I am exasperated with people who use their ideology, whether religious or secular or a combination thereof, to justify petty, bullying behaviour in the name of God, enlightenment, science or objectivity. I know some people are unabashed jerks. I’m not talking about them necessarily, since they’ll be rude and verbally hostile regardless of their beliefs. I know people who are entirely on my side ideologically but are still utterly vile people whom I’d avoid at all costs. I’m thinking more of people who cannot treat others with basic respect because their ideology supposedly disallows them to, regardless of what they themselves would think in the absence of ideological pressure. I’m going to use anti-LGBTQ behaviour as an example, but this doesn’t solely apply to attacks on people’s sexuality or gender.
Using homo- and transphobic slurs, pretending LGB relationships don’t exist, deliberate misgendering, and deadnaming are bog-standard, garden-variety meanness. Time and time again, I see people explaining their actions with statements like ‘It’s not God’s plan’ or ‘They’re crazy’ or ‘I won’t support their lifestyle’. Ultimately, though, this is less about belief than it is about behaviour. Like it or not, people will primarily judge you based on your behaviour. Misgendering, deadnaming, refusing to acknowledge queer relationships, and insisting on terms like ‘sodomites’ are examples of jerky behaviour, plain and simple. I agree with Greg Stevens: you can believe whatever you want about the ontological validity of transgender identity, but when it comes to personal interactions, call people what they want to be called1.
To people who aren’t already on board with your ideology, you just look like an asshole. I don’t think everyone who adopts these behaviour patterns is using ideology as a fig-leaf for petty cruelty, but the ringleaders probably are.
You don’t have to believe the same thing as others to treat them with basic decency. I’m not a Muslim, but I don’t use my disbelief in Islam to imply that Muslims don’t deserve to be recognised as Muslims, or that they can’t practise their religion. I am highly doubtful that intelligent, anthropomorphic supernatural beings exist outside human co-creative processes, but that does not preclude me from treating others with basic decency if they’re not using their beliefs as a cheap excuse to be nasty to me. Even if your belief system says that Janet Mock could never really be a woman, it does not mean that it is appropriate to call her ‘he’ or use the name she used before she transitioned. Even if you personally think that homosexuality is a sin, denying that a gay man has a boyfriend or insisting that his boyfriend is just his ‘friend’ is rude.
I know what it feels like to feel you have to be mean, or that you have to believe mean things. This may be especially true for abuse survivors and people who grew up in strict religious environments. I grew up with verbal abuse and religious indoctrination myself. Since I was convinced that my social skills were vastly worse than others’, I internalised the idea that to be socially acceptable, I had to adopt some of my bullies’ traits. I did things as a teenager that I now regret: using the Bible to justify homophobia, snubbing others for not being cool enough, going along with people who were obviously unkind, contorting myself to believe things I would otherwise shun. I felt awful when I was doing them, of course, but I think I felt I had to distrust my conscience and do those things to be ‘normal’. I now know that’s bullshit. Being mean for meanness’ sake is unhealthy. There are people I utterly despise. Not many – it’s very difficult for me to actively hate anyone – but there are some. Even when I’ve had to communicate with people I loathe, though, I haven’t gone out of my way to be petty.
If you legitimately want to express kindness and decency towards people with whom you disagree, then avoid this kind of cruelty. You’re not going to win souls if you sound as though you’re denying the existence of their soul in the first place.
- Note that I disagree that using simpler arguments is ‘dumbing down’. I do, though, agree that arguments about identity can be worded more simply. ↩