A few weeks ago there was this guy standing on the street next to a car with the hood popped open talking loudly on his cell phone about how his car was, “Being gay” and wouldn’t start. The “butt fucking cock suckiness” of his car was really upsetting to him to the point where he felt the need to call half the people in his contacts and carp about the “faginess” of his vehicle.
I had this urge to lean out the window and ask him what sexual orientation had to do with good behavior and appropriate functionality. He was straight and clearly behaving like a thick skulked inconsiderate asshole unable to deal with minor inconvenience.
But I didn’t open the window. Mainly because I felt it would have been awkward to interrupt a planning meeting, stick my head out a fourth story window, and start yelling at some dude on the street.
I wonder if I should have said something anyway. I wish somebody had.
What I did instead of saying something at the time was stew.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about personal responsibility when it comes to acknowledging behavior that’s not okay. On the one hand you don’t want to be one of those people who actively looks for ways to be offended and feels it’s their mission in life to righteously point out how racist / sexist / classist / homophobic everyone else is and they don’t even know it but, OMG! I do because I AM SO ENLIGHTENED. You can thank me later for straw manning the entire conversation by publically criticizing you.
Everyone says stupid things sometimes and behaving like the political correctness police is a good way to never actually hear what anyone else is really saying. It’s also a good way to have very few friends and never get invited to parties.
On the other hand sometimes things happen that are pretty egregious instances of not okay. Like the gay car guy. He didn’t just happen to slip a gay slur into his vocabulary without even thinking about what it meant. He was broadcasting a gay slur thesaurus to half the city. He clearly new what he was saying.
Saying something to the homophobic guy isn’t going to magically make him not homophobic any more than piping up when someone’s making rape jokes or someone’s using racial slurs is going to change their feelings on sex or race. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that you shouldn’t say anything during instances of egregious not okayness. Changing a car yelling individual’s mind really isn’t the point.
It’s more like a global warming thing. I’m willing to bet that 25 years ago there were a lot more dudes getting upset about gay cars. But gradually it became less and less okay to just toss the term around as an insult. And part of that was people saying that it wasn’t okay. Any one particular time someone said something wasn’t a big deal but they all built up and cultural shift started to happen.
This has been bouncing around inside my head for weeks. It’s simultaneously tricky and not tricky at all because, yes, people saying something makes a difference so I feel I should say something but saying something can be nerve racking, at least for me, to the point where it’s hard to do at all, let alone do effectively.
So this isn’t just a schticky “Look I am trying to generate comments by ending a blog post with a question” thing. I really am curious: What do you do in instances of egregious not okay-ness? How do you decide when to speak up and when not to? How do you feel about the risk of a scene or the reaction of your friends and colleagues?