No Offense

Recently a girl in my new lab said to me, "you can tell me if you find my jokes offensive. I know I tend to joke about a lot of crazy stuff, so you should tell me if it bothers you." She had just made a slightly off-colour (and not very funny) joke. Doesn't matter what it was.

I smiled blandly at her and returned to the actual conversation. At the time I thought that I was deciding not to say anything about her somewhat offensive joke because I didn't want to take the time to explain that the reason I found the joke offensive was not the reason she thought someone might find it offensive. Like explaining to someone that when they call your shirt "gay" you aren't offended because they didn't like your shirt. It wasn't that, but it was somewhat analogous. And I just didn't want to get into it.

I mean, it's true. I didn't want to get into that with her. But as I let more and more stupid little things from her slide, and I had absolutely no interest in mentioning any of them, I realized there was more going on. So here's the thing.

It's not about my feelings. First of all, my feelings don't get particularly hurt when someone makes derogatory remarks about a group I'm a member of. It's pretty simple: if someone is that much of a bigot then their opinion doesn't matter to me, and if their opinion doesn't matter, then nothing they say can hurt me. Really. My primary emotional response is boredom. But that's an aside, and here's the more important point: when it comes to my relationships, I don't want someone to refrain from making certain jokes or using certain language because I find it offensive. I want them to refrain from doing those things because *they* find it offensive. I want them to have thought critically about the assumptions that underlie their jokes and about the effect their language has on others. And if they are someone who does not do that kind of thinking, well, I want them to wear that fact on their sleeve.

Just one thing I do have to get off my chest, though: If you want to have a career studying sexually transmitted infections, then by the time you're in grad school you should be able to talk about sex without needing to crack terrible jokes to assuage your discomfort. Seriously.

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