Continuing Thoughts about Abusive Language at Work

As a queer, trans person of color, when I think of someone aiming abusive language at me, I immediately think of deeply hateful racist, homophobic, transphobic language. Words of sexual violence, people telling me that the world would be better off if I were dead, being told that I am less than human. I have not personally experienced that, but I know that others like me have, and so the potential for that is always in the back of my mind.

As irrational as it is, when I was told that I’ll just have to deal with abusive language at work, that’s what I thought of. Being called an idiot, or being yelled at because the person is frustrated with the company is one thing — something that will probably upset me, but something that I can deal with. But emotionally, it felt as though I were being told that I must deal with the rest, and that was unacceptable.

I also have a really strong knee-jerk reaction about the words “abuse” and “abusive.” Abuse is never okay; it is never something to just get used to. If the phrasing had been “irate” or “profane,” I don’t think I would’ve had such a visceral reaction to being told that dealing with abusive language is just part of the job.

After my initial post, someone I respect called me out on it, reminding me of my privilege regarding how I view this job — that I intend for it to be temporary (and assumed that my next job will not entail similar responsibilities) and that I am almost offended by the fact that we are expected to deal with angry people. I don’t know if that’s how they meant it, but it was a bit of a wakeup call for me. I do actually think that all people deserve better than to be put in a situation where accepting abusive language is a requirement, but I failed to acknowledge that for many people, there aren’t other options. They can’t afford to lose their jobs, and so they put up with it — or they have more pressing concerns, and so they do not complain about it the way that I do.

My expectation of being treated civilly (or at least for people to care if we are treated otherwise) is completely a matter of class privilege, and I am working to balance the awareness of that privilege with my belief that everyone should be treated decently (and the knowledge that that isn’t always the case).

2 responses to “Continuing Thoughts about Abusive Language at Work

  1. you’re right in that for many people, there aren’t any other options. i must admit that sometimes i feel like i don’t belong in my job, that i’m not being given due respect, but then again, i look at our other patients who have filed for unemployment and disability and i guess i’d rather take in some and keep my job. well i hope that you live through life without anyone calling you anything inappropriate. i have a number of gay friends and i really do think they’re cool so i really don’t like anyone insulting them for being who and what they are. thanks for posting!

  2. It’s not a class privilege, it’s a *right* that many are denied because of their class. There’s a difference. Drawing that line can often be hard. For instance: getting to choose where you will live, a right or a privilege? Most would say it’s a privilege, not a right, to get to choose to live in for instance Center City. But what about getting to live somewhere you feel safe? (which yes, does include many areas in Philly outside of Center City). Isn’t it then a right, one that many are denied? To me, what you have presented, “being treated civily,” is pretty clearly a right that everyone deserves- though it remains extremely valuable, yes, to recongize that many are not in a position to demand it for themselves. You could say that being surprised not to have that respect *shows* your (or my, or anyone’s) privilege, but you do *deserve * to expect that respect, as anyone does.

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