Call-out Culture

Illustration by Mary Anne Carter.

I recently had a not very good week. In fact if it wasn’t for some cool writing gigs and my girlfriend’s persistent support, this whole spring would have been a shit sandwich on stale Subway bread. I lost a job, my brother had a seizure, my mom lost a job and a boyfriend and then had a stroke (she has now recovered and has interviews lined up.) I drained my EBT card buying groceries for my sick, uninsured mom and thought, oh well, won’t be the first time I’ve lived off dumpster scores. I’m not homeless, I have a great education, but I’ve never had enough money that the dumpsters and eviction didn’t loom. Mostly I’ve been able to take it, but one never knows exactly the limits of their resilience, and certainly not others’ limits.

One night I had no time for dinner, and my anxiety meds (paid for by the state—I could kiss Obama with my formerly rotting, Medicaid mended mouth) hit me so hard I was out cold. I awoke at 4am to my girlfriend curled at the foot of the bed in the 100 square foot SRO where we’re cohabiting (FUCK YOU, Seattle housing and rent policy.) I held her and she whispered “Thank God.” She was having a panic attack, and had lain there for hours, wishing I would wake up to comfort her.

She surprised me the next night with a room at the Sorrento I have no idea how she paid for. When I posted a picture on social media of her lounging in a hotel robe with the caption, “Had a rough week so Mary Anne got us a room at the Sorrento for a night!” Amidst the many approving comments from friends aware of our recent troubles, someone I had spoken to once in my life wrote, “No offense but people who have the means and opportunity to do something like that don’t have “rough weeks” the way some of us do.” When I explained our situation and encouraged the person not to make assumptions about others’ backgrounds or financial situations, they wrote “Fuck you.”

Fuck you? It was so absurdly inappropriate and rude Mary Anne and I laughed. Our friends came to our defense immediately, and we returned to enjoying moving about a space without tripping over each other or bashing our heads on all the crap hanging from our ceiling.

Now I’m not trying to one-up anybody with my problems—I can look under any overpass in this town and see someone having a worse day than me. On a societal level, this is extremely important—I’m willing to talk about my various privileges any day of the week. However, any therapist will tell you, on a psychological level it serves no one to compare your problems to anyone else’s, and a person is better able to go out and do good in the world if they are emotionally and psychologically healthy.

It would be easy to demonize this person, but that would go directly against the statement I’m about to make. I don’t know them—perhaps mental health issues were involved, perhaps there had been a death in the family, perhaps they were drunkbooking, mescalinebooking, etc. The point is I don’t know their situation and they don’t know mine.

Call-out culture has brought societal diseases like rape culture to the forefront in a way that has drastically altered the world we live in for the better. I’ve witnessed people publicly calling out rapists, protecting the community more effectively than litigation and relieving themselves and other victims of underserved shame, or calling out bigoted posts on social media in such a way that the worldviews of people who made them transformed.

However, if you’re going to call someone out, especially on a public forum, use your fucking brain. Certain things are never okay—violent threats, inappropriate sexual advances, racism—CALL THAT SHIT OUT. Never okay. But if you feel the urge and don’t know the context, investigate the context, why don’tcha.

My prescription for moments when you feel something may be wrong but aren’t sure: have a neutral, information-gathering conversation with the person you perceive to be the offender. So often, nit-picky arguments occur within the queer community, (ESPECIALLY ONLINE, uuuuuugh) when we have bigger fish to fry—violence against trans* people of color, Trump, homelessness in the queer community (and everywhere in this tech money-bloated town) the prospect of social security going out the window with national debt.

Oppressed people of every stripe (and, well, everybody) should strive to offer each other support, patience, and love—history has shown us over and over there is strength and safety in numbers. There should be a healthy open dialogue about problems within the queer community, but we will never make positive change if we’re busy bickering on the internet about who has it worst.

Make sure you know a person to some degree before you condemn possibly benign behavior, and LISTEN to what they have to say. Volumes could be written about every human, and it is each of our duty, pleasure and enlightenment to discover them.