Saturday, March 9, 2013

(Un)Safe Spaces

I had a teacher in high school who, in reference to a group of singers who were switching between the tenor and the bass part, said, "Don't be bi-sectional," and laughed.

I'm not entirely sure what the point of that was. I can't recall anyone laughing. Privately, I think this may have been because the class was divided into three parts--those who didn't get the pun on, "Don't be bisexual," those who were too offended to find it funny, and those who were just too confused that an openly gay man had made a cheap shot at another member of his acronym.

I was in the second group, and I remember being angry enough that I ended up storming from that class to English. When someone asked me what was wrong--a classmate who shared both classes with me, and had noticed my dramatic antics--I spun around and snapped, "It's not funny until it's absurd!"

I then apologized to my classmate, because none of this was her fault, and I had lashed out inappropriately. I'm not sure that helped any. I've been told I'm rather frightening when I'm angry.

But that is, for the moment, beside the point.

At the time that sentence meant, "Our teacher should not have made that joke, because people telling people they shouldn't be bisexual--or simply that they aren't, as if they knew our orientation better than we did--is a thing which happens. I am hurt because he treated my experience so flippantly."

Another thing occurred to me, when I was thinking about that phrase. Because most people know that, on some level. A thing needs to be absurd to be funny; your audience needs to consider it absurd. So, in making that joke, my teacher was saying, "Bisexual discrimination is absurd."

I cannot think of a more thorough dismissal. It was not even the screwed-up gaslighting that is, "You're overreacting to this hurt," it was, rather, "This hurt doesn't exist; you imagined the blow."

In my opinion, this is the most important thing to keep in mind when writing comedy. Am I dismissing someone's hurt? There's a place for that, in satire, but satire is by definition critical. In satire, the comedian is, by definition, calling someone out, attacking them.

No matter how much we might wish otherwise, attacking a person in power is different from attacking someone who is already under siege. I've got background messages every day--you don't exist; you aren't real; attention-seeker; whore. Attacking me for a mistake I made is not the same as attacking me for something I had no control over, especially when I am already under attack for it.

1 comment:

  1. Hi! I stumbled across your blog while googling about college essays, and I just wanted to say that you write incredibly well - your voice really comes through with each word.

    Also, as a fellow bi, this post really resonated with me. Thanks. :)


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