How Not to Empower Hatred
Outing and shaming on social media (and elsewhere)
A few weeks ago I was at a friend’s watching that popular reality show, “Survivor.” The premise is that typical template of challenges, alliances, Shakespearean intrigue, strategic maneuvering and votes to evict competitors. The incentive is to slog through it all for the $1 million prize. Now in its 34th season (two runs per year), the show maintains high audience numbers by its careful casting of diverse personalities. There’s someone for every viewer’s vicarious thrill and LGBT players have been featured since the game’s launch. A gay guy won the first season.
So, as we watched the episode draw to a close with the “tribal council” to remove an unlucky player, Jeff, a gay contestant (one of three), in a desperate strategy to survive, outed his trans competitor, Zeke. By revealing Zeke’s “secret” Jeff hoped to prove his rival was untrustworthy and thus save himself. It backfired. He was immediately and unanimously evicted.
For the viewing audience of more than 7 million, the lesson learned had multiple levels. Trans-acceptance, of course, was one but there was also the simple understanding that a trans-person may or not be recognizable and, ultimately, it doesn’t matter anyway. Most viewers no doubt found themselves sympathizing with the betrayed trans guy.
Meanwhile, back in Cream City, there was another outing of sorts, a public shaming. It seems a would-be suitor propositioned a well-known community personality on a popular dating website and was rebuffed. One might think the rejected guy would simply move on. But no, in fury befitting a woman scorned, the man, who is white, launched a barrage of racial slurs and insults against his object of failed affection, a mixed white and Latino guy. At one point the white guy writes, “we don’t do ethnic in west bend (sic). We are building a wall for a reason. Go home.” Our victim responded with a disarming, “I am home,” explaining he was born at Saint Francis Hospital to a white woman and, besides, Puerto Rico is part of the U.S. Still, the other guy persisted, saying Puerto Rico should be “radiated” (as in with a nuclear bomb) and, after more name calling including the gay slur f-word, ranted “hope your (sic) the next murder posted on here.”
Our undaunted friend then posted a screen shot of the entire conversation on social media.
Like body or slut shaming, we debate the efficacy of such public defamation. However, unlike outing for some nefarious purpose, here one can easily argue a moral imperative. The ugliness this individual decided to unnecessarily unleash reveals our fatal flaw. Armchair psychology might call it gay self-loathing. But, there’s more to it. The instigating rebuff not only insulted the white guy’s masculinity but, even more so, his privileged racial dominance, the latter a last bastion of the white working class. His outburst restated all the familiar paranoid catchphrases of fear-based racism. It is, at least in part, the rationale for LGBTs voting against their own interests in the last election. Today, whether a result of our country’s newly empowered hate or of the insecure belief that belittling others makes us superior, we have a problem. Calling it out is not only a prerogative of the offended but an obligation.