A Second Experience With Hate

In an effort to get a bit more fashionable I recently did some shopping at Kenneth Cole. I ultimately purchased a pair of brown shoes and a tie, and apparently that was enough to warrant a small parting gift from the mid-20’s man who rang up my items.

“Here you go, a little something we give our valued customers,” he said, and he handed me a condom.
Before I had a chance to say anything he added, “we’re increasing social awareness. Use it in good health.”

The idea of obtaining a prophylactic from a retail clothing store doesn’t inspire much more confidence in me than if I had gotten it from a $.99 store or simply found it on the street: if it’s not in a perfectly sealed box by the world’s greatest engineers, I don’t want it.

To be polite I slipped the condom into my pocket and smiled awkwardly. “Thank you, I feel more aware already.” As I turned to leave, the man said, “you knows, those types need to be using more of these,” and nodded his head toward an effeminate-looking gentleman in a suit.

“And what types are those?” I asked. “Well-dressed men?”

He looked in both directions and said, “you know…the gays. What they do makes me sick, the least they could do is be safe about it.”

I had a homosexual client years ago who told me that one of the most frustrating aspects of being gay was that almost everyone he knew immediately assumed that the sole aspect of the institution was sex. “When I told my parents that I was gay, their first reaction was ‘are you practicing safe sex?’ They didn’t ask if I was in love or if I wanted to raise children with another man or anything like that. It was all about not catching AIDS. People who are heterosexual don’t have to deal with that.” I felt a pang of guilt when he said that because I too have had knee-jerk reactions about safe sex when people have revealed to me that they are gay.
The man in the store looked at me as if he was waiting for me to agree with him. Not that I tend to immediately shy away from confrontation, but I’m certainly not the best at it. I should have fired off something like:

How dare you shamelessly share your brazen homophobia with me. I’m a Z-list celebrity for Christ’s sake!
or

Although there are probably millions of women who would love to be walking out of this store with me and what is now MY condom, I eschew it (cue to Rob throwing condom on the floor) due to your hate speech.

In the heat of the moment, however, I simply came up with, “yeah, safety is real good.” And I left, condom in pocket.

I wrote about a recent experience with hate here and I caught some grief, justifiably so, from readers who wanted to know more about the “Psychology of Hate.” They wanted something beyond the simple overgeneralizations a person can make after negative experiences, like when a woman is physically assaulted and suddenly hates all people of similar ethnic backgrounds as her attacker. That’s just Classical Conditioning and most of us are familiar with that.

The truth is that the study of hate is outside my area of expertise (my area of expertise being “nothing except sitting there listening to people all day” if you ask my mother). What I will share, however, is what I see in people: an inherent need to be part of groups, to identify with others. Football teams, religions, ethnicities, where we live, careers, where we went to school, etc. All of these are simply a way to categorize ourselves and form a relationship with others. Wanting that connection, that affinity to be with and feel in contact with similar people, to have that sense of belonging to something, isn’t inherently bad. Unfortunately, there seems to be a cognitive leap from “our group is great,” to “therefore yours is not.” When that leap is taken to a greater extreme, you get “us vs. them,” or hate (e.g., think about the hockey dads who get into fistfights or the riots seen during international soccer matches). In other words, holding the idea of “I’m okay, you’re okay,” isn’t necessarily part of our nature. We seem to be programmed to separate people into categories, which can bring both safety and security. Unfortunately this often leads to negative viewpoints about groups that differ from our own.

In case you’re wondering, the condom from the store is sitting safely in Dr. John’s dresser. I have a small wager with him that it won’t be put to good use anytime soon.

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18 Responses to “A Second Experience With Hate”

  1. rien says:

    You know, I like to think that, had I been in a similar situation, I would have said, “Did you actually just say that to a complete stranger? You know what? I’d like to return this tie and these shoes. And I don’t think I’ll be shopping here again.”
    In reality, I probably would have just stood there with my mouth hanging open in shock for a few seconds, then muttered, “uh-huh,” or something and left.
    Have you ever considered writing an article on socially-instilled spinelessness?

  2. Anonymous says:

    I would have said something to that guy. I am a christian and we dont believe that what gay people do is right, but one of my best friends is gay and I would never put him down for it. Its just a sin and everyone does some kind of sin. And I think you should put that condom to good use…. with a certain someone.

  3. Colleen says:

    Dr. Rob,
    It is not too late to call the store and complain about the behavior of the hateful employee. I assume by posting the name of the business here you intend to draw negative attention to their brand; however, they may have no idea that this employee is saying such things to customers. If anything no other customer – say, a less “obviously” gay person – should have to hear that sort of hate speech while buying shoes.
    As for hate, I think it comes from ignorance and insecurity. Hence the research showing homophobic men to have more latent gay tendencies than non-homophobic men. Things that hit a sore spot get people riled up. As someone who believes that we are essentially animals, but that we also have the gift of cognition and are therefore responsible for our actions, I am pretty disgusted by people who let emotional responses dictate how they interact with the world. From the person who takes out their bad day on a customer, to the hockey dad beating another hockey dad unconscious, that sort of executive dysfunction makes me sad for humanity. Incidentally that’s part of what my lab studies and so I’ve dealt with a lot of people with anger and self control issues. Sometimes it really makes me think the whole species is doomed.

  4. Limoncello says:

    Just curious as to what type of evidence Dr. John needs to provide in order to claim his winnings?
    And millions of women, seriously, Rob?
    The salesperson’s employment can be in serious jeopardy with your one phone call to Kenneth Cole store. Ignorance is the core of stupidity. But I have a feeling you’re the forgiving type.

  5. PJ says:

    The fact that the condom made it’s way to “Dr. John’s” dresser drawer meshes nicely with my “Dr. John and Dr. Pete are both aspects of Dr. Rob’s personality” theory.
    The “evidence” question was the first thing that popped into my mind, too. Does he have to return the used condom to prove that he did, in fact, use it? Or is video-tape evidence required?

  6. Tina says:

    Faced with the same situation, I think I’d have been a bit harder on the guy. I probably would have pointed out that I was, in fact, gay and asked to speak to his manager. But, that’s just me and I’m a bitch like that.

  7. Tans says:

    Just so you know, that blog caused google reader to kindly offer me “gay asian singles”. Sheesh.
    I enjoy your blog. It makes me more confident I can be empathic to clients AND still bitch about my colleagues once i’m outta the room.
    Cheers.

  8. Nadia says:

    It is strange how tightly people cling to a certain group; I remember seeing people decked out in buttons, hats and face paint, attacking and arguing with people on the sidewalk to vote for Hillary Clinton. “It’s like a football game to them,” I thought.
    I’m a “hater” myself, but more that I get annoyed with people when they act obnoxious in public. Not in the categorical way, and maybe that’s because I’m not close into a group (though maybe that’s a group on its own?) Kind of like how I’m annoyed with the people who came on here and told you what you should have done, what they would have done and what you should do now. Seems like just another unexpected situation that you walk into and after you leave, you think of lots of clever things to say. I always beat myself up a bit after things like this because I wasn’t on my toes.

  9. Topochicho says:

    I don’t know what it is about me, but apparently I look like a dick. I frequently get more than my fair share of douche bag comments from complete strangers. I used to get upset, and then, acting totally oblivious, say something equally douchey about some group that they obviously fit into and pride themselves on being part of. However, over the years I have come to the realization that there is no benefit to trading hateful barbs with hateful people. I now keep it too a single word. My 2 go-to responses are either “Wow” or “Indeed”. “Wow” is good for the douchey remarks that are just so far out there as to be stunning, and “Indeed” is as non committal as you can get and still call it an actual reply.
    That’s it, one word, one facial expression something like “deer in the headlights”, and the walk away.

  10. Cassandra says:

    There you are at Kenneth Cole all excited about (finally) spiffing up your image and that homophobe has to harsh on your happy place.
    I never have anything snappy to say in those situations either. I’m caught off-guard and then also worry about being rude if I am trying to come up with a response. Clearly the other person has no compunction about being offensive, so why do I care?
    While I don’t have a need to respond to every ignorant comment I get, I could use some training in cultivating my inner bitch for those very special occasions.

  11. Robin says:

    Why would a homophobe work at Kenneth Cole? It would be like a diabetic working at the Hershey’s store in Times Square. Surrouned…constantly…by candy…can’t resist!

  12. Maggy says:

    You know DocRob, I had something very similar occur to me when I was working at La Madeleine Bakery in New Orleans. An older guy walked into my restaurant and started chatting with me about how he hates going into ______ restaurant because so many black people work there. (plenty of black people worked at La Madeleine) He went on to tell me about how blacks and Mexicans are lazy, and how I shouldn’t listen to anyone in these prissy liberal colleges because all those psychologists are full of bullshit. (I was attending Loyola University Liberal Arts school at the time) He kept on and on and I said nothing against him. I didn’t say anything to agree with him just nodding about his comments. I said nothing about the fact that I am Puerto Rican and was attending a liberal arts university or the way I feel about what he said. I said nothing. I let it be.
    Sometimes I replay the conversation over and over in my mind. What I could have said. What I should have said. I wanted to tell him to get out of the store and that he wasn’t welcome here. I wanted to tell him to fuck off. I wanted to say so many things to him, and I didn’t. All it really boiled down to was I didn’t want to lose my job arguing with some old jerk.

  13. Kvisling says:

    Only the nuclear fire of PURE HATRED can cleanse the solar system of the insects masquerading as men!

  14. Esther says:

    I agree that the guy’s comment was completely out of line — especially to a stranger. However, I am not seeing the “hate.” He’s not comfortable with homosexual intercourse. Okay. So, if he had said that spiders are disgusting would that be hatred?
    For that matter, people often assume that the sole aspect of a heterosexual relationship is sex. That idea is not new and is disrespectful to everyone.
    I’m not trying to say that this guy did something okay. I’m just being a bit of a devil’s advocate because I don’t understand why you should be so negative toward someone because of his phobia. I mean, it’s not as if he walked up to the person in question and harmed him in some way. He just expressed a sentiment.

  15. Michelle says:

    Is Esther serious?

  16. Esther says:

    @Michelle, the answer to your question is yes and no. I realize some of that comment came out wrong. I had no intention of likening people to spiders. It was just an example. I do not think it is okay for people to promote hatred toward others of any group. I am, however, trying to get the effect of the cashier’s comment out in the open. It seems that everyone reads it and makes an assumption: this guy is hateful. However, what if he is just extremely uncomfortable with the idea of same sex, well, sex? Does that mean he automatically hates all gays? It’s a question of impact. I am asking that the man’s words be thought through to their logical conclusion.
    It’s just that so often we are offended by things people — idiots — say and yet there’s no real societal ramifications shown (keyword being “shown”). I am not saying the guy is not a damaging person or a total jerk.

  17. Annie says:

    IsnĀ“t hate the combination of fear+anger? I heard something along that line during a lecture. I think it has to do with fear of the unknown.

  18. […] Identity in all walks of life is important. It connects us to other people in the same group, creating communities and a sense of connection. If you’re an athlete or sports fan, there’s an intense bond with others who share in the team’s successes and failures. When you live in a city, you tend to defend it against outsiders who may bash it, even if they are right. You protect your group and the bond that you experience, simply put, feels fucking great (one unfortunate, potential side effect of strong identity is the development of hate, which you can read about here). […]

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