Saturday, January 5, 2013

Contrast Isn't Negation.

Dear readers, this is a post I’ve wanted to write for a while. At first I wanted to write it because I’m Right And He’s Wrong, and for a while after that I wanted to write it because He’s Giving Us Gays A Bad Reputation, and then I forgot about it. And then I remembered, and I found that I didn’t really care like I did before. I still think I’m right and I still think what I’ll take issue with today gives us gays a bad name, but that doesn’t seem like the big deal it did when it was fresh. I hope that means I can keep from stepping on toes, but if I can’t, well, if you care enough to comment, I hope you can comment with something substantive.
Without further ado:


“I love you, but . . . "
Some gays hate to hear this phrase. Hate it. When they hear it they go blind with rage. They are offended, often loudly, and they lecture the person who said it. If they don’t lecture in the moment, there’s a good chance they will lecture later, in writing, through Facebook or email or a blog. If they don’t do that, they’ll just let the rage boil in their spleen.
Today I want to talk about Clive’s discussion about this phrase. Clive, and many others in this community, have a problem with the phrase “I love you, but [any non-gay-affirming thing].” Not only do I not have a problem with that phrase, I think that having a problem with it shows a lack of empathy. My next few posts will examine why I think that by looking at at Clive’s words.
First: “But” is as foul as “any of the four letter words that I try sometimes unsuccessfully to avoid.” Points off right out the gate for outrageous hyperbole. You think “but” is as foul as “shit,” “fuck,” or “cunt”? Maybe you avoid different words than I do.
Second: “When I was young, I learned something that has stayed with me my entire life ... a little insight into English grammar. I learned that when we use ‘but’ in a sentence, we in fact generally negate most of what we have said before the ‘but’.”


Let’s test this!
“He would have protested but he was afraid”
Negation? No. Exception.
“There is no doubt but he won”
Negation? No. It’s a synonym for “that.”
“It never rains but it pours”
Negation? No. Requirement.
“No sooner started but it stopped”
Negation? No. It’s a synonym for “than.”
he was called but he did not answer”
Negation? No. Contrast.
not peace but a sword”
poor but proud”


"But" does many things, but to say that it generally negates is just not true. Back when Clive’s post was fresh, I mentioned this in a comment, and though three people responded to that comment, no one disputed the point—they just considered it inconsequential. I got very frustrated then, because how can the fact that the underlying assumption of the series is obviously faulty be inconsequential?

Clive responded by telling me that “The point of this series is to help those who are Mormon and really want to build bridges to the gay community understand that communication for communication’s sake is worse than meaningless. If Mormons want to build bridges, they have to be willing to actually open their hearts, reach out, and show a little understanding on OUR terms, not theirs. That’s what reaching out is all about . . . Moving from a safe space to the place where you feel a little discomfort.”

I have all sorts of problems with that (next week we’ll explore them!) but for now I just want to say that if you get to your conclusion via faulty reasoning, then you leave your conclusion wide open to claims that it is faulty as well.

Suppose that some Mormons who really want to build bridges to the gay community read this. Perhaps they, like me, will notice right from the start that something is amiss and so will be skeptical of everything else in the post, right up to not believing the series’ conclusion, not necessarily because it’s a bad conclusion, but because they don’t trust the source. Or perhaps they’ll agree with the argument right up until the conclusion, which challenges them in uncomfortable ways—then they back up until they find this flaw and say “Ah ha! I knew it. The foundation is wrong, so the conclusion is wrong, so I don’t have to change.”

In the end, the people who will agree with Clive after reading the “I love you, but . . . “ are the same people who agreed with him before, but worse: all of those people are now more strongly confirmed in their belief. In their minds they’ve just experienced a well-thought out argument supporting their beliefs, despite the fact that the argument really supported nothing at all, because it was based on faulty assumption. Whatever the intended point of the series is, the result is that no hearts or minds are won and everyone is just convinced more strongly that they are right.

Now. Next week I’ll talk about the circumstance in which “but” statements actually are negation markers and what that means to this argument (hint: It includes the word “hypocrisy”).


In case you’re not yet convinced that that thing Clive learned in grammar school has been corrupted to suit the speech he wanted to give, here is the definition M-W gives for ESL learners (all examples in this post are taken from, the editors’ preferred dictionary!): 

1 — used to introduce a statement that adds something to a previous statement and usually contrasts with it in some way 

  • I don't know her, but my husband does. 
  • He wants to go to the movies, but I want to go to the museum. 
  • He plans to visit Boston and Chicago, but not New York. 
  • The book is not a biography at all but (instead is) a fictional account. 
  • It's not the music I don't like but (rather) the band themselves. 
  • She got the promotion not by luck but by hard work. 
  • The fighting has been going on for years. But to really understand the current situation, you have to look at the history of the region. 
  • She called his name, but he did not answer. 
  • He fell but (he) wasn't hurt/injured. 
  • I told him to stay, but he refused to. 
  • It might have been raining, but it was still a nice wedding. 
  • I'd love to come to the party, but [=however] I'll be away that weekend. 
  • I'm sorry, but I won't be able to help you. 
  • The dress is quite plain but (it's) pretty. 
  • They were polite, but not really friendly. 
  • Not only was it quite cold on our trip, but it rained the whole time too. 
  • I can't do it—but neither can you.

Look at all that contrast.


  1. Back in the sixties, the large elementary school I attended operated on the track system in various subjects including English. There was track 1,2,3 and 4. For a handful of us, the spectacular inept, there was a special track.
    And in 2013, I still can't tell the difference between a noun and a verb. But I've known what "I love you, but" means longer than you've been alive. I've lived it.
    And if someone comes in my house and uses that effing phrase, I'm bodily throwing them out of my house through the front door. I don't mean I'm opening the door and throwing them out, I mean through the front door. And it's solid wood.
    And they better get off the bridge cuz I'm coming over it in all my big, fat, smelly, ugly, hideous glory.
    Contrast that.

  2. Hi Suzanne, thanks for reading. While I applaud you for having survived the sixties, having done so does not mean that your opinions and beliefs are reasonable. I have also lived "I love you, but" and had a different experience than you. I certainly wouldn't throw my mother or my oldest friends through a solid wooden door because of it. My mom survived the sixties too, you know. Show a little respect.

    In next week's post I plan to write about why (it seems to me) we have such different responses to this phrase. You probably won't like it, but that's okay.

  3. Show respect? Wasn't that what King Charles said to an uppity Parliament right before they whacked off his head?
    Gee, I guess I'll work on learning my station and showing proper obeisance to my betters.
    My mother learned respect when her head went through my door. That's when things got better.

    It shows no respect to advocate that people stay hiding in the closet until they have a stylish hetero-normative outfit.
    I've had it with someone having the attitude that it might be a wee bit okay for them being a tad gay, as long as they're super righteous. Enough people have drowned trying to walk on water.
    And that's a lot more foul than shit, fuck or cunt.

    As for the rage boiling in my spleen, it's respectfully reserved for those who place primacy to showing empathy to those who dirtied their fancy shoes by trampling gay people underfoot as they crossed the bridge.

  4. Are . . . are you saying that you're going to behead my mom?

    Seriously, though, I don't agree with you that my mom's (or anyone's) "I love you but" stance negates all the other respect-worthy things she's (they've) done, and I think that putting her (their) head through a door (which is figurative, right?) would be be more than a little selfish and ungrateful.

    Of course you're entitled to your own experience, but I can tell you flat out that not everyone faced with "I love you but"s has had to bash heads in order for things to get better.

    I don't know how to address your comments about advocating people stay in the closet or being super righteous, since as far as I can tell neither one is related to anything I've said. Do you think I disagree? I don't.

    Well, until the last paragraph. Empathy is always, always worth striving for, and saying "I love you but" is not equal to trampling people underfoot.

  5. Empathy for whom?
    I have empathy for the conquistadors. All alone, in a strange alien land, surrounded by diseased barbarians. Poor boys. Fortunately they brought along a priest to love everyone.

    Your dear sweet mother is safe from this ogre. Unless she's walking over a bridge where I am lurking and I'm hungry. I have such a sweet tooth. And I'm truly grateful at her unselfishness in providing a meal.
    As for my own sainted mother, she can never be thrown out of house, because she refuses to enter my house. Despite living only a few miles away and an open invitation, she refused to bless my home by walking in the front door, (or the back, or a window)
    Must be the odor.
    She loved me, but.

    And by the way, not every women had to arrested in order to vote. I can flat out tell you I vote all the time and never been arrested. Those ungrateful, selfish suffragettes. They should have behaved themselves.

  6. Empathy for whom?

    Empathy for everyone, including the conquistadors and including people who trample us. Sometimes we’re not strong or good enough to be empathetic, and that’s understandable, but it’s still a failing.

    I’m sorry for the way your mother has treated you. I’d assumed when said that “things started getting better” you meant your relationship with her as well as general things. Nevertheless, It might be good to clarify that I’m not saying that you can’t use “but” statements and be a craptastic jerk. The point of this post—that “but” statements don’t automatically negate “I love you”—is still solid.

    Your suffrage analogy misstates what I’m saying. I’m not saying that women shouldn’t have fought for suffrage / gays shouldn’t stand up for themselves. I’m saying that just because a given man didn’t believe women should be allowed to vote didn’t mean he didn’t love his wife / just because a mother (or other person) doesn’t support someone living a gay lifestle doesn’t mean she doesn’t love them.

    You're going to love this Saturday's post, I can tell.

    And, by the way, if groups of women were still marching around demanding the right to vote, we’d look at them funny.

  7. There's plenty of women all over the world being looked at funny.

    My relationship with my mom got better when I stopped groveling. Sometimes, in order to have respect for yourself, venerable parents don't get venerated.

    My grandmother's sister told me that as kids her mother called them, with much love and affection, pickaninnies.
    She also told me how mortified she was when she used the same loving term to a neighbor child.
    If my aunt wanted to build a bridge to a hypothetical mixed race community, she doesn't get to insist on the word pickaninny.
    And a bridge of understanding is not built by insisting they stop finding it derogatory. Oh, such unreasonable people. Not catering to a sweet old woman. Forget the respect to the mixed
    race community, they need to show deference to her. The horror of it, insisting she show a little understanding on THEIR terms, not hers.

    Dallin H. Oaks is, I can state without any outrageous hyperbole, an ugly little troll. And those who wear the Oakes mask are going to be seen as ugly. little trolls. No matter how beautiful on the inside they are.
    If you want to build that bridge, the solution is not for the community to pluck out their collective eyes, but for the individual to take of the Oakes mask.

    Looking forward to Saturday.

  8. There's plenty of women all over the world being looked at funny.

    My comment about women being looked at funny had nothing to do with the fact that they’re women and everything to do with the fact that demanding a right that was granted ninety years ago would be uncalled for, however appropriate it might have been in the past. You might remember that you started the suffrage parallel to justify putting heads through doors.

    And, since that metaphor has stuck around so long, maybe it would be good to define what you actually mean by it. What did you actually mean when you said "My mother learned respect when her head went through my door"?

    I hate to contradict you, but judging from the fact that your mom refuses to set foot in your house, I would say your relationship with her is “nonexistent,” not “better.” I don’t have all the information, though, maybe you go out to dinner every Tuesday or something. Or maybe for you “nonexistent” is better. That’s not the case for me.

    Sometimes, in order to have respect for yourself, venerable parents don't get venerated.

    Not arguing this.

    I’m not a fan of Oaks’ views, but I don’t believe our only choices are plucking out eyes and taking off masks.

  9. My comment about women looking funny was that not only is there not equality worldwide, there isn't even suffrage for women.
    And considering that in the US, Gods Own Party is currently disenfranchising voters, I think a little rowdiness is in order. Something You might remember.

    People standing outside the White House helped bring about women's suffrage and the repeal of DADT.

    Here's a quote from a recent Huffington Post piece by Michelangelo Signorile
    "And I am not staying silent. I spent too many years trying to let the hate roll off my back. You internalize it as it eats away at you, and your dignity shrinks."

    Sometimes you have to cut yourself off from the toxicity coming from someone you love. You have to stop your soul from being slowly poisoned.
    I spent years, and then some, dealing with my Mom's detrimental conditional love.
    I finally completely cut her off. A metaphorical head through the door. It was painful. But I got better.
    Here's the thing, one Christmas morning she showed up on my doorstep and she finally entered my home.
    She was going to make a good faith effort to stop the buts and start condoning. To try to show the same respect to me and family that she showed to my siblings and their families.
    Things never got perfect, but they got better.
    And nobody, not even my mother, gets to tell me--I love you, but.

  10. For some reason I wasn’t thinking about global suffrage. Maybe because you used the past tense when referring to it the first time, and were apparently then referencing American suffrage, and then when you switched scopes it was for a tangent that had nothing to do with I-love-you-but?

    I’ll repeat the important part of my response, adjusting it to apply to global suffrage: I’m not saying that women shouldn’t fight for suffrage or that gays shouldn’t stand up for themselves. I’m saying that just because a given man doesn’t believe women should be allowed to vote doesn’t mean he doesn’t love his wife / just because a mother (or other person) doesn’t support someone living a gay lifestyle doesn’t mean she doesn’t love them.

    I think that quote from Signorile is lovely and irrelevant to what we’re talking about. Neither you nor the blogger I’m responding to has showed that “I love you, but” equals hate (which is not to say that people who say it aren’t also doing other things that are hateful), and you won’t. You can’t. Because it doesn’t. As I showed in this post and will expound on on Saturday. (This might be a good place to point out that nowhere in this lovely chain of comments have you showed any flaw in my post’s reasoning.)

    Sometimes you have to cut yourself off from the toxicity coming from someone you love. You have to stop your soul from being slowly poisoned.

    Again, I’m not arguing this. I’m just pointing out that someone saying “I love you but” does not necessarily, in and of itself, qualify as a toxic situation.

    I’m glad things worked out with your mom in the end. Except, wait, did they? Because earlier you said “As for my own sainted mother, she can never be thrown out of house, because she refuses to enter my house.” I gotta say, between this and the suffrage thing you’re giving off some strong Mitt Romney vibes. (Too harsh?)

    And nobody, not even my mother, gets to tell me—I love you, but

    That’s nice. It doesn’t seem to be very helpful in improving gay-straight relations, though. And you know, a handful of my close people have had the I-love-you-but attitude since I came out, but I don’t seem to be suffering any shrinking dignity—in fact, I’d say my dignity has grown since I stopped making such a big deal out other people’s beliefs.

  11. Did you hear the one about the linguistics professor delivering a lecture to his class, "While there are languages where a double negative become a positive. There are no languages where a double positive becomes a negative"
    The student raised their head off the desk, "Yeah,Right".

    The flaw in your post reasoning? I didn't see any reasoning, only whole lot of grammar double talk.

    Am I here to give a hearty amen to "If Mormons want to build bridges, they have to be willing to actually open their hearts, reach out, and show a little understanding on OUR terms, not theirs. That’s what reaching out is all about . . . "

    Suppose there is a small branch of Mormons deep in the Bible belt. And some local Christians wanted to build a bridge of understanding to them. What if the foundation stone is that Mormons are not Christian but a cult.
    Okay, you're the quality control specialist, how sound is the structural integrity of that bridge.

    And your response is "refuses" That the best you can do? Way to go. I see Mormondom has trained you well in the values of propriety, proper punctuation and petty piety.
    There's some P's for the privy pot.

    The road to equality was built by people wading into the muck and mire. It was not built by collaborators, who after the road was built, crept out of hiding in their closets and tentatively place a foot on the road, only to complain about their shoes getting dirty.
    My respect is to the Drag Queens and street kids who in 1969, when facing the advancing riot police line, formed a kick line and sang, "We are the Stonewall girls,
    We wear our hair in curls.
    We wear no underwear:
    We show our pubic hairs."

    And my hat's off, to those here in California and elsewhere, who spent dozens of years working for employment rights, housing rights, safe schools and marriage equality.
    I've sat up in the visitors box and heard the verbal love certain Republican legislators expressed. So those gay activists have my gratitude, for dealing with the cesspool and bringing about positive change to my life.
    Fortunately, they made a big deal and they didn't worry about offending your mother.

  12. I didn't see any reasoning, only whole lot of grammar double talk.

    It can’t be double-talk if there isn’t any nonsense in it, and you haven’t shown anything I said to be nonsensical.

    I see Mormondom has trained you . . .

    Because I’m able to use language well to argue my beliefs while being (mostly) polite, and I expect you to do the same (or least not contradict yourself)? Thanks, “Mormondom.” Thanks also to “degree in editing,” “jobs in publishing,” “teaching English,” and “literacy.”

    The road to equality . . .

    This post is not about the road to equality. This post is about a flawed argument and its consequences. That said, you can have the last reply. These comments aren’t really adding anything.

    “If someone doesn't value logic, what logical argument could you provide to show the importance of logic?”—Sam Harris

  13. Hm, well, I read your second post before reading your first one, and I have to say, after reading this whole flame war, I have to agree with Suzanne on this one. Your strident tone matches hers, and I think you invited it by beginning with overgeneralizations like, "Some gays hate to hear this phrase. Hate it. When they hear it they go blind with rage. They are offended, often loudly, and they lecture the person who said it." I feel that your post doesn't show enough empathy for people who have had this experience and had a different one then you have. I really like that you share your experience with your mom; it sounds like a really good one, and I'm glad that you were able to learn that the I-love-you part of her belief system is crucial and important and wonderful to hear. That's awesome. But I think you should probably be a little (...a lot) bit nicer to people like Suzanne who have had to put up with major bullshit in their lives and to whom the phrase "I love you" means little or nothing when followed by heartless or even cruel actions. You mention this in your second post--the phrase "I love you" really doesn't mean a lot when you're getting kicked out of your house by your loving parents. I think that that's something you might want to spend a little more time on if you want to have a productive argument/conversation about this online. A little empathy is in order, as well as (from my matronly writing teacher perspective, with all due apologies) a change in tone. Beginning by accusing all those other gays isn't really going to help your cause, and just pisses off people like Suzanne and, I would say (to a lesser extent, I think), me. Part of my perspective also comes from my therapist, who tries to emphasize as much as possible that in terms of mental health, but is generally a negative word--it's better when followed by "and." I love you, and I disagree with you, seems to me to carry a bit more weight, even though I still have a hard time with the tone based on my own experiences.

    Anyway, I really like your bit this week on hypocrisy, and, as I said before, I'm interesting in seeing what you're planning on writing about next, as this does seem to be an important conversation to have. For me, though, toning down the strident tone might make the conversation more productive, and instead of pointing fingers as you seem to be doing (though that might be a misreading on my part), it would be great to get more of your personal experiences dealing with this and less on the semantics, name-calling, accusations, and finger-pointing of the larger issue.