Its not discrimination if I think its wrong for everyone!

In reading some of the discussion around L Word actress Leisha Hailey being kicked off a Southwest Air flight for kissing her girlfriend, I was reminded of a favorite defense trotted out in favor of discrimination. "But I think publicly kissing your partner is wrong no matter what your sexuality!" Indeed, its Southwest's defense here, too. Its not the sexual orientation, its the behavior. There is roughly no reason to ever take this sort of line seriously.

Its a pretty common tactic and that's what we need to recognize. This is a tactic and even an earnest proponent of it references it while willfully ignoring the larger social context. They think if they, individually, are willing to apply something to everyone, that's a get out of prejudice free card. That doesn't really work on a personal level, and it is pretty much insulting on a cultural level.

I'll take the cultural level first, because, well, it's low-hanging fruit. Trotting out this kind of "well, I'd discriminate against everyone" line in response to instances of discrimination is just an attempt at derailing. It doesn't matter why you'd do it. What matters are the systems of discrimination. By centering the discussion on your hypothetical motives, you just seek to distract from focusing on the larger social issues at play. You make something about you which isn't remotely about you. The reality is, your supposed even-handedness isn't what is happening in our culture. When gay people are scolded for showing affection, there is no counterpart among straight couples. Straight couples aren't being thrown off airplanes for kissing. Thin people aren't subjected to ridicule for eating in public. Men aren't viciously denounced for being sexually assertive. Your standards aren't the point, because your standards clearly aren't what's happening.

I feel this generally fails on the personal level, too. All too often, "but, its wrong for everyone" thinking only ever comes up when its wrong for the group society agrees its wrong for. Its essentially a hallow claim. You protest that you'd feel the same way if this were happening to a socially privileged group, but you never have to worry about that because it never will happen to a socially privileged group. Its just something to make you feel better about cheering for the stigmatization of marginalized groups.

The fat community sees this played out a number of ways. I suspect the most recognizable would be the fashion policing of fat bodies. Fat people are often scolded for their clothing choices by people who insist they'd find it distasteful on any better. Not coincidentally, though, they only ever voice that disgust with fat people for whom it is culturally protected to scold and demean for their bodies. They love claiming their prejudice is without regard for body size, but they never question their own actions and how even-handed they actually are when directly scolding people. They might like to think it and maybe they'd snark at celebrities, but I've seen little reason to think these people are seeking out thin bodies to police at the rates they are seeking out fat bodies. People like claiming they think its wrong for everyone, but the next time you hear someone say that, ask them to demonstrate that thinking in action. They like saying that to scold marginalized people, but how much time are they actually out there being publicly outraged when privileged people do it? I doubt many would even pass that test, much less be able to justify the recentering aspects of that position that draw attention away from social discrimination.


Anonymous said...

I understand your point and agree that far too often people use that as an excuse to discriminate when they wouldn't have a problem with a privileged group. However, I have actually lectured young "beautiful" straight teenagers in public for kissing excessively in a grocery store line,and in a park by the playground, when my children are standing there watching. I don't think it is appropriate.

Jerome said...

@Anonymous: The point, I think you missed it.

Anyway, great post as usual.

Anonymous said...

actually no, I didn't miss the point. He specifically asked to demonstrate putting that into action and I am giving an example of when I HAVE put that into action. I haven't ever actually lectured any same sex couples for making out, as I knew it would be taken the wrong way by them, but I have lectured hetro couples because I do think it is inappropriate. Perhaps you missed my point.

Twistie said...

And the lesson in why it's a derail continues from Anonymous. Anonymous, you are not the dominant cultural paradigm, and I find it laughable that you're turning the conversation into your specific worries about being misunderstood if you object to same-sex couples being affectionate in public.

Now, to get past the derail and onto the subject at hand.

Institutions (airlines, schools, restaurants, stores, and governmental offices, etc.) pull this crap every day. They claim they are being fair when there is obvious evidence they aren't. I've never heard of a single instance of a US based airline removing anyone from a flight for kissing their opposite-sex partner. I've never been removed from a flight for kissing my husband... and I've done that at some point on every flight we've shared. Unless Ms. Hailey and her partner were kissing one another in publicly dubious body locations or actually lolling across someone else to kiss one another, then they were within the bounds of reasonable conduct as accepted every day on airlines all across this fine country.

And THAT'S what makes it discrimination, Anonymous. It's not about you.

Brian said...

You are missing the point, Anon. First off, I said generally, not always. While someone like Rick Santorum probably does mean it when he says he wants no sex in the military, most people who try to hide behind that kind of reasoning to defend discrimination have no real problem straight soldiers having sex. They might pretend that they do, but they aren't out there protesting that, now are they?

Even if you are one of the few equal discriminators, (and that by no means suggests self-identifying as one should be taken at face value) this still ignores the larger context issues. You may sternly lecture horny teens of all stripes, but by focusing on that, you ignore the cultural reality that same-sex couples are held to a profoundly different standard. Maybe you only lecture especially excessive french-kissing, but we're dealing with a culture where people are severely beaten for holding hands while gay. No matter how morally righteous you may think you are internally, you don't recognize that the social standards are undeniably different.

Like, in the fat context, I don't doubt that there are thin bodies who get judged for a lack of clothing. Obviously that happens quite a lot. But fat people are getting judged for wearing short-sleeve shirts. Back to sexuality, a lot of people defending Microsoft and XBox for supposedly being sexuality neutral in banning gay members for just identifying as gay in their profiles, but no straight people were getting banned for mentioning having a girlfriend or wife, just as much an identification of sexuality. Even if an individual would apply the standard equally, there doesn't address the reality that the culture doesn't. Unless you are calling for straight people to be dragged off plans for kissing their spouses on the lips, your supposed consistency has no relevance.

Anonymous said...

As I said, I understand that same sex couples deal with people trying to disguise their bigotry as other things. I understand that you are saying that most people are just trying to draw attention away from the discrimination in question and I agree. I think that it is absolutely wrong if the airline has never told a straight couple to stop making out, and has never kicked a straight couple off a plane for making out AND getting upset about it when they are told to stop.

I was just trying to point out that sometimes in these situations you really are just dealing with complaints from people like me who don't like being around strangers sticking their tongues in each-other's mouths (whether they are married, young, old, whatever, doesn't matter) and not necessarily discrimination. I doubt a same sex couple would get upset at being told not to make out because they wouldn't assume it is discrimination and therefore they wouldn't get kicked off the plane.

And I am Bi actually, so perhaps that is why I am trying to claim that I "equally discriminate" as you call it.

Brian said...

Anonymous, it is frankly insulting to suggest that the problem was just that same sex couples made a big deal about it. That is a bigoted talking point that we see time and time again when the powerful complain about how "uppity" the disenfranchised are. Its just a companion to your notions of your prejudice actually being even-handed. If the reality doesn't support that, well its just those gay people creating a fuss. Its a tired old trope and one which ignores the reality. The issue is not over-sensitive gays. Its same sex couples being held to a functionally different standard. A gay couple will face repricussions for behavior a straight couple simply will not be called out for. Maybe folks complain about a straight couple having a simple kiss on the lips, but no authority will ever come down on them for that. Their behavior would have to rise to much higher extreme to face the same scolding as a gay couple. There is nothing equal about that. Even if you think your prejudice is equal, the enforcement never will be, so that's really just a lie you are telling yourself.

beep said...

Regarding the scolding for clothing choices bit; I somehow find "Oh don't worry, I'm a judgemental meddlesome asshole towards EVERYONE" a hilarious defence on one's behalf. Nope, doesn't validate your point OR make you look any better.

Just Some Trans Guy said...

@ Anon,

I'm bi too, and I think you're being a huge, willfully oblivious jerk.

Back before I came out as trans, I was dating a girl in college, and we went to a local sports bar kinda place to get some dinner. This was a place that on weekends regularly had straight college kids grinding and making out on the bar side of the place. GF and I ordered our food, sat on the bar side of the restaurant, and waited for our order to cook.

We were both tired, and I put my arm around her shoulders, and she rested her head on my shoulder. Not a single kiss was exchanged. One of the bar owners walked by and lectured us, 'cause it was a "family" place and we were being "inappropriate." Dude kicked us out.

We were in tears as we trudged back to campus.

And it's not like I'm the only one with this story. Lots of queer couples can share similar ones. Holding hands, a peck on the check--all stuff that NO straight couple would get heat for. I don't for a second trust Southwest's version of events because, all too often, NO amount of physical contact, no matter how chaste, is deemed "appropriate" for a queer couple.

Believe me, I know first-hand. I'm now partnered with someone who is perceived as a woman, and I'm now regularly read as a man--and whereas before I would cringe in anticipation of scowls of disgust and disapproval (at best) or verbal or physical attacks (at worst), I'm now greeted by people who are all smiles and good humored winks at seeing Partner and I stroll down the street hand in hand.

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