Tuesday, October 13, 2009

On the Offensive

Warning: This post may contain offensive material.

Today, while clicking through the headlines of interest on Twitter, I came across this at Bitch Magazine's website. As one might imagine, it seemed more than a little offensive.

But getting offended raises certain questions.

About a month ago some coworkers of mine were angry because a busboy had informed them that he was offended when they said, "Goddammit." He's a baby-faced Hispanic boy who is Catholic and saving himself for marriage. They were angry that he'd taken offense. Cries of, "Lighten up!" and, "What's the big deal, dude!" rose from the service well with abandon, and everyone had a good laugh at the busboy's expense.

These same people all get very offended when he makes it clear that he's not okay with their homosexuality.

Always the antagonist, I raised a question to the girls who'd given the busboy offense: "Why is it okay for you to offend him but NOT okay for him to offend you?" This question was coming from a girl who rarely, if ever, gets offended. Even the iPhone app featured in the Bitch blog didn't really offend me, although five years ago this blog would've been about what assholes men are. Thing is, it doesn't offend me because I already know a lot of men are assholes. I've just given up and decided to get okay with that. That's the secret to not being offended: realize that what other people think has nothing to do with me and quietly go on about my business.

When I raised the question in the well, essentially I was called a stick-in-the-mud. But one of the girls, a lesbian, was given pause and responded that I was kinda right. My point was that if you're going to get offended about things, you have a responsibility to take steps to avoid giving offense whenever possible.

It's pretty much impossible to never give offense, partially because some people are offended simply by the existence of people who are not like them, even if those people keep completely to themselves.

When I was in college, my friend Joseph wore a shirt for a (death? heavy? black?) metal band featuring a nun masturbating with a crucifix. It said, "Fuck Jesus." Clever, no? Well, he wore it to Wal-Mart one evening and was asked to leave. The whole situation was hilarious because he was offended that they were offended, and he went on a rant about how the existence of Christianity was so offensive to him that he should be allowed to ask them to hide all evidence of their existence. I told him that his request would kind of put him in the same boat with the people who were offended by his shirt. And to some degree, if Christians never want to see that shirt, I suppose he's right. He should be allowed to ask them to hide all evidence of their existence.

And now it becomes obvious what a slippery slope this whole, "Don't do things that offend me," thing really is.

In reality, I think that if something offends thee, thee should cut it off. In other words, if something offends me, I should avoid it, not the other way around. And in situations where I absolutely cannot avoid it, I should let it go. Getting all, "You need to cut that offensive shit out!" is just my way of getting on a high horse of some nature and trying to make the other person feel bad.

It's always really funny to me, too, how so many people are quick to point out just how much they hate it when Christians get all judgmental and take offense but are so willing to be okay with doing the same thing. I guess it's okay to have sensibilities as long as they're not religious ones?

I think that the responsibility rests with me. It's my responsibility to both avoid situations in which I'm likely to take offense and avoid giving offense whenever I can. Not that I'm always great shakes at this. Knowing the right action and taking it are two different things. I'm notorious for dropping f-bombs at work, usually within earshot of a customer or two. But I do know that if I'm not going to be more careful about giving offense, I do not get to turn around and get all offended.

Essentially this argument revolves around the idea that the person whose behavior with which I need to be most concerned is my own. But it's most people's belief that the person with whose behavior they need to be most concerned is that asshole at the Wal-Mart in the "Fuck Jesus" shirt. Or that asshole at the Wal-Mart wearing a "God hates fags" t-shirt. Or that guy I once saw at the Kroger in Denton wearing the "Amateur gynecologist" t-shirt.

I am not arguing that we should not watch what we do and say. Far from it. I'm just commenting on how we all prefer to watch what someone else does or says and then bitch about it. But let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

Wait a minute. Scratch that. We all seem to think we're each without sin, and I don't want to get caught in the crossfire.


  1. I am queen of giving offense when I feel someone starts it first. (I may have given a squeeze to a religious zealot's bum-bum this year at Mardi Gras when he informed me that Jesus does not disapprove of judging others.) Totally mature, right? No. Not so much. But in general I try to watch my offensives, not because I don't want to be offended, but just because I think the world is seriously lacking in some of the lovely conventions of politeness that used to be so cherished.

    I defend gay rights whenever it is brought up. I do not take kindly to people judging an entire group--especially one they potentially have had zero interaction with. However, I also prefer people to not cast all Christians into one group of awful as many are prone to do. Religion can be a beautiful and much-needed antidote for many people's lives, and I don't find them foolish for that. Make you happy. Just try to not hurt others in the progress. It's all we can really hope to do.

    I guess you could say, I try to be an equal opportunity defender. But I fall short on some points--which is why I keep my stones in a pretty little rhinestone box under my pillow.

  2. Enjoyed your comment, Bubbles. People who say horrible things about gay people don't offend me. They make me sad. It saddens me more than anything that people can be so hateful.