Now, I know this is the internet, where douchebags have free reign to be douchebags in anonymity, without repercussions. I know most comment threads are usually full of ignorance that’s not worth reading. But (this is the point where you should stop reading if strong language offends you) the shit I have seen today is far beyond the limits of acceptable behavior. I am compelled to say something about it.
For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, in the past few weeks Stephon Marbury has gotten up to a neverending series of interesting– and sometimes disturbing– antics in his forays into livestreaming his life on the internet. I am probably guilty of watching far too much of them than is healthy to watch. Wizards center Brendan Haywood, when asked about Marbury by Hardcore Sports Radio, had the following to say:
“At first it was cool, but after a while it just became disturbing. He’s on YouTube crying with no shirt on for no reason, sweating while his boy’s rubbing his shoulders. What’s that about? That’s like gay porn. I don’t understand it. He’s dancing to a song called ‘Barbie Doll’, doing like stripper moves. I have no idea what’s going on with the guy, it’s almost like he’s trying to end his own career. There’s not a GM out there that would touch Marbury right now.
Have you seen the ‘Barbie Doll’ clip? Click on YouTube and go to Barbie Doll. There’s no way any other professional athletes would wanna get dressed around this guy, because you gotta think something is a little, he’s swinging from both sides of the fence.”
I was kind of taken aback by this when I read it, since, as mentioned, I watched quite a bit of the Marbury stuff this summer and “gay” was a word that pretty much never occurred to me. Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo’s Ball Don’t Lie provided an excellently written and fairly condemning post on Haywood’s foolish comments, and Kevin Arnovitz at True Hoop (who actually is one of the “out” journalists referred to in the aforementioned post) followed it up with this piece. I read both and immediately thought, “Wow. Those were awesome pieces.” I said so at once. In fact, I’m the first comment on the BDL piece. What I liked particularly about it was that it used language that made the subject accessible to the average fan who might not be used to reading or writing about equality topics, and it used humor. It didn’t leap in and get political, or throw around a bunch of terminology that an NBA fan wouldn’t know. As you will soon find out, I am not going to do that in this post. I am going to use terminology. But I am going to– I promise– try to explain it, and also why the comments I read today from NBA fans are disheartening and seriously not OK, and the inherent connections homophobia has to issues which directly affect me.
Usually when I rant about topics like this, the group toward whom I direct my ire and fruitless pleas for enlightment is heterosexual white men. This is the default demographic in America. What do I mean by “default”? I mean that they are the group that’s marketed to. I mean that they are the group we see presented to us as characters on our televisions in Hollywood-produced entertainment, in ratios that are disproportionate to real life. It means if you are not a part of this group, you are “other” in some way. You have had some sort of “-ism” directed at you in your life, whether it be racism, sexism, whatever. For the purposes of today’s rant, however, I want to make it clear that men of color are totally not being given a pass. We are talking about HETEROSEXUAL. MEN. WHO. LIKE. SPORTS. Got it?
So now we’re going to talk a little about privilege. I’m going to roll with this definition, because I really like it:
Privilege Is: About how society accommodates you. It’s about advantages you have that you think are normal. It’s about you being normal, and others being the deviation from normal. It’s about fate dealing from the bottom of the deck on your behalf. (Source.)
It is now Question Time.
Q: But Ticktock6, I called Kelly Dwyer gay because if someone cares about an NBA player being afraid of gay people, he must also by default be gay!
A: I was called gay at least three times today in comment threads about the Brendan Haywood thing, and I found it both laughable and infuriating, because it is so symptomatic of the exact attitude the posts were talking about. It was part of what prompted me to write this post, and part of the privilege thing I was talking about before. It is self-centered and arrogant in the utmost extreme to assume that everyone in a comment thread must automatically feel a certain way because you do. Also, I frankly am so horrified that people apparently exist who have no ability to put themselves in the shoes of another human being, I really don’t know how strongly I can express this horror without spazzing incoherently on the keyboard of my MacBook. Seriously? SERIOUSLY? You read that post, and the first thought that jumped to your mind was, “Haha! Kelly Dwyer’s gay!” … Wow. You are a sad individual. You are awarded no points, you fail at life, and may God have mercy on your soul.
Q: Surely, Ticktock6, you would be afraid to change in a whole room of lesbians, because they might spontaneously assault you and try to convert you! Oh wait, I just remembered lesbians are hot. Whereas gays are not cool. Never mind.
A: There is a lot of privilege to unpack here but I will make a valiant attempt. Let us start with the fact that men are privileged not to have been bombarded by sexualized and contorted imagery of their bodies on a daily basis for their entire lives. As a woman, damn, all we see is other women’s bodies. They’re everywhere. They’re in our magazines. They’re on the TV. They’re out on the street, because it’s acceptable and encouraged for women to wear less clothing than men. They’re on freakin billboards. If we hadn’t achieved a level of comfort with them being out there, we wouldn’t be able to open our eyes in America. Our sexuality doesn’t even really belong to us, on a certain level. It belongs to… everyone! It’s… out there! It’s public. We have been removed from having a say in certain aspects of it, and while this is not right, it does make us very used to female bodies. Sorry if I can’t summon any sympathy for your terror that someone gay might be looking at your body. As a heterosexual male, you are privileged in not having to deal with this in your life. I don’t know, is it this privilege that makes men freak out about other men’s bodies? You tell me. But then, you guys are in locker rooms. You guys pee next to each other with parts of your anatomy out. Where does this intense fear of other men’s sexuality come from? Seriously, don’t you think gay people have much better things to do than try to convert you? Again, your ability to be so self-centered is directly rooted in your privilege.
Q: So you are saying that Stephon Marbury might have danced around on Justin.tv to a teenybopper song with no shirt on for a reason other than because he’s gay? But how can this be? I was watching! The fact that he was there! Doing that! While I was watching! And I’m a heterosexual male! He has to be gay!
A: This is the assumption that pissed me off. If you can get this, and only this, you may leave this blog and I will feel like I achieved my purpose. Repeat after me. It is not always about you. Maybe it’s possible that someone can do something weird or slightly “off” and it’s not about their sexuality. Hell, maybe it is about their sexuality, and it’s still not about you. Maybe it’s possible that people exist– bear with me please– who are basketball fans, for whom a video of Marbury dancing is not “gay” at all. I watched a bunch of the Marbury stuff. I was like, “Damn, don’t put the shirt back on!” Was that gay of me to say that? Of course not. I’m a heterosexual female. (Never mind that gay people are just like heterosexual people, and they behave in a variety of different ways because they are a whole spectrum of people and do not necessarily define their entire lives by the fact that they are gay. They may be doctors. They may be writers. They may be basketball players. The point is there is no such thing as “THIS IS THE WAY ALL GAY PEOPLE ACT”.) By pre-supposing that someone’s behavior is gay or offensive solely because you are uncomfortable with it or confused by it, you are making it all about you. Society is set up to accommodate you more than any other demographic group, and you are demanding that we do it some more because you are insecure. You completely dismissed out of hand the idea that Marbury might be dancing for anyone– me, his friends, himself– other than you, because of course you are his only possible audience. And as a nice little side note, you are telling me I can’t possibly exist. I do not take kindly to this. Hence, the post.
Q: I don’t get it. How is that telling you you don’t exist? That’s not what I said at all. You’re not even gay.
A: You implied it. And this is really the crux of the whole thing. When you make harmful and ignorant comments about an NBA co-worker/peer in a supposedly joking way, or think every space in the sports blogosphere is a safe space for you to spew ignorant hate as a commenter and not be called on it– after all, everyone there is the same as you! … What you are really saying is that people who aren’t like you A) aren’t a part of the audience for sports, and B) aren’t welcome in sports.
As a wrap-up note, don’t tell me I’m being too sensitive and need to grow a thicker skin or whatever garbage you want to say. You. Have. No. Idea. What it is like being me, out here in the blogosphere. You think if I didn’t have a thick skin, I would be still be writing an NBA blog? This is going to be my third season, and let me tell you, if I was not already able to shrug off the disgusting jokes, and ignorant statements, and people talking like I’m not there, and sheer hatred of women I read on a daily basis– yes, I said daily and yes, I said hatred because, as far as I am concerned, a denial of a person’s basic humanity counts as hatred– I would have quit after a month. And that’s just what I read on the internet. In the spaces I regularly inhabit as a fan of the NBA. I can’t even imagine what it is like being a female reporter in a locker room. Or a gay reporter in a locker room. Also, it goes without saying that anyone who accuses others of being “too sensitive” or “acting out” is operating with a big whopping dose of— let’s all guess the word– privilege. If you’re a blogger, never having to skim past eighteen disgusting comments about a group of people that includes you is the biggest privilege of all. And you probably don’t even notice.
What follows is a Heterosexual Privilege checklist. The time I have personally taken to read checklists like these has been highly eye-opening and sobering to me. I suggest you read it alone, drop the tired “no homo/pause” facade, and try to imagine what it is like to be someone else for the five to ten minutes it takes you to finish reading. (For more reading on privilege, go here. And White Privilege Checklist, and my personal favorite friend the Male Privilege Checklist.)
On a daily basis as a straight person…
- I can be pretty sure that my roommate, hallmates and classmates will be comfortable with my sexual orientation.
- If I pick up a magazine, watch TV, or play music, I can be certain my sexual orientation will be represented.
- When I talk about my heterosexuality (such as in a joke or talking about my relationships), I will not be accused of pushing my sexual orientation onto others.
- I do not have to fear that if my family or friends find out about my sexual orientation there will be economic, emotional, physical or psychological consequences.
- I did not grow up with games that attack my sexual orientation (IE fag tag or smear the queer).
- I am not accused of being abused, warped or psychologically confused because of my sexual orientation.
- I can go home from most meetings, classes, and conversations without feeling excluded, fearful, attacked, isolated, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, stereotyped or feared because of my sexual orientation.
- I am never asked to speak for everyone who is heterosexual.
- I can be sure that my classes will require curricular materials that testify to the existence of people with my sexual orientation.
- People don’t ask why I made my choice of sexual orientation.
- People don’t ask why I made my choice to be public about my sexual orientation.
- I do not have to fear revealing my sexual orientation to friends or family. It’s assumed.
- My sexual orientation was never associated with a closet.
- People of my gender do not try to convince me to change my sexual orientation.
- I don’t have to defend my heterosexuality.
- I can easily find a religious community that will not exclude me for being heterosexual.
- I can count on finding a therapist or doctor willing and able to talk about my sexuality.
- I am guaranteed to find sex education literature for couples with my sexual orientation.
- Because of my sexual orientation, I do not need to worry that people will harass me.
- I have no need to qualify my straight identity.
- My masculinity/femininity is not challenged because of my sexual orientation.
- I am not identified by my sexual orientation.
- I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help my sexual orientation will not work against me.
- If my day, week, or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has sexual orientation overtones.
- Whether I rent or I go to a theater or Blockbuster, I can be sure I will not have trouble finding my sexual orientation represented.
- I can walk in public with my significant other and not have people double-take or stare.
- I can choose to not think politically about my sexual orientation.
- I do not have to worry about telling my roommate about my sexuality. It is assumed I am a heterosexual.
- I can remain oblivious of the language and culture of LGBTQ folk without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.
- I can go for months without being called straight.
- I’m not grouped because of my sexual orientation.
- My individual behavior does not reflect on people who identity as heterosexual.
- In everyday conversation, the language my friends and I use generally assumes my sexual orientation. For example, sex inappropriately referring to only heterosexual sex or family meaning heterosexual relationships with kids.
- People do not assume I am experienced in sex (or that I even have it!) merely because of my sexual orientation.
- I can kiss a person of the opposite gender in the cafeteria without being watched and stared at.
- Nobody calls me straight with maliciousness.
- People can use terms that describe my sexual orientation and mean positive things (IE “straight as an arrow”, “standing up straight” or “straightened out” ) instead of demeaning terms (IE “ewww, that’s gay” or being “queer” ) .
- I am not asked to think about why I am straight.
- I can be open about my sexual orientation without worrying about my job.
Q: But isn’t this supposed to be about basketball?
A: It is about basketball. And if you really, truly, loved the game, you would do everything you could to make sure that other people who aren’t exactly like you can be part of it too. I really encourage people to think seriously about whether you are being selfish in spaces you share with other NBA fans. Think about whether what you say may interfere with someone else’s ability to post about or talk about their love of the game.
Now, I hope we are clear about how arrogant and ignorant it is to assume that no one who’s anything other than the demographic you belong to is in your space as a sports fan or participant. I hope we are also clear that… this blog? This is my space. And if the “big” media isn’t going to delete hateful and disgusting commentary, you can be 100% assured that I will.
The only correct and acceptable answer here is, “Yes, Ticktock6, we are clear. Crystal.”