by Lora Xie '20
“You overheard two people talking in the locker room about how accurate their ‘gaydar' is. Is this homophobic?" the student leader asked. Small groups began discussing among themselves. When the time came for them to share their respective conclusions - red card for “definitely problematic,” yellow for “borderline problematic,” and green for “not problematic” - different groups showed everything from green to red to a combination of two colors that signals somewhere in between. My group raised a green card without hesitation. Looking around me, I was surprised at the great diversity of opinions. How could anyone regard this situation homophobic? Isn’t that a little over-sensitive? Confusion rose in my heart. Fortunately, the all-group discussion that followed shed light on our divergence. First of all, it turned out that we had different definitions of homophobia. While the groups that gave out green passes defined homophobia as dislike or fear of homosexual people, other groups that showed yellow and red cards included prejudices against homosexual people as a qualifier for homophobia. In this regard, we agreed that the concept of “gaydar” was largely, if not completely, based on stereotypes. Another discrepancy was derived from our different understanding of the scenario. The groups that showed red card pointed out that the two individuals were essentially outing people by boasting about their “gaydar,” thus being disrespectful and potentially harmful. The other groups, however, did not deem privacy as an issue because they reasoned that the two could only talk about the “accuracy” of their speculation if it was confirmed - – if the subject of discussion had come out him/herself. Whether this conversation is rude and/or malicious depends on where the “evidence” for the sexuality of the subjects come from - they themselves, eyewitnesses, or rumors. These pieces of information were not provided to us. In the end, after getting some definitions and conditions on the same page, it turned out that we held strikingly similar core beliefs: respect and equality are desirable, and stereotypes and discrimination are toxic.
At first glance of the varying colors of our cards, we seemed so different from and contradictory to one another! Without the discussions that followed, we could have easily dismissed those with different opinions as nonsensical or morally corrupt, when in fact our divergence stemmed from reasonably different understanding of the terminology and the scenario.
This activity, like many others on the C&E Day, reflects real-life situations. We seldom have all the information we need to make a comprehensive, definitive judgment. We are all blind men groping about a giant elephant called life, which is far too complex for any individual human mind to apprehend. The different images we have acquired from our limited experience are further blurred by the inherent ambiguity of natural languages in communication. Because of the limit of human experience and communication, it is critical that we refrain from putting labels on people and actively seek understanding. Before accusing and condemning one another, we should ask “what do you mean by that?” and “why do you think so?” Maybe we will be surprised by how fundamentally similar we all are deep inside.