Thursday, October 2, 2008

Figuring out when to say...when

This song is to be bumped while reading the blog.

Story time, folks.

About a month ago I met this woman – Let’s call her “O-Ren Ishii” for functional purposes – through a University of Michigan Black Alumni Association event. I took to her immediately because she had this feisty, take-no-shit vibe to her that I always find entertaining. We started to build a friendship based on our talking copious amounts of trash to one another.

She gave me shit because I’m a “baby:” four years younger than her. I also nipped at her age, as well as her height (she’s a shorty) and the fact that she’s biracial (Black and Vietnamese). Our nascent friendship was one of humor and innocuous ribbing; mostly executed via text message.

Last week, O-Ren asked to go out for dinner; our first time just hanging out together outside of the association. We had a great sushi dinner and ice cream; complimented by great conversation throughout the evening that vacillated between the serious (relationships and jobs) and light-natured shit-talking.

At the very end of the evening, I told her the story about the sex tour I’d gone on in Chicago at the beginning of the year. During that story, I mentioned that we passed by the massage parlors where they give the “happy endings;” places where they traffic in illegal sex slaves, who are often of Asian descent.

I told her “they took us by the places where they traffic in your people…”

She cut me off with a “goodbye Dustin” and ran off to her car with what I perceived to be a half-smile on her face, so I just giggled to myself as she drove off, thinking nothing of it. After I got back home and looked at my phone, I saw that she’d gone apo-fucking-plectic with a barrage of text messages that ultimately went something like this:


The whole thing caught me off-guard. I played it so mellow and cool because I couldn't see or smell the fire, only to realize that she was genuinely pissed off. Over the course of the next 24 hours I actually did apologize for making that joke to her, but when she pressed me I maintained that it was a joke and that not everyone would necessarily take offense to it.

Needless to say, that wasn’t good enough for her. I thought her approach in dealing with it all was borderline infantile, so I was alright with deading the friendship in the water.

I mean, I tried.

I have a reputation among many of my closest friends as the cat without a filter: I’m prone to say or write whatever’s on my mind, whenever, with little regard to the consequences.

I actually pride myself on eschewing political correctness. No demographic has ever been safe from my crosshairs: men, women, black, whites, Hispanics, Asians, fat people, skinny people, gay people, straight people, handicapped folks, living people, dead people, freakishly tall people, freakishly midgety people, ugly babies, ugly octogenarians and the occasional green muhfuckah.

The Manifesto is a character I created over eight years ago to house that character: a truth-teller rooted in biting humor that is not necessarily a direct reflection on who Dustin is as a person. The Manifesto thrives on stereotypes and minimal facts but utilizes little to none of Dustin’s compassion.

Here’s the key: at the end of the day – for either character – it’s all in jest. I can make jokes about how Asian people can’t back out of their garages without getting in an accident, or how John McCain could take away the whole black vote from Obama by mass-mailing “Free November 4 Brunch at Old Country Buffet” flyers throughout the country, but it’s really all for shits and giggles.

The real me has friends and family of all different races, sizes and religions. The real me is hospitable and jovial to the people he meets, with no judgment. The real me keeps the prejudice to a minimum. The real me is extremely loyal to his family, friends and partners.

The real me is disgusted by the world’s social and economic ills every single day; and that includes sex trafficking (for what it’s worth, the joke was less about sex trafficking and more of another shot at O-Ren’s “Asianness”); so much so that he strives to find the humor in all of it.

My obstacle is that women have historically been a lot less tolerable of that “unsavory” side of me. I’ve gotten minimal consternation from men for my ribald brand of humor, for obvious reasons, but I’ve only met a couple women in my life who truly “get” me in that aspect.

Ironically, the only two women I ever fell in love with are stalwart feminists who fit in a demographic least likely to put up with my crapola.

I saw the writing on the wall even back in college with my then-girlfriend: I remember one of my best friends Leland telling me that my writing “softened up” – shedding a bit of the Angry Black Man edge – when I started dating her.

For example, she hated the use of the word “bitch” - one of my favorite expletives - in any context, so I often went out my way to curb that when I was with her. During one impassioned discussion/argument/debate, I even offered to permanently put The Manifesto to bed if it met a more comfortable relationship; something she wouldn’t allow.

We worked past it by default, because I retired The Manifesto when we graduated. But now that I’ve resurrected it, I find myself staring down the barrel of the same issues all over again.

Loving someone else just enough forces you to put things in perspective, and it made me set out to answer two questions: 1) What can one sacrifice to improve a relationship without sacrificing one's true essence; and 2) At what point should I become socially responsible and acknowledge that my words might have more power than I previously gave them credit for?

I acknowledge that with age and wisdom comes a heightened sensitivity to the power of words, especially when they can reach many people. What I need to figure out is exactly how I factor that into my writing. The funny thing is, I’d be right at home at a gay pride parade or a women’s rights march, but what does it mean if the things I write for public consumption are diametrically opposed to my true opinions?

But then, I also wonder exactly how far I should go in censoring myself. Again, I pride myself on being an equal-opportunity shit-talker, but frankly, everyone is offended by something. For example, the non-black women I date might have iron-clad feminist sensibilities, but might also turn around and laugh aloud at something that a lot of Black folks wouldn’t find funny. Or able-bodied Hispanic folks might laugh at something that the handicapped don’t find the least bit humorous.

We’re a nation of hypocrites, and no one is offended by all the things they should be…just those which closely pertain to them.

Of course, as the issue pertains to a woman that I am with and intend on staying with for awhile, I believe my words should be kept in closer consideration; if only for the preservation of a relationship that is important to me. I’ve never looked for a woman who is in lockstep with my brand of humor - I realize that’s a tall goddamn order - so I know that I need to make an effort to meet halfway.

Still, I admit the whole thing is somewhat perplexing, at any rate. What do you all think?
I really want feedback. All comments welcome.


floodwatch said...

I don't recall how I stumbled over here a few weeks ago, but I'm glad as hell that I did. I relish each one of these drops.

I can't think of a single male friend who hasn't had to "check himself" by a measure or two when his better half was with him. It isn't so much a matter of "censoring" as it is a "toning down" of sorts. He knew that there were certain things that offended her or made her uncomfortable, so he respected that by refraining from vocalizing whatever obscene, racist, or flat-out asinine thought that came to mind. No one thought any less of him or said, "Wow, you're really not yourself when you're around her."

I don't know, I feel like as long as you're not on some Jekyll & Hyde shit, you won't be compromising to the point of artificialty.

Jack McCoy said...

Yo man, every word in this post is the truth, man

I tend to spit out shit without even thinking a lot of times and people get offended

I'm kinda seeing this girl now and the same sort of issues keep coming up. But at the same time, it's like, the real me isn't the one spewing this shit. I think as important is it is for you to recognize that there are two separate personas, she has to recognize that shit too.

If it truly is that you have like, two personas, then its not like youre toning yourself down, ya dig?

Joey said...

Erin said...

2 cents or so from another one of those feminist women: censoring your true self is one thing; censoring the "crazy shit you just feel like saying even though it doesn't really represent you or your true opinions at all" is another. I think we all want to be able to be truly ourselves with the ones we love, but I don't think it's necessary -- or even good, sometimes -- to expose people to those 'demons' that creep up sometimes and we know we don't believe or agree with what they're talkin. In this post you ask "1) What can one sacrifice to improve a relationship without sacrificing one's true essence?" Well, I think that we shouldn't have to sacrifice our "true essence"... but as you say yourself, if your true essence isn't the embodiment of some of the offensive remarks you make, then are you really sacrificing that?

As someone who often puts her foot in her mouth, I can relate a little. But... I also tend to put my foot in my mouth because I'm spouting something that I truly feel strongly about, not something that I toss out in jest or to stir people up (and I still happily and wholeheartedly apologize when my impassioned statements hurt or offend). Maybe that's a gender thing, maybe it's something else. Like I said, just my 2 cents (or 20).