Having a civil conversation is about mutual listening and mutual respect.
Sometimes that gets conflated with affect — people act like the defining feature of respectful conversation is things like the position of your body, the volume of your voice, and whether you’re using polite words.
Sometimes things like that can be involved in what makes a conversation respectful, but they don’t define it.
The rules of politeness allow people to be dismissive and cruel. Similarly, it is possible to have a mutually respectful conversation that violates the rules of politeness.
For instance, it is often possible to have a mutually respectful conversation with raised voices and cuss words. It is also often possible to use a lot of I-statements and gentle-sounding language to have a conversation that is fundamentally disrespectful and cruel.
Conflating affect with respect ends up drowning out a lot of voices, and privileging people who are good at manipulating the rules of politeness.
(Affect matters, and it’s ok if some kinds of affect are dealbreaking for you in terms of your ability to have conversations with someone. I’m not saying that everything should be acceptable to everyone. All I’m saying is that affecting politeness is not the same as treating someone respectfully.)
Short version: Body language, tone of voice, and affect can be part of what makes a conversation civil and mutually respectful, but they don’t define it.
Cussing is important. Here are some uses:
- Expressing boundaries in forceful language
- Expressing emphatic contempt
- Expressing distress
Sometimes it’s ok to insult people. Sometimes it’s important to be rude.
Slurs aren’t part of this, though. It’s not ok to insult someone by comparing them to an oppressed group. It’s not ok to insult someone by referencing their membership in an oppressed group.
Lists of things to say rather than “that’s so gay” or “that’s so r-word” tend to be long lists of big words that are clean and polite. They shouldn’t be, though. There’s no moral obligation to use long words. There’s no moral obligation to always use clean language.
The problem with slurs is that they help to keep marginalized groups marginalized. They hurt innocent people, and they hurt guilty people in ways no one deserves.
So, when the situation calls for cussing at or about someone, use swear words. Don’t use slurs.
When you first start learning how to say no, you won’t know how to do it politely.
This means that you’ll offend people. Even when you have every right to say no. Even when everyone agrees that it’s ok to say no.
Asserting boundaries politely is a skill worth acquiring, if you can do it. But that takes time and practice. It’s something that’s learned alongside learning how to have boundaries; it’s not something you can learn first as a prerequisite for being allowed to have boundaries.
And when you haven’t figured out how to say no politely, the reactions you get might look to you like evidence that you really *can’t* say no. It might look to you like you have to choose between having no boundaries, or hurting people in unreasonable ways.
This is especially true if you are a disabled person who has learned to pass as nondisabled by following rules. A lot of disabled people are taught that they must pass at all costs, and taught not to asset boundaries as part of this. Starting to learn to have boundaries will probably undermine your ability to pass. That can be terrifying, and some ways people react might be triggering. But you’re ok. You’re not broken. You’re allowed to have boundaries, even if it means looking weird. Even if it breaks rules. Even if people are offended. You are a person and you have rights.
The rules for politely asserting boundaries are really complicated. It takes time and practice to learn these rules. And not everyone can master them. And even people who can have to be rude sometimes in order to have boundaries, and that’s ok too. Being able to be polite is not a prerequisite for having rights.
It’s ok to say no, and it’s ok to have a rough time learning how.