Call him a cynic

One of those think-pieces that just don’t need to be written…by Charles White, Deputy Editor of The Tab Durham.

Last week saw a landmark moment as LGBT and straight people celebrated equal marriage in America and another year of Pride –– just by changing profile pictures on Facebook.

You must have seen the rainbow photos which started appearing on your newsfeed from Saturday. If you’re straight you can add the colours to your profile and everyone will know you’re down with Pride.

Call me a cynic, but how long do you really think these pictures will stay up? In a few days, they’re bound to disappear –– one by one, Rainbow filters will be replaced by Instagram Valencia again.

I don’t have an opinion on the subject…but even if I did, so what? They disappear or they don’t, so what? They were a celebration; who says they have to be permanent, or stay up for at least a month, to be ok? What need is there for cynicism about them?

Straight people can rest assured they’ve done their job. Everything around the world is great so, sit back, relax and change your Facebook profile picture back again.

These worthy right-on types have a time limit for this sort of thing. So how long? A week? Two?

This sort of easy slacktivism is the equivalent of “one like = one prayer”. Both are nonsense and an offensive simplification of reality.

Hey! Fuck you – I’m a straight people and I don’t think I’ve “done my job” – the thought never crossed my mind. I don’t have any illusion that a rainbow profile on Facebook means everything around the world is great. Sheesh – give us a Dear Muslima while you’re at it.

It’s not “slacktivism” – nobody I know of confused it with any kind of activism.

There is a dangerous foe we queers need to prepare against and it might just be you, the fair-weather ally.

Listened to one too many Ariana Grande bangers in the union bar, didn’t you? And now all of a sudden you’re ready to take on the heterosexual hegemony.

Was it a celebration of marriage equality? Well I don’t remember you flying to Belfast and to tear down the Peace Walls in an act of sheer ruddy queer optimism.

That’s a dumbass thing to say when writing a piece for a general audience – of course he doesn’t remember “me” or “us” flying to Belfast, because he has no idea who we are in the first place, so how could he?

Are you going to keep that banner up till every single queer in the world is liberated? Or will you just change it subtly in a couple of days and hope nobody notices?

It’s almost like you want them to notice so you can get more likes on yet another profile picture. Summer’s coming up so your beach bod needs immortalising in a perfect profile picture of hot brilliance, not worthy of being obscured by a rainbow.

And on it goes in the same vein, for many paragraphs, with several people’s profiles singled out for sneering. One interrogation too many.

I could easily see finding the rainbows personally irritating and cloying, and saying so, but that’s not political, it’s just a matter of taste. I have Grump-taste, so I know all about finding things too sentimental and saccharine, but spitting in people’s faces for no reason is a whole other thing.


  1. says

    Speaking as a gay man myself, I think he has some good points. Most of the people who changed their images in celebration — I would dare say a large majority — will change their images back and give it no more thought. These are the people who have not had to fight their entire lives for basic human and civil rights, who do not have to face the backlash of that fight, and who will have nothing at all to lose without ENDA and other nationwide non-discrimination laws.

    I see no problem with telling our aspiring allies that winning one battle does not mean the war is ours, and that while we appreciate their celebrating with us, we could still very much use their help in our communities, city councils and legislative bodies.

  2. anthrosciguy says

    Better not catch this guy giving a thumbs up, much less a cheer for his favorite sports team, unless he holds that thumb high high high for the rest of his life. And he’d better not lower the volume of his cheer for a year or more. Otherwise, why did he bother to gesture or cheer at all?

    This is a thumbs up gesture to people you’re glad to see win one. This is a joyous horn honk and a wave as you drive past a group celebrating. It is, by its nature, an ephemeral thing.

  3. PatrickG says

    @ Gregory:

    Whatever good points he has seem to be rather outweighed by a tidal wave of contempt. One section really jumped out at me:

    So when we probably did need you lot, where were you? Didn’t see you when millions of queers were dying because of a preventable disease during the 80s and 90s.

    It’s interesting, because every profile he included to mock appears to be under thirty. Myself, I was eleven years old at the midpoint of the 80s/90s. It’s an outrage! I mean, where were we young, straight assholes when people were dying? How dare we not leave our playgrounds, our junior high schools, and our mother’s wombs en masse to join the cause? Playing with our toys like we just didn’t give a shit! The shame will haunt us forever!

    Also, not sure where he gets the idea that only straight people did Facebook rainbows. I’ll have to let my gay married friends know they’re doing it wrong. How the hell does he know those people are actually straight? I guess we’re just supposed to trust him on that one.

    So yeah, overall, I’m giving this a “swing and a miss”.

    Straights only care about anything when they think it’s cool –– just like when you stole vogueing and started saying “shade”.

    Maybe he just doesn’t know very many “straights” and “breeders”. Or at least not many younger ones.

    In the end, this is a #NotAllStraights post, I guess. But given how many of my friends (straight or gay) he went out of his way to insult, some of whom are hardcore activists, I’m pretty ok with it.

    P.S. As a straight myself, just want to point out that Madonna’s the one who stole vogueing. I don’t even know what the hell saying “shade” is. Must have missed the memo on that one, or maybe it’s a UK thing.

  4. PatrickG says

    I do want to clarify that I understand he’s angry and frustrated, and that his specific attacks may have been spread a bit wide. He’s definitely describing a legitimate phenomenon.

    It still reads like a cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face piece.

  5. alona says

    Did he complain that straight people had appropriated the rainbow too?

    I’m old enough to remember where I was when I read an article about that first MMR item, the one about a weird cluster of cancers in gay men. Fuck him for standing on the memory of his friends and mine, who died in horrible conditions, just so he could scold.

  6. xyz says

    Oh, boy. I do understand what he’s saying. If you’ve worked in activism, you’ve probably heard this style of rant about “allies” as fair weather friends. Maybe you’ve even delivered this rant yourself. I’ve been real close to it.

    Is it the kind of thing that can be rationally understood and close-read for detail? No. Is it a nice, proper tone to take? Not at all. Should you publish it on the internet for all to see with your real name on it? I probably wouldn’t.

    But it’s a real damn thing. This is someone who lived through an era where his friends were being decimated by AIDS and the vast majority of people didn’t give a shit. This is someone who faced down really deep and destructive oppression. It’s a howl that comes out when for decades, noone wanted to claim you and yours, and now all of a sudden everyone seems to want to identify with you and your struggles. That’s disorienting. It’s disturbing. It can be infuriating. It can make you question how many of your new allies are actually “down for the cause” and how many don’t even understand what that actually means. How many are in it for the long haul and how many are just jumping on the bandwagon for a minute to feel good about themselves.

    When the mainstream used to chew people up and spit them out, I understand the resentment at feeling like the mainstream is now trying to swallow them whole.

  7. says

    Nope, I still don’t see it. If all of a sudden practically everyone I knew on Facebook were posting some profile item that stood for SOLIDARITY WITH WOMEN AGAINST MISOGYNIST HARASSMENT…I would be too happy to see it to want to spit on it.

  8. says

    In particular, this – “how many are just jumping on the bandwagon for a minute to feel good about themselves.”

    What do you want? Should everyone have ignored it? Said it was a bad thing? Gone out to play pool instead?

    Blegh. This making a virtue of being shitty – I’m so sick of it.

  9. xyz says

    I don’t “want” anything. And the article is literally the easiest sentiment to dismiss, cause it’s quite ugly and ungracious. My only point is that it comes from pain. If I were friends with this guy I’d have advised him to print out the draft, light a cigarette with it and have a good cry.

  10. PatrickG says

    @ Ophelia:
    Speculation follows, but to borrow from a particularly apt portion of xyz’s comment:

    That’s disorienting. It’s disturbing. It can be infuriating. It can make you question how many of your new allies are actually “down for the cause”

    So yeah, the speculation:
    * Maybe he’s just in his own place of disorientation and questioning. Wouldn’t be the first time someone reacted to success with paranoia.
    * Maybe he really believes that most of the people now celebrating gay marriage are only doing it because it’s an issue they can relate to.
    * Maybe he really thinks that most of the people now celebrating are going to take the “we gave you marriage, can you shut UP about those other things” attitude.
    * Maybe he really thinks that when conservatives tie even this marriage ruling up in frivolous lawsuits and “religious freedom” exemption requests, most of the people now celebrating won’t have their backs.
    * I believe there’s a lot of trans* people and trans* allies out there who are not tremendously happy to be excluded from the conversation recently, particularly after that oh-so-viral Obama incident. Maybe this guy identifies in one of those groups — it’s not hard to see how a bunch of fairweather friends coming to you on one issue (and only this one issue) might make you pissed.

    I read a fair amount of his other stuff, and while he’s snarky, he doesn’t seem to be quite this intemperate normally. So anyway, this piece in particular was really, really bad, but … anyway, there’s my thoughts on why this response is plausible, understandable, and sympathetic.

    Of course, I have no idea if any of the above applies here. But I’m trying to be more charitable these days. 🙂

  11. PatrickG says

    @ xyz:

    My only point is that it comes from pain.

    If nothing else is clear, this is.

  12. speedwell says

    I’m an American (a Texan even) and my husband is Irish (Northern Irish with dual citizenship). He voted in the Irish referendum on gay marriage. I signed petitions to the US and to Texas about the right of gays to marry. This wanker has no idea what my husband did in Northern Ireland, and he has no idea what I did when I was living in America. I’m not going to dignify his nonsense by protesting that we’re on his side; I don’t need to protest anything but injustice. And I’m taking down my Facebook rainbow when there is another cause I choose to support.

  13. karmacat says

    You did a better job than Charles White explaining your feelings and cynicism. The difference is you talked about your feelings rather than telling everyone else what they are thinking and feeling. It is much more powerful to read what you have been through and why you feel frustrated.

  14. says

    I posted my rainbow to say “hurrah!” – it’s a short celebration of achieving a milestone. Of course it’s going to come down. WTF is wrong with a little celebration? Asshat.

  15. L. A. Julian says

    I’ve also seen several people in the wake of the Irish Referendum and now the Supreme Court decision saying marriage equality ONLY benefits cis gay white men, and therefore shouldn’t be celebrated.

    Way to erase all of us LBT women and LGBT people of colour, including the Irish reporter Ursula Halligan, who finally was emboldened to come out in a wrenching editorial about her long life of loneliness and shame, and Freethought Blogs’ own Aoife at Consider the Tea Cozy. Erase all of us, in the name of supporting us, that’s awesome! /s

    I don’t say NEVER look a gift horse in the mouth, but I have a deep distrust of people whose first instinct towards anything the least bit positive is to find as many faults as possible — and make some up if they can’t find any. It feels like “being a lonely truthteller” in their own minds is more important for them than making any headway on issues.

  16. Crimson Clupeidae says

    I get where he’s coming from (I think). However, it is insulting to a lot of people. Even if most of those people haven’t done anything directly to support LGBQT rights, I suspect many of the people who changed their pictures are those who voted for the politicians, voted on ballot initiatives, etc. Ok, it may be about the least one can do, but that’s still much better than actively working against the cause.

    I wonder how he would feel if he got the same message if something like the equal pay act actually passed….

    I try to support equal rights for all, and I do, but how I actually spend my time varies.

  17. johnthedrunkard says

    It IS ‘dear Muslima’ all over. The ‘you lose the victimhood stamp-collection contest.’ Of course, I put a rainbow over my FB image for marriage and for Stonewall. And I’ll probably change it back when the gesture loses its currency.

    My ‘background’ image references atheism directly. My content speaks for itself. Why should I let my gestures be policed by someone who has no notion of who I am?

  18. EigenSprocketUK says

    Changing the avatar is an ephemeral statement of support: brief, but important.
    It’s way too easy for bigoted folks to think “I’m part of the silent majority, and people agree with what I think even though we’ve never discussed it.”
    Charles White / the Durham Tab has just had a nasty jolt of reality by seeing people they assumed would share their world-view make it clear that they do not.
    Welcome to reality Mr White: it turns out that you are a bit of a bigot after all. You will have to say something like “no, but seriously” if you’re going to get out of this.

  19. Morgan says

    Charles White / the Durham Tab has just had a nasty jolt of reality by seeing people they assumed would share their world-view make it clear that they do not.
    Welcome to reality Mr White: it turns out that you are a bit of a bigot after all.

    Uh… the sections Ophelia quoted make it clear this isn’t a homophobe trying to explain away a show of support for his enemies, but rather, a queer person not trusting that an easy gesture marks people actually willing to help him.

  20. EigenSprocketUK says

    Oops, thanks for putting me right on that, Morgan. Sorry. I really did read spectacularly upside-down. And sorry to Mr White and the Tab too. <shuffles off in shame to read the sources>. I guess I’ve read too much small-town editor-in-bigotry stuff and I wrongly thought this was another example.

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