Am I being humorless or did I have the right to speak up?
May 14, 2011 10:35 AM   Subscribe

Had a brief, but harsh exchange of words with someone on an online message board where I stated his response of "No Homo" made me feel uncomfortable. He said I was the most humorless person on the board. Should I learn to accept a joke even if I don't like it?

Disclaimer Context: I'm a 25 year old African-American gay male.

I just went through this stupid situation on an general online message board where I use to post to frequently. One of the threads is dedicated to the gay members of the thread though anyone is welcome to post. To keep the story short, I posted something in a humorous way pointing out that a friend promised to read a review of a Janet Jackson concert I went to which was a very long blog post. I basically said, "I guess he was surprised by it because it was so long?"

Before posting it I thought I should clarify that I meant a blog post and not my penis. I thought nothing of it and decided everyone knew that I was referring, and that as an adult I shouldn't worrying about immature stuff like that. Well unfortunately, someone replied with "No Homo", which I responded that I found that term very homophobic and just not funny. The person decided to post more "No Homo" type posts which led me to say "Fuck You." I was shocked by how I felt goaded in responding like that and said I needed to take a break from posting at the message board as it got tense. Before signing out, some of the gay posters stated that I was humorless, and that it was all in fun at the end of the day. To balance things out, others agreed that what happened was unfortunate and made things uncomfortable in a portion of the message board which was "safe" for us.

I was shocked to think that people actually felt like it was their place to tell me that I needed to get a sense of humor for a joke I didn't find funny. I was doubly shocked that people indirectly thought I had no place in saying something in a message board culture where people are free to state their opinions.

However, it did get me thinking of whether I am a humorless person in both real life and online. Usually, if I don't know a person in real life or not have extensive online communication with someone, I don't joke in an un-PC manner. I always try to be respectful and not talk so lucid if I'm around company I'm not familiar with. If I do get to know a person well then my wall do go down and I speak in a candid manner if the relationship calls for it. However, this approach has backfired on me as some people have accused me of being cold and not easy to get along with.

Even though I don't consider these people "friends" per se, I do enjoy the conversations I've had with them and enjoy the experience of the community as a whole. I don't want to leave but at the same time I don't want to be afraid of stating my opinion if it is against the hive mind.

So am I blowing things out of proportions? Should I stop posting there for awhile? Should I have just not said anything even though terms like "No Homo" do make me uncomfortable? I know that this is just an online situation, but it really had me thinking of how I react (or not react) to uncomfortable situations in the future.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (36 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Should I learn to accept a joke even if I don't like it?

posted by mhoye at 10:37 AM on May 14, 2011 [7 favorites]

Should I learn to accept a joke even if I don't like it?

Yes. But this doesn't mean you have to accept the guy's bigoted attitude.
posted by hattifattener at 10:40 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Calling someone who is offended by their comment "humorless" is a common trait of bigots and homophobes.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:40 AM on May 14, 2011 [71 favorites]

There's a difference between not accepting a joke and not involving yourself in a fruitless internet argument. You made your case, and over time, hopefully, people will realize your contributions are a net positive for the community, that you're someone they respect and while they might not see how "no homo" is offensive, the fact that is offensive to you will cause them to pause and reconsider saying it again.

Engaging this any further, unfortunately, is a no-win proposition.

Keep in mind there are many people reading message boards, many more than post. So while it might seem that he's getting the last word in, realize to the majority of people, he's the obvious troll.
posted by geoff. at 10:42 AM on May 14, 2011 [8 favorites]

I don't know if you're humorless or not. You are too sensitive to perceived slights. And you take internet forum posting too seriously.
posted by dzot at 10:45 AM on May 14, 2011 [12 favorites]

I'm not gay. I see nothing funny about a "no homo" comment.

So am I blowing things out of proportions? Should I stop posting there for awhile? Should I have just not said anything even though terms like "No Homo" do make me uncomfortable?

This is ultimately one of those "choose-your-fights" moments. So yeah, it's your call entirely. Others in this thread have already suggested that you're maybe too sensitive to perceived slights to which I would reply, "Whatever." They're not you. Only you know what you felt and all the myriad past incidents that led to those feelings.

One thing that's good to be conscious of is something they teach in Conflict Resolution courses. Conflict between two parties doesn't exist until one party takes offense at something, and chooses to make something of it. So yeah, the other guy may be in the wrong, but you're the one who's choosing to make something of his wrong. Again, it's your call entirely, but is it really a choice that you want to make?
posted by philip-random at 10:54 AM on May 14, 2011

Jay Smooth on How to tell people they sound racist, which can easily be applied to other forms of bigotry.
Then, same guy on No Homo. (More on MeFi last month.)

It's not a matter of having to pick your battles, it's a matter of knowing how to fight them. Don't let yourself get upset and lash out. That sort of response allows your adversary to exploit your lack of control to discount your point. Don't attack the person, attack the idea. Like you said, you've enjoyed these people's conversation and company to now—it's just these particular actions of theirs that doesn't sit right with you.
posted by carsonb at 11:02 AM on May 14, 2011 [8 favorites]

I'm not gay either, and there's very little that pisses me off as much as the 'no homo' thing. Really? You're so afraid of being thought of as gay that you need to make an announcement about it?

Unfortunately, it's a common defense of bigots and trolls to acccuse people who call them on their crap as being 'humourless' and 'unable to take a joke' (see, oh just about the vast majority of responses to feminists raising issues of sexism and mysoginy over the years...) It's a useful defence because it has no real counterpoint, and it also manages to minimise the feelings person who's offended.

I don't think you're humourless, but I do think that, after a point, you need to pick your battles. I forget where I read this quote, but it applies here: Never argue with a idiots. They drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.
posted by Tamanna at 11:05 AM on May 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

The only thing I'll say is that there is so much information ordinarily communicated in short statements that does not get carried at all in online communication. And we evolved in social environments that predate the internet, and I'm not sure, but I think it probably creates constant confusion and unnecessary hurt feelings online. Especially when sensitive matters like race, gender, religion, politics or sexual orientation come up. That's where there is so much potential, even in face to face interaction, for things to go awry - but online, I think it is even moreso.

So the one thing I'd say is that online, there are a lot of traps involving humors. Sometimes one is not even being intentionally baited either - it's just a compounding of errors in sending information and interpreting, because so much of the information we are sending does not make it through, and so much of what we rely on usually in communication (like body language or tone) does not exist online. Without meaning to, you may start to imagine the "tone" of the conversation using the thread as a whole to forecast what you think a person's words mean apart from the literal grammar of the sentences, and it's possible that you or me are adding to the message stuff that is not there. That's the one thing I'd probably say to be careful about - before you get offended, just ask for clarification. Ask the person either privately or publicly "did I understand you correctly? Can you clarify this?" And once you know they said what you think you said, then I think you get to the next step of deciding whether you want to communicate to them how the words affected you. But even then, that is your choice. You don't have to do do it - it's not a right or wrong thing. I used to get into fights constantly on message boards, and now I rarely do - but some of that is because I don't take up every bait anymore. This is just my personal opinion, but I only get into heated discussions these days when it serves some legitimate purpose, but I'm not interested in fights that go nowhere.
posted by scunning at 11:05 AM on May 14, 2011

Don't let other people define you. You sound like an intelligent, thoughtful young man. Be proud of that, and don't the bastards grind you down.
posted by SPrintF at 11:10 AM on May 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

PS: I have to agree with scunning. Online communication, chat or email, is less than precise; so much of human communication is expressed through tone and body language and completely lost online. When in doubt, give the sender the benefit of the doubt.
posted by SPrintF at 11:18 AM on May 14, 2011

I think geoff has the right answer for this limited circumstance (some clown trying to hassle you online). You are being the bigger person when you state your case and then refuse to further engage with hassling comments. People reading will know that you have won, and this clown is just making himself look bad.

About the larger phenomenon of No Homo, check carsonb's link to Jay Smooth talking about it. I think he has the right approach - which is, mostly people don't mean it in a bigoted way, but they should be aware that it comes across that way anyway. So even though they only intend a weak "that's what he said"-level joke, it's too easy for fake jokey homophobia to come across as real homophobia.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:22 AM on May 14, 2011

"can't you take a joke?" is a common defensive tactic when someone says something stupid and bigoted and then gets called on it.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:29 AM on May 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

If the implication is that they were saying, "no, homo, that wasn't the reason," then I'd say it just wasn't a very good joke. Is "No Homo" a meme or something? Maybe they thought that they could cross the boundary as an ally and got it wrong? In that case, you could tread the middle ground and say "I don't get it." That usually brings a joke down by asking for a bad joke to be explained.

Then, just duck out of the thread because webboard threads rarely self-right themselves. Why take more than one dump in a bucket and turn the thread into a new kind of stinking mess (which does happen)?
posted by rhizome at 11:36 AM on May 14, 2011

When something like this bothers me, I try to take this approach: state my concern, then move on. I try very hard not to let it get under my skin. If I'm actually feeling it in my body, if I'm actually having a physical reaction to something I read online on a message board, I know that what I should do is just walk away and take a deep breath. It's not a great time to post. And I don't want to let stupid stuff on the internet bother me.

Yeah, that guy is a jerk; you are not humorless because he wasn't funny. You are totally in the right to say that you don't like that (homophobic) phrase. However, engaging will likely not change anything. (Because, really, the thing is that that guy should've just not posted; what was his point?)

Sometimes a light approach can work really well, "Dude! That language is not necessary! Moving on..." And then you really have to move on.

I try to keep this in mind.

Also, the mods here are really amazing at keeping their cool and keeping perspective when everyone else is getting all wound up. They are great models for how to interact online.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:48 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

The aforementioned Jay Smooth video:
posted by RobotHero at 11:48 AM on May 14, 2011

Oh, trolls. Saying No Homo is not funny. You always have a right to speak up. Used judiciously, the well-timed expletive can actually be beneficial. And I'm sure you have a fabulous sense of humor, when things are actually funny to you. I can't speak for where the other person is coming from, but language does matter, and I would trust yourself and not internalize the interaction within yourself as the center for blame and as the genesis of the discomfort, like some bad playing out of the Aristotelian notion of flies appearing in rooms as a result of spontaneous generation. Nope, you were not blind-sided by a random flare of Saint Elmo's Fire. Someone said something. And you had a response.

Sometimes interactions are unsettling for all the reasons you think they are unsettling. You have a right to feel safe, and you have a right to laugh only when it's funny to you. Homophobia is real, and really not funny. Haha! See? Not funny. And language matters. You also talk about the subtext of racialized homophobia, and that there was a lot going on in that very terse online interaction. I see that, and I want to let you know that other people get it, too. Be good to yourself, and don't allow oppression to silence your own knowing, or doubt your own experience. That's wack! Do something nice for yourself. And keep rocking your sense of humor. I know you have one!

If you feel comfortable posting again on the message board, you totally can. If it seems like people are not backing you up, then you have every right to state your case or not, and either way choose not to engage in places and situations that do not support you or offer you something good in return. I'm sorry that it sounds like you no longer feel safer to post on that particular message board. Many conversations have been had about there not really being safe spaces, but safer spaces, sure.

You have the right to envision liberatory, safer spaces and communities built not from oppressive dynamics but from a vision you want. Sounds utopian, but it's important to use imagination not in the service of responding to oppressions, but from the freedom and expansiveness of what is possible. We get to build our identities not from "being too sensitive" or "having no sense of humor", but from living in such a way that is aligned with living in a more humane, inclusive way where people are whole and respected. And funny. In all the good, relaxed ways. It makes life a little better, I think. And it frees us up to choose.

And, again, don't give this experience traction in starting to doubt yourself and your experience. That you're reflecting on it, and wondering if you have a sense of humor hints to me at some internalizing of doubting your experience and voice, and also that you do have a sense of humor. Sorry that we have to package rebuttals to oppressive actions and language in a flashy, funny way in order to be seen as having a sense of humor or to not be seen as being "too sensitive". Humor does leave the room when an oppressive dynamic makes itself known. And, frankly, that person's comment didn't really expand my understanding of anything or move the conversation somewhere better, more inclusive. It just made the room very claustrophobic. Humor can be used tactically or as a tool to invite people to re-think situations in a way that's non-threatening. But, that's not your job, to make people who use language in oppressive ways feel more comfortable. You know?
posted by simulacra at 11:51 AM on May 14, 2011

PS: Part of building those better spaces or envisioning and building them is about accountability. If that person wanted to joke and expand the language, or somehow "reclaim" the phrase used, then they would be accountable and not just skip away, dismiss, deny, or shut down at the first sign that something they said created discomfort for other people. Communities that care, and people who are being real, are accountable, and take the time to be so, whatever that looks like particular to the situation and context. That also means that if something they've said was not okay, then they respect that. If they're not, you can feel free to dismiss that person or that space.
posted by simulacra at 12:03 PM on May 14, 2011

Ultimately, it doesn't matter whether you're being humorless. I started feeling much less stressed online when I realized that if I want people to behave in a certain way when I interact with them, I have lots of options, foremost being not letting them know how mad they've made me. It's OK to be pissed off, offended, etc., but that doesn't mean it's helpful to display those emotions in this kind of encounter.
posted by SMPA at 12:08 PM on May 14, 2011

I don't think you're humorless. Your sense of humor (or his) has nothing to do with the off-handed dispensing of slurs.

Personally, I think you're brave, and I'd like to personally thank you for standing up to the internet asshat. Maybe he learned just a tiny bit and will think twice -- even if only briefly -- next time he opens his mouth. If nothing else, maybe he'll think twice after the 30th time someone calls him on it. You can't get to the 30th time without have a first.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:10 PM on May 14, 2011

You weren't out of line or blowing things out of proportion. Unfortunately, it's hard to un-assify assy communities, online or otherwise. It's depressing and sort of frustrating that there are entire websites where I don't feel welcome, and that I'm unable to change it, but that's the way it is.

Sometimes it's more effective to question the premise of bigoted jokes than to say simply "hey, that's offensive." An alternate response to "no homo" might be "my opinion of you wouldn't change if you were" or "no one cares about your sexual orientation" or simply "what's wrong with being gay?" There are probably better responses I can't think of.

If your board is moderated, start a friendly private conversation with your mod about rules and standards and how you could feel more comfortable.

You're not humorless. You have a great sense of humor. That's why you find homophobic jokes stupid and unfunny.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:12 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

"No homo" wasn't funny in this context.

I would have gone with "as the actress said to the bishop."
posted by musofire at 12:34 PM on May 14, 2011

No, you're not humorless. I've has this conversation way too many times on Reddit. My view is that if someone writes something homophobic, I see if I can ignore it, and if I can't, I say what I think. Then if that person replies, maybe I say reply back, but life's too short to worry about what some prick on the internet has to say. So I think you said exactly the right thing but at this point I would just forget it. There will always be bigots and assholes in the world, and you called out just one.
posted by catwash at 12:40 PM on May 14, 2011

Not only did you have the right to speak up, by speaking up, you did the right thing.

I'd have been tempted to say something like 'Homo, no? Why fight it? You were born that way just like me. You couldn't possibly know if I'm humorless unless you could learn to make an actual joke, and I don't see that happening anytime soon-- maybe after you come out?'

But that's weaker than what you did, because a riposte makes it all a game and implicitly gives permission for the thrust in the first place.

By coming forward and letting people know you were harmed by this slur, you've raised the stakes for the bigot and for the whole community. You put his bigotry into sharp relief. If the community itself doesn't step forward and deal with this person, that's their problem, not yours, and you'd probably be better off not wasting your time with such a pack of degenerates.

To my amazement, Wikipedia has an article on 'no homo':

The phrase no homo is a slang term. It parenthetically asserts that the (male) speaker of such is not homosexual and is usually used before or after an utterance that may have given that impression.[1] It can generally be found in contemporary rap lyrics, for example in Jay-Z's "Run This Town," on Kanye West's verse: "It's crazy how you can go from being Joe Blow/ To everybody on your dick, no homo," or in Lil Wayne's "Let the Beat Build": "I wear bright red like a girl toe, no homo."
posted by jamjam at 12:43 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't like the term but "No homo" doesn't make sense in its arguably humorous guise in this context anyway. If it were being used within a context where it made sense and within a range of humor that the community saw as acceptable (whether it is or not in a more universal sense), you might have to write it off to being incompatible with the community's norms (a bit like how my mother-in-law is going to be constantly shocked and offended if she were at a frat party) but it seems like your response was reasonable in this situation.
posted by wackybrit at 12:59 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hi. I *just* found out about this 'no homo' phenomenon. Kinda sucks...and the people who use this phrase are the type of people who are very scared of being labeled

So are in the right are rightfully offended. But the real question is: is arguing with a teenaged male mentality going to give you any satisfaction?

No. You arent going to have any progress here. Just drop it,'re talking to someone who is an online douche.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:02 PM on May 14, 2011

I don't find it helpful to insist that such off-color jokes are "not funny." When the OP's antagonist said that he had no sense of humor, the implicit assertion was not that "no homo" was obviously hilarious; but rather that since it was as a joke, it should be considered inoffensive. I won't get into the issue of whether saying "no homo" really is inoffensive, because determining which types of off-color humor are problematic, and which are innocuous, seems nearly impossible. I've never seen anyone able to convincingly draw this line; and at the same time, the idea that all off-color humor is bad seems implausible.

I also think it's facile to suggest that only someone who is afraid of being seen as gay would make gay-jokes (this almost strikes me as a kind of ad hominem reprisal); or that saying "can't you take a joke?" is always a cover for bigotry. Not everyone who makes gay-jokes (be they genuinely offensive or not) is insecure about his sexuality; and sometimes people who take offense at perceived slights really are unreasonable. I'm all for opposing homophobia, but these stock responses just oversimplify things.
posted by Maxa at 1:32 PM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

"No Homo" is always offensive. Confront it. Be clear about why it is offensive. Don't allow the person who uses this offensive phrase think they can get away with it by saying you can't take a joke. And, as much as possible, stay detached emotionally from the ongoing debate that will ensue if the person is a jerk and doesn't immediately apologize. You are not humorless for standing up to offensive language.
posted by hworth at 1:33 PM on May 14, 2011

I think this is a key line: "Some of the gay posters stated that I was humorless." The way you describe it, it sounds almost like you were being expected to perform a response. Which is insulting in itself, on several fronts--the expectation that you'll be entertaining, probably by enacting some sort of stereotyped flame--when the 'fuck you' probably expressed things well enough. You know what's not conducive to humor? Being exhausted by trying to think of the right response to Faceless Internet Troll while knowing there are unspoken rules about what you're expected to say.

It's okay to be a different person on that board than you are amongst your friends. Hell, it's okay to be a different person to each friend. Worse than being humorless would be to be one-dimensional, showing the same face to everyone you talk to.

And I managed to make it through this whole answer without once giving in to the urge to make a joke about "blowing it out of proportion," which is, I think, proof that sometimes it's okay to be humorless.
posted by mittens at 3:22 PM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've found this is a common tactic of bigots, bullies and their ilk: as you mention, he goaded you into your FU comment, then blamed YOU because YOU'RE alledgedly humorless, and the only problem in the conversation was your failure to take his "joke".

He is, indeed, a bigot and a bully, and the opinions of bigots & bullies are worth exactly ZERO.
posted by easily confused at 4:35 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm glad you said something. He sounds like he deserved a "fuck you" or two. Also, what Geoff said above -- even if he doesn't change his mind, it's good for the other people on the forum to see that "no homo" isn't some kind of innocuous filler phrase.

Really, the game of a troll is a double bind. In their game, they win if you react ("oh, you're so sensitive! it was just a joke! it's only the internet/TV/typical male banter, don't be so serious!"). But of course, if you say nothing, then they also win because then they get to set the tone and dominate the discourse, pushing aside everyone who doesn't agree with them.

Fortunately, these aren't the normal rules of society, where if you say something rude or insulting, it's natural that the other person might throw it right back at you. It's of course sensible not to waste too much energy on these things; if you launched some kind of vendetta against this guy, you'd probably look petty and wouldn't accomplish much. The key is to respond proportionately, and I think you did that just fine.
posted by en forme de poire at 6:37 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think fuck you was a perfectly fine response. But warning, if you start down the path of calling out internet assholes you'll be saying fuck you a lot. Metafilter doesn't have them, but you should see if this forum has "killfiles" or user blocking. It's a lot easier to just never se the guy again than it is to worry about him.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:23 PM on May 14, 2011

No, you're not humorless or overly sensitive.

I read How to Suppress Women's Writing in grad school. I go straight back to it for things like this because it does such a good job of expressing why this sort of behavior is a problem.

I'd give the board a break, and re-enter with caution.
posted by hms71 at 6:03 AM on May 15, 2011

I don't think you're being humorless or overly sensitive, and you absolutely had a right to respond the way you did. I do think, however, that getting into fights on anonymous message boards is pretty much always a waste of time and mental energy. Either a place has community standards and moderators (like this place) or it's going to have some assholes causing trouble.
posted by Ragged Richard at 2:01 PM on May 15, 2011

You say the antagonist posted more "no homo" things, but you don't say what they were. I get the impression he was trying to explain that he was not trying to offend you (obviously his attempt didn't work.) I say that because you state that OTHER GAY POSTERS are the ones who labeled you "humorless." Imo, this is a significant part of the story. Since we are in assume-mode on this thread (ie folks are "assuming" you are not humorless and "assuming" the other poster is a bigot), I will go out on a limb and state that you probably are overly-sensitive and this is probably not the first time you have experienced something like this. I really think the rest of that online conversation is important to know before drawing conclusions like so many here have, but since that information is not available, I think a reality check is in order:

Some people are ignorant (meaning don't know better), some people are purposely vicious (I do not think that other poster was trying to be vicious), and some people are stubborn and immature (even when you tell them they are wrong, they refuse to give you the satisfaction of correcting them). You are going to have to learn to chalk stuff like this up and keep it moving, ESPECIALLY when someone has not intentionally hurt you. I think once you stated the term made you uncomfortable, once the other guy started prolonging his argument, you should have stated, "well, I told you my opinion, I don't like the term. Obviously, you don't care about offending me, and that is okay, but I'm done with this conversation. What else is going on everyone?" Hit it, then split. State your point, then keep it moving. You are going to have to get a thicker skin. You just are.
posted by GeniPalm at 3:30 PM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I only came across the phrase recently - it seems more weird and childish to me, like schoolboys feeling they need to qualify their sexuality in front of their mates in the locker room. He's just trolling you.

There are a lot of 'bad taste' jokes I don't find funny - not because I'm offended, but because it's a very dull and lazy form of humour.
posted by mippy at 5:33 AM on May 16, 2011

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