Not All Jokes, *That* Joke

Apparently Ricky Gervais hosted the Golden Globes the other night.  To be honest, I can’t really understand why.  He hasn’t crossed my entertainment radar recently so I kind of forgot he existed.  As much as I was once entertained by him, there was a turning point that caused me to move on.  It’s fine, Ricky Gervais is not required to be entertaining to specific people.  He’s got an audience, good for him.

In any case, as a part of his Golden Globes jokes, he said something about Caitlyn Jenner, which is as follows:

“I’ve changed, not as much as Bruce Jenner, obviously.”… “What a year she’s had. She became a role model for trans people everywhere, showing great bravery in breaking down barriers and destroying stereotypes. She didn’t do a lot for women drivers, but you can’t do everything.”

There was then backlash about Gevais having used the name Bruce Jenner rather than Caitlyn Jenner.  Many commented that the joke was transphobic to which he later responded…

Nope.  That’s not what it is.  In fact I would imagine that very few, if indeed any, people are suggesting that any joke about Caitlyn Jenner is “automatically transphobic.”  My favorite defense when a comedian disagrees with offense taken at their joke is “oh, so any time I say anything about X it’s automatically <insert oppressive system here>.?”  No.  That is not the case, the offense does not extend beyond the statement in question.

In fact, I would even argue that when he says “she didn’t do a lot for women drivers, but you can’t do everything” is pretty funny.  The joke is not that women are bad drivers.  The joke points to a stereotype about women in juxtaposition with Caitlyn Jenner’s involvement in a deadly car crash.  Caitlyn Jenner, in addition to being a transwoman, is also incredibly rich and privileged and has possibly – like so many famous people before her – escaped justice because of her wealth and fame.  He could totally have complimented her bravery and moved on to the driving thing without preceding it with the bad part which is…

…comparing whatever changes have happened in Ricky Gervais’ life with the alteration of the public presentation of Caitlyn Jenner’s gender identity.  That is transphobic.  When a transgender person comes out and makes the decision to transition (or not), what they are doing is not comparable to basically anything except that.  And of course Ricky Gervais was only saying he had changed as a set up to poke fun at Caitlyn Jenner.  He said “…as I say I’m going to be nice tonight, I’ve changed…” followed by a joke about Caitlyn Jenner’s transition.  That was a joke at the expense of a person’s gender identity.  So, yes, that was transphobic.

Here’s the thing, though, Ricky Gervais is the sort of person who really loves it when you’re mad at him.  There’s nothing that makes him happier.  He’s not listening to any of your reasonable remarks about how “hate-motivated violence against transgender people rose 13% last year.”  He doesn’t care that a survey in 2014 showed that 57% of respondents whose families had cut ties with them had tried to end their lives.  Does he know or care than one in ten transgender people has been evicted from their home because of their gender identity?   I don’t know.  Maybe he does care.  I doubt he’s made of stone, although his personal cause seems to be animal rights.  And that’s fine.  There are lots of problems in the world and we don’t all have to focus on the same ones.

In the meantime, maybe consider that as we progress as a society it may become appropriate to alter the way we speak and there’s nothing terrifying or freedom trampling about it.  Likewise, using language or making jokes that perpetuate a sense that it’s okay to have your fun at the expense of a particular group’s identity is decidedly uncool.  Also, maybe pissing people off for fun doesn’t make you cool or above other people’s petty concerns, maybe it just makes you a douchebag.

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Privilege Problems: Matt Damon Edition, Guest-starring Ellen DeGeneres

Hey remember when Matt Damon damonsplained diversity to one of the filmmakers on his show greenlight who happens to be the only black woman?  And then he “apologized” by saying that he was glad that he started a conversation about diversity.  Newsflash dude, we were already having a conversation about diversity.  It’s just that Matt Damon is apparently one of those dudes that doesn’t think things exist if he isn’t involved in them.

Whatever.  We all moved on with our lives.  There are more problematic people than Matt Damon and then…oh no…Matt Damon wasn’t done saying dumb things?  Here’s the new thing…

“I think you’re a better actor the less people know about you period. And sexuality is a huge part of that. Whether you’re straight or gay, people shouldn’t know anything about your sexuality because that’s one of the mysteries that you should be able to play.” — The Guardian

So, first of all, I’m not entirely sure that to say he was saying gay actors should stay in the closest is precisely correct.  This doesn’t mean that I don’t think what he said isn’t ridiculous, it is.  What he did actually say, essentially, is that everyone should stay “in the closet” about their sexuality.  See, equal opportunity, friends.  There’s only one problem with that.  Say it with me…

Heteronormativity.

Yeah.  See if an actor doesn’t show up with a significant other at some point, most people will assume that actor is straight. It’s literally impossible to be “in the closet” if you’re straight unless you are actively pretending to be gay which – to be clear – no one is doing.  If you want to be “mysterious” about your sexuality as a non-straight person that means actively hiding your sexuality whereas if you’re straight it just means not taking your dates to public events.  If you’re straight, you really can ride under the radar with your sexuality because we don’t have to specify straightness.  Straightness is our society’s default sexuality.  It’s not something that we talk about.

That’s what’s the most problematic about about what Matt Damon said.  He – as his previous diversity ‘splaining session should indicate to us – doesn’t really understand his privilege.

So in the wake of this new dumb statement Matt Damon did what any celebrity would do, he went on Ellen DeGeneres so that she could smooth things over for him.  She is, after all, the ‘L’ in LGBTQ, so who better to forgive him on behalf of the entire LGBTQ community.  Matt Damon stumbles through a thing where he blames the internet for loving to jump on the stupid things celebrities say and then DeGeneres…well, I’ll let the Guardian tell you…

DeGeneres, who is openly gay, told him: “I know you and I know you’re not that guy.”

Alright, everyone go home.  Ellen DeGeneres said he’s not that guy.  Clearly everything is fine.

Wait…

Here’s the ‘Guest-starring Ellen DeGeneres’ portion of the piece.  As great as it is to have celebrity ambassadors of the LGBTQ community, we have to stop perpetuating the “I have a <insert marginalized person here> friend” syndrome. When people like Ellen, or even non-celebrities, say “this thing didn’t offend me therefore it is not offensive to <insert marginalized group>” they are speaking for an entire community as though that community is one homogeneous group.  Doing that is the other side of the classic “I can’t be racist, I have a black friend.”  It’s not just for people who totally aren’t racist.  It’s also for people who totally aren’t homophobic.  Even Kim Davis has gay friends.  One person speaking definitively for an entire community allows us to live in a world where we expect one person to stand in for an entire community (and visa versa…it’s a whole vicious cycle).  It leads to generalizations about groups of people that are harmful to everyone, especially people who don’t fit the mold of what X people are “supposed” to be like.

It’s great that Ellen DeGeneres knows Matt Damon well enough to understand that he didn’t mean what he said the way it has been taken.  What would have been great is if she could then have gone on to point out that not meaning to be offensive and hurtful is not the same as not being offensive and hurtful.  Matt Damon stepped into a pretty fantastic opportunity for taking credit for a genuinely productive conversation about social norms which he is totally missing out on. In fact the attitude that Matt Damon is perpetuating – the idea that everyone can be equally mysterious about their sexuality as a means to making their acting better (a proposition that I think is pretty ridiculous for other reasons) – is that being gay will be damaging to your acting career.  As it happens, being gay has been damaging to many acting careers because “being mysterious about your sexuality” is a really great cover for people who just think being gay is yucky.  Who knew?  (Lots of people, it turns out.)

So Matt Damon, please take some basic college courses.  I would suggest Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.  You’ll learn a lot.  Maybe it will help your acting.  You can even feel free to take credit for the suggestion.

No One Wants Your Acceptance

So by now if you haven’t heard about Kim Davis I would like the address of the cave in which you reside so that I may join you there.  In the event that you haven’t though, let me give you the abbreviated story so we can move on.  Kim Davis is a County Clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky.  Since the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Obergerfell v. Hodges she has been denying same-sex couples marriage licenses to which they are legally entitled.  She insists that she doesn’t believe in “gay marriage” and blah blah sanctity of marriage yadda-yadda.  This has gone through several levels of our court system all the way up to the Supreme Court who told Kim Davis and her attorney in no uncertain terms to bounce because they had already ruled in this matter.

Here we are, the next day.  The Supreme Court has told her to get the hell on with her job and she’s still denying couples their marriage licenses “under the authority of [g]od.”  Normally, I might stick in a picture, but I am so tired of seeing this woman’s face that I don’t want to do that, nor do I want to burden you.  This is not so much to talk about her specifically, but something that her husband said which has a larger relation to attitudes that seem entirely too prevalent in the United States.  Finally succumbing to temptation, I clicked on one of the seventy-nine articles in my newsfeed in which I came across this quote from Kim Davis’ husband:

“They want us to accept their beliefs and their ways. But they won’t accept our beliefs and our ways.”

I have a couple things to say about his statement.  First of all, I feel confident in saying that none of the same-sex couples attempting to acquire a marriage license is in need of or even desires your acceptance.  They don’t need you to accept shit.  What they need from Kim Davis is for her to do her job.  Period.  End of story.  She doesn’t have to like it.  She just has to do it, because that’s her job.  Ideally you will get issued a marriage license and it will be as uneventful as and no more frustrating than renewing your driver’s license.

And here’s the messed up thing about her job.  She is an elected official.  What this means is that she had to actually campaign – to some extent – to receive the votes of the people in her county.  Now I can tell you from personal experience in local politics that it is entirely possible that she ran unopposed because lots of small government positions that you don’t actually understand what they do (prothonotaries, I’m talking to you) don’t actually get a lot of play in elections.  They aren’t sexy jobs.  No one really understands what it takes to be qualified for them and so no one really runs.  This is, of course, beside the point.  She did.  I hope you’re happy Kentuckians of Rowan County that actually voted for her.

The second thing is this: I don’t need to accept your beliefs and your “ways.”  You don’t need me to do that.  Because of the freedom of religion afforded you by the Bill of Rights you get to have your religious beliefs even when I don’t accept them.  And guess what?  I don’t.  I stridently do not accept an interpretation of the bible that relies on your ability to discriminate against people because you don’t like them (that is what this is about, because if it were about biblical principles you’d also be turning away those who are divorced).  The great (I guess) thing about the United States is that even if I don’t accept what I feel are your petty, cherry-picked, mean-spirited beliefs you still get to have them.  You get to have them at home.  You get to have them in your church.  You get to have them in your hand-picked community of bigots (yeah, I said it).  You get to have them to whatever extent you please so long as they do not conflict with the laws of the United States of America.  It’s like how you have the freedom of speech but you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater because then you’d be endangering people’s lives.  In a similar way, you get to have your religious beliefs until they endanger other people’s rights.

…Unless you’re a business that wants to stop women from having birth control and/or have access to abortion services, but that’s a story for another day…

My point is this: Kim Davis and her husband are not being oppressed.  What Kim Davis’ husband is asking for is not acceptance, it is for his wife to have the ability to use her government position to discriminate based on her personal religious beliefs.  What other people do that may conflict with your beliefs is not any of your business.  I have read the bible cover to cover on multiple occasions and nowhere does it say that you will be judged on other people’s behavior.  So no, no one wants your acceptance and neither are we required to give you ours.