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July 15, 2010


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"It's surprising what can go on if you just don't pay attention to it."

Yes, it is. That's why it's frustrating when straight people who aren't bigots blithely ignore the massive inequalities their gay friends suffer through. Seriously, not a thought. It's exasperating.


I honestly never thought I would have fit in that category...but apparently I do. It's pretty sobering to realize, especially as I go after people for other kinds of bigotry and discrimination.

It's shocking that this is the law of the land and massively unjust. And equally shocking that it took a comic book to make that clear to me.



I do wonder why you seem to take that realization so much better than others in your shoes.



That's an interesting question, and one when I was working at the anti-discrimination think tank we struggled with. Basically the question is... how do you lead people to have the epiphanic moment in such a way that they don't get defensive? It's very, very hard. I happen to think 99 is a person of great character, so it may be easier for him, but it's also worth noting that he lead himself there, which makes it harder to be defensive about it.

It's a tricky puzzle. I was thinking about this earlier this week with the rather heated discussions about TDS and theatre. In that particular discussion, Aaron Riccio (also a friend and a good guy) vented his frustration that even if he, or anyone at PH or TDS claims not to be biased, it doesn't matter because 99 can just turn around and say that he is.

The problem is, roughly twenty years of scientific study backs up the idea that we are biased without knowing it, and that that bias can be measured without our knowing it. The two most popular methods for doing so are "audit studies" and "reaction time studies", and they show over and over again that very good, well meaning people can demonstrate bias against outgroups.

The problem is how you bring this information to the public in such a way that it doesn't look like you're using Freud to call people racists and win arguments, but rather to argue that maybe our understanding of how discrimination works and how best to fight it needs to change? It's tricky. One of the reasons why people are frequently unaware of their own biases is that they consciously hold egalitarian values and don't want to think of themselves as the kinds of people who might stereotype and discriminate. So defensive reactions abound.

I think both the person broadcasting the message and the person receiving the message have some shared responsibility for it is perceived, ultimately. 99's own journey of discovering just how bad DADT is and feeling chagrinned for his own prior indifference towards it should also lead us to wonder why in the almost two decades since it was enacted did an obvious ally like 99 not know how bad it is? All he needed was information and it totally changed his perspective on the issue.


I think it's the equivalence of homosexuality with deviance and sexual assault -- sure, a fella doesn't like to bunk with a soldier who brags about raping prostitutes, so the solution's just not talking about it, right? Same with the queers....

The military outlaws both the orientation and speech acts related to it, so it reinforces shame. I'm of the belief that DADT was designed specifically to give cover to misogynists after Tailhook -- kick talk about sex to the curb, and you create a vision of the military without genitalia, which any off-base bar can tell you is way off-base.


I'll post my response at my blog.

Ian Thal

I'm all for progressives discovering their less-than-progressive blind-spots (that is what progressivism is about, isn't it?) but I'm just surprised an American LGBT-rights supporting straight male only just now realized that ending the military's discrimination against those who serve in uniform is important. It's one of the main demands, after marriage equality, of LGBT-rights activists. In fact the fight got on to the national stage before the marriage equality fight-- as Clinton attempted very early in his first term to end discrimination in the military but received too much opposition from the top-brass like Colin Powell, Republicans in congress, and even conservative Democrats like Sam Nunn. (And of course, Clinton was very big on conflict avoidance.)

There's even been a controversy about how the military is letting go of qualified personnel because of DADT while simultaneously having to lower their recruitment standards for enlistees.


RVC: Nice response at your place. Y'all should check it out: http://rvcbard.blogspot.com/2010/07/ethical-stances-social-justice-and.html

cgeye: I think Anne's excellent post touches on some of the same issues. The notion of sexuality in the military seems to be a pretty fraught thing, but "gay panic" plays a huge role. That makes sense, but can get easily overlooked.

Ian: I hate to be sort of blunt, but you missed the entire point of the piece. In the first paragraph, I note the importance of allowing gays to serve in the military. There's a difference between believing that it's important and understanding how the current policy works. That's what I'm talking about here. It's about a view of the larger picture. I've read about the controversies, including the one about letting Arabic translators go, and thought, "Yep, gays should be able to serve in the military." But that's as far as it went. I didn't stop to think what it would be like to be gay and serve. This comic helped me see that.

If there's any "key" part of this journey, it's that: putting someone in the shoes of someone else, or giving them that perspective. As an artist who believes strongly in the idea of the arts as a vehicle for social justice and change, it's a powerful tool that I think we have a tendency to overlook: putting your audience in the shoes of the disadvantaged. Not just telling them how hard it is, or giving them stats and facts and figures, but communicating the experience. Reading that comic book, I was able to think about what it might feel like to be gay in the military and it felt awful. It helped me see that that status quo is untenable. I think a lot of progressive, like-minded folks have a similar blind spot and helping them see that can only hasten change. Which is what we want.

Ian Thal

That gay folk who serve with just no less distinction as straight folk can have their careers destroyed or be victimized by bigoted comrades in arms should they be outed, and that this circumstance is endorsed not merely by societal prejudice but by current policy? That one wants to do a good job and contribute to the greater good, but must always be wary of treachery from above, beside, and below?

I'm glad you're on board, but it's so bleeding obvious to me that I'm really struggling to figure out how one can be LGBT-friendly and not already grasp this?

Or am I the weirdo here because I never found it difficult to put myself in the shoes of a gay person?

There, I think we answered the question.


I'm glad that you are so much more enlightened than I was. Good for you.


You know what, Ian: I'm sorry. I found the tone of your last two comments really smug and that pissed me off. My last response was way more flip than it should have been.

This post is exactly about how I put myself in the shoes of someone unlike me, not because it was so difficult, but because it never occured to me that I needed to. That's how bias and privilege work. As someone who isn't in constant danger based on who I love (...well, sort of..., but that's another matter), I didn't have to think about it. And so I didn't. I was (and am) still a progressive, still voted (and will continue to vote) for candidates that support LGBT-friendly policies. But this aspect and particularly the actual effect of it slipped by me. That's all I was getting at. Not that it's hard to put yourself in the shoes of someone else, but that it's easy to look at the world through the lens of your own experience.

Ian Thal

In this case, the idea that something essential to one's identity could make one a target if others only knew the details was always easy to grasp, so the plight of gays in the military was always something easily relatable.

Looking at this exchange I see how we're misunderstanding one another. It appears to me that I start with the "putting myself in someone's shoes" and then look to some procedural fairness as a remedy, while you seem to start with procedural fairness as a goal and then at some point down the line you put yourself in somebody else's shoes whereupon it may gain a greater degree of urgency.


I don't think that's an accurate statement about me, or my approach to life, nor is it fair for you to make that kind of generalization. This particular issue, I feel, landed in a blind spot for me, due to my particular set of biases and privileges.

For me, the idea of being a target for who you are is, fairly obviously, not that hard to grasp. I don't need to put myself in anyone else's shoes. I just had to grow up the only black kid in a white town. With DADT, understanding that, despite flowery words and good intentions, the underlying truth that being gay is illegal in the military came to me a bit late. The idea that one would have to defend one's sexuality in a court is beyond offensive to me and I didn't realize that's a key feature of the policy. Realizing that I didn't know that made me wonder why I hadn't investigated it more. This post is part of that process.

Ian Thal

It's easy for me to relate to because having to defend one's sexual identity (or deny it) in a tribunal is very similar to the Jewish experience of having to defend or deny one's tribal or religious identity under similar circumstances.

Not that anyone had to explain it to me in those terms-- the facts were out there and I noted the parallel on my own.

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It may be accept by citizens so effortlessly. I assume some people will agree with you. That you're perfect that we are able to to not rely on other people. Who we are able to to rely on is ourself.

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I honestly never thought I would have fit in that category...but apparently I do.I don't think that's an accurate statement about me, or my approach to life, nor is it fair for you to make that kind of generalization. This particular issue, I feel, landed in a blind spot for me, due to my particular set of biases and privileges.

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