Being intolerant of intolerance

Recently I had a discussion with a long time friend of mine during which the topic of gay marriage came up and eventually led to a lengthy and fascinating discussion. I realized many things about my beliefs, and furthermore actions, during this conversation and even more about my long time friend.

I’m not entirely sure how the topic came up, probably topic association, but my very liberal friend of twelve years comes out with the following statement regarding gay marriage:

“I’m not sure how I feel about it to be honest. My faith tells me that marriage is for a man and a woman only but my common sense tells me who cares. I’d never actively vote against it for someone but I’m not sure I could vote for it either.”

This statement didn’t really bother me to be honest and we discussed the pros and cons of gay marriage for a while and why I felt it was a basic right for all people and not necessarily a religious or gay issue. He made some excellent points, even if I disagreed with them. This was an interesting discussion between the two of us that I was enjoying but at some point my friend blurts out something that did disturb me.

He says “You know I don’t care if someone’s gay but why do they have to throw it in your face? I don’t get these openly femme or flamboyant guys. They bother me. They make me uncomfortable.”

He continued on in this vein for a few minutes while I was silent. I was wondering whether I’d misjudged him and he was actually homophobic. I started to think about all the times he’d made jokes that seemed wrong or his use of the word “fag” which never was to gay people but always to some of his more idiotic friends. I was wondering if I was seeing a side to him I just didn’t want to see.

So I started arguing all the reasons why he should be ok with it. How gay people have been ridiculed and made to seem worthless over choices they can’t help. How we can express ourselves in a multitude of ways and why shouldn’t everyone else and so on. I pointed out how confident and secure of a man my friend is so why should he care if another man is more feminine or outlandish.

The back and forth went on for about 30 minutes before my friend just stops and says Why can’t I just be allowed my feelings? Why am I not allowed to be uncomfortable?  Why are you making me feel bad because I don’t agree with you?”

I immediately stopped talking and thought about what he said. I’d been fighting hard because I wanted my friend to be open and accepting and above all, NOT homophobic. I wasn’t taking into account that whatever his beliefs, I’ve personally seen him stand up for a variety of people (gay/flamboyant/straight/freakish) both verbally and physically if he thought something was wrong. He’d never physically or verbally assault another person just because he didn’t agree with them or felt uncomfortable. So why wasn’t he allowed his feelings?

I think in hunt for acceptance and open minded culture, we forget that not everyone has to feel the same way. At that moment I wanted so badly for my friend to believe the same way I did that I neglected to realize all the various experiences and differences that led to his feelings. That he, while a very good person, doesn’t have to feel the same way as I do to still be supportive.

I’ve especially noticed a trend for this among the m/m community and blogs. After being away for a while I look through some of my favorite sites and they’re littered with tons of information on how to be the most sensitive to everyone. There are rants about if you’re not exactly politically correct and not being as sensitive as possible, then you’re homophobic or a bigot.

I don’t think it’s ever ok to offend someone and if it happens, then knowledge and education should be the weapons. I worry that our intolerance for intolerance swings too far in the wrong direction. This isn’t a new issue or anything surprising but it came home to me personally in a very real way recently.

16 thoughts on “Being intolerant of intolerance

  1. Tam says:

    I’m not sure, saying something negative about homosexuality seems to still be acceptable. Would he have said the same thing but insert “blacks” in there and would he have expected you to accept his prejudice? Not likely and it is prejudice. He may not beat someone for being gay and he may even stand up for someone who was actively being belittled, but so would many southerners who still thought (and think) blacks were (are) inferior and did not deserve equal rights. I’m sure there were plenty of nice slave owners back in the day.

    He wouldn’t vote against gay marriage, but he wouldn’t vote for it. So he will stand by implicitly and make it very clear that he is against it, because he is going to allow those who are willing to stand on his behalf vote it down. He gets to come across as innocent “Hey, “I” didn’t vote against it.” No, but you could have stopped the tide by voting for it. Hey, I’m not the one who sent the Jews to the concentration camps. No, you stood by and watched them do it, thus leading them to think you were okay with it. (Not him personally obviously)

    I guess by tolerating intolerance we endorse it. Sure, it’s okay, you can dislike that group for no good reason. I’m fiiiine with that. No problem. I don’t mind. After all, bigotry is a personal choice. It doesn’t affect anyone, you’re a nice guy. Wait, it does affect people, when marriage equality doesn’t pass in your state, when you sneer at someone who is more flamboyant than you appreciate and they see it, when someone whose son or daughter is gay overhears you shuddering at the very fact they might KISS in public. It affects people.

    If everyone thought it was okay to be intolerant “Who am I to judge”, black folk would still be picking cotton and not allowed to get married. So yes, I am intolerant of intolerance, and I’m not going to apologise for it and let it go just because someone is nice … to me … a white straight woman who doesn’t offend their delicate sensibilities.

    /rant 🙂

    • Kassa says:

      That’s kind of the thought process I went through when I first started having the conversation (and continued for some time). I just felt it was so *wrong* not to be more tolerant and open. That yes there are people we’re made uncomfortable by but that doesn’t mean it’s ok to act on that – if that makes sense.

      I actually used the analogy about blacks (and have used this many times when people say the word “faggot”) and the problem is that many, many, MANY people don’t think it’s the same thing. I do personally but most people scoff at that. I think any discrimination is wrong but especially so when you’re discriminating based on genetics. Sexual orientation is genetically determined just like eye color or hair color or skin color. It’s not something to have an “opinion” on in my eyes. So on many levels I agree with all your comments.

      Because of that I’m likely to browbeat my friends into agreeing with me. I don’t take into account their history or upbringing or what they’re taught. I only care that they not be prejudice in any way. Unfortunately I’ve come across VERY few people who were raised with such liberal and accepting parents as mine. Instead even in this m/m atmosphere you have a ton of discrimination. M/M is ok but f/f? eww

      Not you of course but this is a pervasive attitude. They’re ok with two guys getting it on because “that’s hot” and sexy for them but at the same time they don’t want to see two women in the same situation. I’m all for educating and reducing inherent ignorance but this sadly isn’t the basic standard of thought.

      Personally my friend will come around (I think) because this isn’t a conversation I’ll let go and he *is* a good guy. But I do recognize that there are more factors at work than simply saying what he should believe. There are long ingrained religious beliefs as well as upbringing limitations. I almost think we expect too much, if that makes sense while allowing other discriminatory behavior to persist.

      I think it’s a pretty complex issue.

    • Kassa says:

      One thing I forgot to add is that our ranting is never going to swing people to our side. Rants about how to be the most sensitive and PC will never make people stop and think. It’s the calm, intellectual conversations that will make people really evaluate what they believe.

      I think our insistence on ostracizing and browbeating in this community hurts more than it helps. People can be wrong and people can disagree but I think we’re quick to jump and judge and rail without really stopping to see both sides. If that makes sense.

      • Tam says:

        Makes total sense and I’m probably preaching to the choir here on your blog. 🙂

        I think I posted a link on sexual racism a couple of days ago I came across. If you never date black men (or women or whatever race) is it just because you find pale skinned people more attractive for some reason (the way you find certain aesthetics attractive in any setting)? Does that mean you are racist or just a preference? It’s quite complicated. I thought of that when you mentioned the f/f. Is preferring to see two men just a preference, or is it some kind of intolerance towards two women? Is it just a matter of exposure? When does “I prefer dark hair and eyes” cross the line to “gingers are soulless monsters and I’d never date one”?

        Ah philosophy. We could probably discuss this forever. Which would beat sitting at my desk with a headache.

        • Kassa says:

          These are the kinds of discussions I’ll happily have for hours, though I’m sure I’d need alcohol as well. All of your points are really great and I’ll be sure to check out that link. Our beliefs are influenced by so many factors that calling out someone is usually useless. There has to be an open mind willing to debate and then both sides willing to accept that there will always be ground they can’t agree on based on everyone’s own prejudices but perhaps what can be agreed upon is that everyone deserves the same rights and freedoms.

          I’m not sure we’ll ever live in a discrimination free world because it’s too ingrained in our behavior and culture but perhaps we can make a dent towards rights’ equality.

  2. Erik says:

    So, you’d be okay with staying friends with someone who says, “I have nothing against black people; I even have black friends. I just don’t want them going to the same school as my kids. It makes me uncomfortable”? After all, it’s just their opinion, right? And they’d never actually vote *against* integration, even if they’d never vote *for* it, either. They’re a great person otherwise, and they only talk this way behind their black friends’ backs and would never say anything mean to a black person’s face, so that’s okay, right?

    Sorry, but no. I won’t be tolerant of intolerance, even casual intolerance. What’s that quote? “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”? As good a person as your friend might be, by refusing to take a stand either way, they are implicitly endorsing the negative position of the status quo.

    Does he have the right to his opinion? Sure. But I also have just as much right to my opinion. And in my opinion, asking me to tolerate hatred is bullshit. I won’t do it. I won’t sit idly by and let someone I thought was a friend tell me that they believe I’m less entitled to be treated with respect and equality than they are because their Invisible Sky Friend tells them so, or because they’re grossed out by man-touching.

    There’s no middle road here. There’s no moderate view in this debate. Moderate views toward discrimination gave us the Whites Only lunch counter. You’re either in favor of equality, or you aren’t. I don’t care how much you “stand up” for people or if you aren’t “personally” abusive. You don’t get cookies for being a decent human being, especially when you turn around and tell those same people that you don’t believe they deserve the same rights that you take for granted.

    And by saying, “oh, it’s okay that you feel like that” and “we’ll just agree to disagree”, you’re confirming that prejudiced view for them by admitting that it’s not a belief that’s important enough for you to defend, which just tells them that there’s something valid in their opinion. Which is fine, if it actually *isn’t* something that’s important to you. But you’ll hopefully forgive those of us to whom it *is* important for standing up a little more forcefully.

    • Kassa says:

      I think you’re confusing the main point of my argument. I didn’t say “intolerance is just personal preference so it’s all ok.” I said that fighting intolerance or what someone perceives as personal preference with intolerance itself is unproductive.

      Showing someone intolerance – even in the face of THEIR intolerance – never, ever sways someone to your side. I’m not saying it’s a turn the other cheek kind of situation. I’m just as passionate and outspoken about things I believe (and yes this is one of them). But my point was in this case the railing and wailing I was doing to my friend did nothing to sway his mind. Instead it just intrenched in him that his view was a “personal preference.”

      All the passionate pleas and good arguments I was making were lost in the wave of emotion. I -wanted- him to understand and furthermore totally agree with me on all points. I had zero room for him to step back and think about what I was saying. I was throwing many of the same arguments you used at him and all that did was force someone – the same middle ground you fight so vehemently for – to swing to the other side. My intolerance of his middle ground did nothing good.

      What my post was saying that to sway to such people we need to take a more rational, intellectual approach. Trying to force someone to say they’re a bad person for feeling uncomfortable won’t make that person realize they have no reason to feel that way. Instead helping someone realize that there’s nothing threatening and furthermore that even people you don’t like (for whatever reason) are allowed full human/basic rights is the goal.

      I just question the methods we use to get there.

  3. What Tam said so eloquently! 🙂

    I’m really bad at having those sorts of discussions in person because I get tongue-tangled and panicky, etc. I wish I was better at it…

    It seems like guys (like your friend) who are uncomfortable around femme gay men are probably worried they’ll be attracted to those men. And because of all the societal/religious negatives they’ve picked up, that could mean they were gay and zOMG! I suspect it’s uniquely threatening and very different than, say, racial prejudice because race is visible and sexual orientation not necessarily so.

    • Kassa says:

      Well I also think it’s because people aren’t raised (or at our age they weren’t, perhaps they are now) to believe that sexual orientation is not a choice. I come across a lot of intelligent, well educated people in the science community that still believe people CHOOSE to be gay. That makes it’s a more difficult argument and why not everyone will equate say being black to being gay. Similar to your comment.

      Sometimes it’s threatening to their definition of a being a man. Knowing many men that were raised in eastern european countries, they struggle heavily with this because they were raised with the concept that to be a man is to be very manly, very rugged. So are they intolerant because that was ingrained in them? Are they intolerant because they feel it’s threatened what they were told? It’s not as easy as saying “you’re a bad person, accept everyone.”

      I think there needs to be understanding for these middle roaders who have the intellectual and emotional capacity to really understand the arguments we’re making.

  4. *stepping v v v carefully*. No offence intended to anyone. This is serious and apprected food for thought.

    I don’t think intolerance is the same as personal preference, and I consider personal preference human, natural and unavoidable. For me, the problems arise when preference is exposed in discriminatory behaviour – that leads to prejudicial action. That’s how I was always guided in general anti-discrimination issues.

    I seriously think people ARE entitled to their own preferences and feelings, and your friend should be admired for being able to discuss it with you in the first place. I know plenty of people who don’t have a sensibly-formed opinion in the first place, but just a wave of reaction. In my experience, many people feel uncomfortable not because of human rights, or they’re worried they may also be gay, or because gay people are any less than them, but because they can’t imagine the physical relationship without the ewww – as Kassa said on the f/f issue. I think that’s a huge dent in the comfort zone.

    I think it’s important for people to stand up for moral and legal equality issues, and also against discrimination. I take the point that good men doing nothing will let “bad men” (per se) and their agenda gain prominence. I still think the first point of moral challenge should be against the bad behaviourists, rather than turning on the good, even if their good behaviour is purely personal. But I can see the danger of inertia allowing bad to flourish. And, of course, it’s a practical issue, because so much bad behaviour can’t be approached or changed by rational argument. Change has to be sought elsewhere.

    I feel there are other layers beyond “for” and “against”. I believe a lot of people are totally against bad behaviour, but other factors come into play before they can step fully and outwardly into the “for” camp.

    I have no idea on how to change that with my own life apart from personal example and speaking out. I think the topic of positive discrimination is also very complex. And I’m often discounted because I’m speaking from a position (which I didn’t choose entirely myself) i.e. white, middle-class, educated, employed, articulate.

    • Erik says:


      No one is asking them to imagine it. We’re asking them to imagine that we’re human beings deserving of the same rights that they take for granted. They’re entitled to their discomfort, but no one is forcing them into a same-sex relationship or dragging them into a bedroom and forcing them to watch. All we want is for them to acknowledge that we have just as much right to live our lives as they do.


      Just like elections, the battleground is in the middle. You aren’t going to change the minds of those who hold the extreme views, because they are so set in their mindset that the more you dismantle their arguments, the tighter they retreat into their beliefs.

      It’s precisely the undecideds that you have to go for — the good people doing nothing because they want to be neutral or aren’t sure or are conflicted, because their beliefs are still malleable. They’re the ones that can be convinced one way or the other. It’s not “turning on” them to point out the inconsistencies in their views or to challenge their misconceptions.

      • Kassa says:

        Hi Erik (you’re a fast typer lol),

        I agree actually with your statements on both replies. No one is asking them to have the same relationship that gay people have but we are asking them to see sexuality as something that doesn’t matter. Most people have come to believe that skin color should not be the basis for discrimination – and yet it is still widely rampant among all groups.

        What people instinctively balk against is the concept that sexual orientation is no different than race or gender. It’s not something that is the basis of choice or discrimination.

        It’s an easy statement, one I believe very passionately about, but one that takes time to sink into most people’s brains unfortunately.

        I agree that it’s the middle ground that are most likely to be swayed and understand the inherent “right” of the argument. However pointing out their inconsistencies and trying to help them understand how their view is flawed is not something that can be approached with intolerance.

        Telling those people “You’re a racist because that’s no better than discriminating against black people” is likely to be antagonistic and off putting. The emotional pleas I was making to my friend – using GOOD arguments but because it was something I believe in so strongly, I definitely was emotional – just made a good man entrench himself in the belief that his views are personal preference and should be allowed.

        Meeting his “intolerance” or as I think of it more as ignorance with my own intolerance just has two sides clashing violently and no resolution. My point is that you have to be willing to understand their argument and come at it very calmly, rationally and perhaps in stages to help change their mind. I see A LOT of great posts in this blogsphere but the message gets lost in the ranting tone. The middle ground gets turned off by the extremes of both sides. There’s a way to challenge someone and make them think without attacking them. I think that’s the point that gets lost.

    • Erik says:

      (sorry for the crappy formatting above!)

      [[ In my experience, many people feel uncomfortable … because they can’t imagine the physical relationship without the ewww ]]

      No one is asking them to imagine it. We’re asking them to imagine that we’re human beings deserving of the same rights that they take for granted. They’re entitled to their discomfort, but no one is forcing them into a same-sex relationship or dragging them into a bedroom and forcing them to watch. All we want is for them to acknowledge that we have just as much right to live our lives as they do.

      [[ I still think the first point of moral challenge should be against the bad behaviourists, rather than turning on the good ]]

      Just like elections, the battleground is in the middle. You aren’t going to change the minds of those who hold the extreme views, because they are so set in their mindset that the more you dismantle their arguments, the tighter they retreat into their beliefs.

      It’s precisely the undecideds that you have to go for — the good people doing nothing because they want to be neutral or aren’t sure or are conflicted, because their beliefs are still malleable. They’re the ones that can be convinced one way or the other. It’s not “turning on” them to point out the inconsistencies in their views or to challenge their misconceptions.

    • Kassa says:

      Thank you Clare! I didn’t really think this through and realize what a minefield this is but I happen to love intelligent debate so I’m not really afraid of it. Thank you for adding your opinion on what is clearly a tricky subject though.

      You got the point of my post – which clearly I wasn’t as clear as I had intended. I’m in somewhat of the same position as yourself and thankfully had the privilege of liberal parents. But upon my many travels and through a diverse set of friends I’ve found a lot of different experiences come together to form someone’s opinions.

      It’s easy for us to rant and rail and call out anyone that shows the slightest hint of intolerance because it IS something that needs to be addressed. I do understand that the “do nothing, stand by” set are inherently giving permission but they’re also the ones that can be swayed to potentially one side or the other.

      By calling them out or by threatening them with names or what have you, all you do is show an extreme side that most middles are unlikely to respond to. I think it’s a heavily gray area to separate the “personal preferences” from the “intolerant” views. Most people feel that their views are simply their choices.

      You’ll never find a single person alive that doesn’t have some intolerance of some kind. Or some prejudice of one form or another. We, by nature, are very judgmental people. So my point is that we need to acknowledge that and look for a commonality with which to start.

      My friend is not a bad person at all. I don’t agree with his views but I’ve known him long enough to know what factors goes into his thought process. All the yelling I did at him did nothing to help my point. Instead revisiting the subject time and time again will likely have a positive outcome in the long run. Because he’s a good person I have faith that he’ll come to understand the arguments and even be a vocal proponent for it. But it’s not an open and shut case.

      I have to show him understanding to have him understand my position. I think this has a wider impact and can be applied to more people than just this one or just one group.

  5. I’m not sure if my comment makes sense (and I hope it doesn’t offend, as that is so not my intention), but I wanted to say something in response to your post Kassa, as the post itself, and all the comments, have given me a lot of food for thought.

    The issue of marriage equality is currently front and centre in my country, and I was reading an opinion piece in a national newspaper today (and the comments that sprung from it) and getting very riled. (There was yelling at my computer. A lot of yelling.) But once I had walked away from my computer (and eaten 🙂 I realized that instead of looking to enter into any kind of dialogue with certain individuals, I just wanted to rant at them for their stance. Which in my opinion is WRONG! The thing is, while some individuals won’t ever change their POV…others may listen if the arguments for marriage equality (and equality in general) are made as part of an ongoing dialogue. A dialogue where they don’t feel threatened. The saying ‘You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’ springs to mind, because you can present someone with all the facts, but they can chose to ignore them. Revisiting the subject, allowing people to work things through in their own way may help more in the long run than ranting, although it’s so much harder to do when you’re discussing the rights of people to just live their lives as they chose.

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