February 16, 2012

Diversity (of Opinion)

Gay. Lesbian. Bisexual. Pansexual. Asexual. Transgender. Queer. Dyke. Butch. Femme. Otter. Cub. Twink. Queer Women of Color. Queer Men of Color. Questioning. Straight-acting. Effeminate. Introvert. Extrovert. Activist. Catholic. Christian. Atheist.

So why did I choose to start this blog post with a block of labels? Well these are all labels that at least one person that I know of in the LGBT community here at Duke identifies with. As you can see, this is a pretty hefty list of labels. We already knew, of course, that the LGBT community was a very diverse community, filled with all sorts of people with all sorts of identities. This diversity is one of our greatest strengths, as it gives a large variety of personalities and life experiences to draw upon. Yet I would also contend that this is one of our greatest weaknesses, if we allow it to be.

Think about it. What ties our community together? We have no common culture, no hereditary history to remember, we can’t even pick each other out of a crowd reliably. The one common thread that we share is our “queerness”, in whatever form that may take. Even this common thread is very slim, which is what I was trying to show by the above block of labels. This in itself is not a bad thing, but it only becomes an issue when we start infighting. I’ve noticed simply from looking at the blog that we as a community have a tendency to argue over a lot of different things. While argument is not an inherently bad thing, it is important for us to maintain an appropriate level of respect for each other.

An example from just yesterday on the blog is Shane’s post. Shane expressed what I believe to be a somewhat unpopular opinion within our Community, his love and commitment to the Catholic Church. In the comments on his post, he got some pretty malignant backlash attacking him personally. Frankly, that is just an unacceptable way of dealing with a difference of opinion. While I personally do not understand how one reconciles their commitment to the Roman Catholic Church and is open about their sexuality, that doesn’t invalidate Shane’s experiences. Personally, I don’t believe in God, and I don’t particularly care for the Catholic Church. Just because I haven’t ever experienced this pull and call of the Church does not in any way make Shane’s experience wrong or stupid. I’ve talked to Shane personally, and I can tell you that he is definitely not stupid.

When we attack each other like this instead of rationally engaging each other for a conversation, all we do is degrade ourselves and take nothing from the experience. What does one gain by being nasty about a rationally presented position? Nothing, except maybe some smug sense of satisfaction. I’m sure that anyone here at Duke knows that isn’t the way to have a real dialogue. We all know what this kind of thing can do. What if someone gets that kind of backlash and decides that the LGBT community is too hostile from them and withdraws? Many of us know how fragile our impressions of the LGBT community are when we first get involved with it. I was lucky to get a good experience with good people, who both accepted me and challenged my views in a respectful way. We can at least try to be that decent to everybody who comes to engage us, can’t we?

In summation, if someone states an opinion to you that prompts an instinctive and passionate response, please try to do your best and think. Most of the time that first response is far more aggressive than is useful. Think about what point you’re trying to really make, and if you are presenting emotionally and aggressively, or calmly and rationally. Especially on electronic forums, read your comment aloud before you post it. Let’s keep this a community that’s open to discussion about all ideas and experiences, shall we?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this, Kyle. I think it's pretty easy for us to forget that even though we all have (in some way, shape, or form) LGBTQA issues in common, we are still unique in basically every other way. We certainly gain nothing by forgoing dialogue and resorting immediately to vitriolic expression.