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The Power of Words and Rising Above the Hate

Posted by Seth Rollins , Dec 12 2012 · 523 views

Alternative Title: Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Blog Something Controversial....

Recently on website I frequent for Magic: The Gathering articles there was a particularly interesting one concerning the prevalence of homophobic rhetoric that occasionally arises among players.  While the article itself was fairly textbook material (e.g. homophobia is bad.  stop using words like 'gay' in a derogatory manner), the comments revealed just why the article was necessary.  Dozens of people chimed in saying that they shouldn't be asked to stop using homophobic slurs.  In their eyes the problem wasn't with them.  It was with others.  They should not be offended.

Their assertion was laughable in my eyes.  It seemed so inherently wrong to me that nobody should even make the effort of reproaching them.  But nonetheless it simply must be asked. If someone is saying something that is offensive to me, is it my fault for being offended?  Should the person be asked to stop, or should I get over it?

It's worth noting that I'll be using homophobia as a blanket all inclusive term.  Really this can be applied to all hate speech ranging from homophobia to racism to transphobia to any other sort of hateful language directed at a group of people for reasons outside of their control.

The question sounds silly.  Obviously the person being offensive is in the wrong and should stop.  The person being offended is innocent and should not be forced to do anything. The offender is making the other person uncomfortable with their words. The burden of action lies on the offender, and the required action is to cease and desist.  There is no other option.

But as obvious as the answer is, it is not simply enough.  It is not enough to know the answer.  Of utmost importance is to understand the why of the answer.  Just why is it wrong?  Why must the offender be forced to change or at the very least stop?  The journey is just as important as the destination, and the path reveals several truths.

Perhaps the most important is that words have power.  There is the old adage that the pen is mightier than the sword, but the impact of the truth is so much more than just a pithy statement.  Words have a power that is hard to grasp.  When used wrongly they can be devastating.    As a bisexual, I cannot begin to comprehend just how terrible homophobic rhetoric has been to me.  Hate speech has a hard to overstate negative effect to those who come in contact with it.

It is for this reason that homophobic language must not only be avoided but actively engaged when encountered.  By using homophobic language one hurts the homosexual person.  In using those kinds of words you are essentially saying that being a homosexual is a bad thing.  You are using the label of homosexuality in a negative sense, and therefore equivocating it to something wrong.  In doing so you are demeaning homosexuals across the globe, and nobody should be put in a negative light because of something they are and can't control.  However the crime is far greater than that.  Every time somebody calls something gay they are perpetuating a culture of hate.  They are proliferating a culture that says that it is not okay to be who you are.  Whoever supports this kind of society is only fooling themselves into thinking that it is a good one.

Now returning to the argument at hand, the offender offers a new counterpoint.  While it is true that words have power, the question must be asked where do words get their powers?  It is readily apparent that words are not self sufficient on their own.  As a man created tool they receive their power from men.  But from which catergory of people do the words receive their power, or meaning?  Is it the offender or the offended?

The offender would claim that the offended is giving the words a power that they did not originally intend.  When they say something like, "Wow Thragtusk is so overpowered it's gay." they're not using gay to refer to homosexuality as a negative thing.  They're just expressing their hate for Thragtusk by essentially calling it dumb.  They're not trying to make homosexuality to be a bad thing.  After all, they're all for the homosexuals and what have you.  The offended just need to get off their high horse and not be offended and taking their words the wrong way.

There are of course several problems that arise with this, and I think now would be a grand time to go off on something of a rabbit trail on this subject.  I am loathe to speak of it for numerous reasons, but something must be said of privilege.  Privilege is a kind of prejudice, but it is a much more subtle one.  Where as discrimination is an extremely overt form of prejudice, privilege is a much more covert one.  Essentially heterosexuals have the privilege of not having experienced the hate directed towards homosexuals.  Rather than viewing themselves in an advantaged position that must be maintained at the expense of others, privilege dictates the experience of the heterosexual is the norm that every does and should experience.

It is this privilege that in my eyes allows the continual abuse of homosexual labels in a negative light.  They simply don't and can't even begin to comprehend the pain that comes along with the culture of hate that they inadvertently perpetrate.  It's not that I can try to explain it to them by using the word heterosexuality as a synonym for a negative word in popular discourse.  While they might get an inkling, they can't understand the baggage that goes along with centuries upon centuries of hate and discrimination that goes along with being a homosexual.

It is when someone is told not to use words like gay in a negative light and they counter by placing the blame on the homosexual that they pass from the realm of willful ignorance and into the realm of hateful bigotry.  They are no longer unknowingly perpetuating the hate culture.  They have been informed of how it is wrong and why.  They then choose not to change their ways and perhaps shed part of the blinder of privilege.  They choose to desperately cling to what they have said at the expense of others.  It is a crime of the gravest sort.  Perhaps unintentionally putting an entire group of people down for the sake of expressing a passing remark of dislike on an object is forgivable.  I find myself much less forgiving if the crime is intentional.

And of course it all comes down to why.  Why does this matter?  Why am I choosing to write this blog entry rather than grinding some more MTG or playing some video games?  It matters because the offender is not simply being offensive.  Whether  knowingly or not the offender is taking away my ability to identify myself.  I identify as bisexual, and telling me that I am not allowed to be offended by homophobia, that I need to grow up, that I am too thin skinned, or that I just need to get over it is beyond absurd. The fact that such an opinion is widespread and so accepted as to be the norm is completely baffling to me.

Ironically at the risk of completely invalidating everything I have just typed, it is up to me to rise above the hate.  I cannot simply wade in self loathing for my entire life.  As much as I like I cannot dwell on self pity, cursing and shaking my fist towards the sky as I condemn the homophobic.  Every day I must rise and enter once again into a world that not only loathes be but seeks to oppress me at every turn.  I work with people who wish to take away my rights.  I talk with people who can't understand the pain I feel.  I attempt to reason with those who see differently and will never admit that their homophobia is doing disastrous things.  I do it not because I enjoy it or I want to.  I do it because there is no other option available to me.  

Sometimes just forcing myself out of bed is the hardest part of my day, and one day I hope to wake to a world that accepts me for who I am.

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You are completely correct. Intolerance of this sort is not acceptable in any fashion. Those who are participate in it and defend it must be fought at every turn.

 

But I offer one comfort I think. WE are with the tide of history. Those of alternative orientations can be married in some states. In many countries. The tolerant are winning. Slowly. But we are winning. One day the world will look back at those who did and are doing these horrible things and they will see them for what they are.

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You are completely correct. Intolerance of this sort is not acceptable in any fashion. Those who are participate in it and defend it must be fought at every turn.

 

But I offer one comfort I think. WE are with the tide of history. Those of alternative orientations can be married in some states. In many countries. The tolerant are winning. Slowly. But we are winning. One day the world will look back at those who did and are doing these horrible things and they will see them for what they are.

 

I have this sudden, overwhelming urge to begin singing "We Are the Champions"

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I completely and wholeheartedly agree with what you said about the word gay. It robs me of all my gaiety when people misuse the word gay!

 

No, not being sarcastic. I really, really hate it when gay is used to state anything other than gaiety, be it referring to people of a particular sexual orientation, or calling something dumb.

 

I just can't help feeling edgy at the using of 'homophobia' to refer to any so called hate speech. It seems more a misuse of words than anything else, regardless.

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I have this sudden, overwhelming urge to begin singing "We Are the Champions"

 

 

I would favor Madame Guillotine myself. :P

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Seth Rollins
Dec 12 2012 11:23 PM

I completely and wholeheartedly agree with what you said about the word gay. It robs me of all my gaiety when people misuse the word gay!

 

No, not being sarcastic. I really, really hate it when gay is used to state anything other than gaiety, be it referring to people of a particular sexual orientation, or calling something dumb.

 

I just can't help feeling edgy at the using of 'homophobia' to refer to any so called hate speech. It seems more a misuse of words than anything else, regardless.

I want you to go back and reread the part where I talk about having the ability to identify myself being taken away and then realize that you are wrong.

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That's a pipe-dream Gato. He'll never do that.

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Okay Basilisk, stop bashing thanks. We're aware that you guys don't like Zar for his comments in the past. Try not to demean him, even if he does demean you. Be the better man here by giving him the example of the hate free-culture you're claiming to support.

And Gato, I totally respect you and who you are. Even if I don't agree with it 100% (in the same way I don't agree 100% with people who watch football; that is, I don't do it myself and I don't personally see the appeal towards it, but I understand that's it a part of who they are and I do not demean them or their value as a person for doing it), I will still respect you, who you are, and your right to make that decision.
This was a bad metaphor for many reasons. It was insulting and disrespectful, posted on a whim without care to understand the consequences and implication and I recognise that. I apologize for it and I definitely won't be making the same mistake again, ever. I'm leaving it here as a testament to my own carelessness, stupidity, and tendency towards hurtful words and actions. I can only pray that you won't think less of me for it in the years to come, but I understand that I have to live with the consequences of careless actions like this.

In the meantime, please stop hating on either side of the argument, all of you. Period. I'm not saying it's gotten out of hand here yet, but if you stop treating your opponent with respect by belittling them and their views, we're going to have another horrid and pointless debate on our hands that will only breed more contempt, backstabbing and hate. If you have a problem, talk to them in person where egos can't be bruised and ignorance can't be justified.

Thanks for understanding, guys.

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Seth Rollins
Dec 13 2012 12:56 AM

I agree, Basalisk.  Your comment was uncalled for.  While Zaranya was in the wrong, that does not give us the right to be hateful towards him and be disrespectful.

 

That said I would like to take a moment to object to Kakaru's comparing sexuality to football.  I know that I have been guilty of poor metaphors in the past, so I bear no ill will if that was the case.  However sexuality isn't just a choice.  It's not something like "I enjoy basketball but not football."  or "I enjoy FPSs more than RPGs."  This isn't something I willingly chose to enjoy or anything like that.  If I did have a choice then I would run with open arms and join the crowd of heterosexuals.  Nobody willingly chooses to be oppressed on the level or scale that homosexuals are.  While I appreciate your support and respect, I would appreciate it if you were to not make that kind of comparison again.

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Ah, I apologise for the erroneous comparison. I didn't mean for the comparison to mean "this is just something you enjoy casually and can make the choice to change at any time," I meant that I respect it as an aspect of who you are. By using the football comparison I meant to imply that liking football was a part of who they are, and the fact that it's a hobby (and therefore a more casual choice) proved to be a hindrance to my point.

Since there's not really an apt comparison I can make to sexuality in that regard, I suppose it will serve us both better if I simply say that I respect who you are and your right to your very being and personality, and I think that any form of oppression and hatred because of it is simply awful.

While my religion inclines me to disagree with it, I will readily admit that I do not and will not ever fully understand my beliefs and how they relate to who you are. For this reason I will always choose to be respectful and give the greater benefit of the doubt to anyone whose actions disagree with my personal set of morals.

I'd like to sincerely apologize for offending you in that regard. The metaphor I drew was in poor taste and the implications were not fully reasoned. In hindsight, I should have simply left it out entirely. I hope you understand and can accept my apology.
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Seth Rollins
Dec 13 2012 03:39 AM

Kakaru, let me say though that I am glad that you realized that the metaphor was poorly thought out and implemented.  I've had plenty of times where a metaphor backfired on me and I made the poor choice of sticking to my guns.

 

That said, I think it would be for the best if you were to stop responding to this entry.  I agreed with you up until I reached the third paragraph, and unfortunately it is at that point where I view you started to say homophobic things.  While I understand that it might not be obvious that it is homophobic, for a long time I didn't understand it either, I did respond in length on the issue over here.  I understand the post is cumbersome and ponderous, but hopefully it can shed some light on the matter.  If you want you can drop me a PM and I'll go over the issue in greater depth.

 

Thank you.

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Gato:
That has nothing to do with using one word to mean an entirely different thing. What I'm saying is, using 'homophobia' to talk about racism or sexism is basically creating your own definition of a particular word, which can be rather confusing. I can't exactly say it's REALLY BAD or something, just that it can be confusing. Just like how I always end up facepalming when I use 'accident' in its philosophic sense and no one understands me. It has nothing to do with identity. It has everything to do with meanings applied to terms.

tl;dr: if you used homophobia to refer to sexism in front of a person who wasn't familiar with your way of applying that word, they would probably be confused. In other words, that's not the usual definition. You'll notice I said 'edgy' not 'outright indignant and disagreeing' with the usage. It's simply that you used a word in a really unusual and rather overstretched way.

 

And if you were referring to my first point and I totally misunderstood your post.

I stick to what I said. Gay is a nice antique word. I like it. I just don't like how it's being misused, regardless of how it's being misused.

 

EDIT: I hate it when BZP glitches and gives me weird coding.

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I stick to what I said. Gay is a nice antique word. I like it. I just don't like how it's being misused, regardless of how it's being misused.

 

In other words: "I don't like my nice word that used to mean "happy" being affiliated with homosexuals."

 

At least, that's how your post comes across.

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why can't we all just get along

or at least settle this with a rap battle, that'd be ace
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I feel like I should drop a note in here to say that Gato and I have reconciled our problems on a personal level. His comment was perhaps a little short towards me, but he simply wanted to cut off what appeared to be tired old rehash of the exact same argument he's had to suffer through far too many times before. It was an "I don't feel like dealing with this again" post, and it was entirely justified based on what I had said.

One last time, I'd like to apologize for the initial impression of my argument I may have created, and that absolutely horrid football metaphor, which was not fair or apt for anyone in any circumstance. I'm leaving it where it is as an example of how exactly not to do things, and as a testament to my own stupidity when people revisit this issue in years to come.

also Gato is like a gazillion times cooler than he's appeared to me in the past, and I'm really glad that such a horrendous issue has given me the chance to get to know him just a little better.

Kudos to everyone for being reasonable and on the level about our differences this time around. I'm glad to see we can still have rational discussions around here. All the apologies I can offer can't cover the damage I've done, so I only hope the rest of you can forgive me for my part in this mess.
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About Me

"I have never seen such a cocky and egocentric man (or woman) with such an inflated, festering wound of self entitlement as yourself." - Hothead
 
"He's an easy guy to love, but really hard to respect." - Princess Grace
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There was BZP information here but the updates borked it and everyone knows BZP doesn't really matter.
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