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. :-)