Lazy Luddite Log



I was standing at a bar ordering a lemon, lime and bitters. The woman behind the bar was dressed in a particular way. A man standing next me suddenly muttered "she sure is a lesbian" or something to that effect. I was rather taken by surprise. I cannot say whether my face looked like a smirk or a grimace but whatever it was I then looked away. I must have had some effect because he then asked "was that rude mate?". My answer was "well it would have been if you had said it to her". He seemed satisfied with that. We got our drinks and went our separate ways...

But I am anything but satisfied with the exchange. With the fact that something like that can happen. With the fact that I was too much the wimp to say that it was offensive to me too. What if I had been more quick-witted? What would I say? "There should be more of it"... "they can serve drinks as well as anyone"... "you sure are of Indian background".

I erred on the side of caution and just as well - one must be careful with strangers in bars. But it irks me that these attitudes exist and that I have to be exposed to it. The woman staffing the bar chose to look a particular way that is associated in our society with queer identity. Is she then inviting or giving license for the passing of comments on how she is different from her customers? Am I politically correct or was that stranger just bloody offensive?

I fared better a while back with a case of racism. Admittedly I had a friend with me and we felt safe to discuss with a man his comment that it was "spot the Aussie" on our train carriage. I told him I was accustomed to ethnic diversity because of the school I went to and that seemed to placate him somewhat. We made the conversation into one of comparing notes on our backgrounds and life experiences. Pretty soon it became apparent that he had suffered both poverty and substance abuse. This was a case of the marginalized denigrating the marginalized. After he left a young woman of recent African descent thanked us for expressing our opinion - something she would have been too scared to do herself.

That is the quandary. Often the things that matter - the issues for which a opinion needs expressing - are also things that may risk provoking adverse responses. Does one take a stand or does one play it safe? Prejudice needs to be challenged but that involves exiting ones comfort zone. Can I become less of a pansy? I reckon taking a stand in a calm and collected manner that allows for the possibility of changing minds is one way to do that.

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  • I can see why you would be dis-satisfied with your response, but I think you are being too hard on yourself. Challenging strangers in bars about their behaviour can be genuinely dangerous, leading not just to shouting and disagreement, but to violence. It is good to stand up for your principles, but there is nothing wrong with picking your time and place. Clearly you did indicate your disapproval, in a non-confrontational way, or the guy wouldn't have picked up on your discomfort. And maybe that will be enough to make him rethink his attitude a little.

    By Blogger vcollins, At 02 January, 2009  

  • Another stellar post! Why don't I read this blog more often? :)

    I'm not sure which of your hindsighted comments I prefer, they're all gold.

    As for the barmaiden - if she's dressing in order to identify as queer, perhaps she is (in a way) inviting remark (consider both senses of the word)? Perhaps bringing queer identity into the face of our bigot is a way to challenge him. I agree with vcollins that our antihero picked up on your discomfort (though, judging by his initial comment, he was seeking an ally). Perhaps he will think twice before making a similar comment to a stranger in a bar?

    Often the things that matter ... are also things that may risk provoking adverse responses. A rich (albeit discontented) existence endures!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 07 January, 2009  

  • "Was that rude mate?"

    "Nah, I just figured out why I wasn't having any luck chatting her up."

    I have a whole list of unsatisfactory answers I can come up with, but very few satisfactory ones. Maybe "Only if you think she'd be offended by it", as it is non-confrontational, but forces the other person to see it from her perspective.

    The least appropriate response I can think of is "I just ordered a lemon, lime and bitters, of course I'm offended by any slight on people's sexuality." Acutally, I think that my posting of that comment was more offensive than what he said, pandering as it does to a stereotype. In penance I vow to do another video on same-sex marriage on youtube.

    By Blogger Cormac Lenihan, At 15 January, 2009  

  • If it had been me, I'd have been tempted to reply with "Awesome!", but I suspect my gender means I could get away with it :-)

    By Blogger Polly, At 16 January, 2009  

  • To Vivienne

    Yes - I was fortunate that the stranger was sufficiently switched on to notice something in my demeanor and sufficiently consensual in temperament. Choosing a right time and place is always tricky (particularly as these things happen on the spur of the moment).

    To Eugenie

    Ta for that. She may be dressing as she does to proclaim an identity or challenge traditional assumptions. Of course she may just like to dress that way and I will never know (or need to know) her sexuality or how she may have felt about the comment.

    To Conrad

    Another video of same-sex marriages? What am I missing here? Any links you should be sending me. As for off-colour comments - hey I am the one who titled this topic 'Pansy' so I think you can get away with yours...

    To Polly

    There is plenty one can get away with depending on ones identity. Problem is with some getting away with more than others. The story has now become kinda amusing in my mind with having discussed it. Still I am peeved that this sort of thing happens.

    I am getting more disturbed by homophobia even as I think that we are slowly winning this debate in society. The motivation for my objections are shifting from the political to the personal as more of those who matter to me are potentially affected by this bullshit.

    By Blogger Daniel, At 18 January, 2009  

  • I have just looked back at this and remembered the rest of the second anecdote. After the conversation with the racist dude had ended, both me and the migrant woman got off at the same station, and then she invited me to come along to the next session of her fundamentalist church. So suddenly I went from one kind of conservative to another kind. She had offered me a pamphlet and normally I would have declined but I had a handbill on me for my next choral gig of that time, so we essentially swapped advertising and parted company. I just found this to be an amusing twist to the story.

    By Blogger Daniel, At 09 June, 2016  

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