So last week I spent some time getting annoyed at twee pagans and whiny single people, as one does, and didn’t have the room or time to go into another point I’d meant to make in more depth: behavior doesn’t have to be systemic oppression to be insensitive, obnoxious, or just plain deserving of an ass-kicking. The person practicing ska at 3 AM in an apartment building is probably not perpetuating or benefiting from an unjust system, at least not directly. The friend-of-a-friend who never bothered learning their limits or even telltale signs and ends up puking on someone’s rug at every single party without ever offering to pay for cleaning isn’t necessarily privileged. They’re still both assholes and should probably be fired into the sun.
There’s also a form of being a dick which is, although not really relevant to the privilege/oppression axis in and of itself, still bizarrely socially tolerated or even encouraged: being a goddamn busybody about other people’s lives. I started calling it the Harper Valley PTA approach, because that song is great and I first encountered the phenomenon when acquaintances were needlessly “concerned” about my personal relationships, but it covers a lot of ground.
Let’s start with the obvious. Nobody likes Have You Heard the Good News About Jesus Guy. At our most charitable, we understand that Good News About Jesus Guy is a brainwashed young sap whose cul–I mean, “church”–demands that sort of thing as a method of further brainwashing, but that doesn’t mean we need to put up with him. If your faith doesn’t overlap with Amway sales, you know this. If it does…you’re not going to like anything else on this blog, I’m pretty sure.
Nobody likes Amway salespeople either. And if I want to buy essential oils or Tupperware or cosmetics or sex toys, I’m a grown adult and I WILL ASK, LEANNE, OH MY GOD.
(I’m not saying that all the girls I hated in middle school grew up to get involved in MLM scams, but there’s a significant proportion.)
Now expand that.
Have You Heard the Good News About Not!Jesus Guy? Have You Heard the Good News About Veganism Person? ALSO ASSHOLES. People who try to convince you that their version of camping, or ballet, or Space Westerns are So Different and you really really need to just try them, after you’ve stated that you don’t enjoy those things? DICKS. People who feel the need to mention that you’re dressed too sexily or not sexily enough or not following the proper trend or have too many facial piercings or tattoos? CAN, AND SHOULD, DIE IN A FIRE.
And actually, sidebar before I go on: pressuring friends/family/SOs who are meh about your hobby to join that hobby isn’t just being a jerk to them. It’s being a jerk to everyone else who *does* enjoy that hobby, and doesn’t need Pouty SO Healer Who Doesn’t Want to LARP But Their Clingy-Ass Boyfriend (And It Is Nearly Always A Goddamn Boyfriend, Let’s Be Honest) Whined Them Into It along, glaring at everyone and checking their phone in the middle of intense roleplay scenes. “Let people enjoy things,” means “don’t drag disinterested people along and make it suck for the rest of us because you’re weirdly evangelical about your hobbies, STEVE.” (It also means “don’t intrude on activities you have no interest in because you’re jealous/clingy/otherwise a bracket fungus posing as a person and should not be dating, ALSO PROBABLY STEVE,” but that’s a different issue.)
Assume that adults are adults and that, unless you frequently party with the Amish, adults have resources. Assume that if people are your friends, they’ll observe your lack of eating animal products or your church attendance or your collection of Firefly DVDs (and it’s fine to mention things briefly, in context, like “oh, yeah, I’m an atheist so Easter is more about cheap jellybeans” or “we went on a hike this weekend and I saw a cool bird”) and will ask for more information if that’s something they’re interested in.
Otherwise, drop it. Jesus, Richard Dawkins, the cows, and the science fiction genre will be juuuust fine without you being a pain in the ass, and your friends will remain your friends.
Now that I’ve said people who are interested will ask…asking, itself, is often a dick move.
There are things you don’t need to know about other people. There are things you don’t have the right to know about other people. There are topics people are sensitive about, and choices that nobody has to justify, and no, it’s not “just being friendly.” The spectrum on which you suck ranges from being a pain in the ass about things you could Google to thoughtlessly bringing up potentially painful topics out of selfish curiosity to what some internet forums call “JAQing off,” or advancing your own agenda under the guise of “just asking questions”.
Right off the top: DO NOT ASK PEOPLE IF THEY WANT KIDS. DO NOT ASK PEOPLE IF THEY’VE “MET ANYONE SPECIAL”. DON’T ASK UNEMPLOYED PEOPLE HOW THE JOB SEARCH IS GOING.
If you’re close enough to know, they’ll tell you. If you’re not close enough for them to tell you, you don’t need to know, so shut the fuck up and get a hobby.
(“Tell you,” doesn’t always have to be direct–if your friendship occasionally involves “ugh, dating is THE WORST” and similar phrases, casual follow-up “not much luck, huh?” questions are fine.)
Similarly, if you do ask–WHICH YOU SHOULDN’T–and they answer rather than throwing a glass of red wine in your face as you so richly deserve, or if they themselves mention not wanting kids/a house/a SO/etc, don’t ask why. Don’t tell them they’ll change their mind, or feel like you have to justify your own kids/marriage/whatever by convincing them otherwise. Otherwise, a “…so, what *is* the divorce rate these days, Janice?” type of answer is the least you deserve.
And I’ve seen it less, but: fellow single/childless people, we don’t get to ask either. You know the Miss Manners thing about sex, politics, money and religion not being polite subjects of conversation? Kids and relationships count as “sex” in this context, and employment counts as “money,” at least when they’re hypothetical. (“How’s Little Timmy liking summer camp?” or “Work treating you okay?” are different if you have a reasonable certainty that Little Timmy and the job are both generally going along fine.)
Relatedly: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DO NOT ASK ANYBODY WHY THEY GOT DIVORCED OR BROKE UP, WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU THAT YOU WOULD EVEN THINK THAT’S OKAY?
Seriously, if that seems like an acceptable question for you to ask anyone, at any time, please do everyone the favor of removing yourself from human society. Move out to the desert. Talk to cacti. Eat scorpions. Jesus fucking Christ, I can’t believe this even needs mentioning AND YET.
Likewise, if you deviate from allocishet monogamy at all, there’s a way-more-substantial body of people than there should be in 2021 who think they get to know how your sex life works. THEY DO NOT. If you believe in a non-Christian religion, a fair number of both Christians and atheists are under the impression that you need to know their opinion of your faith and put up with being badgered about your rationale for following it. YOU DO NOT. THOSE PEOPLE ARE AWFUL HUMANS.
This is an area where some questions are okay from some people, if those people genuinely want to know–and have done their homework on sensitive subjects where they could just Google things–and have the standing with you to ask.
As someone who’s not monogamous, “Wow, how do you schedule?” is fine as a casual-acquaintance joke. “I’d be interested to hear how you keep from feeling lonely or jealous, if you’re up for explaining,” is totally cool *from close friends and immediate family,* but not from someone I’m in one game with or put up with once a year at Christmas. “Oh, so you’re okay with cheating?” or “Wow, how do you live like that?”…FUCK OFF.
Similarly, as a pagan, “Oh, are you doing anything for that solstice coming up?” is great! “Hey, I’d love to hear more about what you believe sometime!” is a friends-and-family thing. “Aren’t you worried about going to Hell?” or “How do you believe in that stuff?” will make me hate you.
(Note: I’m speaking here as a member of non-standard but not oppressed groups. People need to be extra careful about what they ask, say, Muslims, or transgender people, and I FUCKING WELL BET that the gay person sitting next to you at a wedding does not want to discuss whatever dumbass thing Mike Pence just said.)
“But I just can’t imagine wanting to–” You don’t have to. People can want different things from life, things completely incomprehensible to other people! It’s fine! I don’t demand that my friends who like camping explain that. (I just assume that they’ve fallen victim to an alien mind control plot to get us all eaten by bears, thus leaving Earth ripe for conquest, and I’d rather not draw attention to myself. :P) I stay home and I hope they have fun, because it’s zero skin off my nose.
Lest you think I’ve turned hippie: none of this means you can’t be judgmental, even over petty things. I’d recommend knowing *why* you’re being judgmental, but, like, I have Opinions about toe-defining running shoes worn in non-running contexts, the phrase “making love,” Chloe from Lucifer, and people who give all of their kids names starting with the same initial.
Furthermore, if someone’s behavior is provably, unavoidably hurting other people or putting them at risk, absolutely confront them. Tell your TERF relative to fuck off, yell at people not wearing masks in stores, send Nazis’ pictures to their employers/colleges. Deck Richard Spencer. If you know someone’s in an abusive relationship (and that doesn’t mean cheating, or A Relationship You Personally Wouldn’t Like) try to intervene in a supportive, effective way that I am 500% unqualified to describe–check out Captain Awkward.
But: provably, and unavoidably. I myself think that the all-one-initial naming scheme is a pretty reliable path toward a book depository window, but I don’t *know* that. (Also, it won’t do Jason, Jennifer, and Joanne any good to get in their parents’ faces now: the damage has been done.) My friend’s SO who can and will quote the entire Python canon at so much as a mention of hamsters is…what he (probably he, let’s be honest) is, and I have to decide how much the friendship is worth putting up with that bullshit, but my friend is an adult and can leave if they want. You Could Do Way Better is not a conversation I have the right to initiate, however enthusiastic I may be when it comes up.
That, as I’ve said about other things, is why God made mutuals and brunch, or the car ride home from the party. There’s a time and a place for a long sip of gin and tonic followed by “…well, it’s certainly *a* choice,” or “…okay but Boston is *full* of ex-fratboys with faces like potatoes who are at least somewhat less annoying than he is, so…” or just “…oooooof *course* they did. Lord.” After you’ve pulled out of the driveway, by all means turn to your friend, ask if they noticed that Madison was wearing a purity ring, and engage in as much eye-rolling as will let you get into the rotary safely.
But to people’s faces, if they’re not hurting anybody other than your sense of taste or reason? Don’t ask. Don’t tell, either. Get some kitting, and mind it. People who do otherwise deserve neither politeness nor consideration.