Sunday, November 13, 2005

Of fish, stars, unwelcome mats, and defensive prejudice

I came up with the phrase "defensive prejudice" all by myself, and claim myself as the inventor because I haven't heard otherwise. It means, "prejudice towards a group that contains individuals who have expressed prejudice towards you." It is a method of emotional self-defense, a way to keep oneself from getting hurt *again*. It is an ugly mass of scar tissue that can sometimes grow on a wounded soul. It's wrong and it's sorry and it sucks--it keeps the cycle of prejudice rolling, because it certainly doesn't endear individuals within groups to each other, and it turns the person who experiences it into what they hate. I myself fight it quite a bit when it comes to Christians, although I used to be one. I hope the Christians who are reading this right now understand that I'm trying to heal some of my own scar tissue of the soul by exposing and attending to it.

We were talking about people who advertise their Christian faith in business this week at the Message Board of Love. I don’t mean a Christian bookstore or a skating rink that offers a Christian music night—I mean, like, “Christian” stockbrokers who advertise themselves as such, plumbers who flash their fish in their phone book ads, that sort of thing. I think some of the Christian businesswomen there were surprised by the reactions they got from liberal Christians and from non-Christians like me. One said that her company has a Christian fish in her company’s letterhead—and I won’t divulge her industry, but it’s not one that I would automatically associate with any religion. I’d be surprised to see a pentacle in her letterhead, too. But she regards the fish as a symbol of her company’s professionalism and high ethical standards. I, on the other hand, referred to these symbols as “unwelcome mats” for the likes of me. Another woman basically accused me and others of being bigots against Christians due to “a few unpleasant experiences”. It’s an annoying charge—conservative Christians who B&C about being attacked are often being *counter*-attacked, and I sincerely believe they know it, too. But it’s a charge that made me think.

I’ve been hurt. I have my issues with a particular very loud and vocal brand of Christianity, one that is alien and almost completely unrecognizable to many lifelong Christians. I get accused of these things by people with conservative-and-Evangelical-Christian tendencies, often in the course of a debate (as if that invalidates everything I have to say), and I’m not afraid to say that yeah, there’s truth in that accusation. Feelings aren’t fact, of course, but they do contain their own kind of truth, and I have every right to express my truth and to speak my opinions on current issues. I also know that my “few unpleasant experiences” are not so trivial. I am in two demographic groups—LGBT and Pagan—that are used to whip conservative Christians into a frenzy. (Not all conservative Christians, or conservatives, or Christians, foam up at the droplets of our blood offered by self-proclaimed conservative Christian leaders, but enough do to have to consider.) It’s not trivial when someone comes into your house to fix your roof, notices your pentacle necklace and the queer books on your shelf when you offer him a cold drink, and decides he ought to talk to you about your sinful lifestyle and what turned you away from God. It’s not trivial when someone leaves tracts in your house while he’s supposed to be fixing your pipes. It’s not trivial when the new owner of your fast foodery fires your ass because everyone knows you’re bi and have a girlfriend, and he insists you understand that his “strong moral values” preclude him from keeping you around to fix a ham and cheese sub for his new customers.

I am, as I have said before, blessed with a Leisurely personality pattern, according to the Personality Self-Portrait. (Well, I’ll call it “blessed.”) I don’t like things to be more complicated than they have to be. I hate to say this, believe me. I hate to even think it. But if there’s a fish or a cross or a Bible verse in that ad, I’m not going to that company. I regard it as an unwelcome mat for my Queer, Pagan self. Perhaps they just want to cut my hair and will do a good job of it, but I don’t need to stress over how they’ll react if they see my pentacle, and if they’ll yammer about Jesus and fuck up my hair on top of it. They can’t all want to “share the Gospel” all the time, right? Couldn’t it be that they sincerely want to do a good job, and their faith is what reminds them to be ethical businesspeople and gets them through a hard day? I want to believe *that*. I want to, but I have been hurt so badly by other people who flaunt those symbols when they really don’t need to be flaunted. I know that for some Christians, “faith” seems to mean “let everyone else know that God says they’re wrong all the time.” I know that some of them, like Chick-Fil-A, will even use my own money into a weapon against me if I give it to them, by donating it to organizations whose goals are to make life harder for people who don’t worship or have sex their way. So I save myself the trouble. I pass the unwelcome mats by, even when they are not unwelcome mats at all but mere symbols of identity. I know that I am missing some real bigots, too, who don’t bother with any kind of symbols and may not even consider themselves any kind of religious. I pre-judge, and I don’t like myself for it.

In New York City, we don’t see many fish. We see more Stars of David, signs that a company is Jewish-owned. The Pagan and her agnostic wife tend to avoid those companies, too. We feel that we are not wanted there. One of the pro-symbol arguments I saw was that the companies want to “attract a certain kind of customer.” Not being that certain kind, I necessarily believe that they therefore want to *not* attract me, perhaps even repel me. If that’s the case, it works. Let them have their certain kind of customer. They’re free to market how they want; I’m free to do business where I want. That’s how capitalism works.

But am I right to use this as a criteria? I don’t want to become what I hate. I don’t want to be prejudiced, or a bigot, even if my prejudice is the defensive kind.

I am, as I have mentioned in Dr. Deborah Serani’s blog, counterphobic. I hated being afraid of heights, so I forced myself to climb up stairs, look out windows, and stand on balconies. My legs shook and I nearly pissed myself, but I mostly got over that fear of heights. I hated being afraid of elevators, so I forced myself to take long trips up and down, from the ground to the top and back without stopping. L’Ailee is counterphobic, too. She handled her fear of wolves (a perfectly rational fear for a person who grew up in rural Siberia, which she was, but not so helpful to a resident of New York City, which she is) by going to wolf exhibits in zoos and researching wolves. Her hairstyle (or lack thereof, as she says) is in part a counterphobic measure—she’s very shy, and used to hide behind her hair. That pretty little bald head invites touch and comments, and forces her to look at people and be looked at. When I discussed this with L’Ailee, we wondered if we could also be counterphobic when it comes to defensive prejudices.

“We have your family. Thanksgiving and Christmas,” L’Ailee said. “If you were so bigoted, you would not feed them or talk to them. We would not make an effort.”

This is true, but they are my family. I don’t even like thinking of other people as something to be afraid of, you know? I wonder about out-and-proud conservative Christians on the street, or online, or whatever. I wonder how to balance my desire to not be hurt with my desire to be as free from prejudice as possible. I wonder how to screen out the pain while letting in the good stuff that people of all backgrounds and beliefs can provide. I wonder too whether Christians who’ve seen the members of the LGBT or Pagan or freethinking communities show their asses to them—and we all know it has been and often is done--exhibit defensive prejudice. (See what I mean? Not helpful, keeps it going.) With a gusty sigh, I also wonder if people will get what I’m saying, or just write me off.

And that’s where y’all come in, dear readers, if you’re still here. :-)


sttropezbutler said...

Is it defensive prejudice to simply make a choice?

What's great about us as humans (at least I think it is great) is our ability to make that choice.

I shutter when I hear the commercial on TV advertising a "christian" law firm. What does that mean? To me, it means that you can still be christian and a scum bag lawyer.

I hope I am not what I dislike in others..although it is often said that we don't like in others what we don't like in ourselves.

I know that if I am treated with respect and dignity that I will do the same. I know that if someone does not wish to honor me in this way, I will walk away.

I have no wish any longer to change those people who don't wish to give me dignity and respect. I simply want to be apart from them and not have them in my life.

Does this make sense?


Dr. Deborah Serani said...

I like your phrase so much. It makes such literal sense.

Defensive Prejudice.


Qivan said...

To be honest, I was sort of shocked by some of things I've read on blogs by American fundamentalists, and how so many of them have such rigid beliefs, but it's not something I run in to much in my daily life.

You live in America, not Ameristan and the thought police have no right to tell you how to live and love.

SassyFemme said...

Yes, I get what you're saying. Having a wife that's Jewish, and being gay makes us very aware of all those little fishies with yellow pages ads, and the "Christian" this and that. Living in the south it's in our face all the time. Our general belief now is that those who advertise as "Christian", or go around flaunting themselves as "Christians" equates to right wing, evangelical, ultra conservative, gay bashing, holier than though bigots. We will go out of our way not to do business with them, and not to associate with them. I guess the "funny" thing in all this is, my beliefs in God and Jesus and all that would put me under the umbrella term of Christian. There needs to be another term for them or for people like me.

Jaded&Opinionated said...

This is something I'd never thought about before. I run a business, and I'm a Christian. There's no way of missing that when you enter my house... I have a cross hanging over my front door, and I collect angels, so they're everywhere. Because of this, I have several students who feel more comfortable, because they're devout Christians and prefer to sing only Christian music. I don't necessarily understand that, because while I consider my voice a gift from God, I don't feel like I have to only sing Christian music. I do sing some, but I sing primarily other material.

However, while there are symbols of my faith in my home, which is where my studio is located, it's not something I ever make mention of unless someone brings it up. I don't have any symbols on my business cards or letter hear... not because I'm not proud to be a Christian, but simply because I don't see what it has to do with my job. I use my gifts to earn a living and the blessing is that I've been very successful. I don't also need to shove that down anyone's throat, although my faith is obvious to anyone who has been in my home.

I will admit that after thinking about what you've said, I'd be far less likely to enter a business that clearly displayed a pentacle for much the same reason you'd prefer not to enter one which displayed a cross or fish. I wouldn't feel welcome there, and I would anticipate feeling uncomfortable. Anyone who feels the need to identify their business by linking it to their faith is saying that unless you share their faith, you are not welcome. At least, that's my opinion of it. I can be a businesswoman who is also a Christian without being a Christian businesswoman. My business welcomes everyone without regard to their faith or lack thereof. As long as people are respectful of my faith, it's cool. They don't have to share my faith, and we never have to mention it in the context of their studies with me. If someone brings it up, then sure, we can discuss it. The fact that I hang a cross over the front door of my home merely reflects my own faith without the implication that you're only welcome if you share that faith.

Make sense? I hope so... I'm wide awake at 5AM for no particular reason, but I'm not sure that I can string coherent thoughts together yet, lol.

Clandestine said...

Very interesting. I've thought about this myself, actually, and I like this term "defensive prejudice." Hmmm...

I think that as we go through our lives, we have to try to keep ourselves as safe as possible, right? So, we avoid walking alone at night whenever possible, we keep our eyes out as we walk through parking garages, and avoid the shortcut alley on the way home. We learn self-defense tactics, and don't give out our social security number unless we know it's okay.

Furthermore, we don't divulge our deepest secrets to strangers, we try to avoid verbally abusive people, we try to engage in conversation with people who will respect us...

So, as women with a female partners, I think it's perfectly reasonable for us to avoid businesses that advertise as Christian. NOT because all Christians are out to get us, but because it is simply true that VERY fundamentalist Christian people (for lack of a better term) do not support our lives. Would I go into a business that advertised that is was for men? No. So, I also wouldn't go into a business that advertised as Christian. I may be perfectly safe to go in, as I am not in the habit of announcing the gender of my partner as I enter stores, but emotionally, I don't need to pay someone when I feel that there's a pretty good chance they wouldn't want to associate with me because of the gender of my partner alone.

Just as Christian people would be more likely to go to a business with the little fishy, I'd be more likely to go to a business with a rainbow flag. Or, with nothing at all. I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

oomm said...

I had never noticed people advertising as Christian anything (except obviously religious businesses) until this came up on the MBOL and I avoided that thread purposefully for two reasons, the first being, it's exactly the sort of thing Jill asked us not to do, and just as you would want your way of life to be respected in your home, Jill's ideals for behaviour should be respected in her virtual home.

The second reason I avoided it was because in a thread such as that it is almost always only the black and white opinions that are seen and heard. Each trying to out "right" the other, rarely does anyone want to look at the middle ground because there's no meat there for proving yourself superior.

I'm a bisexual Christian Conservative. That's right. You heard me. No, I can't tell you how I balance the religious side with the sexual side, because I don't. I struggle with it every day and I pray to God to help me understand what is true and right, because I don't believe any HUMAN can tell me that.

When I identified as straight (I was the last to know) I shopped at bookstores and ate at restaraunts with pride flags and pink triangles on the door. Certainly they advertised that they were gay and gay friendly establishments but I didn't feel that they did this to exclude me.

If I am out shopping and see something pretty in the window of a store that has a star of david in the window I will go in and investigate the item in question.

I work in Salem, MA. If I were uneasy entering establishments displaying pentacles I would rarely find a place to eat, get a coffee, or a newspaper let alone buy smudge sticks and tarot cards.

In the end I see it as this. If you are proud of who you are, lesbian, christian, jew, pagan, whatever, then you should allow that to show. If you want to talk to me about it because it's brought joy to your life and you think it could bring joy to mine, then by all means, bring it to me and allow me to weigh it for myself.

If however, when I have this information in my hands and have chosen something else, and you continue to work to convince me to see it your way, then I will move on. Whatever your way might be.

In fact, even if I agree with you. If you are a christian, if you are bisexual and you are constantly preaching (understand darling Lilo, I'm not accusing you of this in any way, I loved what you had to say and adore you, you know this) to me and those around us, then I probably won't spend a bunch of time around you either.

Give each person a chance to be who they are without forcing it on you. Allow them to share their joy with you but not beat you with it. Don't turn away from someone because they are proud of what make them who they are, and maybe they won't turn away from you because of what make you who you are.

I've had bad experiences with many groups of people, message boards, religions, colors, sexes, but I'm not willing to write off any one group just because I happened to be involved with the more unsavory elements from it.

Individuals. We may identify with certain groups and hold certain beliefs, but if you treat each new person as an individual and not a representative for the things they hold in their hearts you may open your world to all sorts of joy and love.

Or, you know, keep doing it your way, because I'm not one to push my way on you,lol.

much love darlin!

Karen said...

defensive prejudice.
now this post really got me thinking (which at this hour of the morning is pretty amazing !)
I think you really touched on something here. I do understand how that makes you feel. I understand both sides of the issue but admit that somehow it makes you feel unwelcome when a business lets you know what their personal beliefs are and that you may not be welcome if you don't fit into their philosophy. being proud of your beliefs and life is important but does it need to be advertised as a way of welcoming or weeding out your clients? it is a fine line. I hope I made sense here--need to go drink coffee now :)