This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness. Many of you are familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.
So, a person, party, company or whatever has shown their spotty homophobic arse for all to see. They have said things they shouldn’t, done things that make us want to pelt them with rabid armadillos and then they turn round with a gesture of apology. So what do we do?
This is especially difficult for me because I recognise I am not a forgiving person. Oh, I am not. If I see a homophobe that stain sticks and for a hellaciously long time afterwards I will always see it in any interactions with that person. I don’t trust easily and my goodwill is easily lost.
And part of that is I think marginalised people in general, and certainly the GBLT community tend to be… awfully forgiving. Or excessively enthusiastic over small gestures. I get it, I’ve been there so much – at one point 2 kind words to me would have me fawning like an overenthusiastic puppy. Hate speech against is normalised. In the last few weeks we’ve seen one preacher call for concentration camps for us and another calling for us to be beaten as small children. And this is standard, every damn day – it’s just not always as well publicised. And, of course, positive counter messages are few and far between since we’re so often considered too obscene for public viewing and we have the unpleasant situation of being usually brought up by parents and families who don’t share our marginalisation – in fact, it’s sadly common that our worst oppressors are those who should love and support us unconditionally.
So yeah, it’s very very tempting to leap up and down and sing “he likes me he likes me!” to every kind word. Which means we tend to give not just a lot of praise to gestures – but we also accept even the most hollow apologies for even the most egregious of offences. This feeds into my urge to be a grudgey unforgiving.
And this is topical. We recently have what could be considered a few gestures of apology from companies with dubious records.
The first 2 are DC and Marvel who, after being put to shame by Archie of all comic companies (guys, really? Archie beat you on progressive points, really?) decided to pull out a gay wedding and a major gay character reveal. Now, these comics have a decidedly dubious history when it comes to GBLT characters and portrayals. And for this reason alone I am slow to jump up and down with joy in this. And I’m certainly not alone in this. My first thought actually was “Northstar’s alive again? Damn, how they going to kill him this time?” Yes, I’m a cynic, but I have good reason for my cynicism.
Next up we have Target. Yes, Target of the funding of virulently anti-gay politicians then pretending it didn’t matter. Well now they’re selling T-Shirts with pro-marriage equality logos on them (proceeds go to charity… well up to a cap anyway apparently for some reason). And, am I happy? No, because Target remains “neutral” on the Minnesota Marriage Amendment – and if you’re neutral on our rights then you’re a homophobe. And their past records points to this being another shallow PR ploy.
Speaking of PR ploys. Jay-Z has decided to speak up in favour of marriage equality! Great – but one positive speech doesn’t make up for all the hate speech and slurs – especially since he was pushing the stereotype of predatory gay men and the gay panic defence within seconds of his endorsement!
Homophobe supporting blog Jack and Jill Politics decided to have a post about how the “debate” about gay people’s human rights had reached their blog! Yeah, super, a debate on whether we’re due respect or not – right after they hosted a grossly homophobic post by a bigot. Hey, both sides of the story, right? There are 2 sides to whether gay people should be considered human or not, apparently – at least in Cheryl Contee and Baratunde Thurston’s eyes.
Now I look at these things and think, generally, that they’re somewhat good things on their own. It’s good to have GBLT character inclusion. It’s good to support GBLT charities and to support our rights – those are all certainly good things. But I also look at the people behind it and my cynicism comes back. We have seen so many people make cynical PR moves to try and cover over their shitty records – and I refuse to fall for it. I refuse to forgive and I most certainly refuse to forget.
“So,” I hear you cry, “do you think no-one can change, Sparky?”
I think they can. I also think they usually don’t. But I do believe that there are a whole lot more people looking to make PR gestures to silence their critics. So if you want me to believe you have actually changed then there’s a fair old mountain to climb. Here are some things that help (but are no guarantee).
- Address your shit. Word choice deliberate. See, homophobia is like shit, it doesn’t stop smelling just because we all pretend it isn’t there. Acting like your homophobia never happened makes me think PR game, not actual contrition. And don’t give me any “I’m sorry you’re offended” or “I didn’t mean it like that” or other bullshit fauxpology.
- Don’t repeat your shit. If you do something, apologise, then do it again then your apology just tells us how little integrity you have.
- Don’t think “good” actions can buy off your shit or balance your shit. It doesn’t matter how much febreze you spray on that shit, it’s still shit. A like donation to a pro-GBLT group doesn’t justify supporting the homophobes. A positive GBLT article doesn’t justify a bigoted one. You can’t play both sides of the equality game
- Don’t expect forgiveness. If you make your gesture, don’t wave it around as proof of your change, don’t expect instant forgiveness or thanks, don’t expect the slate to be clean. If you do, it shows you’re making a PR gesture, not one of substance.
- It’s going to be a long walk up a steep hill to get away from your homophobia and you may not manage it. The smell will follow you for a while. If you whine about it we know your real motivation. Don’t complain about people reacting to the stench you made.
- Like point 3, your gesture is not carte blanche to be an arsehole in the future. You are never free to be a homophobe without consequence, you don’t buy a pass, you can’t be a selective homophobe or part time homophobe.
I also believe you don’t get to erase your past. If you’ve been a homophobic arsehole then that may be something you have to deal with forever more no matter how much you try to expunge it. Deal with it, because I’m not crying any tears for you. Living with being considered a homophobe isn’t nearly as bad as living with homophobia.
Your past will stay with you – maybe the best you can hope for is to fill the positive column more and hope that the bright colours will at least balance the stain, if not hide it. And if you are upset because people just won’t let go of your past arseholery? Tough, deal with it and try to give people more good things to remember – that’s all you can do and as much as you deserve.