From the mouths of Queerios – the difference between offensive speech and humor as coping

“the day I poured heavy cream up my vagina, I definitely stained some body’s shirt”

I’m not sure the conversation that spawned that statement, but it happened last night as we were gathered around cake and laughing at absurd things. That wasn’t the first strange nonsensical things that’s come from conversation with the oddball quirky group that makes my polycule and network of close friends, and it won’t be the last. Some of the others things said though, in fits of humor and good will, may at times border on offensive and problematic in another context. I wish I could have remembered an exact quote of something of that nature that would have better applied to the subject of today’s post, but heavy cream and vaginas and shirt staining stuck with me, so at least I could open on a slightly absurd but humorous note. But what I would like to speak to is the quality of speech in marginalized groups as opposed to in general society, and how it does at times cross into the realm of things that may be problematic or offensive.

I remember as a kid when the passion of the christ came out and the next day there where swastikas spray painted on my synogogue. I remember older members of the congregations who had lived through the holocaust, sobbing in fear. These days, under our new Commander in Hate, we suffer much worse then spray paint on sanctified walls. And when among my polycule where I feel safe, I occasionally make jew jokes about myself.

A few months ago at the supermarket I was wearing one of my many shirts sporting a pride rainbow, and an elderly gentleman felt it was an invitation to tell me how us gays were going to hell. That wasn’t the first time I’d heard something of the sort, and it wasn’t even close to the worst thing I’ve heard. In fact, it was quite friendly compared to some of my experiences. Imagine when someone telling you that you’ll be damned for all eternity is considered quite friendly… And my queer platonic life partner and I are constantly making gay jokes about eachother. A typical response to certain outfits and behavior when we ask the others opinion is simply “Gaaaaayyyyy!!” If someone said that to me on the street, I might be tempted to imagine melting their face off in a vat of melted chocolate (no, no, that would ruin perfectly good chocolate), but from my fellow queerio it is a good natured complement.

So is it simply a matter of intent? My QP means it as complementary when teasing me about things that society uses to marginalize and oppress, but your typical cishet standard humanoid would usually mean it as an insult. I don’t think it’s just intent though. After all, I’ve heard too many jew jokes that were amusing when coming from my mother, a sassy New York jew, that raised my hackles when they came from well intentioned Douchebag McGee in the bar. But he was just trying to be funny he whines, having no idea I remember those painted swastikas and women wailing. No, it’s not about intent, it’s a deeper issue of marginalization versus shared pain and healing.

When I hear a joke or dig that targets marginalized community coming from your standard human who does not face marginalization, or possibly does in some context, but not that context, what I’m hearing is someone who does not understand the shared pain and suffering. They know that their token gay friend may be cool with them making gay jokes, they have “permission”, but they don’t understand the actual experience of being gay. They don’t intend to harm, they intend to be funny, but they don’t have the cultural context of being queer to recognize if their joke is adding to the pain and suffering of that marginalized person in the moment. They also don’t realize that while they may think they are showing their gay friend “Hey we can joke about this cause we both know I’m actually cool with you bro”, they are also showing the rest of society “Hey its okay to ridicule people for this and I’m getting a free pass, so your problematic behavior is okay too”.

When I hear a joke of that sort coming from one of my fellow queerios, I’m hearing a different message. What’s being said underneath that humor is “we’re all suffering shared pain here and barely surviving, and if we can turn that pain into laughter and throw our ability to still laugh and endure in the face of those who harm us, we can survive another day”. I’m not saying that marginalized folks cannot be problematic when joking about themselves. And certainly it’s problematic when it’s about a seperate marginalized group you aren’t a part of. But even when just targeting yourself, I’m sure it’s possible to be problematic, because while you might find it cathartic, you still may be harming your compatriates in that oppressed group without realizing it. And I would hope they would speak out and call out those who do so, because when this is done among marginalized communities I don’t think the intent is ever to cause more pain. We do it though because humor is a coping mechanism, and because we are empowering ourselves. We are taking what they throw at us as knives and daggers and turning it into laughter.

I don’t know if it’s okay, or it’s right. But what I do know is the quirkiest shit comes out of our mouths, and sometimes that shit does skate into the territory of taking digs at the marginalized groups we are part of. And when any of my queerios shouts “Gaaaaayyyyy!!” at my outfit, I laugh and swell up with pride. Because yes, we are really heckin gay, and we are laughing and not apologizing for it, and those who threw that shout at us to harm us before, can’t do shit about it.

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