I am going out on a limb here and fully admitting that this might be the scariest post I have ever written.
Last week, I posted a story about a 5 year old boy who wanted to dress like a girl for Halloween. I’m not talking about your average teenage boy who is doing it for kicks. I mean, this 5 year old wanted to dress like a girl in as serious of a way you can be about a costume for Halloween. To be specific, he wanted to be Daphne from Scooby Doo.
His costume was pretty awesome. He was decked out in glorious oranges and purples, complete with a scarf around his neck like the Scooby fashionista Daphne is. But several moms at the child’s Christian preschool didn’t see it that way. They questioned the mom about this choice, and were not private about it in front of the boy. The mom felt bullied, and felt that these moms were also bullying her preschool aged son. In her own blog, she described the actions and called them out. That post she wrote was circulated across the nation, including in this blog. And the general consensus was that these moms were horrible people to have infringed their opinion on a little boy who only wanted to be someone else on a day reserved for just that.
This was the shared opinion over here too, save for one. A woman wrote her reasons for believing that there was another side to this story, citing her religious beliefs for thinking along those lines. “It’s not his responsibility at 5 years old to be some sort of freedom fighter for the transgender community.”
Well, let me tell you all something. As someone once quoted to me: “Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one.”
But before you assume I am referring to the above stated commenter as an asshole, let me correct you. The asshole would actually be ME. The conversation that continued after this woman gave her opinion turned from the article, and instead focused on slamming this woman. Some did it just as agreeably, politely disagreeing. But several others turned downright nasty. And it took the last commenter on the article to finally shed some light on what exactly was going on.
“If you missed it, here’s a thought: You’ve proven yourselves no better than the bullying Moms described in this article…”
So why am I the asshole? Because I allowed the conversation to continue. I fully admit that I disagree with the statements provided by the bullied commenter. And because of my disagreement, I was unable to see the mob mentality that was going on as anything unfair. I was swept up in the mob as well. And it took a clearheaded individual to actually point out the absurdity that was going on for me to be able to see this for what it was.
We were no better than those bullying moms.
But here’s one further. How about those bullying moms? On the actual blog entry by the mom of the 5 year old, there are currently over 42,000 comments. Quoted on her twitter: “Can we all agree that predicting something will go viral is virtually impossible?” Thanks to sites like Babble.com, CafeMom.com, this site, and every other family site that shared this story, countless people are badmouthing these moms. She was even on the Today show, sharing the story with the nation about these moms. They are now the enemies of the nation, as their actions are no longer a single action that took place in a small classroom, but are instead the focus of discussion among millions of people.
Who are the bullies now?
I stand by my opinion that a little boy can dress like a girl if he wants to, whether it be Halloween or not. I stand by my opinion that every person is entitled to their own opinion, whether anyone thinks it’s right, wrong, misinformed, brilliant, or outdated. I stand by my opinion that disagreeing with another human about their opinion is totally fair – if done so without abusing the other person or their own personal rights. I stand by my opinion that people who judge others scare the bejeezus out of me, because I am one of those annoying people who actually value the opinion of others in regards to what they think about me. I stand by my opinion that writing this is one of those scary things that will leave me open for judgment. And I stand by my opinion that in this scenario, I was wrong, I judged, and I was no better than those who pick on others, strengthened by the mob.
To that bullied commenter, I am so sorry. To the commenter who put everyone in their place, thank you. Sure, let’s end the bullying of others. But let’s also check ourselves and be sure that we aren’t guilty of the very thing we are fighting.
I respect you for putting this up but, with respect, I have to disagree with your underlying thesis, because you are suggesting that it is unreasonable to come down like a ton of bricks on someone for stating their opinion. Perhaps some (myself included) were overly harsh, and inasmuch as you’re making a case for more civilized dialogue, I get that – but I still disagree, for this simple reason: We owe no debt of politeness or respect to bigotry and hate. To the contrary, the thinly veiled gay-bashing of the misguided religious right must be countered, with no quarter given. To debate the legal and social restrictions we impose due to sexual orientation as if there are two sides that happen to disagree is to legitimize one of the last bastions of discrimination. What if your topic had been inter-racial marriage or apartheid, and the ‘victim’ of the thread had proposed a religious basis for legal segregation based on skin color? Would we then owe that person a similar level of respect?
My mother had a saying, Crissi, “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
I direct that comment not at you, but at the commenter who became the recipient of all the acrimony.
In regards to the original argument; it may not be that child’s responsibility to be an “advocate for the transgender community” but it is that child’s parents responbility to raise said child with the knowledge that they alone can choose their way and manner of thinking and presenting themselves. Of course, make that claim and these ideas may start breaking down along the lines of what’s harmful and what isn’t in how we choose to raise and educate our children in social settings. But for some reason, whenever we’re talking about sexual orientation, the idea that it can be intrisically wrong to denigrate someone for that, just as it is equally wrong to do so on the basis of race or religion, goes away.
Whatever lies behind this fundamental breakdown, I cannot say, without opening up an entirely different discussion about what constitutes decency, and/or religious theology and its place in society and government. What matters is this; children have no malice or guile with respect to these issues, barring what we as adults provide them with, and such mean-spiritedness leveled in their direction is simply unacceptable. Whether you agree or not that sexual orientation is a choice or folks are simply born so, aiming those convictions, and thus, their venom, at a child is irresponsible and wrong.
As you are a strong advocate for parents trying to raise happy and well adjusted children, the commenter in question must have known they were straying into dangerous territory. I was not deeply involved in the original discussion, so I cannot determine what was said and how wrong it was, but I have to kind of agree with Proximal, in that we must take a stand against bigotry and hate, and as for those who would hold such opinions and voice them openly, considering them justified, well, they earn every bit of the response they receive.
THere is no room for discrimination and bigotry in a forward moving, progressive society. The mistake we make, I feel, in trying to remain understanding and receptive to creating a respectful dialogue, is eternally believing that our ideological opponents will. But I believe the bigots won’t back down. Ever. It’s time we showed them we won’t either.
BTW: You are not an asshole.
You are wrestling with the paradox of tolerance-
The tolerance paradox arises from the problem that a tolerant person is antagonistic toward intolerance, hence intolerant of it. The tolerant individual is by definition intolerant of intolerance, but in so being must be intolerant of himself. This problem is at the heart of the dilemma faced by pluralist societies who wish to embrace diversity, but in doing so ostensibly exclude those who do not embrace diversity, which includes a large portion of the world’s population.
Many philosophers including Karl Popper and John Rawls wrestled with this paradox.
IMO when someone’s only argument for for why something is ‘bad’ are the fairytales and prejudices of nomadic tribes from 3000 years ago, I’d say it is safe to say that they are the mis-guided ones. That does not mean conversations shouldn’t be kept at a civil level. Unfortunately the anonymous nature of these comment sections enables bad behavior and poor manners. I’ve noticed when these sorts of discussions have come up on sites such as Facebook, adults tend to be a wee bit more civil, as they are posting with their real identities.
It seems much to do about nothing.
Spending so much energy over a small child wanting to dress up as a cartoon character on Halloween is sad.
Is this what America is truly becoming?
I am somewhat torn on this topic.
While I certainly don’t consider you an a-hole, I absolutely agree with you that people have rights to their opinions, even if I disagree with those opinions. Lots of people disagree with some of my opinions, and I don’t think that people on either side should be jerks about it. Are we still not advanced enough as a society to have a civilized discussion about differing viewpoints? (Apparently not.)
On the other hand, while I 1.) feel those mothers acted atrociously, but 2.) understand that they had their own viewpoints that, though inappropriately expressed, they do have a right TO express, I 3.) have to suggest that (though yes, 5 may be young to be a freedom fighter) the backlash of this event might really strike a blow and/or open some eyes — a child’s choice unintentionally making members of the nation stand up and rage in the face of intolerance. Did any of that make sense? Was I just rambling weirdly?
Okay…bullying and/or jerkish behavior = bad and uncalled for. Results and change = good and long overdue. I’m sorry people were emotionally hurt, but happy that people are standing up for what they believe in. Neither supersedes the other and I hope that in the future, we can resolve our differences by calmly talking and without name-calling, the way we were taught when we were in kindergarten.
I agree with you. It was just a simple Halloween costume and not a fight for transgenderness. So what, now are we going to ban grown women and men from doing the same?
I’m not entirely sure that a group of people uniting against a voice of intolerance and bigotry is necessarily a group of bullies. If we had “nicely and politely” let opinions like these go unspoken against, then women would have no rights, the civil rights movement would never have left Alabama, and there would never have even been a voter’s initiative regarding gay marriage because it simply would not exist. I agree, however, that we need to encourage more active dialogue and that means setting aside the insults. We need to treat all people with more respect, but we also need to stand up against intolerance, and forums such as these, and conversations such as these ones we are having right here are invaluable for moving our society forward. So thank you so much for making us all think!
You’re not an asshole, Crissy.