So when I ran into a guild which advertised “family values” in an MMO recently, and asked what they felt about LGBT families, the person I talked to had to try really hard to avoid giving any information. The fact that he didn’t feel comfortable giving a concrete answer tells you what the answer is, but preserves him a little bit of plausible deniability. But even though he presumably felt strongly that the policy he was advocating was a good one, it was nonetheless clear that he felt ashamed of it in some way. Which is, from my perspective, a good thing.

There is one key difference. Sexual orientation is, so far as anyone can tell, largely innate. No amount of suppression makes it go away. But bigotry is in general a learned trait. If people are uncomfortable asserting it clearly enough to teach it, a lot less of it will get picked up. The things the bigots say are things also said by people who really mean them. That makes it great camouflage, but it also means that they are not able to effectively promote their views.

And, as the nice folks say, it gets better. See, it’s not just that very few people are promoting anti-gay bigotry now, as compared to twenty or thirty years ago. It’s that the ones who are left are the ones who used to be the lunatic fringe. So when they talk, they really do come across as jerks. They are hostile, they are mean, and they are usually fundamentally ignorant of things that basically everyone else knows. And that means that even people who might otherwise agree with them don’t want to be seen to be associated with them.

The people who worked on the anti-gay constitutional amendment proposed in Minnesota a couple of years back (which got smacked down at the ballots last November) did a really amazing job of being visibly mean. I think that, if they’d simply shut up and not said anything, they might well have won; Minnesota as a whole has a lot of fairly religiously conservative folks who are not ready for change. But they didn’t shut up. They talked, and talked. And the venom and vitriol escalated as it looked less and less likely that they’d win. And it came to pass that they lost, badly, and that in less than a year past that, the legislature and governor totally removed gender qualifications from Minnesota’s marriage laws, because now Minnesotans are clearly aware that being opposed to this makes you a jerk. And we don’t like being jerks, ok?

There’s an in-game Pride parade in Rift tomorrow. We’ll get hecklers, and I am super happy about that, because every time they write their mean little chat messages, they will be reminding everyone else on the server that this is what anti-gay people are like; they are assholes. They are the folks who have to rain on someone else’s parade. They are not fun, they are not cool. They are not even “edgy”. They are just annoying. And they are a source of shame to the people who used to agree with them, but are being gradually driven away by the realization of just what it is that they’ve been allied with.

Peter Seebach

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Comment

  1. It is worse than that of course; these folks dare not think it’s name at this point. I am continually amazed at the degree to which such folks seem capable of convincing themselves their outright malice is somehow benign, or at least neutral. Unfortunately, this kind of double0thik bleeds into other things too, such as the notion that deliberately trying to shut government down doesn’t actually make someone responsible for shutting it down. Some of these folks live in a world full of motives well hidden from everyone, themselves included.

    northierthanthou · 2013-10-26 07:21 · #

 
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