Saturday, July 11, 2009

Musings of a Novitiate Ally, Part 1: In Praise of Discomfort

Two weeks ago I was hanging out at Blind Tiger waxing enthusiastic about my new blog. Seth took a look at my flier, saw the words "GAY / LESBIAN / BISEXUAL / TRANSGENDER" and said "I'm not comfortable with transgender people." I shot back "Well, who would be?"

This was an exaggeration. I know that many people are comfortable with transsexuals. The point I was trying to make was "Dude. You get to be uncomfortable." This assertion was high in my constellation of mental talking points for several reasons.

Just a few nights previously I'd hung out at the Ramrod, and you'd damned well better believe I was uncomfortable. Why? Not because I was in a room full of gay guys on the gayest street in the gayest neighborhood I knew of. I was uncomfortable because the bartender was being a big drama queen, loudly telling the customer next to me about his sexual exploits. But I was beginning to realize something else: that I would have been just as uncomfortable with a straight woman saying the same things. Or a straight man - heck, that probably would have made me more uncomfortable because of the misogyny with which such exhortations are almost inevitably marbled. It wasn't that he was gay; it was that he was airing his musky laundry, and that bugs the shit out of me.

So you see, I learned that I'm never really uncomfortable with LGBT folks; I'm uncomfortable with behaviors that I may associate with them, but are actually found throughout humanity. And if I can shed my false discomfort, so can everyone else.

No. Fuck that.

I'm not that much of a happy-happy marginalizing Kumbaya-singin' Pollyanna. That ain't me, babe. Y'know why? Because I believe that we are, as a species, psychotic about discomfort. I mean, for gosh sake, does no one remember the land of the Lotus Eaters? There's a reason why Homer thought that those lazy fuckers missed the existential boat, and it's the same reason James T. Kirk would puke in his mouth at the thought of shunning discomfort. Our discomfort is made of our demons, and facing our demons makes us mighty. Our discomfort is exactly that which does not kill us, and we all know what that does.

Why is discomfort so important to me? Well..

I went to Cornell from the fall of 1988 until the spring of 1992. During those four years I grew to loathe knee-jerk political correctness, which I later came to see as Nazi mind control. The best way to describe the atmosphere is to recount a short conversation in the dorm lounge. Folks were talking about abortion, and I was trying to articulate my view that the whole question of when a fetus becomes a baby seemed pointless to me: the point was that it was a potential human life, and the thought of cutting that off saddened me, even though I was pro-choice. I never got to that last bit, though. The girl arguing the feminist talking points cut me off with the big liberal conversation-ender du jour: she dismissed me as a man who would never have to make the decision. That I was on her side didn't matter. I wasn't toeing the party line, so I had to be shut up and shut down.

I thought about this for the umpteenth time. Then I thought of the 2004 elections, when some people voted for Bush because their religious leaders said that the liberals wanted to force people into gay marriages. And for the first time, I saw the small kernel of plausibility in those stories. I still say that the people who believed them were gullible fools, but when I think back to the PC mind-control attempts of the early ninetes it becomes understandable.

We are complicit in the backlashes that hurt our movement. We have to own that. We have to be smart: learn from our mistakes, choose our battles, and not try to control peoples' minds! People get to be uncomfortable with abortion. People get to be uncomfortable with homosexuals. I get to be uncomfortable with transsexuals, and if you disagree, then let's reframe this. Here's a short list of people who make me uncomfortable, in no particular order. If I were to sort the list and put transsexuals in, I doubt they would be near the top.

  • Football players and gym rats
  • People with lots of piercings
  • Really fat people (I was really fat)
  • Orange ladies who are supposed to look tanned
  • Women with lots of makeup
  • Young girls trying to look sexy
  • Inconsiderate people, e.g. cell shouters and people who talk in movies or don't make room for others on the train
  • People who disguise hate or a desire to win an argument as logic
  • Ignorant people
  • Myself, when I see my own ignorance

Being uncomfortable with other humans, not to mention our own inner workings, is part of the design specs of a human. We get to be uncomfortable. So to all you conservatives and religious folks out there: if anyone tells you that you're not allowed to be uncomfortable with homosexuals, you tell them from me - a liberal, fag-loving unbeliever - that they can go take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut. No one gets to control your mind.

Last year, when I was going through some bad times, a good friend told me something that his mother had told him as a child: "If someone has a problem with you, it's their problem." This stuck with me, because I know that I worry way too much about what other people think of me. I wouldn't want to go too far in the opposite direction, because I find people who spend their lives proudly exclaiming "I don't give a shit what anyone thinks of me" to be particularly odious. But I could stand a good, heaping dose of "It's their problem." And it works both ways.

If I am uncomfortable with transsexuals it's my problem. If you're uncomfortable with the thought of homosexuality, it's your problem. I ain't a victim by a damn sight, and neither are you; they didn't make us uncomfortable; we just are uncomfortable. And our state of being gives us no more right to reduce another person to a second-class citizen than would an aversion to russet tones justify us in taking a razor to every redhead we saw on the street.

So. You get to be uncomfortable, and the operative word here is "be". Discomfort is a state if being - your being. You get to have your reactions. What you don't get to do is abrogate another person's rights because of your discomfort. You have an immensely powerful processor squelching about in your skull. You are capable of parsing your inner discomforts from your outer sanctions. Figure it out.


  1. Hugh, this is a wonderful post. It is OK to be uncomfortable, but it is not OK to discriminate because of those feelings.
    Thank you for so eloquently stating this!

  2. Rebecca: Hearing this means a great deal to me. Thank you.

  3. Total awesomeness, Hugh! Sorry, brain is fried from the warm weather and busy day, so detailed explanation of why I consider this blog posting awesomeness is not forthcoming...too...damn...tired. But trust me, awesome it is. :)

    AKA LauraAndRudy

  4. LauraAndRudy: I've been negligent in responding to your wonderful comment. Thank you.