by: Jason Waddell
Recently on the forums there has been a serious discussion on gender and language on the RiptideLab forums. It’s not uncommon that forum threads veer off-topic, but what set this apart from previous occurences was the level of passion being brought to the debate.
First of all, let me state that I want RiptideLab to always be a place where people feel open to share their ideas. We do relatively little moderating here, and for the most part our users steer clear of personal attacks.
Personally, when things have become a bit heated in the past, I have attempted to use humor to de-escalate the arguments, but in this case eventually let things play out. I would like to use this post to find some sort of middle ground. I’d like to tell a story.
I have gay friends, bisexual friends, lesbian friends, but until recently had never known someone who is transgender.
Let me preface by saying that I am not judgmental of anyone based on gender or sexuality. I choose to share this story because I think it helps shine light on an intersection between perspectives.
A couple years ago I met a (female) friend’s boyfriend named “Barry”. Barry was doing a research thesis on game design, so we chatted about that occasionally, but were never that close.
Last year, on my way out to drinks with a friend, she mentioned, “Oh, Barry will be there. Barry’s a woman now. Still ‘Barri’, but now she spells it with an ‘i'”.
The group I was meeting was very progressive, populated mostly by polyamorous people of various sexual orientations, and all knew each other well. I was an outsider to the group, and naturally wanted to avoid stepping on any toes.
At some point in the evening, somebody asked me how I met Barri. “Well I met him…”
…and there was a pause in the air. I didn’t mean any offense by it, had no malice in my heart, but I knew that I had used the incorrect pronoun. It was an honest mistake. When I met her, she was a man, and so my memory of the occasion is of interacting with a man. No harm intended, but a mistake nonetheless.
I corrected myself. “…her…”
And a round of nods went up around the table. I didn’t mean anything wrong by it, but the whole evening I felt a bit on edge, not because I was with a transgendered person, but because I was worried about offending or being perceived as offensive. I no hatred or judgment in my heart, but I still had to be careful with my words. To learn to be comfortable in that context.
I think this can be a point of contention for some people. “If I myself am not hateful, why should I worry about my language offending? There is no hatred behind my words.”
It can certainly feel hostile when you realize you’ve offended someone. But there’s also usually a spirit of forgiveness. I don’t think anybody at the bar held it against me that I used the wrong pronoun, especially once I corrected myself. I think when people complain about so called “social justice warriors”, it’s because of encounters with people lacking this spirit of forgiveness. If you hold no hatred in your heart and are accused of being hateful, one might naturally react negatively.
I think what separates these issues in some regards is their “newness”. We don’t bat an eye when someone tells us to avoid certain hand signals or words that are considered offensive in countries we travel to.
I think there’s always a middle ground to be found.
Personally, I had never considered that the term “manland” might be considered offensive. Some of the posts in the forums opened my eyes to the fact that this does not hold true for everyone. I am willing to make changes to my vocabulary, and appreciate when I am met with a spirit of forgiveness when I use potentially offensive language that had no hatred in intent.
Further, I am pleased to see that the discourse on our forums remained civil, and hope that we can continue to keep RiptideLab as a welcoming environment.