I used to pride myself on being difficult to offend. Mixed race, gay, female and vertically challenged with a mental health problem, I would joke. If I were easily offended I’d be in pieces by now!
I had also been told that the sense of offence dulls with age. That the things that make your blood boil in your youth run off your back like water as you grow up and resign yourself.
Not so for me.
I recognised today that I am more easily offended now. No, that’s not true at all. I am more able now to accept that I can be offended, rather than seeing any offence taken as a character flaw or weakness on my part. I am able to say yes, that was offensive and yes it did hurt. Where I once would laugh along I am now able to keep my silence, withhold my forced giggle, or even- shock, horror- challenge the source of the offence.
I used to think, subconsciously I guess, that because of the long list of protected characteristics I possess, I had to be able to take a joke. I didn’t want to be seen as part of the reason for Political Correctness Gone Mad. I was like the girl in a group of guys laughing at a sexist joke, like the one black guy in a room of people tittering at some racial slur. I was so determined to hold my own, so determined to not be offended, that I forgot I am rightly allowed to be offended by certain things.
Without realising it, I spent a long time apologising for who I am. When I avoided all uni courses on feminism or queer theory or postcolonialism? When I laughed along at “you’re so gay” jokes? When, as a teenager, I kept my mouth shut when a male friend made a joke about some girl who Asked For It? I was downplaying. I was apologising. And I was scared to be offended because somewhere along the way I had been taught that I was offensive. To be less offensive, I had to be more accommodating, more accepting of other people’s shit jokes and casual excuse making.
Along the line, we (all different types of “we”) are taught that the things we are are offensive to others. That therefore, we need to tone down. And that part of toning down is allowing insults against us to simply slide. If best, in fact, we should laugh along.
I’m not saying that I will now go out of my way to take offence at anything and everything. Of course not. I am just saying that for me growing up has allowed, not for a dulling but a sharpening. I also pledge that, moving beyond even the withheld laughter at unfunny jokes, I will now force myself to speak up.