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May 01, 2012



I agree that the remark was over the line, but that's more because I don't care for adults throwing zingers at kids. I'm not sure I think that name calling is necessarily bullying. The problem in this case is that the right names don't carry the pejorative weight in the social imagination that they need to to be effective. In a parallel case, calling someone a racist is a perfectly legitimate form of shunning given that that person is actually a racist (and culpable for that racism). Further, doing so is enough to get the point across that whatever is being said or done is unacceptable within the community. Unfortunately, calling someone 'homophobic' does not yet carry the full moral weight of implication that 'racist' does. As such, it might be reasonable to use other terms that do carry that weight and also apply. 'Pansy-ass' might be such a term, and as such, it might be appropriate in the right circumstances. However, a grown man using it against children is not one of those circumstances.

Greg Horton

I think if he'd gone with cowards, he'd have been correct and on the right side of the line. They did behave like cowards. Words like pansy-ass are too vague, I think, to be of much use if the goal is to correct behavior in a meaningful way.


See, this is really a sticking point for me. I understand that minorities trying to fight for their rights are unfairly placed under a microscope while their civil rights are put to a vote time and again, but the double-standard is really reaching new heights with this. Considering the things that the leaders of the religious right (Bryan Fischer, Tony Perkins, Pat Robertson, Peter LaBarbera, etc) say about gay people on a daily basis, I think it's outrageous that anyone could reasonably find fault with what Savage said. On a nice day, these christians just think gay people are sinful abominations. On a not-so-nice day, they're scat-loving, prolapsed pedophiles. So if anyone takes a few seconds to put "pansy-assed" into context, it's a rather nice way of putting it.

Instead, we get this faux outrage about how the gay boogyman used swear words in front of highschoolers (as if they don't hear them every 5 seconds anyway) and insulted a few of them for being able to tolerate even the slightest criticism of their precious little religious beliefs. I suppose in a vacuum Savage comes across as fairly unprofessional, and I was a little taken aback when I first saw the video (more due to his inflection). But the longer I think about this, the more convinced I am that it's about damn time somebody takes christianity to task for what it really is.

Greg Horton

All Christians are that way? Honestly, it's hard to take you seriously when you engage in nonsensical generalizations, and the pedophile reference is just unwarranted and unfair when we're talking about kids. 

Sent from my iPhone


I'm perfectly fine with him calling any of the people you named 'pansy-assed fucking cowards' or just about anything else you might want to call them. I assure you, I've called most of them much worse many times over. The problem is, he was talking to kids, not grown men in positions of social and institutional power. Adults calling kids names is just out of bounds. I don't think 'bullying' is quite the right word since this was a one-off situation, but it's a similar type of behavior. Mostly, it's sad that he didn't take the opportunity to reach out to the group. The type of prejudice we are talking about here only gets destroyed by destroying the ignorance it is based on. Who better to help that process along than a world-class communicator like Dan Savage (whom I very much like and typically agree with)?

And just so I'm clear, are you responding to what Greg said about the incident or what you read somewhere else? No one around here is going to complain about anyone calling out bullshit in the Bible. That's a favorite past time for most of the denizens here.


Generalizations are generalizations. Exceptions can be applied to literally everything. The sky is blue, except when there's a sunset or tornado. Water's wet except when it's ice. Birds fly, except for penguins. Mammals give birth to live young, except for that platypus. We use generalizations all the time in life; mostly because it's impossible to qualify everything.

Also, I disagree that my generalizations were anything close to nonsensical. Literally every poll ever taken about gay rights/people has reflected religious bias on those issues. The prop 8 decisions both did an excellent job at dissecting the ways in which anti-gay bias is almost exclusively religious; in the West that means Judeo-Christian religions, predominantly Christianity. That said, I stand by my generalization that Christians think "gay" is sinful and/or abominable, and I'm confident that the fact support that.

The other generalization I made was that on a "bad day," Christians describe gay people as nympho-predators and worse. FRC and AFTAH have both taken the opportunity to paint gay men as pedophiles in the national media (Penn State and Catholic priests come to mind). So I don't think it's out of bounds to mention this as we move down the line to discussing Christian highschoolers. If you could elaborate on how that's unwarranted or unfair, I'd be happy to know what you meant; I don't think I'm getting your drift.

So taken in the broad context of what the religious right inflicts on gay people all the time, I hardly think "pansy-assed" is crossing the line. The reason I mention these "leaders" at all is because they are a big source of the outrage over Dan's comments, and I find that wildly hypocritical and borderline comedic.

In the specific context of the highschool audience Dan was addressing, I am still not convinced that the comments were inappropriate. Remember, it's highschool kids who are literally bullying gay teens to death. This is the demographic that is driving its peers to suicide out of a prejudice that is predominately rooted in the Bible. There's a shocking degree of cognitive dissonance when it comes to religious people owning up to the consequences of their own religion. So even in the context of a highschool audience, there's an outbreak of gay teen suicides/murders and we're all seriously taking the time wring our hands about a few thin-skinned religous teens having their feelings hurt?

So I hope that elaborates sufficiently on my original comments. So yeah, what Dan said may have been inappropriate strictly in the context of adult/teen communication. But in the context of a battle for civil rights (even in highschools), I just can't muster sympathy.

Greg Horton

JDH, misunderstood who the pronoun referred to on the pedophile part. My apologies. Vague antecedents suck. I'm fully aware that religious bias is one of the primary drivers of anti-gay ideas/behavior. My point was that we have no idea who any of those kids are. Some of them might be actively anti-bullying. Those sorts of generalizations are not useful, as you well know since you understand the sorts of generalizations used against the LGBT community. In fact, generalizations make it painfully easy to "other" people, which is the first step in bullying. That being said, it's simply not okay for a grown man to call kids names. I'm not sure how anyone defends it. I've been teaching for 13 years now, and I don't understand how anyone thinks that's okay, especially someone who is anti-bullying. The most important thing for Savage to do is behave in a way that makes it obvious he really is opposed to bullying. Clearly, he failed. I agreed with everything he said about the Bible, religion, and anti-gay bullshit, but he can't call kids names. And now you come up with a false comparison. Juxtaposing Savage's bullying with teen suicide doesn't make it less than bullying. Is it as bad as suicide? Of course not. It is still bullying? Yes. And if you can't muster sympathy for kids you don't even know, some of whom may be on your side, how much worse does your case look?


I'll agree with you on the point that he didn't do himself any favors on the PR front. I'll also agree with you that it was technically inappropriate. Unfortunately, I have to disagree with the allusion that the insult was completely indefensible.

Firstly, we do know some things about the kids that walked out. They were angry and/or offended either because of the word "bullshit" or because their religious sensibilities were disregarded. Considering high schools these days, I think we can probably rule out "bullshit" being intolerable. It's a pretty safe bet that the kids who left either A) didn't like logic being applied to their religious text, B) didn't agree with the assessment of homosexuality, or C) both of the above. (There are also rumors that the entire things was staged as a general protest of Savage in light of his politics and spreading Santorum). In either case, you're looking at members of a majority/plurality who are unable to stomach criticism of a side effect of their own beliefs. Which is pansy-assed.

And is it really "bullying" for Savage to insult a handful of thin-skinned wilting flowers? I don't know for sure, to be honest. Is it bullying for a bullied person to fight back? Not at all. So there's the distinction I'm making in all of this: In the scope of the fight against religious prejudice - which manifests itself in high schools as bullying and sometimes teen suicides - it was not inappropriate in the least. On the most basic and isolated level, it is inappropriate for adults to be rude to kids. I do think it's possible for bigger issues to transcend basic social rules.

Can you elaborate on how I made a false comparison? I'm approaching this walkout in this fashion:

Christian teens (under the assumptions listed above) walk out of the presentation when their religion in criticized. What that says to me is one of two things. 1) They think the dignity of their religion is more important than the lives of kids who are bullied to death under the prejudice of said religion (which was the purpose of the presentation). Or 2) They do not think their religion is the cause of prejudice (and bullying), so they were offended at an unwarranted, misplaced criticism of their most important beliefs. Group 1 are definitely pansy-asses. Group 2 is probably just ignorant, in which case I concede my point.

Perhaps the missing link in my thinking is that there could be another group of Christian walk-outs who found the presentation insulting because they find the Bible to be the basis on which they fight prejudice and bullying. You'll have to forgive me if I have major doubt that that was the group who was walking out (or that such people even exist in significant numbers). To these people I would apologize for not reflexively denouncing the insult.

It goes without saying that I enjoy hearing your thoughts, and I appreciate the discussion.


Having worked with both high school and college student and having once upon a time been a Christian teen concerned with issues of social justice, I think I can safely say that the picture you offer of Christian teenagers is too jaundiced. I'll grant that it is perhaps a justifiable mistake given the bluster and hate-mongering of leaders on the "Christian" right, but a mistake I believe nonetheless. Many of the Christian students I work with struggle deeply to reconcile what they are told the Bible says about homosexuality (I'd actually disagree with Savage in part here, as I, like many, believe that the Bible says precisely nothing about homosexuality given that homosexuality was not a concept available to its authors.) with a natural impulse to compassion and charity. I struggled with it myself. Long before I became convinced that homosexuality was not in fact sinful, I recognized that the way LGBT kids (or kids just suspected of being gay) were treated was reprehensible and in fact incompatible with core Christian ethics regardless of the nature of their own conduct. I can say that hearing someone call the Bible bullshit (even if it's true) would create a reactionary response just like the one at Savage's talk, not just among the type of Christian kid who bullies gays but with kids who take their faith seriously while also recognizing its mandate for compassion, kids who stand to gain a lot from someone like Savage in terms of understanding how to act out their compassion and how to reconcile the cognitive dissonance their faith engenders around this issue. I don't think it was a horrific act, and I'm not going to stop listening to Dan Savage or start labeling him as a bully. But it was a misstep, not just in terms of PR, but in a genuine opportunity to help recruit allies to his cause.

One final quick word on bullying, I think the reason the name-calling strikes some of us as an act similar to bullying is that it occurred in the context of a power imbalance, one of the necessary conditions for bullying. Plus, the fact that the literal meaning of the name used might have applied is utterly irrelevant. That's not the way name-calling works. Think about the detestable word 'faggot'. (I do not mean here to imply that this word is in any way on a par with 'pansy-assed', I merely mean to use it to explain my point. Clearly calling someone a faggot is much, much worse than what Savage did.) Even for a kid completely comfortable with his/her own sexual identity (they are exceedingly rare, but I have met a few), being called a faggot would be painful despite not thinking that the content of the name is anything to be ashamed of. One of the problems with name-calling is that it uses language as a blunt instrument rather than a conduit of meaning and communication.

Greg Horton

I can't really improve on Cheek's answer, but want to expand on two thoughts he had, as did I. The power imbalance is critical here. Savage uses a platform where thousands of people are cheering him to mock a smaller group. He's a speaker, a leader, and an adult. It's simply indefensible. People who don't take the Bible seriously don't really understand that those kids hear the voice of God in that book (clearly I disagree with them). Calling it bullshit is not the same thing as one of them saying bullshit on a football field or classroom. It's literally mocking their understanding of how God communicates. Failure to understand that only guarantees that Savage will keep creating hostile Christian audiences. Ten years ago my students were evenly divided on gay marriage. This year, only one student per class objected to it, and that's in Oklahoma. The tide is turning. Savage would help himself by not being a douche.


I'm willing to mostly agree with you both, especially on the grounds that it distracted from an otherwise perfect criticism of the bible.

Deep down I really do believe that, inappropriate or not, nobody was really mad about being called a pansy-ass. After all, those students didn't ragequit the presentation because they were called a name; that was just the juciest "I'm a victim" bait lying on the floor when the ordeal was all said and done.

And you're right, Greg. If he wasn't being a douche, then they wouldn't have something stupid to distract from the core criticisms in the speech.

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