By Meg Crane
I get it. I get tired of the fight sometimes, too.
The 800th time someone asked me where I—as a vegan—got my calcium, I wanted to attack them with the gruesome facts of dairy consumption. I get ridiculous joint pain sometimes and just getting dressed is difficult, so you probably have an idea of how I feel about events held in buildings with heavy doors.
But, you know what, I keep the rage to myself. I take a big, deep breath and I calmly educate the inquirer about the magic of dark, leafy greens. I privately mention to the organizer of the event that it’d be nice to host it somewhere else next time and for this time I’d appreciate a door person.
What I don’t do? Give a sarcastic response or mock the person asking about my nutrient in-take. I don’t attack the host of an event publicly. When people show me the same respect when I’m learning about something, I actually come away with a better understanding. When people attack, my defences go up and it might take a lot longer to get where they’re coming from.
A friend recently told me he can’t deal with pronouns and doesn’t care to learn. This infuriated me, so I didn’t drop the conversation. It turns out, he respects that everyone has the right to express their gender however they feel is right, he wants to address people in ways that feel true to them and he doesn’t want to offend anyone. But he’s also had enough encounters with non-trans people losing their cool with him for slipping up on pronoun usage that he’s afraid of someone jumping down his throat again, so he ignores pronouns and trans issues.
I realized I may have been one of those people who got frustrated with his lack of education on the subject. I had been annoyed he wasn’t looking the issues up himself. His reason: he’s afraid he’ll get incorrect information from the Internet. Valid. A little misguided, perhaps, but valid.
He finally had several discussions with me after I assured him I’d cool it and be more understanding of him not having all the answers. I was going to put an effort into not making him feel stupid or like an asshole for not knowing everything. Hell, I don’t know everything. Who does?
I’ve seen this hostile response from others before as well. On the Facebook event page of an art show, someone posted a somewhat informative public comment about why the organization should not be selling cookies shaped like vulvas. Their criticism was super fair; celebrating women with a body part not all women have isn’t inclusive. However, I’m not sure calling them out publicly was cool. The organizers certainly didn’t think it was. Their responses were rather hostile. They didn’t make any changes to the shapes of the evening’s treats and didn’t seem to understand why that was problematic.
As someone who gets shit wrong and as someone who gets fed up with others getting shit wrong, here’s my list of tips for educating without being a jerk.
1. Keep the conversation private
There’s no need to post on an organization’s public page unless you try to talk to them and they say they just don’t care or something equally ignorant. Afterwards, though, you could just post something on your personal social media pages or blog. There’s a constant argument about whether or not cats should be eating vegan. A public personal stance against cats eating vegan would work to educate people before the even delve into the subject, which could avoid the fight ever coming up.
2. Drop the aggression
Type out that angry, hostile email and then delete all the aggressive words. If you’re cis and don’t know anyone who is trans, you might genuinely not think about selling vulva-shaped cookies to celebrate womanhood as an issue. That doesn’t mean you don’t care.
3. Save yourself time and don’t use your own words
You can take the time to discuss an issue with someone, or you could just send them articles that have the info you’d like to convey. When an anti-feminist approaches me with genuine interest in learning about why feminists have a certain stance on an issue, I don’t waste my time talking about what so many already have. I scope out some good reading and send it that person’s way. It gets me a lot less worked up, as well.
4. Just end the conversation
If someone says something that makes you want to smash a mirror, take a deep breath. You can let them know you’re not up for addressing that racist comment they just made at the moment, but that you’d like to revisit it once you’re not in a fighting mood. If you come back after cooling down, you’ll have a much better chance of educating them with facts and less of a chance of ending the discussion in a flurry of swears.
Those facing prejudice, phobia and other obstacles in society are sick of that bullshit. I’m fucking sick of some of the ways I’m treated for not always being able-bodied and for being a woman. I know my experience is nothing, nothing, nothing compared to how people who are trans, visibly queer, visibly disabled and not white are treated. I stand beside you when you pull out your claws on genuine assholes, when you feel threatened and when you’re having a bad day and just can’t be patient anymore.
But, if we could create more spaces for those nice people—those who just want to understand and get it right—to make mistakes and learn, that’d be pretty swell. As someone who doesn’t have it that bad in society, I’m willing to take on some of that work.
Meg Crane is the founder of Cockroach. Follow her on Twitter.