Words have consequences. That’s what Gabby Giffords said before the tragic events in Tucson had transpired. Words have consequences. That’s what many of us in the LGBT community think, as well. Spend just one November evening remembering our dead on the Transgender Day of Remembrance and it’s crystal clear that language all too often leads to violence.
I have not personally been a victim of physical violence because I am trans; yet, as I’ve written previously, as a person of Jewish descent, I am all too familiar with how words can escalate very quickly. I saw my brother verbally, then physically, beaten and battered, and then watched him bully and hit me. Oh, yes, this kind of behavior is sadly not an alien construct.
My recent letters to the editor to The Dispatch (Lexington, N.C.) have not gone quietly into the night. Instead, the rhetoric has been ramped up to the point that I now have actually had to consider the possibility of physical violence to me.
One writer had averred that we live in a Christian nation which has now deteriorated because of so-called deviant homosexual behavior animated by the Antichrist. He then elaborated with this sentence, “You can be homosexual, bisexual, murderer, rapist or whatever because there’s no moral law against it.” I responded that I was Jewish and American and that diversity of religious expression is alive and well in the United States.
Here’s his edited response (“United States needs God,” Jan. 10, 2011, The Dispatch):
“Editor: Now I’m called a bigot by a Jew for not condoning immorality, and Christians must respect Jewish people, because they are God’s chosen people. Mr. (Robbi) Cohn thinks I’m harsh and a bigot, but Jewish law, the one he is supposed to live by, is far harsher than Christ’s law. A homosexual under Mosaic law was stoned to death, not a pleasant way to die. I’ve seen an Iranian lady receive the final blow with a cement block to her head, yet people defame my God saying he is harsh and question how can a God supposed to be loving and kind require such harsh penalties for sin?
“Mr. Cohn says we are all brothers, but we are not all brothers. Jesus said to some,’You are of your father, the devil.’ God created hell for Satan and his angels but enlarges it daily to accommodate evil men.
“I feel America has gone downhill in every way. Many are hooked on drugs, alcohol and sex, and unless God intervenes in their lives, they are doomed. Your manner of life has consequences. “The wages of sin is death” isn’t just ancient scribbling but absolute fact. Those who’ve lived long enough have seen and know it’s true.
“Is Israel’s God your God, Mr. Cohn, or are you Jewish in name only? Be Jewish inwardly not outwardly and serve the Lord God of Israel with your whole heart; not merely give him lip service, and please note: Christians love the Lord God of Israel because he is their God, too.”
After penning my response and going through three drafts, the events in Tucson transpired. And, it gave me pause. Words have consequences. Here’s my as-yet-unpublished response:
Dear editor, I’ve started and stopped this letter to the editor three times, now. Honestly, I am unsure what to say in response to (I’ve chosen not to print his name here). After this weekend’s tragedy, I’m in no mood to engage in this level of discourse. Still, I am saddened by the rigidity and intemperance displayed in this forum and felt it incumbent upon me to post some kind of acknowledgment.
I will try and be as patient and understanding as I can. I find your interpretation of my letter disquieting. Your choice of words was meant to hurt me. You don’t have that power, but it seems that the entire tone of your missive was intended to bully and batter me. I never lorded myself as a person of Jewish faith, yet you insinuated that I felt superior or due some degree of respect solely on that basis. You also, with no provocation on my part, assumed that I am not a practicing Jew. Whether I am or not is none of your business, but, again, the intent was to demean and hurt me.
Not all persons of the Jewish faith would agree with your sentence of stoning as an acceptable punishment for me being me, whether it’s historic or contemporary. I doubt most individuals, in this day and age, would encourage that kind of behavior. It reminds me of “honor killings” which still are practiced today, in the 21st century. Such inclination towards violence concerns and worries me.
In truth, the only reason for the mention of my Jewish heritage was to make the case that the assertion that the U.S. is a Christian nation is not quite correct. I was not throwing anything in.
(Redacted)’s face; yet, his prickly defensiveness seems to me to belie an underlying intolerance for anyone who does not think like he does. Again, I am deeply saddened that we can no longer communicate, we can only accuse. And, perhaps, I am equally guilty and I hold myself to the same level of culpability.
If there is one thing I’ve learned lately it’s that what we say and how we say it mean something. That isn’t meant as a suggestion to abridge First Amendment rights, but to deny that our words have consequences is misguided and plain wrong.
In these dark days, it’s critical that we engage each other, work through our differences and try to at least find a way to agree to disagree…without the concomitant short temper, intolerance and sarcasm. Again that includes me, Mr. Callahan. I extend my hand to you, and my heart. Perhaps some day you might meet someone who is transgender…it could be a learning experience for both of you. You might both find to your amazement and delight that we truly are really brothers and sisters after all! : :
— Comments and corrections can be sent to email@example.com. To contact Robbi Cohn, email firstname.lastname@example.org..