Please. Give People Time To Be Stupid.
One of the odd facets of being a Blogger Of Mild Repute is getting occasional fan mail. Some of that fan mail goes something like, “Oh, you’re so tolerant and understanding of X, not like my parent/partner/friend.”
At which point I always blush, because there was a time when I was fuckingstupid. On any topic you care to image. Feminist rights, racial issues, transgender issues, BDSM spheres – there was a time when it was all new to me, and I was an insensitive dork.
(Which isn’t to say that I don’t fuck up massively from time to time still, but at least I’ve generally passed the “101” stage of education.)
Fortunately, most of you didn’t see that time when someone said, “I’m a transgendered girl dating a girl,” and I was all like, “Whoah, that’s crazy strange,” or the first time I encountered a master/slave relationship and said, “That can’tpossibly fucking be healthy,” or the first time I saw someone in an open relationship and went, “Wow, is that creepy. Who can care about their girlfriend and let her sleep with other people?”
Given that I’m polyamorous now, and my wife spends about a weekend a month with her boyfriend, obviously I’ve come around on this. But it took time. When people are presented with something so violently outside of their sphere of experience, there’s often this shuddering reaction of “Whoah, that’s insane! What – why would you even want to do that?”
Then there’s some questioning as to How This All Works, and while some morons never get past the initial “That’s not how things are supposed to be!” stage, the good people will eventually come to the sane conclusion of “Well, they seem to be happy and it’s not hurting anyone nonconsensually,” and incorporate that into their lives as “Just the way some people are.”
It sucks when they’re discussing you as The Freak, of course. But it’s also the same reaction a lot of people have to sushi – “Raw FISH!?!?” – and hopefully someone convinces them to have a nice spicy tuna roll and everything is all right.
The point I’m making is not that this flustering, idiotic reaction is okay. The world would be a much better place if nobody ever flailed so stupidly, and could accept on demand. But fighting against The Stupid Initial Reaction is like fighting against jealousy or anger or any other range of oft-unproductive human emotions. People sometimes have to say and ask some really stupid things of people regarding new experiences of any stripe before coming to the correct conclusions.
And me? I’m glad my uncle had a ton of gay friends when I was growing up, so that gayness never struck me as odd. I’m glad my mother had some black friends so I could get my embarrassing “Do you tan?” questions out of the way when I was eight instead of twenty-eight. That was a pretty awesome advantage to be given out of the gate, that kind of diversity back in the 1970s, and I’m glad I burned off the dumbness early on.
But I’ve said some staggeringly insensitive things about transgendered people, and misunderstood some mind-blowingly idiotic things about women’s rights, and made some blitheringly stupid assumptions about BDSM in my time. Because I was personally unfamiliar with those cultures, and had to educate myself one embarrassing interaction at a time.
I got better. And whenever I run into someone who goes, “Wait, you let your wife go off with another man?” and makes that initial disgusted face of “How does thatwork?”, well…. I ain’t thrilled. But I understand that this may be their first interaction with polyamory, and even if I choose not to be their teachable moment, this knee-jerk dumbassery is not necessarily their final word on this topic.
And so I try to have compassion. Because I know that sooner or later floating through the oft-squicky world of BDSM, I’m going to run into some other kink I’m unfamiliar with, and have a gut reaction of “Icky” – and though I’ve gotten better at reassessing and checking my initial reactions, I’m still probably going to go through a brief period of Absolute Stupidity before I can come to sanity.
If I’m lucky, I can keep that dumbness self-contained. But then again, I’ve had a lot of experience being an idiot. Others may be experiencing their idiotship for the first time, and it’s going to take them longer to get past that.
Let us hope they do, and try to have a little compassion.