“But a Gay Man Can Marry a Lesbian Woman”: Arguing Against Bad Faith
Some thoughts on engaging with misogynists, homophobes and transphobes
I spend a lot of time (too much) arguing with people on the internet, mainly in favour of feminism, LGBT rights and atheism. I want to discuss a specific type of argument that I come up against a lot, one that I personally first encountered when I was arguing for equal marriage in Australia in 2016. I was arguing that homophobia is bad, and that the law at the time was homophobic because it prevented specifically gay people from having the same rights as everyone else. Pretty straight forward. The person I was arguing with said “but gay people already have the same rights as everyone else, so the law cannot be homophobic”. So, being stupid enough to always give people way too much plausible deniability for just being ignorant, I asked how gay people can possibly have the same rights as straight people if they can’t get married, and they seriously replied “but they can get married, a gay man can get married to a lesbian woman”. What. This was the first time I’d ever seen someone try something like this and I was actually speechless.
Obviously when someone says “gay people should be allowed to get married too” they mean “gay people should be allowed to get married — to someone they love — too”, not that they are technically prevented from getting married full stop. You know that, I know that, and the homophobes know that too. Worse than that, they know we know! Absolutely no one is under the illusion that gay people have an equal right to marriage in a country where gay marriage is illegal. No one thinks people are complaining that gay men aren’t allowed to marry lesbian women. So why do they say it? I think it serves two purposes; firstly they are trying to frame the discussion as gay people asking for extra rights that straight people don’t have, “I’m not a bad person, I think everyone should be equal, it’s just that you’re demanding special treatment that no one else gets”; and secondly it allows them to steer the conversation into a debate about what technically counts as a human right, rather than addressing the actually inequality at hand.
Here Come The Misogynists
At first I thought this ridiculous argument was a one off, but then I saw the same argument over and over throughout the debate (which ended in 61.1% of people voting in favour of equal marriage). Then for a while I hoped this might just be some pathetic strategy limited to homophobes, but shortly after I was arguing for women’s rights to abortion in Ireland and saw a similar pattern. I would argue that women don’t have equal rights because they can’t get an abortion, and the person I was arguing with would seriously say “I’m a man and I don’t have a right to an abortion either, so we already have the same rights”. Unreal.
Again, no one thinks that the issue is that men can get abortions and women can’t. No one thinks that everyone has the same healthcare needs. When someone says “women should have access to abortion”, they mean “women should have bodily autonomy too — which necessitates access to abortion”. They know that, and they know you know they know that! It’s just an attempt to frame abortion as a special right, and to steer the argument onto a debate about what a right technically is.
If The Homophobes Do It, The Transphobes Do It
The version of this that I see the most in arguing for trans rights is when someone is arguing to ban trans women from using the toilet in public. I’ll say “banning trans women from the toilets would be taking their rights away and would stop them from being able to participate in society” and the reply will be something like “I don’t want to ban them from using the toilet in public, or take their rights away” but when pushed they’ll say “trans women could use the men’s toilets, so they’d still have the right to use the toilet in public”. Pathetic. No one thinks that the issue is that trans women would technically be banned from all public facilities, just that they’d be banned from the ones they use today and the only ones they’d be safe in. Again they are trying to frame equality as an extra demand, and again trying to make the argument about what a right technically is rather than facing the observable, measurable things that they are trying to take away from people.
Something bigots just love doing is asking “but what rights don’t they have?”. They always want to make it seem like we have equality today already and that anyone asking for more rights must be asking for special treatment. So them opposing these rights isn’t bigoted but is actually really them fighting for equality if you think about it. They’re the real good guys. (In fact if you search “what rights don’t they have” today on Twitter you’ll see it’s about 50/50 people asking that about trans rights and people asking that about rights for black people. Trans rights and BLM are in the news, so it’s time to fight for the status quo). It’s such a common question that I have even begun writing a fully sourced answer to this for trans rights that I can just reply with to shut them up, but this does still give them the chance to try and steer the argument into one about the definition of the word right.
How To Avoid This Nonsense
When it comes to arguing these points now I always try and head them off so as not to waste everyone’s time. I steer clear of the word “right” so that they can’t try and change the discussion into a debate about what is technically a right. And I make sure to preemptively prevent them from pretending that equality is a special extra demand. “Gay people should be able to get married” becomes “All consenting adults should be able to marry other consenting adults” (note the addition of the word consenting, another thing that is obviously always assumed in normal conversation, but if you miss it out they’ll try and make it a conversation about pedophilia instead, because LGBTphobes love that more than anything else). “Women should be allowed to get an abortion” becomes “All humans should have absolute bodily autonomy”. “Trans people should be able to use the toilet” becomes “Trans women face misogynistic sexism and sexual violence for being women, and all women should have protection from that”. The reason I do this is to try and get them to state their actual positions so that passers by can see, and also to get them to confront their own position. Sometimes people are just ignorant or confused and when you don’t give them room to wander off onto another topic they’ll stop and realise what they’re saying. But usually their positions are actually “I want to take away gay people’s ability to get married”, “I want to take away women’s bodily autonomy”, “I want to take away trans people’s access to the facilities they use today”. They don’t want to frame it like that because it sounds as immoral as it is. I’m not going to let them get away with hiding it.
I see these arguments so often that it’s actually refreshing when someone can just straight up say “I don’t think women/gay people/trans people should have the same rights as everyone else”. Hooray. Yes they’re a bigot, but at least they own it. At least they aren’t lying to themselves and everyone else.