Labels depreciate the value of multi-dimensional humanity, yet we can’t stop clinging to them. Then we tear down the ones that don’t apply to us, forgetting that neither outfits nor people should be defined by a single tag.

Jonathan Van Ness is one of the latest label victims. The Queer Eye grooming guru went to Twitter after the August 14 primaries with a pretty sound idea. Unfortunately, a head-on collision with labels wrecked his train of thought.

Twitter exploded, with many accusing Van Ness of promoting “compromise” and “mutual understanding” with the enemy, an enemy that, in their eyes, is racist, anti-LGBTQ, misogynistic, and xenophobic by association with President Donald Trump. In other words, if you’ve met one Republican, you’ve pretty much met them all.

Related: Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness under fire for suggesting liberals need to be more tolerant of racists

When things got too heated for 280 characters per tweet, Van Ness elaborated with a video, saying: “Left people are not necessarily inherently evil, and right people are not necessarily inherently evil. And our ability to notice the gray area and to notice what compromise means and how much compromise has led us to where we are is important…. We have to be able to not demonize the right.”

In a way, the Twitter outrage Van Ness sparked underscored his point. But his detractors were so busy demonizing him for not demonizing “The Right” that they may have missed the irony.

I’ve never watched the Queer Eye reboot, so I know exactly nothing about Van Ness, but I didn’t assume he was suggesting that Democrats (aka “Left People”) should tolerate or compromise with racists or even those “extreme right people” who won the Republican primaries. His tweets made a complex issue a bit too simple by an over-reliance on loaded-yet-meaningless labels.

My take-away was this: Democratic politicians need to find a way to appeal to independents in the ideological middle (so-called centrists, those politically invaluable swing-staters) who might vote for “extreme right” candidates. That would be better accomplished by listening to people on the other side and trying to find acceptable common ground rather than demonizing and dismissing them outright.

I wish Van Ness hadn’t simplified and undermined his argument by narrowing it down to “Right People” vs. “Left People.” Those are tags that we have assigned to Republicans and to Democrats, respectively, but they’re just labels. We need to drop the cheap categorization and the assumptions we make about each other based on party affiliation and listen to each other.

I blame Trump. He has so divided American society that, to many, nuanced thought no longer exists. Republican equals conservative equals right equals racist. Right?

Wrong. Republicans may tend to be conservative and supportive of more traditional values, but there are degrees. A Republican can be fiscally conservative and still support social causes. When many of them cast their votes for Trump in 2016, they did so with their wallets in mind, not blacks or gays or women or immigrants.

That’s why we have President Trump. Yes, by overlooking his stance on race, gays, women, and immigrants because of the benefits he might bring to their bank accounts, they became somewhat complicit in his racism, his homophobia, his sexism, and his xenophobia, but complicity isn’t just a “Right People” crime. How many “Left People” tolerate racist family members and friends? The United States was founded on racism, and it afflicts us all.

But racism is not the only crux of our national conflict. It’s one of many issues dividing the U.S. into “Right People” and “Left People.”

That’s why it’s unfair to conflate Van Ness’s warning not to demonize people we don’t know with Trump’s declaration that there are “very fine people on both sides,” as some did. Trump wasn’t referring to “right” and “left” when he said that but to white supremacists and the people who oppose them.

Van Ness is clearly not a Trumpian, and his point that in order for the Democratic Party to rise again, we need to be willing to listen to the other side and be open to compromise isn’t preposterous. It’s Politics 101.

The only reason Abraham Lincoln was able to accomplish two of the single greatest Presidential feats in history–the Emancipation Proclamation and the slavery-abolishing 13th Amendment, which paved the path to the game-changing 14th Amendment–was because of his mastery of Politics 101. Although he refused to budge on secession, he saw his racist opponents as more than demons (his Reconstruction plan revolved around forgiveness, not vengeance), and used compromise as a means to eventually achieve larger goals.

From women’s suffrage to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to gay marriage, activists and progressive politicians didn’t realize any of the major social strides of the past century overnight and without decades of compromise and vigorous debate. You can’t launch an effective counterargument when you’re not even willing to listen to your opponent.

Van Ness diluted his point not only by using simplistic labels like “Right People” and “Left People” but also by not following his own advice when the debate got heated. (“Gurl bai”?) He focused too much on defending himself and too little on trying to understand why people were upset. Racism likely doesn’t affect him firsthand, so perhaps it’s easier for him to gloss over it. Many of us don’t have that luxury.

Still, it’s important for us not to be ruled by our knee-jerk reactions about the so-called “alt-right”/“far right.” Trump may think some of them are “very fine people,” but that doesn’t mean all Republicans agree. I’ll side-eye everyone I know who voted for Trump until he leaves office (or gets thrown out), but I won’t dismiss them out of hand as being hopeless racists just because they voted for one.

I recently watched an interview with former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush where they talked about the close friendship they’ve forged since leaving office. It was inspiring to see two men on opposite sides of the political spectrum finding a safe common space. It was the first time I’ve ever kind of liked Bush or saw him as a man and not just a collection of labels.

It’s amazing what can happen when you stop using labels to limit conversation and just listen to what the people wearing the ones that you don’t wear have to say. “Right People,” start talking, but when you’re finished, it’s our turn to talk and yours to listen.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hUOUNZrbBg&t=1841s

Don't forget to share:

Help make sure LGBTQ+ stories are being told...

We can't rely on mainstream media to tell our stories. That's why we don't lock Queerty articles behind a paywall. Will you support our mission with a contribution today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated