Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Blind spot

When we don't understand someone's attitudes or behaviour, when they're outside our normal experience, what do we do? Do we ask them a few questions, try to understand how they see things? Or do we just lash out at them through fear of the unknown?

Personally I try to understand. If there's something about a person that makes no sense to me, I don't just hurl abuse at them or tell them they're crazy. I try to get under their skin and see things from their point of view.

If I still can't understand, I don't see it as their problem, but mine. I probably lack the insight, or empathy, or openness, to appreciate what's going through their mind. My own blinkered attitudes are maybe preventing me from understanding.

But many people's reaction to such bafflement is to go on the attack. To try and obliterate what they don't comprehend, push it away, get rid of it. And the level of abuse can be extraordinary, utterly extreme.

A friend of mine, who I've always seen as enviably liberal, open-minded, compassionate, turns out to have a surprising streak of prejudice.

Although in general she's very progressive about sexuality and sexual preference, and totally supports gay equality, when it comes to transgender men and women, she's relentlessly hostile. She absolutely doesn't get it, and doesn't want to.

Clearly a fan of Germaine Greer on this particular subject, she regards everyone transgender as self-deluded and perverse. She finds numerous ways of belittling and discrediting them - they're trapped in gender roles, they just want to dress up, there's no such thing as "feeling female" or "feeling male", they want to be castrated, they're attention-seekers. And so on.

Does she want to understand? Does she want to know their side of the story? Does she try to put herself in their shoes? No, no and no. She has her own reality-free interpretation of their behaviour, and she pursues it regardless.

I find her prejudice horrifying, shocking, perplexing, repugnant. I told her I couldn't agree with anything she said, but it had no effect. She's totally unaware of her blind spot and can't see past it. It's an odd and uncharacteristic quirk.

35 comments:

Grannymar said...

Nick, I understand where you are coming from. I was rather vocal in support for the Marriage equality 'YES' vote in the referendum south of the border. Some friends have stopped talking to me while others were doggedly against it and could not see why I would offer support. I replied to one person after a long discussion suggesting we agree to differ and not fall out! In my book, far to many lives have been damaged or distroyed for many a long year.

There have been children born with both sets of genitalia and up until recentally the decision was made shortly after birth to remove one set. Thankfully now in these more enlightened days, the decision is delayed until puberty, thus allowing the young person to be part of the decision process.

There is room in this world for all of us and if everyone was the same, life would be very boring!

Jenny Woolf said...

I'm always a bit suspicious when people get very upset about something that doesn't apparently have anything to do with them. She might have issues rather than a blind spot.

Nick said...

Grannymar: They couldn't see why you should offer support? Personally I can't see why people would NOT offer support. But as you say, if it's possible, why not just agree to differ?

The arbitrary decision to remove one set of genitalia rather than the other, without the child having any say in the matter, was incredibly stupid. I'm glad we've moved on to a more enlightened position.

Nick said...

Jenny: Exactly - if it doesn't affect you personally, why get so aggressive? What is so threatening? As you suggest, there must be something else going on here.

John Gray said...

We all have our blind spots
A prejudice that may be hidden from your own psychi...........sometimes the revelation of which can be totally soul destroying.
( or if you are lucky.......lide changing)

Bijoux said...

For some people, not understanding something scares them. I think this is true for most people, although most of us have the sense to not lash out. Probably sexuality and religion are the most common targets. I think if we are all honest with ourselves, we have thought, "How can so and so be (fill in blank . . . Bisexual, Mormon, etc,)?" And yes, many times, it makes us angry because it makes no sense to us.

Live and let live.

Ursula said...

I wish you weren't so often OTT (over the top). "... find her prejudice horrifying, shocking, perplexing, repugnant." Strong words, Nick. Disproportionately strong.

I'll agree with Bijoux's words, and do think about it: "Live and let live". That includes not vilifying those who don't "understand" you.

Anyway, and probably of no comfort to you: I am pretty sure I finally understand where you are coming from

U

CheerfulMonk said...

"If I still can't understand, I don't see it as their problem, but mine. I probably lack the insight, or empathy, or openness, to appreciate what's going through their mind. My own blinkered attitudes are maybe preventing me from understanding."

It seems to me you're not doing this with your prejudiced friend. Instead you're hurling abuse at her. What's keeping you from trying to understand?

kylie said...

in theory i am completely supportive of all kinds of sexuality and gender issues.
in reality i am a little threatened at times, something like a bearded woman is just so far out of my experience that i don't begin to understand it.

the only difference between me & your friend is that i dont get aggressive about it.
In people who have lived with fear/abuse etc they may use aggression as their default setting when they can't wrap their head around something and that might not be the ideal response but it might be the only one they are capable of.

I'm with cheerful monk, you are being nasty about this

Nick said...

John: Yes, I do accept that some people may be too scared of the unknown to look at something clearly and honestly. And there's no simple way of dealing with that fear. If they can, then as you say it could be life-changing (in a good way).

Bijoux: Yes indeed, I often think that - what on earth is going on here? How crazy is that? But then a moment later I'm trying to get my head round it and see it from the other person's perspective. I'm not an angry person and I think anger is nearly always counter-productive.

Nick said...

Ursula: Strong words but I think fairly accurate ones. I do find such attitudes shocking and it's hard to live and let live when the other person is in fact vilifying a certain group (a very insecure and vulnerable group) herself. In this case, after so many disparaging remarks, my tolerance has pretty much run out.

Jean: Okay, maybe you're right, I'm hurling abuse as well. But I've tried my best to understand her point of view and it seems so disconnected from the reality and so deliberately obtuse I just can't make sense of it.

kylie said...

i regret saying you are being nasty, but i do think you could be more generous.
we dont need to understand everyone all the time, just be pleasant anyway

Nick said...

Kylie: Sure, gender-bending of all sorts can be quite scary to anyone who likes fairly clear-cut gender roles and behaviour. And getting aggressive about it does nothing to clear the confusion and fear. But as you say, for many people aggression is the default setting and they simply don't know any better response.

As I said to Jean, maybe you're right and I'm being nasty. I shall ponder that.

Nick said...

Kylie: Our comments overlapped there! But you might be right that I'm being too nasty and ungenerous.

Dave Martin said...

I have a colleague who I've known since I was 17, and it was only a couple of years ago I found out about his preference for dressing in womens clothes, wearing makeup etc. Although I always try hard to accept everyone for who they are, this is one area where I struggle to understand. What makes a straight middle-aged alpha-male type want to dress in drag and frequent a LGBT club, while ensuring that as many things in hs life are coloured pink?
I know everyone's different and it takes all sorts to make the world go round, and this particular thing doesn't offend me in any way, it just baffles me.

Nick said...

Dave: I know, if you're a man who's quite happy with the way you're expected to dress and behave, then a man who enjoys dressing in "gender-inappropriate" clothes is hard to understand. It's very very common though. I'll bet there are some more hidden cross-dressers among your friends and work colleagues. So he visits an LGBT club - is he also gay or does he just like the ambience?

Dave Martin said...

I think he enjoys being somewhere with other people who aren't afraid to be themselves in such an environment. He's not gay, but I guess it's also hard to find a woman who's prepared to be involved that way with a guy like that - especially one who won't let anyone move in and is fiercely independent.
I often wonder whether there's some underlying confusion that contributes to his generally aggressive demeanour...

Nick said...

Dave: That makes sense. He would obviously be accepted easily in that sort of setting. I think women's reaction to a cross-dressing bloke is very varied. Some absolutely hate it and will end the relationship, some aren't at all bothered and even find it fun. I suspect they'd be more bothered by his aggressiveness.

As for why he cross-dresses - there are probably as many reasons as there are cross-dressers. It's a very individual thing. Is it cultural? Is it genetic? Is it the thrill of the forbidden? Who knows?

Suburbia said...

Like you Nick I try hard not to judge - I think the world would be a better place if we could all live and let live?

Nick said...

Suburbia: That's what bugged me about her comments - she was being so harshly judgmental. Indeed, we would all be better off if we had more of a live and let live approach.

Ms Scarlet said...

Murdering violent people are the ones I can't understand. And you're right, I am scared of them!
Sx

Ms Scarlet said...

Tsk. I needed a comma there... murdering, violent people... otherwise it seems I'm in favour of murdering violent people... which was not what I was trying to say.
Damn commas.
Sx

Nick said...

Scarlet: Absolutely. What's the big deal about transgender when there are much bigger issues to worry about, like the current epidemic of sexual harrassment. And as you say, people with a taste for extreme violence.

Helen Devries said...

I try to avoid subjects which bring out the worst in those people I know to have set views on certain subjects. I don't want to hear it all again, will not beat my head against the brick wall of their refusal to hear argument....and would like to stay on good terms for the rest of their qualities.

Nick said...

Helen: I agree, it's better to avoid "no-movement" topics altogether and find common ground elsewhere. I certainly won't be mentioning this particular subject for a while.

Secret Agent Woman said...

Bit of a false dichotomy - I don't think people either try hard to understand OR lash out. I think there is a continuum of reactions to things people don't understand from a wish to know more to mild befuddlement and all the way up to outright hostility. So I'd find myself wondering what was going on with the friend who is angry in response to gender identity issues. That can't be out of nowhere. And even if it isn't something she is open to discussion on, why not just agree to disagree?

Nick said...

Agent: Okay, I've glossed over a few intermediate options! I don't think she's angry so much as determined to pursue her own personal interpretation in place of the lived reality. Why not just accept the self-definition of the person who's actually going through this experience?

kylie said...

I have a (female) friend who dresses like a man pretty much all of the time and another friend "warned" me to be careful of her. Nothing specific was said but I assumed that the implication was maybe that she might make a pass at me. What interested me was
1. why make the assumption that i hadn't noticed anything "different"
2. why make the assumption that i wouldnt be able to respond (favourably or not) to a pass made by a woman. Nobody would try to coach me on how to behave with a male

btw, nothing ever eventuated

Nick said...

Kylie: Indeed, why make those strange assumptions? It seems like she has some sort of problem with gender-ambiguous clothing and with lesbianism and wants you to share her aversions. As you say, you know how to deal with a flirtatious male so why would you be phased by a flirtatious female?

Secret Agent Woman said...

For some people it's a moral issue. I'm not saying I agree with that, but when it is there is no sense in arguing. As an example, to me abortion is primarily a cvil rights issue and to other people it's about killing a child. I could talk until I"m blue in the face about the difference between a child and a fetus and about a woman's right to govern her body, but if someone has it fixed in their head that those things don't matter, I don't engage. We just won't agree.

Nick said...

Agent: Good examples of a total clash of attitudes. The disagreement on transgender is exactly like that. The lived experience of being transgender is a million miles from the glib interpretations that others foist onto it. There's just no meeting of minds however much the two sides argue about it.

Rummuser said...

I can't understand your friend's hostility either but there are people who we cannot fathom for some reason or the other.

If you are at the receiving end, like I was recently, when a friend suddenly decides to cut off all communications without discussing why, it is not only puzzling, it is saddening too.

Nick said...

Ramana: As you say, puzzling and saddening. I guess sometimes a particular point of view is so much a part of someone's sense of identity that they are simply unable to consider any alternative.

Keith Smith said...

I met and married the love of my life in the early sixties. We had an unwritten agreement that she would look after the home, cooking, cleaning and the rest to make it a happy home. I took responsibility to do the garden, grow veg, plant the flowers etc., and maintain the house in good order, decorating, minor repairs etc., and we helped each other with the chores. This arrangement worked fine for several years until Germaine Greer reared her ugly head on TV and banged on about equality for woman, women's rights and men were just chauvinistic pigs. My wife was so influenced by this woman that she became unhappy about our way of life and this caused a lot of hard feelings between us. In the end she left and divorced me. Thanks Germaine for ruining our marriage!

Nick said...

Keith: I'm sorry your marriage didn't work out, you're obviously still very hurt and bitter about it. But I suspect the problem went a lot deeper than anything suggested by Germaine Greer. Your wife may also have been influenced by friends or work colleagues or media articles or any number of things. It's a shame you never had a second and more successful marriage.