Recently, a number of online friends have gotten snagged by a curious question, a swirling tornado of debate that has left bystanders and participants standing in the wreckage of hurt feelings and frustrated opinions, staring at the carnage around them saying, ‘What happened?’

The topic is interesting, sparked by one man’s Facebook post that he is sick and tired of being objectified as a gay man. He resents (if I’m paraphrasing correctly), the daily onslaught of photos depicting ripped men, cute gay couples, guys kissing, etc. and perceives it as a fetishization of his sexuality. He wants to be seen as a full person, not just a one-dimensional penisoid. (Okay, fine, he didn’t say that. I made up that word.)

I read his original post and while it did not strike me  personally in a ‘YEAH, PREACH IT, BRO’ kind of way, I totally got where he was coming from and thought he articulated his position well, being careful to differentiate those who fetishized versus allies to the gay community. I stuck around and read comments and reactions. Agreement from some, questions from others. A few of his online friends wondered, ‘Uh oh…am I doing this? I didn’t intend to…but am I crossing a line?’

It was a good conversation.

Something shiny on the internet must have caught my attention because I stopped reading the thread. The conversation only struck me because I’m impressed when people articulate strong opinions in a careful way and others respond in a careful way, everyone recognizing the importance in handling explosive topics.

Apparently, about 30 comments later, things exploded.

I didn’t see some of the ugly, accusatory debate but I saw fallout, folks defending their position as GLBT allies, angry about being called out, and a number of bystanders pleading, “Can’t we just all get along?”

No, we can’t.

No community, GLBT or otherwise, can simply “get along.”

We are destined to argue. We are destined to disagree. Hell, we’re *supposed* to disagree with each other. One  aspect of a thriving, growing community is diversity of opinion. We shouldn’t strive to “get along.” What kind of community would that be if people didn’t express their true opinions? If instead of demanding to be seen, we all just faded into the tapestry because our individual voice didn’t deserve recognition?

It’s not healthy.

I say, go out there and fight. Argue!

And be as gentle as possible with each others’ hearts.

How we handle each others’ contrary opinions is the measure of our personal maturity, the measure of our own emotional resilience.

Years ago, I learned a powerful tool for engaging in argument, especially when there is potential for hurt.

It’s the word, ow.

Ow can be a trigger word to the parties in conversation, a word to let your friend (online or otherwise) know your feelings are bruised. The subtext is, please be careful because I just got zinged, intentional or accidental.

The ow does not mean, “What you said is wrong.”

It does not mean, “You’re responsible for hurting me.”

It does not mean, “My turn to speak and I’m going to debate the shit out of you.”

It’s a plea to the speaker to tread gently. Or even better, stop and help me understand this ow I just experienced.

If the person doesn’t hear your ow, refuses to hear your plea for softer words, stop the conversation. Walk away. If you stay in that conversation after not being heard, you’re likely to turn that ow into a fuck you, motherfucker.

A few years ago, I was in conversation with a good friend when he said, “Ow.”

I stopped and expressed surprise. Surely I hadn’t said anything offensive. If I did, he simply took it the wrong way. Before he explained himself, I felt a number of instant reactions from shame and sadness to mild outrage he would interrupt my opinion. Didn’t I have a right to be heard? If he had followed up with something like, “Ow, and here’s what you said that offended me,” those angry kernels in me could have blossomed into a snark-fest of epic proportions.

He did not. He simply said, “Ow.”

There is something so heartbreakingly tender in the gentleness of that two-letter word, so fragile, so honest and raw, that you’d almost have to be a total dick to say, “Yeah? Well get over it because I’m not finished.”

Despite my growling desire to get his feelings out of the way so I could keep ranting, I asked, “What happened? Where did you get snagged.”

As he explained his hurt, I remembered he was important to me, a friend I could not live without. And when my friend hurts, I feel the hurt too. To participate in conversation with him, I had to get over my shame, my need to defend my position. I had to get over the ‘he took it the wrong way’ and the notion his feelings were an interruption. Sometimes, I am confident if I just *explained again* using different words, my listener would realize they were wrong to feel slighted.

Some days I am like that.

Some days I am better than that.

We all must learn to be better than that.

Our GLBT community is so fuckin’ big right now that we’re adding more letters, like T, and Q, and sometimes Y. Whooo hooooo! What a fantastic problem to have!

Straight, married friends campaign fervently on our behalf for marriage rights. Women authors celebrate M4M romance, blazing a trail to show the world “love is love.”  They help us tell stories, stories that 30 years ago were deemed sick and twisted. Instead of condemning our immorality, clergy are now welcoming us, saying, “We were wrong. Come back.” Gay men continue to grow into greater understanding of ‘who we are’ and now experience some of the same growing pains as other minorities who find themselves tolerated and even welcomed.

All good problems to have, even if they cause some growth pains.

We will argue again. Our community will be tested by strong disagreement. Opinions expressed won’t always be done so with grace and thoughtful intention.


This will be a perfect opportunity for each of us to demonstrate our inherent power, to show strength through vulnerability.

The power of ow.




27 Responses to “Ow”

  1. Tina Marie Says:

    Thank you Edmond for your thoughtful post!

  2. JustJen Says:

    Wonderful post.

  3. Daisy Harris Says:

    Thoughtful and amazing post. I love it. <3

  4. Trish Says:

    I am proud to say I have learned a new technique in conversing b/c of this post.. Thank you.

  5. amelia bishop Says:

    “when my friend hurts, I feel the hurt too.”
    I think that is the crux of it. We do feel our friend’s hurt, even if it is an online friend we don’t know very well, and even if it is expressed in a status update or a comment. And when we feel that hurt, we react. With anger, or shame, or apology, or a defensive counter-attack, or a long explanation.
    Thank you for the reminder that sometimes, listening to and acknowledging each other’s feelings is enough.

  6. Dianne Hartsock Says:

    An amazing, emotional and thought-provoking post. Thank you for sharing it with us, Edmond. I was following that discussion the other day too and hurt for everyone involved. I think think this post will go a long way in helping the healing process.

  7. Kathie Says:

    Thank you for putting in words what I was thinking. When I read the post about feeling objectified. I felt very defensive. Like I had to justify my involvement with the m/m community. I kept quiet and read all the posts, truthfully because when I have speak up I get trounced on mostly because I am not a writer and passion gets in the way of words!
    I don’t post pictures(my son is my friend on FB) … I am a Minnesotan and fought really hard with my check book and my time on the marriage amendment . I do think its important to put a face on gay and all my friends know I will not tolerate any negative talk. My son is gay and he is amazing!! He works for Sen. Franken so proud!!!

  8. Moria Says:

    Great idea! I saw what happened and it made me cringe because I could see both sides of the issue. An OW would have been appropriate. :)

  9. Gyn Says:

    Beautifully said! I love how balanced this post is! You have such a way with words and a wonderful soul!

  10. Phoenix Emrys Says:

    I will remember this. Thank you.

  11. Sofia Says:

    Thankyou for this post. I think I should post the word OW in all the nooks and crannies of my life, lest I forget. Because despite all the best intentions in the world (of which I got tonnes), I fall too because I close my eyes, ears and heart.

  12. Marshall Says:

    Great post. I would add one thing:

    I firmly believe that writers do not improve without listening to criticism. Usually that just means beta readers but it should also include more political comments, even when they’re poorly or rudely expressed. You may not agree, you may choose not to change what you do but you should always listen with an open mind. And, the best place to respond is in your writing.

  13. Shay Says:

    I wish you had told me this years ago. Great post. Beautifully written and well thought out.

  14. Donna Lewis Says:

    This is brilliant. You are so cool! And, seriously, from all I’ve read in your posts and in this, kind. To me there are very accolades above “kind.” Thank you for this post.

    I have been following this argument. And it has made me sad and anxious. I have many friends who are gay or lesbian. I want them to be happy, to have all the rights that I’ve all too often taken for granted, to be able to be live joyfully and openly. After the debate got heated, I was afraid I was going to offend those existing friends and other gay and lesbian readers, because I hope to publish a story with some characters who are gay. The story, hopefully, doesn’t “other” these characters but instead shows some universality of their experiences.

    And here is where I really agree with your post, Edmond. Because I can learn from the debate. Despite not being gay or lesbian, I can remain aware of the perspectives raised here to try to avoid the “ows” that might result from my actions. I can’t be gay or male or lesbian, but I can try to be kind and inclusive. And hope if I accidentally or inadvertently offend that someone will say “ow” and I can listen.

    Thanks, Edmond.

  15. Denise Says:

    Thank you for this excellent post. I love the idea of using “ow”. It’s quiet and sincere and a perfect way to express one’s feelings. I’ll remember this.

  16. Felice Stevens Says:

    As a woman who supports the LGBT community I appreciate your post and understand where both sides come from. Your post allowed me to understand where both sides stand and was brave to stand up and say that people don’t always have to get along. They do need to be respectful. Thank you

  17. Thea Nishimori Says:

    Bravo! Brilliant article.
    I just wanted to point out (it’s the editor in me, sorry) one teeny weeny typo: “Didn’t I have a right to be heart?” You meant “heard” I’m sure. ;)
    Hugs, peace, and love!

  18. Fay Says:

    I wanted to say thank you so much for a beautifully written post. I will indeed remember it and incorporate “OW” into my daily life.

  19. Lili Says:

    Love this! Great post!

  20. Helena Stone Says:

    Beautiful and worth reading, understanding and remembering. That’s all.

  21. Sylvia Says:


  22. kate r Says:

    I wish to elect you president of the internet.

  23. Beverly Hine Says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful, well-reasoned article. So well-said. I stopped following the post when things started to get heated, cause I don’t like it when arguments escalate and people just seem to be holding their breaths to jump in, but not really paying attention to the thoughts of others. I learned the “ow” method years ago–thanks for the reminder. My comment on that thread if I’d chosen to stay in it, would have been that, “what a problem to have, when maybe 15, 10 even 5 years ago, this discussion would not even have taken place in public or even in private, except perhaps in the LGBT, etc. community where perhaps it’s an even more complicated issue. And what a problem to have, that your allies like you so much that they’re interested in every part of your life, even the parts that you’re not comfortable with having exposed and celebrated.” I do feel for the person feeling objectified, but it’s all so new and folks are feeling so brave about celebrating gay rights and friends, that they’re bound to be a little over-enthusiastic, even kind of ridiculous on occasion. But that’s what love and affection are about sometimes–going overboard. Sorry this is so long–and that I snuck in my thoughts under the covers, so to speak.

  24. Mary G Says:

    It’s the end of the day and I’m still smiling and my heart is light. Thanks Edmond for such a thoughtful, heartfelt piece. You’re a peacemaker extraordinaire. I’ll never forget it. <3

  25. Josephine Myles Says:

    You rule. This reminds me so much of transactional analysis, but you’ve managed to summarise a whole textbook into one simple word. I shall use it in future, should I need to.

    I didn’t see any of the brouhaha, but I did wonder why there were so many defensive posts up.

  26. Born on Halloween Says:

    This is such a beautiful reflection. I know I’ve written “ow” or maybe a four-letter version (ouch!) just begging for a pause, a caring heart on the other side to take a step back and care more about the friendship than the point. And that’s when real tolerance and real growth come into play. Thank you. I’m sharing this…wish me luck!

  27. Penny Wilder Says:

    I didn’t see any of the posts. You summed it up nicely though.

    I do think that in our society with mainstream acceptance (or progress toward mainstream acceptance) comes some objectification and over-saturation. It’s kind of ridiculous how much objectification happens in our society. It happens so much, that we get kinda numb to it.

    I do also think that the freedom to write about, advocate, objectify, celebrate, and discuss LGBT relationships and sex publicly in our culture is still pretty new, and it is a big, good deal for a lot of people right now. Some of us are bound to go a little “kid in a candy store”, but I think it’s important that people say “Ow” too.

    I would be curious to know what your thoughts are on fetishization too- beyond the whole one-dimensional penisoidism of it. I think they would be very constructive.

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