Revolutions devour their own. I mentioned last time “the irresistible temptation to be holier than your peers--to lay the costliest and most splendid sacrifice on the altar of tribal allegiance.” One of the quickest ways to do that is to pick some established figure and denounce their holiness as less splendid than your own. Emperor, many a trve kvlt metaller informs us, sold out--and by this sign we understand that the speaker has not. Al Mohler, claims at least one conservative commentator, has been “pandering to the homosexual lobby,” and this serves to declare that speaker would never. The OBU professor who so gently warned us of the sexual content in a book, thundered my classmates, should have selected a book without any such content. Jones, Aaronson, and Rutherford retained too many mental cobwebs of pre-Ingsoc thought, according to those who profited by denouncing them, and so conspired with Eurasia.
Here’s where the tricky part comes in: you can criticize someone without doing this. You can also do this with accurate criticisms. Many people accuse their critics of this to deflect accurate criticism, and all those who do it reply that they are “just” concerned about policing the going virtue paradigm, and certainly not the pecking order and boundaries of the in-group. There can even be a revolution that’s basically in the right, yet is still subject to this tendency. There is no bright line. It’s a smell test, and your mileage may vary, but I’m catching a whiff of something--perhaps in the subtle distinction between ‘inadvertently says things alleged to be bigoted’ and ‘is a bigot’.
Mileage varies at least in part by one’s own tribal affiliations. I jump down people’s throats for repeating hackneyed apologetical slurs re: atheists, and after critical self-evaluation I don’t think I’m status-jockeying. But I’m not nearly so prepared to recognize--or object to--a genuine slur against trans folk or bisexuals, much less to extrapolate remarks into a pattern of bigotry. For example, he got criticized for saying: “Many adult gays and lesbians identified as bi for a few shining moments during our adolescences and coming-out processes. … This can lead adult gays and lesbians—myself included—to doubt the professed sexual identities of bisexual teenagers. … a bi-identified 36-year-old is likelier to be bisexual than a bi-identified 16-year-old, and I resent being asked to pretend not to know it.”
To me, this is uncontroversial. Dan himself did it. My brother did it. They’re hardly alone--of all the under-20’s who I ever knew to be bi, exactly 1 (of those I kept up with) still identifies as such. He’s not even talking about actual bi people, he’s talking about the fact that a sizeable chunk of young gay people lie about being bi. I don’t fucking get it--but then, I’m not bi, maybe this is … a thing? Or sounds too much like a thing for comfort? But not one of the people I’ve heard mention this has arsed themselves to explain it, they all just link to it: ‘an enlightened person such as I shouldn’t even have to explain to an enlightened person such as you what’s wrong with it--I mean, you are enlightened, aren’t you?’
So with Dan, sometimes I’m genuinely unsure what point his critics are trying to make; sometimes, he really does say quite mean things (for instance fat-shaming); sometimes … well, let’s put it this way. If you’re going to storm out of a lecture over “the t-word slur”, does your non-trans friend then get to use “the i-slur” in front of whatever other trans-folk might be in the room without utterly demolishing your case?
Look, I realize: I’ve got a lot of baggage on this one. Language policing was a part of my complete breakfast of emotional-bleeding-over-into-physical abuse. I’ve been slapped for saying “dang”, and the attitudes had so thoroughly osmosed into me that I literally cried for half an hour the first time I ever said ‘crap’ in public--before I was even scolded. Language policing is a trigger for me, and I don’t mean that as a cutesy reductio, I mean it literally--my first response to anyone who tells me what I can’t say is blind rage and a stream of profanity. Outside the actual abuse, in the church culture I grew up with, such games were nothing more than ways to out-holy your peers. Offense has since become an integral value to me. As a metalhead, I listen to offensive music; as first a liberal in a conservative school and later an atheist in a religious world, my personal ideology and criticisms of majority delusion have been slammed as offensive more times than I can count--the “precious widdle fee-fees” defense invoked upon an Everest of bullshit, and never by those who could offer a coherent rejoinder. ‘You’re not allowed to say that!’ is a contraction of “You’re right and I’m helpless to dispute it!”
And Dan, it strikes me, probably feels the same way. The times he grew up in, and the battles he’s fought, have made him a pugnacious, self-confident fighter unapologetically asserting his own view against the sex-negative, homophobic consensus that dismissed him as offensive. That’s what you have to be if you’re going to fight that battle. … and that’s maybe not the bestest place from which to evaluate whether you’ve actually hurt someone you shouldn’t have.
Which brings us back to the smell test. And the question of what exactly I want, which I’ll tackle next time.