Woman disgusted by male friend's 'problematic' text message: 'He reacted so strongly'

·6-min read

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Hi, Group Chat,

I (27) was texting a guy who I’ve known for a few years. We flirt often. At one point in the conversation, while talking about cooking, I sent a gif of a guy hitting a quick twerk in the kitchen. It was suggestively meant to be a depiction of me in the kitchen. He said, “I’d rather not see that.” I asked if he was homophobic, and he said no. It still didn’t sit right with me though, so I ended the convo.

After some weeks passed we got back on the topic and I tried to explain why his response was problematic. We both agree that as humans we can like and dislike whatever. But I expressed how I felt there was something deeper as to why he reacted so strongly about a singular GIF. But he still thinks there was nothing wrong with his reaction. Am I wrong for feeling a certain way about this?

Sincerely, No Scrubs

Dear NS,

Katie Mather, who reads too much into every text she’s ever received, says… I want to congratulate you on straight-up asking this guy if he is homophobic. If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that there is simply no time for passive aggressiveness when trying to figure out someone’s fundamental values and their thoughts on hard kombucha. You need both answers to be able to determine whether you can have any type of relationship with them (one is obviously more important than the other — hard kombucha is THE drink of the summer! What’s not to like?).

As for a strong, beautiful woman such as yourself, I don’t know how you ended up in the same social circle as this clown who can’t stomach the sight of … a GIF. A GIF of a man dancing — is this guy the town from “Footloose” in human form?

Yes, “humans can like and dislike whatever,” but only if those dislikes are, like, olives, or when you accidentally step in water while wearing socks. Not an entire community of people. My advice? Delete his number and crack open a grapefruit-flavored Flying Embers.

Morgan Greenwald, who communicates exclusively via GIFs, says… Even if your friend doesn’t recognize the undertones of his reaction to your GIF, they exist, and it’s important for the two of you to discuss what transpired so he can understand how what he said stems from an implicit bias.

Your job isn’t to make your friend feel like there was something “wrong” with how he responded (even though most people would agree there was). Rather, it’s your job to educate him about how his actions can be construed as offensive in the hopes that he will see the error of his ways and work on being more inclusive and open-minded in the future.

As for the fate of your relationship, it’s up to you to decide whether you can look past this incident and still form a deep, meaningful connection with this man. Until he recognizes and acknowledges that he acted on his implicit biases, though, it might be better to take a step back and keep the friendship strictly casual.

Dillon Thompson, who imagines his cooking skills in a similar way, says… It’s true that a GIF might feel like a pretty minor thing to argue over (although tell that to my co-workers, who have spent the last 6 months berating me with “Marriage Story” GIFs) — but that’s exactly the point. This is a microaggression no matter how you slice it, and your friend’s strong reaction to something so innocent has to be symptomatic of some deep-held biases, whether he realizes it or not.

That doesn’t mean your pal is a horrible guy. But it does mean you’re justified in confronting him on it. It’s great that you called him out, but keep in mind that people don’t change overnight. You’re in the right, which means you have the power here: Be patient, keep starting conversations and hopefully you’ll help him see why his reaction was problematic.

Alex Lasker, who hates being backed into a corner more than anything in the world, says… As a conflict-avoidant person, I’d venture to guess your friend probably shut down hard in response to being called a homophobe. Don’t get me wrong, calling out toxic behavior when you witness it firsthand is direly important, especially when it’s coming from friends. But I think you may have seen a different result if you had handled the situation with a bit more finesse.

There is an entire subset of people that GLAAD refers to as the “movable middle.” These people aren’t homophobes, but they’re not quite allies, either. Still, they typically prove to be the most willing individuals to be educated about LGBTQIA+ issues.

I think asking your friend, “why would you ‘rather not see that GIF’?” could have been a better place to start this conversation than “are you homophobic?” The former opens the door to discussion, while the latter simply labels. For all we know, this guy could not want images of people of any gender twerking on his phone. I’m not saying that’s the case — I do believe his comment smells, at the very least, of toxic masculinity — but still, this type of approach creates a safer environment where your friend can respond honestly, rather than a hostile one where he has already been branded a hateful human.

Ignorant people can be turned into allies and help move the needle on actual cultural change, but demonizing their misguided actions when we could take a moment to, instead, gently correct them is an opportunity lost.

TL;DR… This guy’s reaction is problematic at best, and homophobic at worst — and neither of those things are exactly great. Calling him out was a good start, but if you’re dedicated to your allyship and truly want to turn this into a real learning moment, it’s worth trying to re-up on the conversation with a bit more tact. Still, you’re not his therapist, and a lot of the time, homophobia can be pretty deep-seated and complex. If talking gets you nowhere, putting distance between the two of you might be the move.

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