Love the Individuals, Not the Group

A few weeks ago, a friend and regular sparring partner of mine and I were, well, sparring about something or other. I don’t even remember what our argument was about, but I know that I must have been losing, because in a fit of feigned fury I threw up my hands and resorted to the cheapest exit strategy possible: yelling, “It’s because you hate the gays, isn’t it!?”

Her response? The old familiar point-for-lexical-point rebuttal: “No, it’s because I love the gays.” And while I knew that she was kidding, I couldn’t help but be reminded of an old Sarah Silverman joke. The set-up is this: desperate to avoid jury duty, Silverman seeks advice from a friend, who suggests that she “just say something really inappropriate, like ‘I hate [insert offensive racial slur used to refer to Chinese people here].’” But because Silverman doesn’t want to be thought of as a racist, she instead opts for “I love [same offensive racial slur here]!” Big laughs ensue (along with a public objection from Guy Aoki, head of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans).

Obviously, part of the intended humor (and the reason for which Aoki found fault with the joke) was predicated on the fact that when Silverman told the joke on national television, she actually used the slur here omitted. But in my mind, the real point of the joke was the fact that anyone who claims an entire minority group as the object of some kind of vague, amorphous benevolent gift of their “love” is just as short-sighted, self-important and all-around bigoted as those who actively hate said minority group.

Because I know she made a spurious assertion in response to my ridiculous accusation, I don’t blame my friend for her response, but I’ve heard others express similar statements in earnest. I find this phenomenon troubling based upon the logic of the Silverman joke—by blindly “loving” a particular group, the speaker reduces the members of that group to a particular stereotype. If you have a deep-seated “love” of all Chinese people, you are necessarily working under the assumption that all Chinese people are the same. 

You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? Basically, while few good Claremont-educated movers and shakers of tomorrow would be so bold as to violate best practice by making a statement like the joke Silverman made to escape jury duty, people around here seem a lot less aware of the potentially destructive consequences of the implicit generalizations they unthinkingly make about the queer community. Having been warned time and time again about that most pernicious of “good-natured” queer stereotypes—that of the gay best friend—people continue to “love the queers.” And—in addition to all those old “good-natured” stereotypes about gay people being funny or smart or good at shopping for nice clothing (or things that are plaid, if you’re talking about those “lady-gays”)—I think that a lot of this love-misplacement confusion arises from the false presumption that all queers are nice. 

News flash: not all queers are nice people. If you want living proof, look no further than yours truly. Queer people cannot reasonably be expected to be nice all of the time, or even some of the time, because they are human beings just like you. They get angry. They act irrationally. And sometimes, even though it might not make sense to you, they just turn out to be bad people. Some queers are racists! Some queers are rapists! Some queers are just boring or annoying or otherwise unpleasant! This should not come as a huge shock to you. If it does, take a deep breath. It will all be okay. 

Lest my straight readers get their straight feelings all bent out of shape over this reminder, I will say that I have encountered queer people who mistake the importance of well-intentioned inclusivity for a similar kind of supposedly indiscriminate love that actually breeds discrimination within the community. A queer person who proclaims a highly generalized love for queer people is just as off the mark as a straight person who does the same. Many queer people feel empathy for others in the community; they may feel a general affinity for other queer people, based upon the finding that they tend to share experiences and feelings with a large majority of these people. But a queer person who says they “love queer people” probably only really “loves” a certain kind of queer person. Maybe by referring to “queer people” en masse, they mean to be talking about funny queer people, or good-at-shopping-for-clothing queer people, or bad-at-shopping-for-clothing queer people, for that matter (hey, to each her own). But there are tons of queer people out there who, for some reason or another, related or unrelated to their queerness, will not float a given fellow queer’s boat, and it’s important for said fellow to remember that this does not automatically make them bad queers. Personally, I’d sooner call someone a bad person than I’d call them a bad queer. “Queer” is such a subjective term and I think everybody who identifies as such has a unique understanding of what it means to them in terms of their experience (and yeah, I know, the criteria for what makes someone a “good” or “bad” person are wildly subjective too, and if we’re really interested in matters of fairness and relativity here, we probably shouldn’t be calling anyone a bad person, but, come on, you know you’ve done it). 

So, be careful next time you tell someone that you “love the gays.” If they’re around to overhear, they might not love you back. There are cleverer ways of avoiding jury duty, anyway. 

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