Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Ignorance or Bigotry...


...or are they the same thing?

Latest Quandry
A self-described older Southern man wrote an entry to one of my knitting forums which basically said he was uncomfortable about being around gay men because he considered what some of them said to be inappropriate in a public forum. In writing about the forum, he wrote:

"I’m hoping to find the same thing here. For some time, I’ve looked for a man’s knitting group, one which wasn’t overtly gay. Not because I don’t like gays; but because I don’t care much for the talk that comes naturally out of a gay community. Things like “partner” or wife followed by the pronoun, “he”."
My immediate reaction was one of anger and annoyance that in this day and age, someone could still hold such ingrained hateful ideas. Then I thought perhaps he was just uncomfortable with guys that talk about their partners in public and this was the best way he could say it.

I responded to his comments, as did a number of other guys, in a supportive, educational way, but he responded with clueless defenses for what he said. He's still clueless, and I'm left feeling angry again that a product of his upbringing can't understand how hateful and intolerant he seems to a large part of the population he wrote to.

Some guys ignored this man, some guys attacked him with requests that he leave the group and others tried to explain patiently (and ineffectively) how his words affected them.

I'd be interested to hear how readers think this could be best handled.

Current Knitting
I've made some progress as the stitch count is now over 800 stitches per round.

I'm on round 132 of 142 and I'm realizing I will have to start making some decisions on how I will either extend the size of this piece or how I will finish it when I get to the end of the instructions as written.

Since I have no knitting pictures, I'll leave you with a picture of Nico.



Readers' Comments/Questions
Kubbo asks, "Is the Ichida book hard to use?"

There are two Ichida books with re-works of Nieblings designs and I was very concerned about learning to knit using a chart instead of written instructions. Now I can't imagine going back to written instructions. If you're accustomed to using charts, I find these books to be as easy as any others. Since they're in Japanese, some of the non-chart, non-graphic instructions will need to be intuited, but there aren't very many of those. I have only had to ask the on-line community for a Japanese translation once so far.

32 comments:

Sarah said...

Wow, that's a tricky situation - it's hard to walk the line between outright condemning his beliefs and also not driving him away for a behavior that he's never had a chance to examine.

I'm an ally, so I don't have tons of experience with this. In cases where my friends have said something similar, like "I don't mind gay people, but geez, do they have to flaunt their sexuality everywhere???" I try to point out that straight people do much more flaunting - indeed, it's much safer for straight people to "flaunt it", as they can automatically assume that they're in a safe space to do so. Perhaps you could challenge him to go a whole day without making reference to his own sexuality - never referring to his partner, or to being married (or dating or whatever), or to fancying pretty female celebrities. I tried something similar as a test of my own priviledge once, and it was quite an eye-opener.

Wow, that was long and probably unhelpful.

FiberQat said...

I would leave the controversy with the moderator of the forum. It's unfortunate that this man who has chosen to speak frankly has been given flak for it. There's no easy answer as suggesting he open a straights only forum as that can be construed as divisive.

Jenni said...

The mind is only open when it's open. This individual has no desire or need to change his opinion so he won't. I'm a shoulder shrug kind of person, so I would tend to ignore him, keep the forum moving as it has in the past. Should his comments to the forum cross the line of decency, then I'd take action to have him banned.

Liz said...

It sounds to me as though this older gent is sadly a product of his time and place. I wish I could say that his attitudes will mature and grow to be more open, but I doubt they will. Perhaps going back to the subjest of the forum and trying to get it back on track without his divisiveness would be best.

Elizabeth said...

Hmm. As has been said, he isn't open to reexamining his own beliefs or opinions, so I doubt that there's any way a calm reasonable approach will get through to him. I think everyone should carry on with the forum as it has been established; that is, referring to personal stuff at the level that seems natural and comfortable for the group at large. If some folks find that uncomfortable, they will leave. If there's no group in which this man feels comfortable, maybe he will eventually turn to self-examination.

Allowing him to make you angry and keep you angry, though, only harms you. As they say in the rooms, harboring a resentment is like giving someone else rent-free space in your head.

Andrea said...

There's only so much you can do. I think that a polite response such as the ones you mention is enough. And then, what? Nothing.
There are some people who won't/can't learn new ways.
There's no way to win this. The more you keep at it, the more frustrating and angering it becomes.
Let it be.
Or that's my opinion at least. (easier said than done, I can imagine how insulting and infuriating it must be)

Seanna Lea said...

This is a hard situation. It is natural to want to explain yourself, to make your position clear and to let other people know when you are feeling hurt or angry. Unfortunately, the individual probably feels uncomfortable when anything related to homosexuality is mentioned and at this point it is gut reaction. As soon as he reaches his discomfort point, he shuts down and isn't willing to think or talk about anything beyond the small confines of his comfort space. Not that this is helpful, but maybe using babysteps can help someone in his situation get past his discomfort. Let him get to know the bunch of you as guys who knit first and then gently introduce your sexuality back into the picture. Theoretically, he could be less uncomfortable if he knows you as people rather than "gays."

Or I could just be making this up out of air.

Barb B said...

He says "Not because I don't like gays" but also says "I don't much like...partner or wife followed by..he".
Sort of a case of "he doth protest too much" don't you think? Which leads me to beleive that he knows with his mind that he shouldn't feel as he does, but his emotions are saying something different.
He also says he's older (never having been to the South, I can't really comment on that)
Taking all that into consideration, I don't see how you could have handled it differently. People feel what they feel. Familiarity may reduce his discomfort, especially if he isn't under attack about it, and it gets ignored from now on.
Yes, his words are hateful and intolerant, as is the attitude they reveal. But it seems a bit hopeful that he is using words like "I don't care for" instead of "hate".
I think all the talk in the world will not change him today, but over time his attitude may shift just a bit. Given his age, likely it already has from his childhood attitudes.
I tend to think of these people as children. The best way to teach children is by example. And not expect overnight miracles.

Mel said...

Personally, I'm fond of quoting Matthew 23 to the self-righteous.

anne marie in philly said...

handsome nico; very dignified pose.

Andy's Crafts said...

Honestly I think he is a closet case. The least He is insecured about his masculinity while knitting. Why do people have to sexualize a craft?. Well I won't go into detail about what I said, but I can tell you that he is ignorant no more. Bigotry is wrong to women, to men and to anyone, it diminishes all of us as human beings.

Marilyn said...

I always find it interesting that instead of leaving quietly because the atmosphere isn't to their liking, people like your Southern gent feel the need to try to change the environment by making what they must know will be inflammatory statements.

I like what Andy says about sexualizing crafts. This is true. Women have "owned" many crafts for a long time, even those that were initially owned by men, such as knitting. So why is weaving considered "OK" for men, whereas knitting and spinning are seen as "suitable" only for the girls? This is a subject that I find fascinating. What marks a craft this way? Clearly, there's some public perception at play but I'll be damned if I will ever understand why weaving is "manly" and knitting is perceived as not. Hmmm...an Open Mic Thursday question, I think. And it's Thursday too.

Myfanwy said...

There is a song from "South Pacific" that jumps to mind. the words go something like this. "You've got to be taught to hate and fear....." Your adjectives for this man were "old and South" that in itself tells you you are never going to be able to get him to listen. He is a product of his generation. Perhaps he should go on Ravelry and start his own group.
My father was a wonderfully skilled knitter. None of us have tension as perfect as his. He knit more baby clothes when my children were born than I did..

Dana said...

You're all doing the same thing that man did, only you changed the words.
"He's old and from the south, he's born to be an ass" etc.

He has every right to say he's uncomfortable with the talk of same sex partners as you have to talk about that partner.
You will not change his mind by everyone ganging up on him to tell him what an ass he is, because he isn't an ass for believing that. It's a matter of opinion, and one that I personally don't like, but would hope that with calm acceptance of his belief and continuing to behave as you have been behaving he would eventually see that it isn't bad or wrong, just different.
No one will be loquaciously eloquent enough to change his mind in a day on a message board. But what they can do in one day on a message board is reinforce his beliefs that homosexual individuals are out to get 'normal' people like him.
There are plenty of people that think I'm wrong in alot of the things I do. I do not care to change what they think is wrong with what I believe.
There are plenty of people who I think are wrong in a lot of ways, and I just don't have time to beat the snot out of them till they toe my line no matter how badly I'd like.

puffthemagicrabbit said...

"I just don't have time to beat the snot out of them..." Love it!!

Sigh. Well, when I rule the world, everyone will accept everyone. Somehow, I imagine that will come with its own set of problems. No answers for you beyond what everyone else has said- accept that he is what he is and move on for the sake of your own peace.

Nico is such a handsome, regal looking guy. Just got a tiny kitten yesterday- where I got her admitted that they thought she was taken from her mother too soon, but they didn't do that. Named her CJ- can you guess who enabled me?

Susan said...

Sorry, but I don't agree that he has a "right" to be uncomfortable about a gay person using the term "partner," etc. This just seems to support the (incorrect) premise that straight people are the paradigm and therefore we should decide who gets to talk about their love life in public.

The guy should keep his discomfort to himself, since he obviously knows, on some level at least, that it's unfair. A lot of people are uncomfortable with the idea that a black man could possibly be the president of this country. Should we tell Obama that he should drop out of the race until everybody is comfortable with him?

I have little tolerance for homophobia, bigotry, racism, etc. I recall, at the age of about 7, being called the "N" word by a bunch of boys. Yes, it was in the south, and no, I'm not saying that this attitude affects all southerners. It just seems to be tolerated to a greater degree there. I guess this explains my defensive attitude. BTW, I'm not a black woman, but I knew, even at age 7, that somebody was being put down by those stupid boys, and it wasn't me.

Nobody should have to apologize or keep under wraps WHO THEY ARE. I don't laugh at jokes making fun of gay people. I don't use racial slurs and I don't tolerate when people around me do.

I'm sure as heck not the one with a cogent and sensible solution to Joe's post. My inner tendency is to shake these people until their teeth fall out. I wish I had a kind and loving solution. Maybe I just can't buy the idea that hateful people desire kindness.

WonderMike said...

Sadly Joe, there is no argument or therapy or threat that will change this person's mind. Yes, they might have some sort of revelation when they turn 90 (what great timing) OR when they come out of the closet (my guess), but that does nothing for the world or for the people they're hating.

I, too, grew up in the South and was surrounded by racism, homophobia and MOUNTAINS of ignorant and insular opinions and I did what any self-loving, self-respecting queer would do... I moved to San Francisco. I know not everyone has that luxury and, truth be told, I moved to some other places before I ended up in the Bay Area, but I'm not brave enough or strong enough to ever imagine living in the South again. When I return to Louisiana (where I spent my formative years) all the fear, anger and internalized homophobia come back up.

Sorry to turn this into my therapy session, but the moral of this story is, "he too shall pass".

TAJBloom said...

Well, I read what he said, and all the responses there were at the time. I think I'll just think about Nico instead.

kitmf said...

I sympathize with your anger and think it justified. I also think this guy is in a fix and has given you just enough that it can be worked with - maybe.

He has admitted that his visceral reaction to the idea of male homosexuality is his problem and has nothing to do with you. He gives you the justification of his age and where he grew up to back up this owning of the problem. He probably acquired the reaction via verbal and possibly physical abuse as a young boy. Many boys have been subjected to such abuse in the past and unfortunately still. It really isn't about location or age, just an unfortunately childhood. He wishes for a group where the issue would not arise, which is where he gets in trouble.

It is clear that the group he has said this to is not such a group, as it includes you. You will not go away. You cannot refrain from the sort of references he finds problematic. The group already knows who you are. Lies are impossible even if you would waste your time so. Any attempt to circumlocute would be glaringly awkward even if you were willing to try. You aren't. It can't be done. You can't not mention the existence of Thaddeus and any attempt to avoid the words he objects to would get hopelessly awkward.

I have a strong suspicion that the group he wishes for does not exist. I certainly don't know of one. If you do, pointing him on his way is an option.

Driving him away with abuse for being such a bad person is an option. It is also an option for the group to offer to be emotionally supportive while he works on getting rid of his unfortunate affliction. I suspect that process in practice involve your calling him on any discourtesy while refraining from attacking him for it. It would likely be difficult on both sides. You might not be willing to do so. He might prefer to leave and live without the company of other men who enjoy the same hobby.

You will note I have avoided the question of whether he approves of homosexuality. I don't care what his opinion is and bet you don't either. He needs to be able to deal with the fact that you exist in courtesy. This means managing to not bring up the fact that your existence is icky. It's not really all that difficult, once one tries.

Anonymous said...

I am a woman of a certain age (52). I had never heard of homosexuality until a friend in middle school enlightened me. I thought she was making it up!

Later on, a younger sister happened to marry a homosexual man who was on the down low. Two kids later he came out to my sister and promptly moved in with his lover. This was in the 70's. The two guys are still together. The are also both HIV positive.

I would say I had negative opinions of homosexuals because of my sister's experience. But then, her son had two sons himself. The second son has been extremely feminine since he was old enough to talk. His favorite color has always been pink. He loves dolls. He likes dresses. He was born so innocent, and no one told him what to like or not like. He was born this way. He has been such and eye opener for both my sister & I. We talk about it all the time. We were probably homophobic until this precious boy came into our lives. Now we know he is just the way God made him. And we think he is perfect. What a life lesson we have learned.

cindc said...

It still continues to amaze me that people can be so narrow-minded. Just yesterday I gave my girlfriend as I dropped her off at work. A large woman, quite a distance away, started yelling (to no one in particular), "IS THAT TWO GIRLS?" Given the large gay population in my city, it made me wonder what planet she'd just dropped in from.

candi said...

Well, personally, I don't think anyone should talk about their love life in an open forum where the members are not all personally known by one another whether they're gay, straight, or something else. But if the rest of the group is comfortable with that kind of discussion, then the few who are not should just quietly go away. There are other groups to correspond with.

And I think that Nico is one of the most handsome animals I've ever seen, including my own.

Diane said...

You know what? He's entitled to his own wrong opinion. I'd follow up with the moderator and let him/her handle the situation. You can't educate someone who doesn't want the knowledge so I'd chalk it up to someone who wants to remain in his own little world and move on. Anger and frustration isn't going to be productive in your life.

knittingboykit said...

Anonymous--bless you.

Candi, is mentioning our spouse or parnter the same as taling bout your love life?? In any group is it more correct to say, "Last night I went out to dinner..." as opposed to "Last night my family/my hubby/my partner and I went out to dinner..." Is this about ones love life?? Or just one's life? Certainly, straight folks don't hesitate to "my husband this, my wife that" on a regular basis--it's their regular life. Why shouldn't I? Or Joe? or the other folks in his group??

I had a similar experience in my life with a professional colleaguewho pointedly told me that in her generation they were "quiet" about who they were. How can I, the parent of an 11 year old kid, and in a nearly 20 year relationship with my spouse and parnter be "quiet" about them? It's not like they don't live with me, don't answer the phone, etc??? This is not 1950. or even 1960.

Sarah said...

Exactly, knittingboykit! It's so natural, for people in opposite-sex relationships, to say "My hubby hates when I KIP!" or "Isn't my husband the best? He bought me flowers last night when I dropped a whole mess of stitches."

It's unreasonable to ask that gay folks refrain from mentioning the gender of the person/people that are important to them. It's not a request that I would tolerate on my blog or any forums that I administer. May as well tell people to stop communicating altogether.

Anonymous said...

I didn't see an age of the 'older Southern' man. If he's 55- on upward, there's a slim chance that he is going to change. His bias has been reinforced longer than some of us have been alive.

He's stated what makes him uncomfortable. People have answered him. Concentrate on knitting. Ignore the rest. He might be able to change his mind, if he sees gays acting like other people. Geeze. What a concept. :)

twinsetellen said...

I think the only response is the "I'm sorry you feel that way." And then stop addressing it. Either he stays and learns and grows, or he leaves.

I am betting you, as I am, feel sorry there are bigots, so you can say this in all honesty.

Leigh Witchel said...

Hey Joe -

I spent enough time in ballet - another community with a significantly strong gay male presence - to know that straight guys sometimes get freaked out when they're not the default assumption. Sometimes they get defensive about their sexuality and over compensate on the caveman behavior. The smaller percentage that feel left out and try and act like their queer friends are somehow endearing - if at times annoying too! Just be yourselves, guys.

At this point (on my better days), I feel old and comfortable enough with who I am to tolerate and not feel directly threatened by someone else's ignorance. He doesn't know better; he may never know better. He's less stupid than threatened. Assuming he's not out agitating politically, it's his problem, not mine. Good for you for taking his remarks seriously and responding to them - you've done what you can.

yarnlust said...

If you are looking for a perfect response that will allow this "gentleman" to become instantly enlightened- it doesn't exist. However, I think I would ask if he would be similarly put off if the knitting group were straight men who discussed their relationship with their wives. If the answer is "yes" then we have a different scenario. I believe however, if you all were discussing your straight homelife he would think nothing of it. I wonder what topics he feels the group should be restricted to.

Yarnhog said...

It is unclear to me what the "gentleman"'s goal was in bringing up the subject. Was he asking other members to refrain from making "overtly gay" comments? Or was he trying to determine the nature of the group to decide whether to be a part of it? He is, after all, entitled to his opinions, however misguided, but he is not entitled to expect others to live by them.

After many years of beating my head against the walls of my own ultra-conservative family (I am the proud, straight sister of a gay brother and a lesbian sister), I have come to the conclusion that the only thing that ever changes a closed mind is personal experience. No amount of talking will ever accomplish anything, so I don't believe there is a "right" approach in this case.

Cynthia said...

The man is a sad, icky, judgemental person--continue on as always.

I find it interesting that folks in the comments think 'older' people can not change--yikes, I sure hope I don't suddenly become rigid and narrow minded at age 55!

Anonymous said...

I say he should just find a group where he does feel comfortable. My god, there are hundreds of groups on Ravelry alone, maybe he should start his own group and then pick and choose who and what he will allow so he feels comfortable. It disgusts me that in the year 2008 we still are subjected to this ignorance. My suggestion to this issue is to pay no attention to him and continue to express yourself as you choose to and when he has had enough he will go away.