I generally tend not to write about issues I know little about, but here I am living on the edge, writing about the world of social-media stars. Into my Facebook feed entered a controversy of sorts the other day, having to do with an apparently prominent YouTuber, or Instagrammer or something, a Mr. Logan Paul, announcing on his video podcast (‽*) that during the month of March, he is going to be gay. This is apparently one in a series of monthly challenges Mr. Paul takes upon himself, such as going sober or vegan for a month.
Many prominent Twitterers, activists and organizations were quick to criticize this statement, making the point that being gay is not a choice, and that “being gay for a month” belittles the reality and challenges an LGBTQ person goes through on a daily basis, in the closet and out. You can get the short of it here:
I’m not entirely sure how Mr. Paul had planned to spend his “Male Only March.” Should his meaning have been that he intends to spend the month of March exploring his sexuality and having sex with men, I can’t see how this is anybody’s business, leave for the specific individuals who might be sharing the experience with him. As a community, in the context of same-sex marriage, we have embraced the concept of “if you’re against gay marriage, don’t marry a member of your sex; otherwise, it has nothing do to with you.”
The magnificent Wanda Sykes drives this point home:
So I can’t see how Mr. Paul’s sexual partners – for the month of March or otherwise – affect anybody else. I would however say to Mr. Paul, that sleeping with men will teach him very little about being gay. Let me put it this way: Let’s say that I spend 30 minutes a day having gay sex (I don’t, I have two kids and have been married to my husband for 17 years, but be generous with me for the sake of this point). Those are pretty much the only 30 minutes of the day when I can be sure I will not be discriminated or harassed for being gay. It’s the the other 23 and a half hours of the day, the walking hand-in-hand (or alone) down the street, the dealing with government agencies, or with parents of kids’ playdates where the issues would arise, and they all have absolutely nothing to do with sex, and everything to do with identity.
Back to Men Only March: If, on the other hand, Mr. Paul’s intention is to spend the month of March being perceived to be gay, through the use of mannerisms, clothing, or other stigmas associated with being gay, that’s obviously trickier territory. Having said that, if done with the genuine intention of experiencing what it’s like to walk in the shoes of a person perceived to be gay, I don’t see that as necessarily bad.
I recently had a conversation with a colleague, who said she was considering visiting Sri Lanka. Having been there recently, I shared some tips, but then she asked me how safe can women feel there. To this I was forced to answer, “I don’t know; I haven’t been there as a woman.”
I would genuinely cherish the opportunity to experience the world through the eyes of a woman,** or a person of color, or many other minorities whose realities can be respected but not fully understood if you are not a member of that group. But where possible, I think it should be encouraged.
When Rabin was assassinated, I was 16, and remember the harsh feeling in Israeli society towards anyone right-wing and/or religious. I grew up as a Conservative Jew, which to this day includes a kippa always in my pocket (should a religious emergency present itself). But that week after the murder, I found myself wearing it on the streets of Jerusalem, with the specific intention of experiencing firsthand how looks and attitudes towards me changed. I wasn’t vlogging it; it wasn’t any kind of public demonstration or statement, just a little teachable moment I created for myself.
In these troubled times we are living through, be it Trump’s America, Brexit, or the elections here in Israel, polarization, hatred and “us vs. them” politics are on the rise. Seeing the world through the other’s eyes is a good way to bridge the gaps and divides, and increase mutual understanding and respect.
My challenge to you, is to try and experience the world in a new way. If you’re not Jewish, try walking around a little while with a Star of David and see what anti-Semitism actually feels like. Learn some Arabic (if you don’t speak it already) and try having a phone conversation in Arabic on the street. I don’t know if you can pull off Egyptian actor Waleed Hammad’s experiment of walking the streets of Cairo as a woman, but you can ask a female friend to allow you to follow her at a distance on the street to witness what she has to put up with.
Logan Paul’s delivery might have been less than perfect, but I take from it that even a member of the “celebrity of no particular talent” community, of which our kids are currently inundated, can remind us the value of reaching out across the divides, and experiencing the reality of the other.
*That’s an interrobang, an honest to goodness and perfectly useful punctuation mark, deserving of its rightful place in writing.
** Women are a minority: In terms of their percentage of the global population, due to abortion of girls and the neglect of their health needs in many parts of the world; In terms of representation, in leadership, in the major sectors; And in terms of equality.