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Liberals are annoying, but that doesn’t mean we’re wrong.

Originally written October 27, 2019

Snowflake. Cuck. Soy boy. Lib-tard. Social Justice Warrior. The list of pejoratives right wingers have come up with for progressives seems as endless as it is uninspired. They’ve made their position clear: liberals are weak, and a large part of what makes us weak is our insistence on bending over backwards to avoid offending anyone by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. I don’t like these terms and I despise the mindset that birthed them, but I do understand some of the frustration that inspires conservatives to routinely unleash them.

In my day, we didn’t call it being “woke” or an “SJW” when you deliberately used the right words. We called it being “politically correct” or “PC,” and we joked about it going too far even then. I still remember laughing over the book Politically Correct Bedtime Stories and all its imitators at the local bookstore in the mall. (RIP Waldenbooks and B. Dalton! I will never forget you!) It was a struggle to be PC back then, and it’s still a struggle now.

Whenever someone tells me their preferred pronouns, I have to carefully freeze my facial muscles to make sure they don’t twitch at all. I use their pronouns of course, and if I make a mistake I apologize. But throughout the process, I’m internally throwing a parade for myself and hailing myself a hero because I got through the entire thing without rolling my eyes even once.

I also hate the term “cis.” I would love to scream from the rooftops that I’m not a “cis” woman, I’m just a woman, goddammit! Consider that my “noun” and respect it! But I keep silent because I get that the term has meaning, and just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean I get to change it.

OK that’s a lie. I keep silent because I’m afraid of being labeled intolerant by my fellow (annoying) liberals.

This is why there’s so much infighting among liberals. We love to give each other impromptu tests to see if we’re “the right kind” of liberal. It’s impossible to study for these tests, and almost impossible to pass them. Inevitably the result is that you’re just not the exact, precise flavor of liberal for the test proctor, which means you must actually be the enemy. I was recently jeered in a Facebook group called Frog Spotting because I said the group was too political for me. “Spotting” groups are supposed to be where people post pictures of various creatures they spot, or just generally celebrate their love for that creature. I belong to several bug spotting, spider spotting and herp spotting groups because I’m the nerdiest nerd who ever nerded. (And for all you non-nerds, “herp” is short for herpetology, as in the study of snakes and reptiles, not “herpes.”) The frog spotting group was hijacked by a contingent of frog lovers who used the fact that frogs can switch genders to post a series of memes about transgender issues. The people who preferred to just talk about frogs and said so were removed from the group and had to start their own rival frog spotting group that promised to focus on spotting frogs.

A lot of this has to do with age. I’m almost 40 years old, and I was raised in the 1980s and 1990s. The number of cultural shifts that have taken place in my lifetime are truly awe-inspiring. I was a child during the Anita Hill hearings, and I remember how bored I was sitting around in a hotel during one of my dad’s weekend visits while he was glued to the TV watching the drama unfold and I just wanted to go swimming or something. It seemed like every adult was watching it all the time, and I had no idea what pubic hair was or why it was a big deal to say you saw one in a coke. The idea that men could actually pay a price for sexual harassment in the workplace was totally foreign back then.

I was a slightly older child during the OJ Simpson trial, and paid enough attention to that one to actually understand some of the issues. When our local paper, The San Diego Union Tribune, put a huge picture of OJ on the cover with the word “Guilty” in giant letters after the civil lawsuit went against him, I was outraged that they’d given that story a bigger lede than Bill Clinton’s State of the Union. He was the first Democrat elected to a second term since Roosevelt, and that was his first SOTU speech since his second inaugural. I ranted and raved around our apartment, and repeatedly declared my intention to take the newspaper to my ninth grade sociology class and present it as a clear example of journalistic bias. My mom talked me out of it. I wasn’t totally “woke” but I was certainly waking up, bit by bit.

My best friend in high school came out when we were in the tenth grade, and started the school’s first gay/straight alliance. I was one of the club’s charter members, and proudly marched in support of propositions that tried (and usually failed) to create equality for the LGBTQ community, which is a phrase that nobody was using at the time. Will & Grace was a huge deal at the time, especially when the networks finally relented and let a gay kiss happen on national TV. I was a big fan of many of the shows that Will & Grace helped usher in, including Queer as Folk, The L Word and the original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. But I have to admit that I’m still a bit shocked by the gay three-ways that routinely happen on ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder. I love them and eagerly watch every second of them, but there’s a bit of interior pearl-clutching happening for sure.

I watched the North Tower collapse live on TV from the common room of my dorm, surrounded by dozens of other shell shocked, sobbing college students. I lived in a performing arts dorm known to be one of most permissive and liberal on campus. A few years later, students who hadn’t been there that day decided to celebrate the anniversary of 9/11 by holding a Jenga tournament. I did not approve, or attend. My liberal awakening continued throughout the Bush years, stimulated by a steady diet of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, which I’d move Heaven and Earth to watch on an actual television, as it aired in real time. Only old people watch TV that way today.

In my own mind, I’m as liberal as they come. But I don’t doubt for a moment that I’ve already lost a significant portion of the readers, likely way back when I talked about not wanting to be called “cis.” They’ve already determined that I’m not the right flavor of liberal for them, and probably huffed off to compose angry reaction tweets instead of reading any further. On the whole, I think liberals do far too much angry tweeting, and I say that as someone who has done a fair amount of it myself ever since I broke down and joined Twitter.

Liberals are annoying. It’s annoying when people tell you that the way you’ve always talked is now wrong. It’s annoying to be told that the way you were raised to think is now wrong. Trying to remember the right words to use and the right things to say is not just annoying, it’s often exhausting. Sometimes it’s easier to simply not engage. So yes conservatives, I get it. I’ve often been moved to call my fellow liberals snowflakes too. On one memorable occasion, I actually did it. A bunch of my fellow liberals ganged up on me on Facebook because I described a Muslim doctor as Muslim. He was Muslim, but they felt I shouldn’t have mentioned it as a descriptive detail in my story about how shitty he made me feel in his examination room. I still maintain that if you get so hung up by reading that a Muslim person is Muslim that you completely miss the point of the story, the problem is not the description, the problem is you.

And liberals often don’t stop at merely being annoying. Some of them are downright vicious and hypocritical. Nobody will launch a personal attack against you faster than a liberal if you fail to toe the line of acceptable speech or make a joke they deem inappropriate. Memorably, in one Facebook argument gone awry, a woman upset about people’s misuse of the word “Gypsy” due to her own Gypsy heritage was so incensed by a joke I made about it that she said she hopes somebody calls the cops on me one day. Her personal Facebook page was full of anti-Trump memes, so I have no doubt that she is fully aware of the potential loss of life involved in police being called to deal with black people who have committed no actual crimes. Another white woman with a similar Facebook profile came after me on Facebook after she took offense to a joke I tweeted. Not content to simply tell me she doesn’t find me funny, she launched into a xenophobic rant full of racist dog whistles, revealing a mind just as closed as many conservatives I’ve known. She failed MY test spectacularly, so I let her have it.

But here’s the thing: just because we’re annoying doesn’t mean that we’re wrong. There’s enormous value in respecting who people are, and who they want to be. There’s nothing inherently wrong with trying to make the world a place where people from all walks of life feel accepted and free to be themselves, and live their lives the way they’ve chosen to live them. If you stop to examine the attitudes and ideas behind these words, what you find are people struggling with the very real issues of dealing with an ever-evolving culture. The core difference between liberals and conservatives seems to be that right wingers dig in their heels and refuse to allow the seismic shifts in culture to shift their personal position on any issue while liberals run frantically to stay ahead of every new wrinkle and fold in the cultural terrain. That interminable run is exhausting, so it’s no wonder we’re a bit touchy and bad tempered. The plate tectonics of political correctness never stop sub-ducting. The difference is that we liberals live in constant terror of being sucked under. Conservatives merely cackle at us from their quake-proof glass houses, somehow managing to have their cake, eat it too, then spit crumbs all over the glass as they laugh their asses off. And this is why we cannot find common ground. It’s galling to be laughed at while doing your best to be what you consider to be a good person -- the kind of person who sincerely respects others, and as such, wants to respect their wishes to be called Latinx instead of Latina, or Jane instead of John, all the while knowing that one slip of the tongue can get you ostracized from the very community you’re struggling to prove that you respect. If liberals have one great failing, it is our utter lack of patience with anyone who is genuinely trying to come to terms with this struggle and find their place in a changing world. We’ve gotten tired of trying to teach people the rules, and let cancel culture run amok instead.

If liberals hope to retake the White House in 2020 and regain the ground they’ve lost in countries like France, Canada, Austria, Poland and all the other developed nations where increasingly extreme right wing factions have made significant gains in power, we are going to have to stop being so fucking touchy. We have to stop testing each other, and take each other’s claims of liberalism at face value. We have to stop attacking each other for not being as woke as we think we are. We are going to have to band together under the stark realization that if we cannot consolidate our efforts to make progressive change, we are going to lose. So the next time someone who claims to be a liberal uses the wrong word, or makes a joke you don’t like, don’t freak out, don’t panic, don’t cancel, and definitely don’t tweet. Instead, hand them a water bottle and some nipple patches. They’ve got a long, hard run ahead.

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