Why gay jokes aren’t
Have you ever heard a joke making fun of able-bodied, straight, white, successful males?
Recently I stumbled on a thread on Reddit called “Gay jokes [NSFW]”. The OP (Original Poster) asked people to share jokes that might be cringeworthy for some, but “sometimes we just gotta laugh at ourselves”.
The jokes in there were indeed Not Safe For Work, but the most distubring thing wasn’t jokes like “Q: How do you turn a fruit into a vegetable? A: With a baseball bat”. It was that these jokes were made by gay or bisexual men.
I think it’s the age old story of people in a minority wanting to display cool self-distance, missing the line and ending up way into awkward self-disdain. I made a sarcastic remark:
Q: What’s the difference between a straight man and a “gaybro” telling a homophobic gay joke? A: The straight man can’t be called an Uncle Tom.
Fortunately, the OP was actually interested in my point, bringing up that his ‘straightbro’ told him this joke and that the bro in question was Mexican and fine with telling racist jokes about Mexicans. I got a chance to reason instead of just being vaguely sarcastic (thank you, OP).
“exposure to sexist humor can lead to toleration of hostile feelings and discrimination against women”
What OP, his ‘straightbro’ and everyone else in that thread missed, is that jokes communicate. It has been scientifically proven that sexist humor makes people with misogynistic attitudes feel that it’s okay to have them. I doubt that it’s any different for jokes about gay people, racist jokes or jokes about any other group that isn’t part of the norm.
Fact is, that jokes are more sinister than simply coming out and saying “I don’t like gays” or “I think women belong in the kitchen”. With jokes you can express things that normally wouldn’t be socially acceptable and claim “hey, it was a joke”. You don’t want to be the politically correct dork who can’t take a joke, right?
The problem is that if you know this and stay quiet, you will be the friend Martin Luther King, Jr meant when he said
In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends
It’s not only jokes. Everything communicates. From looks to facial expressions to what we say. Even what we don’t say communicates. That sexist joke your colleague just told? It didn’t make the world a worse place for women, and he’s such a nice guy who loves women. That gay joke your brother in law told you didn’t hurt anyone, and his friend is gay so he can’t be a homophobe. But ask yourself, how many jokes about straight, normally-abled, white, successful men have these people told? The problem with norms is that they hide in plain sight, by pointing your attention to everything that differs from them. And while a paper cut never killed anyone, living your life getting thousands of paper cuts every year is unpleasant at best.
No matter if these paper cuts come from jokes, words or looks, they all contribute to an attitude that permeates our culture and society. If you’re not white, you’re just not as good. Woman? A little less worth than a man. Gay? Well, we only need so many hair dressers and interior decorators.
There’s a video showing what general racist attitudes do to children of color. It’s painful to see a child with brown skin choose a white doll because it’s perceived as prettier. And this is in Denmark, a country that’s far more equal, and arguably more progressive, in social matters than the US.
Just because you’re gay doesn’t mean you can’t be homophobic. Just because you’re <insert ethnic minority here> doesn’t mean you can’t be racist towards your own group. And just because you’re a woman doesn’t mean you can’t be misogynic (heck, just look at Ann Coulter who manages to be all these and so much more).
Telling cruel and distasteful jokes about your own minority isn’t self-distance. It’s Stephen (Samuel L Jackson’s character) in Django Unchained. It’s sacrificing the less fortunate members of your own minority to please the oppressors. It’s hoping to curry favor, or at least turning the ridicule and harm towards someone else.
Because it’s painful to realize that the disdain you hold for members of your own minority really is disdain for yourself.
Addendum: a lot of people read this as “don’t tell jokes about minorities, ever”. It’s not what I mean, so let me elaborate:
Communication isn’t black and white. There are contexts when very offensive jokes are funny and good humored self-deprecation. There are also contexts where seemingly harmless jokes become truly offensive and hurtful. My perception is that too many people are not in the gray here, but in the black of “if you can’t take a joke, you’re a PC bore”. Do tell jokes, but be aware of context and the possible implications.