Assholes are People Too

Content note for homophobia, rape culture, sexual assault, and domestic abuse.

Recently, as part of the whole Chick-fil-A spiral to hell (which, if there is a benevolent deity, will be old news by the time I actually get around to publishing this post), an old high school acquaintance made some homophobic remarks via Facebook — to the effect of, So many “fags” and “dykes” are getting “butthurt” because they can’t stand the “truth” that “real Americans” support Chick-fil-A.

[Italics represent paraphrase. Quotation marks reference exact words used.]

This was not the first time he’s made such remarks, nor was it the first time I’ve let him know that, in addition to being disrespectful to and intolerant of a group of people, they were also personally hurtful to me.

So I unfriended him on account of his behavior was that of an asshole.

I mean, yes, it’s certainly his right to post whatever he wants on Facebook (at least, as long as he’s in line with Facebook’s terms of service). I’m not disputing that. But just because he has the right to post it doesn’t mean I’m required to read it or to continue to remain in any kind of contact with him. For some people, even the term “Facebook friends” suggests a level of positive regard that I am just no longer feeling.

And still, it hurt to be so utterly demeaned and discounted by someone I once knew well enough to want to maintain some kind of relationship — even if only a Facebook relationship — a dozen years later. Which is why I can say his behavior was that of an asshole, but I can’t bring myself to say he is an asshole. Because when I picture him, I still picture a whole person.

He does not do me the courtesy of returning the favor, apparently.

Here is where I bump up against an uncomfortable notion yet again in my life: Real people can still effect real asshole hurt.

When I was raped, it was by someone I’d known for — coincidentally — also about a dozen years. In that time, there were periods of closeness and periods of drifting apart — but I’d always operated from a framework that he was a whole and complete person, deserving of respect. It made it the more difficult to wrap my head around the truth that he’d used that respect, in part, to commit an intimate assault on my person.

Later, when I was leaving my last longer term relationship, it was all kinds of confusing to me figuring out what, precisely, was wrong with it. All I knew was that my then-partner had at times said things on purpose to hurt or insult me and that getting out just felt right. At the time, I felt like I was disrespecting him by not being able to give a more put-together reason why I wanted to separate. It wasn’t until nearly a year later that I realized:

  • Verbal and emotional abuse are Actual Things;
  • Sexual abuse is not limited to when adults coerce or manipulate children into sexual contact.

And still. It’s nearly dissociative for me to label that relationship as “abusive” — because I don’t want to admit that one can be both an abuser and a real person or that I did in fact spend care so deeply about someone who was both.

It’s tempting to separate people into two categories:

  1. People I respect and care about;
  2. Assholes.

But real life isn’t so simple. Just because I care about someone doesn’t mean they might not be an asshole. And just because someone is an asshole doesn’t mean I stop caring.

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8 comments on “Assholes are People Too
  1. Kimberly says:

    Well said. Separating the person as a whole from the SO dissonant behaviours they can exhibit is a huge challenge. I recently decided within myself to forgive a whole person, but just can’t forgive one set of behaviours. I have decided to be okay with my partial forgiveness. For now at least. :)

    • Tori says:

      In the cases I’m thinking of in my own life, these are hurts and violations that are already met with enough societal forgiveness (even without an expression of remorse) to render my own (or the lack thereof) irrelevant.

  2. Quercki says:

    This is a powerful insight. Might it partly explain the “trying-to-make-the-victim-partly-responsible” that nearly always takes place? (The other part, of course, is trying to keep the blamer safe in their own mind.)

    • Tori says:

      [Continued note for sexual assault.]

      I do think this is part of it, yes.

      After I had reported my rapist and it was a “known” thing among our mutual friends, several of them contacted me and said it couldn’t have happened like I said because [insert various potentially identifying information about my rapist's childhood and adolescent actions here, most of which offer evidence that he is a good person and a nice guy]. I believe they had the genuine impression that people who commit rape are Easily Identifiable Douchebags all the time — not, as you mentioned, only because it made them feel safer from possible violation as well, but also because they could not seriously entertain the possibility that someone they knew and liked had committed rape.

  3. ordinarygoddess says:

    Oh, my god, Tori. This is the post that I’ve been trying to write all day.

    (I’ve been reading for about six months, after linking over from Shakesville. I THINK this is the first time I’ve delurked, but I’m not sure.)

    I’m going round and round with a dear friend’s spouse on FB. Briefly, and paraphrased:

    D: FREE SPEECH.
    Me: Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
    D: POLITICAL CORRECTNESS.
    Me: Civil society!
    D: If you don’t like it you can just tune it out.
    Me: [*flail* Why is all the responsibility on the target and none on the perpetrator? *backspace* Personal responsibility! *backspace* Is it kind/is it truthful/is it necessary? *backspace* I expected better of you. I haz a sad now. *backspace* *gives up*]

    I still haven’t actually written a response to his latest response. I feel like I should. I feel like I should get some credit, dammit, for the respect and care and consideration with which I’ve treated this gentleman and his beliefs and boundaries over the years. I don’t feel like he respects *me* in the same way – like this is all an abstraction to him. I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to be more like him, and I don’t want to give up. I don’t want to say something to my friend and hurt her. I value his friendship independently of hers, but at times like this, I wonder why. It’s complicated.

    • Tori says:

      Particularly regarding the “if you don’t like it, you can tune it out” idea — I’ve long had a mind to keep track, for a day, of the number of pro-diet, pro-weight loss, anti-fat messages I receive in society. (One could apply the same idea to other forms of intolerance, which is where I’m thinking it applies here.) I’ve started on occasion, then had something happen where I couldn’t keep track for the rest of the day.

      The thing is, though — at the times I’d stopped keeping track, I was already into double digits. And these were all times when I could have clicked away, changed channels, asked a friend to change a subject, etc. It wasn’t even something — a work meeting, a doctor’s appointment — where there was authoritative pressure to remain listening. Even then, I can’t tune out everything.

    • theyazata says:

      ‘ Why is all the responsibility on the target and none on the perpetrator? ‘

      This. I feel constantly bombarded by things I’m supposed to do when confronted by assholes. I should ignore it. I should be more understanding of their perspective. I should respect their point of view. I should stop taking away people’s free speech (honestly, like I have that power). I need to understand they’re too old/from a certain culture/have a personality disorder that they’ve diagnosed themselves with/set in their ways to change.

      How about they stop being assholes? And worse making lame excuses for being assholes? Much simpler solution for everyone.

  4. Dominique Millette says:

    This is really well expressed, and an important point that isn’t debated nearly often enough. It`s exactly why we let abusers off the hook, both as celebrities and people we know: they can’t be assholes, because assholes are people in the bushes somewhere.

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