Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

In Which I Make a Horrible Admission: Locker Room Banter

(Author’s note: I wrote this piece yesterday in Writers’ Circle. I’m very much troubled by the recently-unearthed audio of Donald Trump on the “Access Hollywood” bus with Billy Bush. This has been very difficult to write, and pressing the “Publish” button is a little scary. I fear I may not have articulated things that well. Let’s hope I have.)

Words matter. Words have the potential to influence the thinking of others, to change their actions and behaviors, maybe even their lives. But sometimes words are just words, not uttered or written with any particular intent beyond entertainment. They’re used to funny, or to shock, or to gain attention. Whether we’re aiming for influence or just throw-away entertainment, we still need to think about what we say, how we say it, and to whom.

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I’m a guy. I hope this comes as no surprise to you after all this time. And as a guy, I’ve engaged in my fair share of locker room banter. Also golf course gabbing. Barroom bombast. I have told–and laughed at–jokes that cover every -ist and -ism out there. Racist, sexist, misogynist? Been there. I have slurred and slandered, engaged in stereotyping and objectification. Gay bashing? That, too. In certain situations with certain people, this side of me comes out.

I say all of this not because I’m proud of it. I’m not. I say this not to excuse it, because there’s no excusing it. I say this because it’s simply the truth. And the other truth is, in the right setting with the right people, I will almost certainly engage in “locker room banter” again. It’s the simple truth of the matter.

What would you do if you heard me say these things? Would you become angry, tell me off, then leave and tell everyone you know that I’m an utter ass? Perhaps you would chuckle politely, then change the subject and find an excuse to leave soon thereafter, never to see me by choice again. Or maybe you’d join in with gusto. It depends on what kind of person you are. What will you do now that I’ve confessed these things to you? Will you comment? Stop following? Spread it far and wide on Twitter and Facebook and bring the hammer of Internet Outrage down upon my head? It all depends on what kind of person you are.

And now we come to Donald Trump. The recently-unearthed “Access Hollywood” clip has Trump bragging about putting the moves on a married woman, just kissing women, whether invited or not, and that as a rich, famous person, he can do whatever the hell he wants. Trump has brushed all of this off as locker room banter, and, in his typical fashion, has used his best second grade “I know you are, but what am I” rhetorical style to say that Bill Clinton is far, far worse (and he may well be, but this is not about Bill Clinton).

Do we let Donald Trump off the hook for his ten-year-old crudities on the “Access Hollywood” bus, or for the things he’s said while guesting on the Howard Stern show five, ten, or twenty years ago? Do accept his excuse that he was just playing a role, or playing up (or down, as the case may be) to a particular crowd, and that it doesn’t reflect who he is as a person? At this point,

And what’s my excuse? What’s the difference between me and Trump on this (besides the millions of dollars and millions in audience, that is)? I’d like to believe the difference is that one of us means what he says, and puts it into action, while the other is just engaging in locker room banter. I can tell you that I have never forcibly kissed a woman or put my hands on one uninvited. Nor would I. Meanwhile, there’s mounting evidence that Trump’s words to Billy Bush were not just him being “braggadocious.” The allegations that continue to surface about Trump–from former business partners, from cast and crew of “The Apprentice,” from contestants in the various pageants he has run–indicate that he these are not mere words.

Locker room banter is not going to go away. Men and women (but mostly men, I suspect) will continue to engage in it, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that–provided it remains just that: banter. Words, not action, exagerration, not reality.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for commenting.

16 Responses

  1. And you're not aspiring to the highest office in the US. Sorry, Trump, but we do hold a higher standard for someone wanting to sit in that chair. And it's not like this is the only issue people have with Trump.

    I'm not voting for Hillary either. Just sayin'.

  2. While both candidates on either side of the divide might not be the most ideal choice for President. Trump has done so much to damage his own campaign. I only just listened to the #trumptape last night and it was crude and disgusting. There were a few parts that seemed to be banter but most was nasty. And yes the fact that Trump seems to be a man that possibly acted on these words just makes everything worse. Jeff you're human. People engage in things to belong and sometimes it can seem better to go along to get along. My friends know what I like and don't like to talk about. I won't tell them what to do as long as they don't tell me what to say.

  3. Hi JeffO. I can understand why you prefaced your post with the following: "This has been very difficult to write, and pressing the "Publish" button is a little scary. I fear I may not have articulated things that well. Let's hope I have."
    Sometimes it does take guts to share our thoughts and beliefs and put them "out there" for everyone to read. Although tons of people on Facebook seem to think THEY are the only correct ones! I've kept away from any political talk because I just don't want to, and even if I did, I might lose a few friends…since we have opposing views. I, for one, can't wait for the election to be over…and God help us…and the newly elected President! (BTW, great post!)

  4. Please, vote for whomever you feel best represents your views and interests, and will do right for the country. Thanks for commenting.

  5. Thank you, Sheena-kay. Trump's words would be more dismissable (not sure that's quite right) if there weren't so many people pointing to a consistent pattern of real world behavior before and after he made those off-the-cuff comments.

  6. Thank you, Becky. I, too, am eagerly awaiting the end of this election, but I confess I'm also afraid of what's on the other side.

    This has been difficult, and it continues to be difficult. Every post, story and interview by and with men who say "That's not like any locker room banter I've ever been part of" makes me wonder if they are just far better men than me, have faulty memories, or are just full of shit. Thanks again.

  7. Oh, I'm glad you said that, because that's what I've been saying! I think ALL men have said the same types of things, either by jokes they tell, or "bragging" they've done, etc. And what really gets me is how all the journalists did everything to HIDE JFKs sexual escapades! How times have changed!

  8. Trump is a braggart, pure and simple, and not someone I want to see as President. Frankly, I can't stand to hear the guy talk.

    He claims it was "locker room talk," but I think he was talking about something he'd DONE. Not just venting. That's the difference, isn't it?

  9. While I think you're brave in admitting to participating in "locker room talk," don't look to me for absolution. Bigotry and prejudice are wrong whether in the locker room or in a church (unless you're confessing to a priest, and then all darkest secrets can be revealed). I'd guess that every single person is prejudiced in some way. We can't help picking up things from how we were raised or our communities or our experiences. But we should be mature enough to know they *are* prejudices and remember how easy it is to hate the "other" when we probably don't even know any. Unless we're actually talking to a priest or our spouse, there's no such thing as a private conversation. People talk. Mean comments come to light. It's my opinion that one should never say anything unless they'd feel comfortable saying it on a megaphone, standing in the middle of the town square, so their family and everyone can hear.

  10. I do believe Trump's "locker room talk" represents things he's done or actually would do. Does the distinction matter? Obviously, I believe it does, though perhaps that's just me trying to assuage my own guilty conscience, or trying to draw lines and claim degrees of deplorable. More coming below in my reply to Lexa.

  11. Thank you for your honesty, Lexa. Yes, bigotry and prejudice, the -isms and -ists I mentioned, are absolutely wrong, and while it can be hard to avoid the casual sexism or racism that goes on so often in the background growing up, I know a number of people who have overcome it (myself included, despite my admission in this post).

    Since this post went live yesterday morning, I've been doing a lot of thinking, a lot of reading, and a lot more thinking. I can say with all honesty that I meant no harm to anyone; however, I realize that participating in "locker room banter" over the years has helped perpetuate a culture that needs to go away. This has been an eye-opening couple of days, and all I can say is I'll do my best going forward.

    Thank you again. I hope you will continue come by, as I've always enjoyed your comments and insights.

  12. Of course I'll come by!! Just because I don't agree with locker room talk doesn't mean I think less of you. You're a thoughtful, intelligent and kind man who loves his family a lot. And those are the important virtues. 🙂

  13. Hm, I had to think carefully before I responded, but reading through the rest of the comments (especially the discussion with Lexa above) made me feel much better about this.

    The -isms and -ists that are a part of locker room banter aren't okay and locker room banter perpetuates the negative discourses surrounding the groups of people they victimise. Having said that, no one is perfect, and I think even I would be guilty of degrading somebody else or another group of people, even without meaning to. That doesn't make it okay, but I think what's important is that we become aware of our slip-ups and make a conscience decision to change how to talk about such things. I think if more people started doing that, the group mentality would change too. And change is what all the activists want, right?

    So well done clicking the publish button and being so open to the discussions and criticisms that have followed. I hope I've articulated this post well. :p

  14. Indeed, times have changed. I'm not sure I would say ALL men have done it; I expect there are some who didn't/don't, but a lot who have who are now sanitizing their memories, maybe. As for JFK, et al., I guess the assumption was no one needed to know. Or it was just that sex was still largely taboo, even where it might reflect badly on someone's "character."

  15. Thinking is a good thing, Bonnee! And I believe you hit the nail right on the head where you say "what's important is that we become aware of our slip-ups and make a conscious decision to change". I can recognize where I'm wrong, and why some people are offended. You can tell by his words and what he did with his "apology" that Trump can't. And he can't even dress up his words in a way that makes it even sound like he gets it. But I suppose even that is part of his appeal to some, that he "says what he feels" and he "doesn't give in to political correctness." But he also doesn't think.

    Anyway, thank you for your thoughtful and, yes, well-articulated comment!

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