The fine line between selflessness and self-loathing

By Buddy Early, September 2018 Issue.

It might surprise you to learn that I sometimes engage in online debates with people who spout bigotry and ignorance. That is, if you’ve never met me, never read any of my columns or, perhaps, never heard of me.

Social media has made it very easy to fight with strangers. We don’t even have to leave the comfort of our own sofas. I’ll admit, I sometimes long for the days when I could eviscerate a stranger at Starbucks for leaving their dog tied up in 110-degree heat; however, when convenience and sheer volume of opportunity are taken into consideration, my work is best measured through online evisceration.

It’s very likely that none of us are changing any minds when we engage in nasty – or even cordial – online debates. But that’s not the point. Most bigots already know they’re bigots, and they’re fine with it. Most of them will never change. By belittling, shaming and exposing them, we can reinforce in others’ eyes that bigoted behavior is not the norm, and we will not put up with it.

And it’s pretty fun to point out to someone that their way of thinking is dumb and uneducated, and they’re on the wrong side of history. Privately, you just know that burns them up! Bigots are not happy people to begin with, so making a fool of them in an online discussion adds to their misery.

What has me concerned lately is the number of online entanglements I find myself having with people from our own community. These are not terribly cantankerous debates, but rather civil ones where honest back and forth happens. (Except the recent one where I politely offered my opinion to a trans woman, suggesting that her attitude toward one of her sisters was extremely judgmental and then in the same sentence told her to go fornicate herself. That one, admittedly, went a little far.)

This summer I’ve witnessed far too many LGBTQ people argue that businesses open to the public should be able to decide which members of the public they will serve. It started with wedding cakes – there are plenty of LGBTQ and LGBTQ-friendly bakers, so what’s the big deal, right? Except this issue has never been about wedding cakes. It’s always been about the impending battle for “religious freedom,” which has little to do with that concept and a lot to do with legalizing freedom to discriminate.

The defense of this discrimination strikes me as a very subtle form of self-loathing. I’m not talking about the kind of self-loathing reserved for Log Cabin Republicans, who stand in a room full of people who hate them and think “this is where I belong.” Rather, this is a kind of self-loathing that results from decades of being told implicitly and explicitly that we are not welcome at the equality table, and that we should be grateful for the scraps of progress that fall to us. It’s a self-loathing that results in us selflessly standing up for others’ rights before and instead of our own.

(Lest you still think this is about wedding cakes, let me remind that there are gay people among us who don’t think they should be entitled to marriage. Their justifications for such occasionally sound well-reasoned or at least thought-out, but it’s rooted in self-loathing. Furthermore, most of us have those LGBTQ acquaintances who would like to see Pride celebrations go away entirely. Yep, more self-loathing.)

Ask yourself: If I am quick to stand up against bigotry and discrimination levied against other races and cultures, shouldn’t I advocate the same for myself? Don’t I deserve the same equality? Am I not entitled to the same freedom from discrimination?

I hope the answer to these questions is yes. I hope you realize the fight we are facing is not about cakes. And I truly hope I don’t have to fight with you online.

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