Thursday, February 6, 2014

One step too far

I generally find myself siding with advocates for oppressed and marginalized groups.  I think it is important that we challenge ourselves to set aside our prejudices and grant everyone the the political and cultural freedom to just be who they are.  On the other hand there are times when I end up being really ticked off at advocacy that goes too far and this is one of those times.  I have been down the rabbit hole of blog links and found a fat advocacy blog post that epitomized advocacy gone to madness.  Essentially what is being said is that if you find yourself never attracted to a particular sort of person you are bigoted against them.  The specific case surrounds never finding fat people attractive but a more general case is certainly implied.

If anyone can't see why this is wrong right up front let us use me as an example.  I have never been attracted to a person I read as male.  Therefore, according to this theory, I am bigoted against males.  Hogwash and foolishness, obviously, and a classic example of people not being able to differentiate between prescriptive and descriptive.  I describe myself as straight because being attracted to a man has never happened to me.  This is extremely different from me saying that I must be straight because it is wrong for a man to be attracted to men; hell, I would much rather be bisexual / omnisexual / pansexual but describing myself as such would be inaccurate based on my history.

This is a tangled knot to sort out since we must carefully distinguish between the reprehensible "It's okay to be X, but I don't want to see it, hear it, or know about it", the unacceptable "Everybody has to be X", and the laudable "It's okay to be X but I am not X".  It is all about your own personal bubble.  You can do whatever you like inside your bubble but you need to respect that everyone else deserves that same freedom inside their bubble.  It is hard to accept that people will do things you don't like especially when those things remind you of past suffering.  Despite that challenge it is absolutely critical that we be clear about this:  No matter your history, no matter your convictions, you get to tell other people how to treat you but you do not get to tell them who they are allowed to be.

Freedom of association (in particular freedom of who you find attractive) is like freedom of speech or freedom of religion.  You may not like that somebody says nasty things, that people have a religion you disapprove of, or that they don't want to have fun naked times with you.  But we all must accept that others having those freedoms secures our own and as such we must not try to take their freedoms away or someday soon someone will come for ours.


  1. Hm, surely there's a lot more evidence that sexual orientation is primarily about me rather than the other person--there's a strong (if not overdetermining) genetic component. Whereas I'm not sure there's anything beyond learned prejudice in a lack of attraction to fat people or thin people or whatever--indeed, there have been periods in society in recent memory where different body types were valorized.

    One person doesn't find fat people attractive: OK, that's a personal disposition. The vast majority of people--a whole society--doesn't find fat people attractive: that's bigotry. But the two forms of devaluation can't be easily disentangled (individual votes win an election, after all). So it's reasonable to expect people to at least make the effort to introspect a bit, and be aware of the extent to which their libidos are not just black boxes that they have no say in and need take no responsibility for.

    I won't myself date people who rule out dating particular body types or races (or ability/disability). In my experience the mere lack of sexual attraction usually goes hand in hand with deeper forms of bigotry or a general lack of self-awareness, so the distinction between lack of attraction and mere bigotry is ultimately moot. (As witness: creepy people who fetishize "big black cock" or "cute Asian women". Those are not just take-it-or-leave-it preferences: they encode a lot of detestable cultural taboos and stereotypes.)

    Well, I definitely don't have any answer to these issues... I do find them deeply troubling.

  2. I think we can just lean on the descriptive vs. prescriptive aspect in the main case you raise. It is perfectly fine for me to describe myself as not being attracted to fat people but it is bad for me to prescribe that people should not be attracted to them. If I look at a person and shrug that is no problem but if I look at them, recoil in revulsion, and say "Damn, them ugly, amirite folks?" that is bigotry. In aggregate there is bigotry against fat people but we do not solve this by insisting that everyone has to want to have sex with them, we solve it by insisting that some people want to have sex with them and that is aokay.

    I agree with your distaste for broad 'I will never ever' statements about dating pools. We should all really try to consistently say and think more along the lines of 'I have not ever been attracted to people with X characteristic' and not 'I will never be attracted to people with X characteristic'. It may seem like a small distinction but I think that makes a world of difference if we say it, think it, and really mean it.