The summer before my senior year of high school (way back in 1988), my friends and I adopted the catchphrase "I'm offended." It was used as a response to a shocking or outrageous statement. Think of it like, "Well I never!" There was usually a dramatic intake of breath and a look of shock on the face, and then, with the perfect inflection, "I'm offended" was uttered. Today the response might be "Rude" or "Seriously."
I recently watched a segment on CBS Sunday Morning about Larry Flynt. During the piece the following quotation by Former Chief Justice William Rehnquist filled my TV screen and strongly resonated with me: "The fact that society may find speech offensive is not a sufficient reason for suppressing it."
Seeing that quotation reminded me of the aforementioned phrase from high school, and that got me to thinking. Are we too easily offended today? When a person has a differing opinion from our own and chooses to say so publicly, are we (meaning all people) taking it so personally that we can't refrain from lashing out and chastising the offender through our status updates, tweets and the comment boxes attached to every article that keeps the pot of controversy boiling for days after? I'm guilty of this. I lash out in haste with those updates and tweets rallying my like-minded friends and followers into "likes" and retweets, but what good does it really do?
We offend each other. We say dumb things. We often don't think before we speak or post or tweet. We aren't concerned that our words might hurt people, and we seem unaware that those words might carry repercussions. We've lost our manners in an effort to get what we want, everyone else be damned.
A friend of mine keeps reminding me that the more vocal anti-gay people are with their publicly made anti-gay remarks, the more gay-friendly people and those questioning their own beliefs on the situation are going to catch on to the ignorance behind the remarks. He's right. I've seen it in myself. What used to be an angry outburst with an increase in blood pressure has turned into an eye roll and a head shake.
I struggle with differing opinions. I struggle with feeling as though I can't be friends with people whose opinions differ from mine. I'm learning that that's not true. I don't have to get upset. I don't have to cut off communication. I don't even have to try to sway them to believe as I do. All I really have to do is respectfully disagree with what they think.
When Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson made his anti-gay comments, my Facebook and Twitter feeds became a messy banquet of Duck Dynasty comments, both pro and con. Then A&E made their decision to suspend Mr. Robertson, and the backlash exploded like a frozen duck put in a deep fryer. I struggled. I hated what the man had said but felt that his suspension was unnecessary. I felt as if A&E, the cable channel that carries Duck Dynasty, should have made a statement that the man and his opinions do not reflect those of the network and be done with it. His suspension outraged his supporters and gave this man and his opinion much more time in the spotlight that they deserved.
Believe me when I tell you that I understand the fight for equality, civil rights, human rights (however you choose to categorize it) that we in the gay community are fighting for. I do. What I question the most is this: Are we -- the gay community and our supporters -- appearing weak by fighting every battle of words that is waged against us? Are we trying so hard to live in a politically correct society that we're creating a sterile environment where no one is allowed to have their own beliefs, let alone speak them publicly? These are legitimate questions. Those who choose to publicly make anti-gay statements aren't stupid. Everyone knows the Internet exists. Nothing stays buried or hidden for long. There's always a backlash.
That leads me to Juan Pablo Galavis and his recent anti-gay comments. I don't care about The Bachelor or Mr. Galavis, but he's entitled to his opinion. Maybe he's homophobic? He can even have gay friends and be homophobic. What I really hate is the apology that gets made after the fact. We've seen it too many times. Some publicist advises a very public mea culpa. I don't ever believe the apology. I have no warm, fuzzy feeling now that Mr. Galavis has reached out to GLAAD in an effort to make amends. I tend to believe the offending statement is the real truth. It's kind of like being really honest when you're drunk. The alcohol gives you the courage to say what you really want to say. The next day, if you're lucky enough to remember what you said, you might be excited that you finally said it, or you might be embarrassed, maybe even ashamed, that the words came out of your mouth. From my own experience, more often than not, those words have been the truth.
I don't want an apology from people who make anti-gay statements and then say they're sorry. The apology to me is fake, pretend. What I want is to stop taking the negative, anti-gay comments so personally. In 1949 Oscar Hammerstein II wrote the lyric "You've got to be taught to hate and fear" for the song "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught" from the musical South Pacific. That sentiment was true before it became a lyric in a song, and it remains true today. Racists still exist. Homophobia continues to be taught. Haters hate. People are going to be people, and there will always be disagreements.
When I say we should try not to be offended by every anti-gay statement, know that I'm looking in the mirror. I know I take it personally. The point is I don't have to. And you don't have to either. We all have to try to not let the anti-gay haters get us down.
Maybe it's time to make "I'm offended" the humorous, snappy comeback to all those anti-gay remark makers. After all, a little humor goes a long way, like the obnoxious sound of a duck call or the stench of a decaying rose. Too much? Too sarcastic? No offense intended. Humor is subjective. I'll keep working on it.
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