I’ve noticed something of late.

A lot of discussion about behavior in social justice circles has circled on what’s “decent.” As in, respecting people’s identity or acknowledging their struggles is the bare minimum requirement to be a decent human being.

And I’ve noticed a lot of pushback from folks on this.

“You’re saying I’m a monster just because I don’t want to use your pronouns!” seems to be the general cry.

Well, no.

Decency isn’t a pass/fail. It’s not something you have or you don’t.

You might, in fact, be a perfectly decent person — when dealing with animals. Or one marginalized group, but not another. Or only with privileged folks.

The fact that you’re unwilling to attempt to treat other human beings as if they have a right to exist doesn’t erase ALL of your decency. It just means that those of us who are being erased, marginalized, hurt by your words are not going to see the other sides of you that may be decent. Or particularly care that they exist.

This goes double for when you’re posting on the internet. I can’t see your time volunteering at the local ASPCA or donating to Battered Women’s Support Services; I can see only you whining about how using pronouns is so difficult; I can see only you setting yourself up as the expert on overculture in a particular country; I can see only you moving goalposts in the discussion and erecting so many straw men you could start several festivals in the desert.

A shot of the scarecrows from the Doctor Who episodes Human Nature and Family of Blood. They are in dirty clothing with angry-looking faces.

Disapproving straw men are disapproving.

Just like you can’t see what I’m doing with the rest of my time; you can only see my responses as I get progressively more pissed off.

You could come to the conclusion that I am a negative person with a “chip on my shoulder” who is just “looking for things to be offended by.”

You’d be wrong.

Just as I’d be wrong if I decided you were a monster based on the shitty things you say online — the only venue where I get to see you speak and act.

To be clear, I don’t think you’re a monster.

I do, however, think you are an unsafe person to be around. Maybe not for some people, but definitely for me. And I don’t really care if you’re decent in other areas of your life; you’re not decent to me or people like me, so I don’t really want you anywhere near me.

None of this erases your decency. It just means that I can’t see it. And if I were to grade you — which I’m not; that’s not up to me — I wouldn’t give you an F. I’d probably give you a D.

Because it’s not a pass/fail; it’s not “be perfect in all areas or be a monster who kicks puppies”.

It’s “In these particular areas, you are being an asshole, but in other areas you may not be, though we can’t really tell because all we can see are these areas”.

So knock down those straw men of “If I don’t conform to YOUR standards of decency you call me a monster!” That’s not what’s happening here.

Here, let me lend you some gasoline and a match.