Homophobia in the Richard Armitage fandom, or: what I’d like to say on #SCD2016

Putting this on infinite loop while I write. I realize and accept that this is a highly controversial issue and that I will potentially take flak for saying this. Just think of it as my contribution to #SCD2016. Let’s just say — I’m not on board with the unreserved positivity message. Not before this, and especially not after this week. Positivity is used way too often to cover up real problems. So yeah, this is also a partial, tangential, response to Richard Armitage’s statement about empathy.

So, apparently Richard Armitage is sticking with CyberSmile and so we’ve gotten another message. There are many reasons I can’t get on board with this initiative, a lot of them having to do with free speech issues, and I won’t go through them again, but one that I haven’t discussed yet is my reaction, not to hypothetical bullying, but to actual speech within the fandom. I’ve been annoyed for a long time about the lack of a realistic definition of bullying / bully with this foundation (although they are trying to correct this), and frankly, most of the speech that induces bad feeling of whatever kind in the fandom does not — in my opinion — constitute bullying. Defining bullying is not my topic for today, though.

Rather, today I want to discuss the problem that most of the fandom (as I perceive it) seems much more worried about potential bullying of Richard Armitage than of our fellow fans. Time after time in the last two years, when Armitage tweets about this topic and others, fans comment to reassure him that he shouldn’t respond to harassment or bullying. People are still worried that he’ll leave Twitter (I think this is highly unlikely as long as he’s a CyberSmile Ambassador). Major worry arises whenever disagreement occurs, and the “good fan / bad fan” dichotomy raises its ugly head. People who say things that disturb the commentator aren’t real fans or are bad fans. I admit that this discourse irritates me, but in the end, it’s not illegal and it’s definitely not bullying to say these things in the way that they are usually said, even if some of the comments make me cringe. I figure that’s part of the social contract of fandom. You cringe at what I write; I cringe at what you write; we’re even.

Many of us were disturbed by Richard Armitage’s decision to delete his tweets about Orlando and not entirely convinced by his explanation of same. This was a minority position among active fans and superfans, but it wasn’t an isolated or anomalous one, either. And yet, there are always people who come in for special treatment, even within the minority. Yesterday, two people popped up — the tweep to whom Richard Armitage responded in his tweet stating that he felt his thoughts were futile, and another fan on tumblr who expressed very eloquently and reasonably her frustration with the deleted tweet.

Non-bullying responses to both these fans appeared, replies that disturbed me as a reader. The fans were charged with using his deletes as an excuse to attack him or “daring” inappropriately to question Armitage’s decisions or “dictating” them out of “egoism and snobbery.” Armitage, in contrast, was praised multiply for responding to an allegedly “rude” fan. I’m not going to link to these statements because I don’t care to contribute to a pile-on. I don’t want to imply or claim that these troubling responses characterize our fandom, but at the same time they were widely seen within it and fellow fans will remember them, especially those who were addressed and who care about the same issues. Neither am I saying that the responders lacked the right to say what they said, that they should have been silent because they couldn’t be positive (CyberSmile’s dominant message), or even that what they said constituted bullying. All of them would have been deleted from my blog if they had appeared here because they were ad hominem / personal attacks, but I don’t control the entire social media world, more’s the pity. I don’t like to throw around the word “homophobic,” because I don’t think it’s useful except in a particular set of circumstances. And I don’t think that the vast majority of the fandom is homophobic in the sense that we seek to restrict civil rights for LGBTTQQIAAP people. But if you’re wondering why people call our fandom homophobic? This type of thing is why.

Of course, the problem is not limited to that particular hot-button issue. As I said, these responses were not bullying, according to my definition of the term, which involves both actual threat and repeated harassment, although they might be thought of as such in some parts of the fandom. They are just further evidence that somehow in this fandom, it’s become perfectly okay to communicate cruelly with, say disparaging things about, or make personal attacks on our fellow fans, especially if it’s in defense of Richard Armitage. I don’t know what he thinks about that, and to be frank, it doesn’t matter to me that much. I know how I feel about it. In essence, people have in the past, and I suspect, will in the future, use the command to have empathy as a reason to empathize with Armitage and take up the verbal brickbat against other fans.

Applying my own rule about dealing with potential trolls to this situation, I’d suggest first trying to learn something about the speaker whose speech is bothering me and to think — not feel, think — about how they might response to the context of what was said.

Context: We were in a situation where 50 people were killed and numerous others injured severely when a terrorist attacked a well-known gay night club in Orlando, Florida. Armitage tweeted twice, then deleted both tweets.

What can be known about them? The tweep has a Russian name on her account (“dalekiy sputnik,” cute name, I think), and makes many tweets in Russian. This suggests that she is potentially not a native speaker. This situation always complicates speech (on top of the 140 character limit in Twitter). I remember the eyebrows raised when ex-SO, a German, visited my parents for the first time and said to my mother at some point, “Please, where is the toilet?” That is borderline rude here, albeit harmless, but many non-native speakers lack the entire palette of possibilities when asking questions. The tweep lives in Russia, which recently instituted a series of truly draconian laws affecting the civil rights of LGBT people to be publicly “out” there, something that disturbs a lot of Russians, both gay and straight. Finally, the gender clues on the person’s page are confusing — the avatar is an individual with a pronounced Adam’s apple, the description says “woman.” Maybe the picture is not the picture of the woman (more culturally aware people than me probably know), and I myself am a woman who has a picture of man as her Twitter avatar, but I admit that this raises gender questions in my mind. [ETA: the picture is of “Amazing Phil.” Thanks to chrissyinwm for clarification.] The tumblr fan is a “bisexual, married old lady.”

See, this is what I don’t get. Maybe someone can explain it to me. In a situation where LGBT people and their allies all over the world were reeling about an attack on a gay night club — the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history is now also a homophobic hate crime — wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect that LGBT people and their allies would be upset? (This is a rhetorical question.) Armitage tweets and then deletes on the topic — both fairly mainstream opinions, if one was potentially less innocuous than the other in certain circles. He’s a celebrity who is, no matter what fans unsympathetic to this position think about his own sexual orientation or other fans’ views, the object of widespread gay and gay-themed fantasy. I personally don’t have an issue with this — I was happy to lust after him right along with the male baristas at my favorite Sbux — although I know others do (and that yet others have a problem with straight women lusting after men who may not be straight). He is also the spokesperson for an anti-bullying charity (such as it is). I can’t say this enough — just thinking about this for ten seconds and reading the obvious identity clues on these accounts would make it seem reasonable for those people, given his statements in the past, who he is, and what he says he stands for, to ask him why he deleted those tweets or express disappointment about or displeasure with his decision.

But, and here I’m sorry, Mr. Armitage — I don’t think navigating this situation ethically requires fans to develop any empathy at all — which is a frighteningly high burden to place on any human and not, in my opinion, warranted in every circumstance. There are people I am not going to empathize with and I don’t think it’s a worthy goal to try to empathize with everyone. One really can’t tell people with whom they need to empathize and the last forty years of politics in the United States underline this point — they have to come to it on their own. But in this case, I don’t have to. I also don’t have to intend to be good or kind or anything like that. I just have to stop and think for a bit.

I don’t have to be LGBT (I’m not), I don’t have to be a shipper (according to some people I am, according to others, I’m not, and my middle of the road position on this has occasionally bought me grief), I don’t have to be in sympathy with the LGBT political rights movement (I am), I don’t even need to think that the event in question is horrible (although I do). I don’t have to agree with these fans’ questions, or like them, nor do I need to see the world from the perspective of these fans at all, actually. All I have to do to understand and accept these statements for what they were — and short-circuit myself from engaging in personal attack — is to recognize that in that situation it is perfectly reasonable for those fans to be asking the questions they were asking in the way they were asked. Then I can just say, well, I don’t agree, but it’s a reasonable question for that person to ask.

And — and this is the hard part for me and every other fan, but I honestly think it’s the key problem for us — I have to stop prioritizing empathy with you, Mr. Armitage (which I would argue is a self-deception anyway) in favor of not attacking fellow fans. Just taking this step — all of us reducing the kneejerk statements about “haters” and “trolls” and “bullies” in the fandom — would go a long way toward solving our issues with “positivity.”

Because no one has to have empathy with anyone in order to treat others fairly.

~ by Servetus on June 17, 2016.

24 Responses to “Homophobia in the Richard Armitage fandom, or: what I’d like to say on #SCD2016”

  1. Lovely.

  2. I agree with you on many things. What I can’t see is the link (but maybe it depends on my very small knowledge of the other blogs and tweets…). Are we sure that what he wrote for CyberSmile was in any way related to the deleted tweets? I’m asking because on one hand I’m quite positve the two things are not connected, but at the same time now that I read you I start wondering if instead there are any signs I haven’t seen showing that he clearly wrote this in relation to Orlando and the tweets he deleted.

    • I wasn’t asserting that — just saying that I was using this opportunity to respond to what he said regarding Cybersmile. Because it would theoretically be applicable.

  3. Well, I am ashamed of dalekiy sputnik, we share the same country and I don’t like what they wrote to RA.
    Also I don’t like strange qs to RA from his fans because his private life only his and he is, in the first place, a human being as the others.

    • Thanks for the comment and welcome. There is a difference between not liking what someone wrote (that happens to me all the time in this fandom) and saying that they have no right to ask. We can disagree, and disagree vehemently, but that only works if we are all allowed to speak. Similarly, “what I don’t like” isn’t a reason to tell someone they may not ask a question. Armitage is a human being, but so is “dalekiy sputnik.” They are of equal worth and their rights are equally important.

  4. “But, and here I’m sorry, Mr. Armitage — I don’t think navigating this situation ethically requires fans to develop any empathy at all — which is a frighteningly high burden to place on any human and not, in my opinion, warranted in every circumstance. There are people I am not going to empathize with and I don’t think it’s a worthy goal to try to empathize with everyone.”

    Absolutely. I was going to dust off my blog and have a go but you covered it. There are people with viewpoints I find reprehensible; there’s no way I will empathize. But that doesn’t give me a free pass to bully or troll them. In fact it seems the more controversial, the more careful, respectful and cogent I try to be. Bullying/trolling does not induce constructive discussion. Empathy has nothing to do with it.

    Regarding the homophobia, this the first fandom where I’ve ever encountered it. I find the Don’t Ask Don’t Talk attitude exasperating and baffling considering we are supposed to be a more older sophisticated fandom. Although the most screamish ones insist (too stridently IMHO) that it has to do with respect for personal privacy rather than homophobia, I still have the sneaking suspicion that it’s more the latter, due to the immediate panicked “SHUT UP! SHUT UP! bullying.

    • Thanks.

      There’s also serious difference between “understanding” and “excusing” that would need to be taken up. I think you’re spot on when you say a troll doesn’t want empathy. They just want the reaction they get from you — and this is true of a lot of bullies. That differentiates them from someone involved in a flame, who is often doing it because they really care about whatever they are arguing about. I don’t know that he’s not on the Internet much, but some of his comments suggest that. Even so, when you think about playground bullies — it helped me absolutely zero to understand the kids who would hit me. I knew why they hit me, but they hit me anyway.

      re: homophobia — I think it’s really multi-layered. There are actual homophobes in this fandom (although I haven’t encountered many), by which I mean i this case, people who think homosexuality is so morally wrong that gay people should not have civil rights. There are people who really believe in the personal privacy argument and, I would argue, not disingenuously. There are also people who aren’t aware that their personal privacy argument covers something else up and probably wouldn’t realize it even if confronted with the contradiction.

      This post was in part motivated by a conversation i had over the weekend with a friend who told me that none of those people would have died if they just would have “flown under the radar,” and that seems to be part of the implicit argument here, that some fans are not worthy of being allowed questions — even when it’s about a matter that is arguably a life and death one for them personally.

  5. Hey, thanks for including a link to my blog. Appreciate it even if it did make you cringe. For that I am unapologetic as we are certainly even in this regard. Cheers! 😊

    • You’re not the first and won’t be the last who has had that reaction. My point is that we’re all in this together. All of us have much more in common with fans we don’t care for than any of us has with Richard Armitage.

  6. “Don’t break the 4th wall” is part of fandom bible to me. Another of your commenters noted we have a “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy which for the first time made me wonder whether my desire to maintain the wall was homophobic. But for me it’s not because I put Richard on a pedestal; I don’t break the 4th wall because I want to preserve the fantasy – not only in terms of his realness ( ie faults, prejudices) destroying my fantasy but also to remind myself that he is a fantasy and that I have no right to expect answers or questions, especially on personal issues.
    Are you suggesting that one of the grounds that gives fans the right to ask questions of Richard is the fact that he’s half of a major slash ship or “gay or gay-themed fantasy”? You cite other grounds including his involvement in Cybersmile.
    I think both fans had the right to ask him personal questions because he put the tweets out there and deleted them. But the Russian tweet reminded me of the limitations of Twitter. Given the mechanics of Twitter, I do agree that is logical to conclude that deleted tweet = issue not important enough. For me not tweeting on an event that one might expect a tweet = issue not important enough. This is why I’m left thinking useless thoughts like: why didn’t he tweet anything on the Jo Cox assassination?

    I liked ineedthislikeaholeinthehead’s initial question but I don’t agree with the subsequent conclusion that the deletion of the Orlando tweets and the soho tweet is evidence that Richard is trying distance himself from the “gay.” I’m not saying that he is or is not – but I would be cautious of making that conclusion on the basis of two three tweets.

    • Hmm. I don’t know if everyone means the same thing by “don’t break the fourth wall.” It’s extremely important to me, too, but I don’t think fans were the ones who started demolishing the wall in this case. (Admittedly, there are now fans who are trying extremely aggressively to break it and think that is a positive, but that is a separate matter.) Armitage was the one who got a public Twitter and then started interacting on it. I do not think the wall itself is inherently homophobic, or the desire to preserve it, or the desire to break it. However, the insistence among some fans (both before and after Twitter) that the topic May Not Even Be Discussed is a problem. I don’t know if I would call it homophobic because (as noted above) there are many reasons that people don’t want to talk about it and as I am always telling people, I don’t have to talk about anything if I don’t want to and I don’t have to have a reason. It could be homophobic, but isn’t necessarily.

      But I think the rest of your comment responds to a straw man. I wasn’t arguing about the right to expect answers — or even the right to ask questions. I never used the word “right,” in fact, to describe those comments — on purpose. I was talking about whether it is reasonable for a fan in the position these fans were in to ask these questions, and stating that if it was reasonable that they ask, it is unreasonable to attack them merely for the fact that they asked something that others find uncomfortable. In other words, is it acceptable to attack them just for asking these questions (whether or not they have a right to do so)? Armitage created a Twitter, thus creating the impression that he is open to receiving fan communications in that way. So structurally, they have the capacity to ask. I would argue that they are in a political position where (no matter how I feel about it on any of many levels) those questions appear reasonable to them. They do not deserve attack merely for asking in a situation that gives them the capacity to ask. I made a point of saying that we’t have to agree with the question as asked, nor do we have to agree with the argument made in the question, to accept that it is a reasonable question to be asked and for that reason not attack another one fan for asking it. IMO the main reason for attacking a fan who asks this question is the misguided notion that empathy with Armitage (based on a highly hypothetical construction of his interests, in a lot of cases) is more important than empathy with fellow fans.

      (It occurs to me that another hole in Armitage’s remarks about empathy is that it is a lot like free speech. People preach free speech as long as it is for speech they like, but are leery when they don’t like the speech that is protected. In fact, free speech principles exist primarily to protect speech we don’t like. Empathy is easy when we like the person who we are empathizing with, but a great deal harder, if not impossible, for those we do not like. This is why I’m saying, don’t insist on feeling a particular way. Just ask yourself to think a bit.)

  7. […] me+richard discusses empathy, cyberbullying and homophobia […]

  8. Well, you know how I feel about empathy after reading my blog post.🙂
    I think empathy can be very useful in treating the other fairly but you are right, it is not always necessary or maybe even possible. Basic human decency tells us to treat everyone fairly. I love your line that, even if you don’t empathize, “I just have to stop and think for a bit.”
    Yeah, the idea that fans need to attack other fans ‘on Richard’s behalf’ is truly disconcerting… Maybe Richard’s message on empathy will help them to stop and think?

    • I think the species of empathy that would end bullying is way more difficult than Armitage seems to think — either because he does it a lot or he’s naturally inclined to it. I had an interesting conversation yesterday with a fellow fan off blog about my assertions here, and she found it really difficult to let go of the idea that she did not need to consider the validity or the reasonability of the argument made my these fans — only whether it was reasonable for them to speak. It’s like the fact that an idea is potentially wrong trumps all possibility that it might have a basis for being expressed anyway.

      I kind of wish he would just come out and say, dude, you do not need to defend me. But I can see it back-firing. Some fans would say he was bullied into saying it, for instance. It would also really interfere with some fans notion that he is a fragile flower. In essence, if he did that, he’d be questioning actively how some fans need to see him — and that’s never a good idea for someone in his business, I suspect, unless it gets to a point where it seriously impacts his own life.

  9. 🙂 Sujet à controverse, difficile à aborder dans la mesure où il veut garder sa vie privée cachée, mais où il est une personne publique sous les projecteurs, qui veut sa place au soleil d’Hollywood.
    Il faut considérer uniquement son travail et ses positions personnelles exprimées.
    Mais tout le monde n’adopte pas une position humaniste tolérante.Je me bats quotidiennement, encore trop souvent contre les préjugés de tous bords ( handicap, maladie, classe sociale, religion, race, sexe, sexualité,…) Alors malheureusement, comme dit le proverbe “pour vivre heureux vivons caché”. Cela ne peut-être que la seule issue. Mais que lui restera t-il comme LIBERTE. UN BON SUJET DE PHILOSOPHIE POUR LE BACCALAUREAT

    • One of the things that’s confusing about his Twitter in general has been that he never showed indications of wanting to speak to fans all THAT regularly before Auust 2014. I honestly don’t think that that has changed all that much.

      • OK but how can he normally act write or live without having his liberty restrained? While he wants to remain free from the pressure of the fans and Media about his private life , this choise leads him to chose to live in a golden cage. That recall me Toby Steven’s words in the excellent BBC serie: “Jane Eyre”

        • I think all working adults have this problem on some level, so I’m not all that sympathetic. He could chose not work in the profession he has, of course.

  10. […] By Servetus: Homophobia in the Richard Armitage fandom, or: what I’d like to say on #SCD2016 […]

  11. […] talked about this common problem with regard to homophobia last week. Certain groups are not considered worthy of empathy or not […]

  12. Sorry, I know this was a while ago. I’m not sure how I missed it, but glad there was a link to it. First, I had to look up shipper. Had seen it before, but didn’t know what it meant. Tumbler is full of it, Facebook to a lesser degree, and no one there seems to have an issue with it. If you’re bothered by something, don’t go on sites where you’ll find it. I think we all have our own opinion of whether he is or isn’t. I know I have mine, I think I’m right, and have specific reasons for it. Really though, it’s very unlikely that it would ever affect me personally, so I hope he finds happiness in his own way, whatever that may be. I never felt the need to start arguing the point with someone who holds the opposite view. Not like a cyber argument could ever be won. I do follow someone on Twitter and Facebook who I don’t love, but may occasionally have something I would like to see. They think they are Richard’s mother and protector, and engage in policing. In the last few weeks filled with repeated tragedies and Brexit, they were full of happy fluff. They’re just in their own little bubble, and very happy there. I don’t look at it enough to engage them about it. If I did, I’d probably be blocked. As you know, I love his breaking the fourth wall in the last couple weeks with his political tweets. I absolutely wish he would say to people that he is more than capable of standing up for himself, and to stop using any comment they don’t agree with as a call to battle. They have every right to attack I suppose, but where is the kindness they’re hiding behind in that, and how empty are their lives?

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