The Access Fund: Caught in politically correct hell, or ign’ant heteronormativity?

Given that I am the designer of the HC logo, which, as you may have noticed, is humping goats, you might suspect, correctly, that I am sensitive to the plight of those who might get caught up in a kind of “politically correct hell” in a world where everyone’s offended by something. As Amanda Marcotte wrote in regard to Nike’s “Gold Digger” t-shirt, a shirt which was attacked by some, shall we say, not so in-touch feminists:

One of Nike's Olympic shirts.

One of Nike’s Olympics shirts.

“The fact of the matter is that if you get any group of people together, some of them will have been at the end of the line when they were handing out senses of humor.”

The Nike t-shirt was an ironic turnabout on the meaning of “gold digger”; in the context of the Olympics, the terribly obvious meaning of the joke was that women were pursuing gold medals in athletics.

Given how obviously simple Nike’s irony was, you can imagine how much shit you get when your jokes are more complex and trample on much more nerve rattling issues.

I am also sensitive to getting booed down because, as people, we are simply not born knowing how or why things are offensive, because unless we’re a member of every distinguishable identity in the entire world, we’re not going to walk into the room knowing how not to be offensive. Is anyone born knowing that “Deaf” has a capital “d” and “blind” is spelled lowercase? Of course not. We learn most of these things by screwing them up and having someone else, hopefully, take the time out of their day to tell us how to do it in the future.

It also will not, or should not, for the reason I just stated, incite white hot rage. We judge these matters more based on what percentage of the population “know better.” There’s a much stronger sense of <facepalm> when Pat Robertson asks his black co-host, “is macaroni and cheese a black thing?” Does it incite rage? No. Is it hilarious? Yes. Is he in on it? No.

Ignorance is just that: ignorance. It doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t make you evil, it doesn’t mean you intended ill against blind, Deaf, macaroni and cheese-eating black people. You just seem out-of-touch, and pardon us if maybe we laugh at you. Plenty of other things can send us into the white-hot-rage zone, e.g. everything else Pat Robertson has ever said.

So with all that framework set up, take a look at the Access Fund’s valentine’s day sticker:

The Access Fund's Valentine's Day Sticker

The Access Fund’s Valentine’s Day Sticker

In smallish letters, italicized and in parentheses, it says, “Platonically, of course.”

That “platonically, of course” spawned an accompanying comment thread of critics and defenders, and a response from the Access Fund itself:


Christy’s full comment: I tend to think “I love you, man” is dude-bro-ish enough without adding the equivalent of “no homo” parenthetically below the statement. This statement is insidiously homophobic whether or not it was intentionally homophobic. There is, of course, nothing wrong with platonic love, as stated above, but the reason folks are so afraid of possibly having their intentions misunderstood by someone outside the relationship (because presumably, those within the relationship know what it is and isn’t) is that they don’t want to be mistaken for a homo.

So, let’s take a look at this through our “Nike t-shirt” lens, shall we? When you break the joke down, what does it mean?

Well, when I read it, I see two guys (and in the case of the other sticker, two girls) expressing that they love each other, and the humor of the joke turns on the climbing partners not being misunderstood to be gay. In other words, it’s funny because they’re making it crystal clear that they are not people like me.

Oh fuck.

There could be a parallel universe where the interpretation applies to all climbing partners (thus inclusive of the platonic boy-girl ones), but you’d have to ignore the fact that this is treading a very worn-down joke made many times before, that absolutely no one would find the other interpretation even remotely humorous, and that the only two stickers are boy-boy and girl-girl. Sorry Access Fund, but I see your explanation, and I raise you the reality that you’re re-imagining history. And the present. (Please don’t screw this up further by creating a boy-girl sticker.)

Now, I know that we all love the Access Fund, and we don’t want to think they can ever do any wrong, but let me just put it as straight to you as I can: we don’t like this joke. We encounter it on a very frequent basis. It wasn’t funny the first time. We know that it’s very funny to straight people, because you don’t want to be mistaken for gay, and thus joking about not wanting to be mistaken for gay is funny to you, but it’s very not funny for us.

Even if you follow the joke up with (as it often is) a “not that there’s anything wrong with being gay,” it doesn’t take the edge off, because even if the message isn’t that you personally would be ok with getting mistaken for gay, you’re still casually grinding salt into the wound that it’s something most straight people are afraid of, probably because the risks of it still include massive social alienation and murder. It was a jailable offense when I was in college, and it’s now illegal for me to get married, so… maybe my emotions on this subject are still a little raw.

Does this go any distance to explain to you why we DON’T want this sticker showing up in climbing gyms and on crag guard rails and climber car bumpers the world over, constantly reminding us that people don’t want to be mistaken for us, because heavens, maybe they would have to confront part of the alienation you get from ACTUALLY BEING US?

Access Fund answers with a rote “no offense intended” non-response response. The sine qua non of being ignorant is that you didn’t intend anything. You were ignorant–of course you didn’t intend it to be offensive.

The only thing you can do, at that point, is attempt to defend some alternative interpretation (say, if I were utterly off-base, as the Nike t-shirt critics were) or give an actual apology, which would go something like, “It was not intended to be offensive, but after looking at it, we realize that it actually IS offensive,” and if you’re feeling really charitable, explain why. You know what’s not intended to be offensive? Black-face. You know what is offensive? Black-face.

Quick lesson on apologies:

Do: “Sorry I did something offensive.”

Don’t: “Sorry you were offended.”

Otherwise, digging your heels in screws everyone over–it makes gay people and their allies look like over-sensitive assholes, and it forces everyone loyal to the Access Fund (which has provided many reasons to be loyal, by being a wonderful organization in so many other respects) to defend you even when you’re in the wrong, and in this case, jump on the “screw you hyper-sensitive gay people” bandwagon. And buy even MORE stickers, and give us even MORE reproductions of this tired, never funny in the first place joke.

23 thoughts on “The Access Fund: Caught in politically correct hell, or ign’ant heteronormativity?

  1. Pingback: Why no female bromance word? | Rosie Franklin's blog

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  3. I am kind of disappointed I feel like the project could have been so much better.
    I think poor design choices ultimately alienated a bunch of wonderful climbers and active Access Funds supporters. Access Fund screwed up PR wise, not a mortal sin, but it happened and they should do better next time. To anyone saying I am being too sensitive or nit-picky, sorry, gay and straight people aren’t going to quietly allow subtle discrimination to continue. The sticker – even if unintentionally – has some undertones of not being okay with gays. Not even coded phobia will get a pass anymore. Get used to it.

    I wish I had time to alter this image and show how I think it could have been fixed – but I’m going climbing in North Carolina all weekend, possibly at Access Fund Sites because they are a good organization with dumb sticker design. Actually my husband made a small donation, he was afraid the bad press would take away from the actually good work they do. I like Access Fund – I want them to understand why this bothered me, so I can continue to support them in good conscious – Pat Robinson – on the other hand – he can go fuck himself.

  4. As a straight climber who thought the sticker was funny, I really want to thank you for writing this post. I learned a lot by reading it, and I thought the educational and rational (rather than hateful and irrational) tone was appropriate and elevated the conversation. Props to Access Fund (not for the sticker) but for posting a link to this article so that I could find it and read it.

    Sorry I chuckled, I’ll understand the offense next time,
    And I haven’t stuck a sticker to anything.
    DG, Spokane, WA

  5. No matter what the good intentions of the straight people who made it the fact of the matter is that a large number of gay people are offended by it. Therefore, it was offensive. And of course the defenders of the sticker are straight people and no matter how accepting of gay people they are they have never had to worry about how people will accept your sexuality. They have never had to be afraid of being disowned by their family or friends just because maybe those feelings weren’t just platonic (of course). They havent had to be afraid of talking about their boyfriend in a dive bar in moab utah because they didnt want to get fag dragged through the desert. When they have they can say this sticker isnt offensive.

    • Offended at the sticker? I don’t know… I think that is taking it too far. What we have here is an unintentional slight based upon ignorance. Now, in my world, when someone slights me without intending it and truly has my best interests at heart… well we end up with what I would call a “teachable moment”. I think we would all agree that the AF is blind in regards to sexual orientation when it comes to its mission and actions. Don’t get offended, take the opportunity to remind your friend of what it is like to walk in your shoes.

      • The AC continuing to produce it despite us (gays) pointing out what this sticker actually means for our community means indicates that they are still refusing to learn and recognize the error that caused the slight. Their defense of the sticker elevates a slight to an offense.

        And to all the people who are still defending the sticker, consider this your “teachable moment” and realize what its like for us.

      • Agreed, I think just taking out the “platonically, of course” would be an appropriate response.

  6. I’m totally getting one of these stickers so I can give it to GetReal. I’m tired of him getting all clingy whenever I fuck him, this “platonically, of course” will really help me in letting him know exactly how I feel and avoid a scene the next day out at the crag or, God forbid, at the gym.

  7. Alex, you seem to be a pretty good writer, but not a very good thinker. Let’s look at the organization and the culture you’ve decided to take isssue with because they included the words “Platonically of course” on a sticker.
    1. The organization is utterly non gender or sexual preference neutral. The organization buys land with rocks on it.
    2. The culture of the SPORT you are taking issue with is ALSO utterly gender and sexual preference neutral. The ONLY thing that matters in climbing is HOW WELL AND HOW SAFELY DO YOU CLIMB? That’s it! Man, Woman, Gay, Straight….
    that is the ONLY THING THAT MATTERS. Gravity does not care.

    Moving on: It was my impression that the LGBT community desires a culture of “Live and Let Live”. A non judgmental and non punitive culture where individuals have the right to live their own lifestyles without having others force their lifestyles on them. In our lives, we have privacy, and we have cultural commonality. You seem to want, via criticizing a sticker put out by a non-judgemental organization, to somehow influence the larger cultural commonality.

    You cite your marriage rights. Guess what? The Access Fund has no bearing on those. You cite violence against the LGBT community as your motivation. Guess what? There are NO INCIDENTS of climbers inflicting violence on other climbers solely because of their sexual preference.

    Most stupidly of all, you cite the 1939 use of BLACKFACE as a parallel behaviour to putting 3 words on a sticker in 2013.

    Can you say histrionic metaphorical overreach? I think you can. (This is a Mr. Rogers reference, btw)

    Look. If you want a world of “live and let live”, You cannot be hypocritical enough to inflict your OWN PREJUDICES on others, especially those who have historically done you no harm, and who have a culture of inclusiveness and non judgementalism, other than ability to perform the sport.

    Making a metaphorical mountain out of this sticker molehill via attacking a completely non-judgemental organization like the Access Fund is height of stupidity, intolerance, and as others have noted, a perpetuation of the need to create a poorly defined and aggravating culture of “PC correctness” where a previously superior culture of “Live and Let Live” had existed in a community.

    That’s just stupid. You cannot foster acceptance by writing hyperreactionary, divisive tripe.

    Looking forward to your hyper-reactionary, devisive response, to which I reply, in advance: “Meh.”

    • I think Alex made a pretty simple, good point: would you want to go to a crag to do what you love most – climbing – and (if those sticker would pick up and become popular) be reminded at all times that what you are is not popular with the majority of people? and it’s actually so unpopular that they have to have a disclaimer on their helmet stating that they are NOT what you are? and that the fact that you are is laughing-stock for them?
      It’s very simple, indeed: I wouldn’t like that.
      Alex makes a good point – that sticker was stupid, and I am happy there are people around who speak up against ignorance. And I am glad that the AF understood their mistake and apologized, so I can keep being their proud supporter.
      Finally, jokes on (homo)sexuality? Really?? Remind me: What century is this? What country are we living in? I think we can do better.

      • No, Alex made the point that he is willing to attack an organization THAT ALREADY IS gender neutral and sexual preference neutral because HE, like YOU, is willing to inject his/your OWN PERSONAL PREJUDICES onto words that don’t have a damn thing to do with the meaning you’re ascribing to them.

        The stickers reference PLATONIC love: ” Platonic love is a chaste and strong type of love that is non-sexual.”

        The stickers DON’T say, “I AM NOT A HOMOSEXUAL” you idiot. They also don’t say, “HOMOSEXUALITY IS BAD”. They also don’t say, “I OPPOSE HOMOSEXUALITY”. No matter how much you, or Alex, keep repeating that falsehood.

        The sticker is not stupid. The response that you and Alex are having to a meaning YOU ASCRIBE to the sticker is what is truly stupid. The attack on a gender neutral and sexual preference neutral organization and culture is stupid. Derailing the intent of the sticker, which is to celebrate the (EXPLICITLY NON SEXUAL) closeness of climbing partners (see the part where the sticker EXPLICITLY STATES THAT IT IS A NON SEXUAL RELATIONSHIP? See the phrase, “PLATONIC”?) by hijacking it with your own personal preferences BASED ON YOUR OWN NEED TO INJECT SEXUAL PREFERENCE INTO an utterly NON sexual situation is incredibly stupid, incredibly self centered, and, frankly, histrionic.

        Here, because apparently you don’t understand what the word “Platonic” means, is the definition of “Platonic”:

        Love does not have to be sexual, idiot. You and Alex are unable to recognize that. So, let me say, in a completely non-sexual way, in reference to your desire to deliberately mis-define a word and phrase for the purpose of meeting your own need to sexualize things: “Fuck off.”

    • Since I can’t reply to your reply, I’ll post it here. I do have one question for you: did you understand that that sticker was supposed to be a joke, right? The mention of the “platonic” is supposed to make you laugh, it’s not a mere description, it is supposed to provoke a laugh.
      That laugh is the offensive part.
      Because, you know, words have connotations (the meaning in their general use), and they have denotations (a particular meaning or function that derives from the use you make of it).
      For example if replied to your reply, stating
      «So many caps!»
      I would have connotatively meant:
      «there are so many UPPER-CASED WORDS IN YOUR COMMENT!»,
      but from a denotative point of view, that would have meant:
      «you really need to stop drinking coffee!»
      «girl, you really need a big, thick, non-platonic cock up your ass!»

      I hope you see the difference, my friend.

      Disclaimer: “my friend” has denotative function here 😉

      • GetReal – You are right love can be platonic, but if the love is truly platonic you dont need to define it out loud every time you express that love (aka you dont need to say “platonically of course”). Doing so implies that you are afraid of that platonic love being taken for non platonic love. That fear of being taken for homosexual is… homophobic (almost by definition). The access fund is normally an inclusive organization but with this sticker they are demonstrating that they are NOT truly accepting of all climbers and are perpetuating a division between gay people and straight people when we all just want to climb. The access fund has brought the issue of sexuality to their own front door here by making a bad and offensive joke.

  8. See, I see this as gays seeing the world revolving about them, especially the negative world. After years of dating, in which countless women (because actually counting them would be far too depressing) have said “I really like you, Ronin… just not in that way.” and given the near-universal recognition of the “friend zone”, we still have gays “claiming” this as kind of joke as a direct reference and slam on their preferences. Sorry, kids, but plenty of solidly hetero folks have climbed with partners to whom they felt an un-reciprocated attraction… I guess the AF should have used stick figures, or just a pair of androgynous high-five-ing hands. Really, they should have just forgotten humor, because no one now seems able to laugh if they can get completely offended instead… because laughing at things that really don’t matter (aka most of life) doesn’t fill column inches and attract readers, contributors, and media attention…

    • First off, sexuality is not a matter of preference or choice, sexuality is an integral part of who an individual is, gay or straight. Second, I believe the primary issue was the inclusion of “platonically of course” and the implicit message that there is something bad or wrong about one’s sexual orientation. Words are important, the words you or I use and the words of organizations we choose to give our money to.

  9. Funny, because I am a guy and I shared this sticker with both my guy friends and girl friends that I climb with. I took it as all climbing partners that you have friendship with. Really what they should have done was have one for the guy high fiving a hermaphrodite, a girl high fiving a hermaphrodite, and I guess a hermaphrodite high fiving a hermaphrodite to be fair the the hermaphrodites. If they wanted to show romantic love, they would have needed 3 stickers: guy humping, gals humping, and guy/gal humping.

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