In the last couple of weeks or so it’s happened again: some Pagan “Elders” spouted off online about their transphobia. For two of them, it seems they have realized that what they’ve said is a problem, while the last one has pretty much doubled-down on her usual bigoted (and factually inaccurate) rhetoric. You can read Ruth Barett’s essay in our anthology if you want to know what she thinks about transgender women. Suffice it to say that the posts by the other women were similar in their bigoted rhetoric against transgendered people.
There are a lot of folks who think we all should let these remarks slide since the Elders in questions are “pioneers” of the community and have contributed to the building of the current Pagan movement. Putting our Elders in the craft on such a pedestal like that means that they also can fall really hard. While this can be problematic for the clergy in question, since they are treated as more exalted then their peers, this also means that they will come under way more scrutiny for their actions, online and offline. I think it’s good to recognize the work that these Elders have put in to the Pagan movement, since they do deserve the recognition for that. However, this doesn’t mean that they get immunity from the consequences of their actions.
Age is not entirely relevant here. I do think that it’s appropriate to respect our elders in the general sense: they have been through some stuff and know a lot of things. That doesn’t mean that they get a pass for spouting off hate and intolerance. While age and history are a factor in behavior, it’s also a poor excuse for someone’s bad behavior. I don’t buy the idea that a person is a “product of their time” either. That can make it more difficult for a person to wrap their head around certain topics, but it doesn’t necessarily make it impossible for someone to learn a new way of thinking. (Personally, I think it’s a lazy excuse not to listen to what others are telling you.)
What really gets me about this is that there’s always the “But I’m not a bigot!” cry from the perpetrator when this happens. Sorry, but yes, actually, you are:
: a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance
If you don’t want people to see you as a bigot, then the answer is simple: think before you post, write, or do bigoted things. This goes for anyone, really. If you don’t want people to think you’re racist, then stop posting racist memes on Facebook. If you don’t want people to think you hate Muslims, then don’t post anti-Muslim memes or spout off about it in writing. And, in this case, if you don’t want people to think you hate transgendered people, then don’t post bigoted material about transgender people, no matter what you think of them or how “funny” you think the meme is. Because, believe me, it’s not funny.
While I think it’s good to be respectful of elders in our society, actual respect for someone’s words and actions isn’t, and shouldn’t be, automatic. That kind of respect is earned, and doing bigoted things online is not how you earn that respect.
5 thoughts on “Bigotry, Age, and Respect”
Regarding the Product Of Their Time arguments, I think it’s extremely important to differentiate between explanation and excuse.
I *explain* the background on people like Z Budapest when people express incomprehension to me, but I don’t believe her background *excuses* her actions, nor do they excuse her from the consequences thereof. Awareness of people’s backgrounds keeps me from being surprised and shocked, and helps me sort out whether it’s worth outreach to try and change their minds, and if so, what form that should take.
But a lot of people seem to take understanding as condoning. Probably because both are linked to different kinds of acceptance, and once you’ve got a single word used two different ways, confusion reigns. *sigh*
There have been people who’ve gotten weirded out by our approach to Z specifically since we’ve always acknowledge her achievements with the admonition of her current behavior. But, as you say, people confuse our understanding of her place in history with condoning what she says, and that’s far from the truth. And there are also some older people (like my dad) who have used their background as an excuse for bigoted behavior, and that is frustrating because he knows better.
I mean, I also think we should differentiate between “This person is a bad leader” and “This person is not perfect” or “This is a bad person”.