Stereotyping and making assumptions do not help
February 17, 2014 by Thomas Wictor
When actress Ellen Page announced that she’s gay, social media went wild, pro and con. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve seen Page only in Juno, a movie that I wasn’t able to finish. I’ve known too many people whose shtick is endless one-liners. My own father, in fact, hid behind puns, jokes, and repartee. I don’t respond well to it, but that’s my problem, not yours.
I recently joined Facebook in an attempt to promote my books. Since I didn’t know that Facebook charges business pages to let viewers see your posts, it’s a waste of time. At some point I’ll figure out how to do something right in the publishing field, but for now I’m just prolonging the slow-motion train wreck. So what? It’s such a ludicrous farce that I can’t even get angry.
Though my books aren’t being promoted—since paying Facebook may result in your page being sold to a click farm in Bangladesh—I comment on other people’s pages. One famous writer’s page mentioned the homophobic harassment allegedly going on in the Miami Dolphins’ locker room. Here’s what I wrote in response.
I’ve never been a fan of sports, precisely because of the “hazing.” My mind doesn’t work that way. On the other hand, I was once part of a dinner party in West Hollywood. Everyone at my table except for me was jabbering loudly and insultingly about gays, using the f-word, meaning the British term for cigarettes.
After over an hour of not being served, I got up and found our waiter, and asked him if he’d noticed that I hadn’t taken part in the talk. He had.
“Are you boycotting our table?” I asked.
So I left. My companions ran up something like $800 in drinks but never got served. All the waiters looked like Miami Dolphin football players. It’s been my experience that most gay men can take care of themselves. That’s not to say we shouldn’t care about assaultive behavior, but the gays in West Hollywood are pretty damn tough.
The full story is on pages 88-89 of Ghosts and Ballyhoo.
A few hours after I posted my comment on Facebook, a woman named Sue responded.
“gays can take care of themselves” really? What about the young people who attempt or actually do kill themselves as the result of bullying? Or adults who are told to “toughen up”? We should be taking care of them. You are a passive bully if you do nothing. You did not participate but tacitly supported your companions, as did team mates, by saying nothing.
I’m new to the phenomenon of people not listening to their own voice in their head as they read written words. My answer to Sue was this.
You edited my comment. I said, “It’s been MY EXPERIENCE that MOST gay MEN can take care of themselves.” In this case I was talking specifically about one instance in which powerful adult men solved the problem without my help. If I’d offered to “take care of them,” they would’ve rightly seen me as patronizing. And there’s no such thing as a “passive bully.” Besides, the waiter himself noted that I wasn’t taking part in the gay-bashing.
And finally, telling a bunch of drunk bigots that they’re out of line works in the movies, but in real life it changes nothing. Bigots know that what they’re saying is wrong. You can’t reach them. That’s why Ms. Rice is just banning them. Making a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington speech would’ve made ME feel better about ME, but it would’ve served no purpose.
Sue didn’t have a reply, of course. She stereotyped the men working at the restaurant in West Hollywood as wispy, helpless wraiths, and she made a whole passel of assumptions about me, all of which were wrong.
Here’s one of my favorite videos, Sue.
Aziz is a master of Bulgarian chalga, pop music that blends traditional folk melodies and instrumentation with dance rhythms. He’s the first openly gay Bulgarian superstar. But I have to tell you: I don’t care about his sexuality. I admire his courage and humor, of course, but the most important thing about him to me is that he’s a brilliant artist.
Saying, “He’s my favorite gay singer” is like saying, “She’s my favorite female bassist.” It’s a backhanded compliment.
Societies determine how they handle issues. Sweeping societal change is never pretty. However, people who can’t even comprehend what I write are in no position to guide me in how to think. Here’s something I was never going to reveal publicly, but now I will, to show the Sues of the world that stereotyping and making assumptions just prove how limited you are.
When Dad and Mom were dying, I couldn’t sleep, so I went to a nearby Seven-Eleven in the wee hours to buy ice cream or sandwiches. I was at one such establishment at 3:00 a.m. in February of 2013 when a kid of about sixteen came in. He was dressed in just a long-sleeved black shirt, skinny black jeans, a black watch cap, and red sneakers. Despite the cold, he had no overcoat.
He asked the clerk if he could hang out for a while to warm up, but the clerk said that loitering was prohibited. I asked the kid why he was wandering around so late, but I already knew the answer before he said it.
“My mom threw me out.”
He was a Goth, and he was extremely, flamboyantly gay. In this part of Southern California, families from a certain culture toss their boys out into the streets when they find out they’re gay. I asked him if he had anywhere to go.
“I have a friend, but I can’t go to her house until about nine in the morning.”
He had no money, no cell phone, and he hadn’t eaten since the afternoon. His clothes were clean, so I believed him.
“Look,” I said. “There’s a Denny’s down the street. I’ll drive you there and give you money. It’s open twenty-four hours. After you eat, go to the doughnut shop next door and buy a cup of coffee. Tell the clerk that you’re friends with Tom Wictor. That’s me. He’ll let you stay until you can call a taxi and go to your friend’s house.”
I showed him my license, asked the clerk to vouch for me—I was a regular customer—and then I asked the kid to turn out his pockets and roll up his pants legs.
“Just to make sure you won’t carjack me,” I said. I knew he wouldn’t; I said it to make him think I was afraid of him. We got in my car, and he sat sideways in the front passenger seat, his back against the door.
What the fuck have I gotten myself into? he was thinking.
I chattered like a little…woodchuck, I guess. Some kind of harmless rodent. I kept both hands on the steering wheel and identified the landmarks that showed we were getting closer and closer to the Denny’s. It without a doubt the longest three minutes in that kid’s life. When we arrived, we got out and I handed him $50. He started crying.
“Thank you so much,” he said.
“Someday do a good thing for someone else,” I said and drove off.
So tell me, Sue: How many individual human beings have you helped in your life? My guess is zero. People like you love to talk big and condemn others, but how many actual, living, breathing fellow earthlings have you quantitatively and directly assisted?
Drop me a line to let me know.
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