“You know, I get insulted, too,” the straight white cis dude says. “I read articles that mischaracterize my experience as a straight white cis guy. And when that happens, do I bitch about it on the Internet? No! I just suck it up and move on.
“So I guess,” the straight white cis dude concludes, “I’m not easily offended.”
Hold on there, hoss. Lemme suggest another potential conclusion:
It may be that you’re not insulted nearly as much.
I’d guess that as a straight white cis dude, I’d guess that your experience in things means that your very existence is not routinely forgotten. Nobody in the majority cultures goes, “Another movie consisting exclusively of male leads has hit #1 at the box office? How could this happen? Is there really a market for male movies?” And then, weeks later, forget that this trend of “male movies” has been ongoing since, oh, the 1960s.
Nobody in the mainstream cultures goes, “Oh, yeah, fuck, I guess you might be attracted to women, sure. People do that. But are you sure you don’t want this dick?”
Nobody in mainstream cultures just assumes you’d like to have transition surgery and that your dressing in men’s clothing is some form of weird attempt to fit in.
What I generally find people saying when they say “I guess I’m not easily offended” is actually closer to “I don’t actually have that many people who offend me.” In general, what these dudes are actually saying is “Ninety-time times out of a hundred, people acknowledge and support me, and I quietly assume that as my birthright. And that hundredth time someone doesn’t acknowledge me, well, that means I’m not easily offended!”
Which is a lot like a five-foot-ten guy saying, “Well, I’m not picky about my furniture. I can sit anywhere.” Which may be true, but it’s overlooking the fact that as a guy of average height, most furniture is made to fit you. If society had quietly decided that the average person was four-foot-ten, or six-foot-ten, then you might spend a little more time in the furniture shop finding something comfortable.
Or not. There are genuinely some dudes who can fall asleep on rocks. Just like there are some gay trans black women who can sleep through bonfires of Internet hatred. Some folks are, in fact, genuinely not easily offended, and maybe that’s you.
But my point is, it’s kind of difficult to say whether you’re easily offended when you have an entire society dedicated to reaffirming your existence. You don’t get erased in 99% of the circumstances. You don’t get stereotyped. You don’t have people pigeonholing you.
Yet when I talk to not-easily-offended straight white cis dudes like this, you know what really pisses them off?
Essay titles like “Why Straight White Dudes Don’t Get Offended As Often As Normal People Do.”
A lot of these very same dudes who are all “It’s not important to put gay/minority/trans representations into things!” and “That was just a joke!” when it comes to pointing at other people get veeeery angry when you stereotype them. “I really fucking hate the way you make ‘straight white cis dude’ sound like an insult, Ferrett,” they’ll say, frothing at the mouth. “We’re not all that way. I’m not this parody you’re writing about!”
Well, shit, bro, are you not easily offended? Or are you simply not easily offended when things are generally not aimed in your direction?
Hell, you’ll see a lot of straight white cis dudes getting angry by the mere fact of being called straight white cis dudes, because they hate the label, don’t you realize we’re people, you’re racist for labelling me. And that’s a funny thing, because you are straight, you are white, you are cis, you are a dude, and I’m gonna suggest the reason you hate having your whiteness and your cisness and your straightness called out is because up until now, everyone quietly assumed all those things were normal.
Having your central identities marked as different makes you feel freakish and othered, and you fucking hate it.
So again, are you not easily offended? I’d argue that maybe you are easily offended. Maybe you’ve just not had to experience what a lot of marginalized communities endure on a regular basis.
Maybe you should take this offense at the way “straight white cis dude” does, in fact, strip off layers of who you are to replace them with a stereotype – and instead of using that anger to defend your domain, maybe you could look at how other stripes of people are more routinely erased, replaced, and debased, and start asking, “Shit, how can I not do that to them?”
And even if you are not easily offended, that doesn’t necessarily mean that “everyone should not be offended” is a great way to be. I myself have such a tremendous pain tolerance that I walked around for four days with a burst appendix and thought it was a tetchy stomach virus. But I would be a stupendous dick if I went, “Well, I don’t experience that much pain, so why do we need all of these painkillers? Just suck it up and deal, like I do.”
And even if that was something we wanted to do, would it be wise? Sometimes being stoic doesn’t fix the problem. Like me. I was very stoic to an illness that was actually fucking killing me – I am lucky to be alive – and maybe complaining is the proper method to fix problems like, I dunno, people forgetting that entire alternative existences exist.
If you’re really not easily offended, then maybe you should demonstrate that invulnerability by going, “Huh. I wonder if they have a point” when someone unloads on you instead of frowning and saying, “Complaining is bad!” Maybe you could use that amazing superpower to better other people’s lives instead of shrugging off potentially valid complaints as some form of weak whining.
You’re in a position to do some real good, if you’re not that easily offended. You can make a positive difference.
I’d like to ask you to think about how to do that.
Last night, I signed a contract authorizing the reprint of one of my stories. I signed it, went, “That’s nice,” and went back to writing my novel.
About half an hour later, I realized that the magazine I had signed the reprint contract for was one of my goals when I graduated Clarion in 2008. I burned to be in that magazine. And I wrote story after story, each time convinced this would be the one that got through, and piled up at least twenty rejections.
I remember staring at the page, thinking You’ll never make it. You’ll never have a professional sale. And if you do, you won’t have it there.
A novel seemed unattainable. Getting 3,500 words of mine into a magazine? Seemed like the biggest challenge in the world.
And it was for me, back then. I had to write for another four years, smashing my heart into the keyboard night after night, asking people to rip my stories to shreds so I could ruthlessly excise any part that did not function, before I eventually sold a story to them. I worked so hard to get there.
That first professional story sale? I took the night off from writing. I poured myself a celebratory drink. I took Gini out to a dinner, I texted all my friends, I did a big post with photos showing my triumph.
Now? Years later, I have my first novel out – and it’s done well, not breaking any sales records or anything, but it’s got some nice reviews and some people really excited about the sequel dropping in October. And when I got an editor asking, “We were thinking we wanted a story from you, do you have anything we could reprint?” it was nice – very nice – but it was “Wow, that makes my evening,” not the sort of thing where I stop everything and tell Gini “We’re going out to dinner and getting a bottle of champagne, this deserves A Moment.”
That’s how publishing works. Sell a story? You haven’t gotten nominated for an award. Got nominated for an award? You haven’t sold a novel. Sold a novel? The reviews weren’t good. You got good reviews? Well, it wasn’t a bestseller. A bestseller? Well, it wasn’t a real bestseller, there’s no movie option….
You wonder why authors are so fucking neurotic. It’s because the moment they climb the ladder, the rung beneath them ceases to exist. There’s only the rungs above them, and they’re ridiculously high, and you may never get there.
This is always true of every rung. Publishing’s a lot of skill and a lot of luck, but you can only control the one. So you max out on skill and hope the dice roll your way. Hell, I could submit a story to them now and still get it rejected for various reasons – maybe I wasn’t “on” that day when I wrote that story, maybe they just bought a similar one, maybe the tale doesn’t fit the image they’re trying to sell. It’s still a struggle for me to sell a story.
But it is no longer an unattainable thing. It’s merely something that’s difficult.
And because of that, I am going to pause for a moment now and ponder this sale. I’m going to consider the fact that, at least to some subset of professionals, “A Ferrett Steinmetz story” is a desirable genre. That they’d sought me out to ask for this. That this awesome magazine, which I’ll announce in time, will be reprinting a tale of mine – and it’s one of my favorites.
Ferrett of 2008 would never have imagined this happening.
Ferrett of 2015 is going to take a moment to be Ferrett of 2008, and break open a little bottle of champagne.
Or at least a root beer. But this celebratory root beer will be savored.
So as usual, Ashley my mad manicurist worked her magic the other night. I told her, “Do X-Men nails,” but the designs for X-Men nails we skimmed through were kiiiinda boring.
But Avengers nails? Much more impressive.
The little chibi Iron Man is, I find, particularly adorable.
I also forgot to mention the last set of nails I got, which were my “Music Mama” nails:
These nails I liked, but in retrospect her choice of light blue for the music notes on the staves muddied the composition. People knew my nails were pretty, but the piano thumbnails were the only clue this was music until they looked closely. (And that’s a G-cleft heart in red on the highlight nails.)
Still, with my fabulous glittery Broadway nails, these were the gayest nails I ever had. I felt fabulous.
I’ll be presenting at Beyond the Love in November – which I’m super-stoked about. Beyond the Love is considered one of the best polyamory conferences in America, and I’ve heard nothing but excellent experiences from the folks who’ve attended. To even be asked there is an extremely flattering compliment to the work I’ve put in analyzing polyamorous relationships.
But I’ve also been asked to give the keynote speech to kick off the convention, which is… really quite humbling. It’ll be a short speech, but to be entrusted to set the tone for the conference is something I take quite seriously.
If you’re interested in attending, it’s held in Columbus, Ohio on the weekend of November 13th. I’ll be giving talks on troubleshooting broken polyamory, and on how to break up like a goddamned grownup. I’d be happy to see you there.
(And as a separate disclaimer, if y’all want me to talk in your town, I merely ask that I don’t lose money on the experience. Talk to your con holders about travel expenses and putting me up. Particularly, you know, if you live in Australia. I really wanna go to Australia some day.)
In speculative fiction, there are only three objects, moved from place to place, to commit nonviolent crimes:
- Bread, stolen to feed your family;
- Drugs, smuggled to demonstrate your ability to evade the law;
- Gold and/or jewelry, removed from their vault in a fantastic heist and/or bank robbery.
That’s it. That’s all the nonviolent crimes there are in fiction.
But when Robert Bennett and John Chu recommended the fantastic Planet Money podcast to me, they forgot to tell me that this podcast’s secret name was “The Fantabulous Compendium Of Immensely Stupid Crimes.” I’ve only been listening for a few weeks, and already I have heard the hubbub over the following crimes being committed:
- The man who defied the Raisin Administrative Committee to illegally box his raisins, which triggered a Supreme Court case;
- The man who told the mayor of Boston “Fuck you, I can too auction off parking spaces,” and promptly discovered why telling Boston politicians to go fuck themselves is an unwise maneuver;
- The man who went to jail for not watering his lawn, in perhaps the best episode title ever: “Lawn Order.”
And the more you listen to The Fantabulous Compendium Of Immensely Stupid Crimes, the more you come to realize that a) there are a lot of ways to make money by selling things, and b) there are a lot of businessmen and lawmakers who want to stop people from selling things, so c) there are a stupendous amount of absurd crimes involving obscure edge cases that people’s lives literally depend on.
And yet I can’t remember the last time I read a fantasy novel that revolved around something as simple as smuggling (perfectly legal) cigarettes to avoid taxes. Or growing yams in your basement because the King’s Yam Council had seized all your spare yams. Or even escorting illegal elves across the border.
Point is, the world is filled with such a variety of bizarre crimes, and yet our templates in fantasy are so goddamned small. Where are the money-washers? The illegal slakemoth-breeders? The guys who sell chimera pelts to sad old men who think sniffing the pelts will help them get it up?
I want so much more from fantasy, and yet we’re always returning to the same three scenes and a mugging. Think big, fantasy. Think big.
So I know nothing about rap. Not that I’m one of those people who sneer “God save me from rap and country music!”- but when I was growing up, the primary exchange of music was The Mix Tape. I like KISS because my friend Dean made me a mix tape of the best KISS songs. I like Frank Zappa because my friend Mark made me a mix tape of Frank Zappa. I like punk because Neal and Rocco made me mix tapes of punk.
I knew no one who liked rap, and hence, never got into rap. As such, my knowledge is sporadic – I know a couple of tunes, but couldn’t pick out a West Coast vs. East Coast beef.
As such, going to see “Straight Outta Compton” was an interesting experience.
First off, “Straight Outta Compton” is a good movie. I have my Pee Test when it comes to films – am I sufficiently interested in this movie that my teacup-sized bladder can distract me? And though SoC was 2.5 hours and a 40-oz drink, I kept my ass in the seat. Great story.
Yet SoC is clearly a movie meant for people other than me. For example: early on, in the studio, the guys talk Eazy-E – who has, until now, provided only their money – into rapping. The music starts up. It’s clearly a familiar riff. Eazy-E steps up to the mic, swaggers a bit –
And blows the line. Off-tempo, terrible delivery, you name it.
The scene still works if you’re ignorant, but clearly this played off of expectations where the audience was ready for the first magic of That Track to drop.
Likewise, SoC has a fair number of Dramatic Pauses where they’re about to announce their new track, or the company they’re starting, and someone asks them what the name is – and – they – hold, for no good reason except to build an anticipation for a Significant Moment that I had no idea was coming.
Hell, they don’t even bother to introduce Suge Knight. He just shows up without introduction. Fortunately, he’s such a menace it becomes clear that he’s a bad guy. Death Row records is presented as a literal hell, complete with torture chambers.
SoC is not a subtle movie. At one point, a character contracts a terminal illness, which is conveyed by them coughing dramatically. Yet in a way that works better – this is an old-fashioned popcorn drama, where everyone’s presented in clear clean lines (Dre is talented but naive! Ice Cube is suspicious but hard-working! Eazy-E wants the money and the women!) and the plot churns along. It’s not subtle, but it’s a big story, and frankly, the Ray Charles biopic attempted to be subtle and it got boring. This is the Greatest Hits track of drama, where if it’s not over-the-top dramatic, fuck it, leave it on the sidelines.
And I spent a lot of the walk home with Gini wondering if this movie was Oscar-worthy. Paul Giamatti put in a great performance, I know that – but I know that because I’ve seen Paul Giamatti work before, and this was different than his other work.
But as for the three actors who played Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and Dr. Dre? I have no idea how to calibrate. I’ve never seen them work before so I don’t know their baseline – Ice Cube looks a hell of a lot like Ice Cube, but that’s because he’s Ice Cube’s son – and I have insufficient familiarity with Dr. Dre to know whether these guys have captured his essence. So was it good acting? Zero clue. They kept my attention in a bombastic script, and that’s all the quality I can speak to.
I know enough not to take this as history. I know that some of the other NWA members got shafted in this biopic because a) there’s not enough space, and b) Dr. Dre and Cube produced it, so guess who gets to be the stars? And I know that it glosses over the fantastic misogyny present in a lot of NWA’s songs and backstage actions, and probably their youth wasn’t as idealized.
Still. A good movie. Brought me up to speed on a lot of the inner tensions, and how fame (and bad contracts, and money) can split friends apart. I’d recommend it, even if you’re basically a rap yutz like me.
During the Hugos – the science-fiction Oscars – a friend of mine made a pro-LGBT Tweet about the future of science fiction that caught the attention of the anti-Social Justice crowd. Needless to say, things turned ugly for her fairly quickly.
Watching the insults mutate was a welcome reminder in how bullies work.
At first, they told her to shut up about science fiction, as she apparently didn’t know how things worked in the business. Bad move, as she was an officer of the Science Fiction Writers’ Association for several years, has edited anthologies, and handles the PR for several quality authors. Accusing her of being ignorant is ignorance, and could have been neatly sidestepped by a simple Google search for her name.
When they lost on that front, they moved to accusing her to being undesirable, ugly, and was doing this entirely because she was unable to get laid. Which also doesn’t work. She’s stunningly attractive, and while I can’t speak to the fine details of her social life, she does not appear to have any problems attracting companionship.
When that didn’t work, they then…
Oh, does it matter? It doesn’t, really. Because that’s how bullies function. They really don’t care who you are – they’ll just keep flinging shit at the walls until one of the insults eventually sticks.
Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t hurt when they eventually fumble onto an insult that describes you – but some of that pain comes from the shock of Oh, they’ve found me out, and really, they haven’t. Most Internet pileups are an insult dictionary-attack: they haven’t guessed your password because they have a deep and meaningful relationship with you, they’ve guessed it because they have this list of “the 10,000 most common personality flaws” and they tried each one out in descending order until they stumbled across yours.
These insults are fundamentally meaningless because they don’t actually know what the fuck they’re saying. They just hated what you had to say, and are trying to shame you into shutting up by trying keys at random in your door.
They will literally say anything if they think it’ll make you feel bad.
And that’s the inverse of how society usually works: You smell like funky cheese, so your lover rejects you. You’re incompetent, so your boss fires you. You’re boring, so your friends don’t invite you out. All painful, but it’s a clear sequence of cause and effect – here’s the reason, here’s the consequences.
Whereas when bullies come around, they have decided upon the consequence – this bitch needs to feel bad. And then they start hunting for reasons to justify the consequences.
Yet if you watch carefully, their reasons don’t actually make sense most of the time. Hey, you’re a – no I’m not. Well, then you – no, I don’t. Certainly you must – I’ve never done that in my life, actually.
Now, none of this isn’t to say that an internet dogpile doesn’t suck syphilitic moose ass. It does. It’s always a little unnerving to realize that a bunch of people are working their asses off to try to make you cry. And alas, society has trained most of us that if a hundred people are jeering and pointing, you must have done something wrong.
But you haven’t. You said something they didn’t like – something they can’t actually argue with, because if they were smart enough to debate your concepts, they’d be off explaining why what you said was wrong. And having lost the intellectual argument due to a lack of functioning neurons, they have now moved to the Shut this person up phase and will now throw bricks until one of them hits.
Chances are, they’ll eventually luck upon a bad description of you that fits. But remember: they don’t actually care about that. All they want is your tears followed by your silence.
You’re allowed either tears or silence, you know. Engaging is exhausting. Nobody’s obliged to battle phase-shifting morons.
But if you really wanna show those fuckers up, want to enrage them in the best way possible? Keep talking. Ignore them, and concentrate on spreading that original message they couldn’t effectively deny. Because when you focus on that message and properly categorize the thousands of insults they’re blindly trying out on you, you come to realize that these aren’t insults but a modified jamming technique – filling the air with thousands of messy signals in an attempt to drown the broadcast that terrifies them.
The insults feel personal. But just like what happened to my smart and competent friend, they only feel personal because they tried out several variations of insults that were so laughably not you that they didn’t fit, running down a long list until they found something that jarred.
That’s not actually personal. They don’t know you.
They just know they want to shut you up.