Monday, 5 September 2011

Bigotry is Gay

We like to talk about the issues here. Issues, like hairs, are important even when they're just lying there. And we put a lot of futile effort into removing both from existence. And I've dated stylists of both. (Have I?)

My close, personal friend (in the Hollywood sense) Diaan raised an important issue the other day, and it got me thinking. Bullying is bad. I was bullied a lot in school, especially around grades 6 to 9. I "toughened up" against both the verbal and physical bullying, to the point that I could probably have taken a punch better as a 13 year-old than I could now, but it came at the cost of making me even more anti-social than I already was. I was incredibly lucky to make some great friends in high school, but anyone beyond them was problematic. (Try compounding the awkwardness of reflexively flinching when pretty girls reach out to touch you, with the embarrassment of them laughing in your face as a result.)

Luckily, in my case, I'm fine again, 10 years later, or at least can't see the scars so clearly anymore. But Diaan makes an excellent point: Bullying is unacceptable behaviour and blaming the victim is worse. And when it does go from bad to worse, it can go really fucking bad. So consider a phenomenon I've noticed increasingly at work: Blatant homophobia. Kids (all male, from what I've seen) use "gay" as an insult and dig into anyone identified as homosexual fairly viciously. The former is not unknown to me, we used to use the word that way when I was in school too, mostly because we didn't know better. After enough experience with sex, relationships and other people, most of my peers stopped saying things like that. I do still know one or two people my age who use gay as a synonym for uncool, but these are not people I'd describe as ethically deep to begin with.

But the more elaborate stuff? Is it just an attempt at wit, without any real feeling behind it? Or is it something more serious? That's harder to judge from just the snippets I hear. Obviously I feel I should say something about this to them, but it's hard to decide what's appropriate if I can't really judge the extent of the problem accurately. If they're just lightly fucking about, not really intending to cause harm, then giving them a lot of crap could chase them in the wrong direction as they try to rationalise why my shouting at them was the real crime. In that case, a casual, dispassionate bit of advice seems wiser; treat them as adults, and even if they don't act like adults yet, so they've at least got a better idea of what's expected of adults. And if they are intentionally being cruel and homophobic, then a quiet "don't do that" is unlikely to be sufficient.

This, I think, is a problem that belies all attempts at dealing with bullies. You have to first understand the nature of the bullying, and then determine how best to deal with it based on that. And that's damn tricky sometimes. Perhaps that's part of the reason bullying has become accepted in so many schools (and beyond); it's easier to rationalise it as "character building" than to do the hard work of investigating and understanding the problem properly. And so things spiral out from there, I guess.

What particularly worries me is when I can see the younger kids learning their homophobia from the older ones. That's clearly a point to leap in and intervene, but how exactly? I don't want to give the younger kids any basis to imagine the older ones are somehow being cool and rebellious, but I still need to get through to the older ones. It's a horrible juggling act. Any clever advice?