When free speech butts against genuine hurt, it hurts me, and like many, I'm just trying to get by processing this mess.
I am agreeable by nature. Not a pushover, but when I have an opportunity to deploy empathy and compassion, I will. That's why Dave Chappelle hurt me. I read through what felt like binders of responses to his comedy special where many felt he disparaged trans people to the point of aversion. The validity of these claims is neither here nor there to this discussion. But I heard the pain.
Pain is pain. I have danced the dance long enough to know that whether there is a definitive cause and effect from source to discomfort is irrelevant - the subjective presence of pain is pain enough to cripple someone. My agreeable side compels me to listen, to learn, and then to act.
So, I listened.
I heard the acrimonious diatribes, suasive arguments, and honest tears. A comedy hero, stooping to swat a minority community historically marginalised. It feels cheap. The salient question to me though, maybe being the naive man in the corner that I am, generally unaffected by issues of sexuality and gender, wasn't whether he should have said what he said, but whether he should be allowed.
Free speech to me has always been the elephant in the room, as I sit across from the woman who called me the n-word in a local Lifeline 10 years ago. I see her, vile and seething, foam cascading from every hole in her face, while I'm questioning my own identity of being a brown boy in a white village my entire life.
We take the function and complexity of words for granted. We often frame words as mere lyrics to life, without the appreciation that not only are words tokens that give rise to meaning, and in turn how we think, but that they form unimaginable harmonies that reveal truth in ways previously unexplainable.
In music, harmonies are debates, that conflict, conjoin, and resolve. There is no single note harmony. In the participation of coming together, not in uniformity but unison, notes create something that in and of themselves is impossible.
We think in words, which means that every single thing worth thinking about always is and always will be revealed in words. In the disjointed, disjunctive, and sometimes harmonious patterns of speech.
Abortion, borders, gay marriage, slavery, teenage suicide, 0besity, neo-nationalism, purpose, god, pedophilia, war, peace, wealth.
Without words to reveal, define, and refine the truth, these bloody difficult aspects of society become unravelled and open to corruption. But what about you? You are a single voice within the harmony of society, but your voice also competes internally with many voices. Some voices, demons, call you to destruction, dopamine addiction, and death. Others, like the agreeable voice in my own head, cry for love and compassion towards other people and myself. What happens when you repress the demon of porn or the devil of gossip? What happens when you silence the uncomfortable and destructive voice in your psyche? They fight.
Repression always leads to rebellion.
You will find yourself more addicted, more driven to it, and less in control. This is exactly the utility of psychotherapy - in talking freely and openly, we find a cure in the harmony. We listen so that we can lead. We speak to our demons and then walk in the light of what we know to be true so that instead of being repressed, the darkness - which is merely the lack of light - is dissipated.
I believe the same principles apply to the free speech of our communities. The maxim "the devil you know" is no joke. I don't want to live in the fear of not being able to see the racist, the nazi, the misogynist, or the bigot. I want to face them. I want them to speak so that I can see them, and drown out their dissonance with the beautiful harmonies that I know resides in the vocal majority.
Remember, repression leads to rebellion.
My heart breaks for any trans people that felt hurt by Dave Chappelle. I'm not in a position to debate the merit of his speech. At least now people know what they're getting, and can make a free choie to engage or disenage with his speech. What I want, ethically, is the freedom to think, subjectively and as a collective. And thinking is mediated by words, and until that changes, I will stand to protect them, while doing my best to console those who are hurt by them.