[Disclaimer: This is not written about the most toxic percentage that make up the debate community, in fact, it’s probably most relevant to the top 10%, the guys who you talk to outside rounds and hang out with on a Friday night. This was written by two friends who felt like this needed to be said but wanted it to stay anonymous because they didn’t want to expose said individuals on a public platform. The open letter format is to encourage both accessibility and for you to insert yourself into the narrative to figure out where you stand in our story even though your name isn’t on the header.]
Hey, I want to talk about debate.
See, I don’t think we have the same experiences when it comes to our Saturdays. I’m not talking about my heels versus your loafers or my sexist ballots versus yours. This time it’s about you.
It’s not that you’re not a great ally in the traditional sense. I mean, you don’t call your opponents bitches and you acknowledge the weird interactions that don’t seem to make sense absent the justification of sexism. You even follow Beyond Resolved on Instagram and highlight their work on your story every now and then.
It’s just that liking a post doesn’t mean you don’t exclude people, even if it’s not intentional or conscious. It’s easy to call out active exclusion, but I’ve spent so much time trying to reconcile the patterns of you subconsciously shutting me out of your world in this community. I questioned writing this for so long until I realized I wasn’t alone in my experience.
And it’s because I respect you reposting these stories and listening to my rants, despite how hard it is not to fall into the toxic masculinity entrenched in the debate community, that it is so hard to call you out for this.
I realise, though, that it is okay to need more from you. I owe it to myself because I have spent years on the sidelines of my own success. I owe it to the femxle novices on my team who deserve to stand shoulder to shoulder in a circle of people who broke and to get the invite to the prep sessions regardless of their success. This is me calling you out, in my balance of frustration and uncertainty.
At its core, it’s about who you prep with before rounds versus who you call when you lose. It’s about who you ask to fix your cases versus who you come to to fix your love life. It’s about who you trust with coming up with the best weighing mechanisms, versus who you ask to weigh your girl options.
I’ve heard about all of your summer hookups, your first love, your AP Physics exam you were so nervous about, and even the college rejection letter. I have stayed up until 3 to text you about your poetry or girls, while you text my male partner about debate. And I know you’re doing it. And I don’t know if you know that I know.
You know how many times you’ve initiated a conversation with me about debate? Zero. I counted. Last week, my partner and I texted you simultaneously about an indict to your case we hoped you’d find helpful. You left me on delivered and sent him two block files. Before the tournament, you got into an argument about the strength of terminal defense which I watched from over his shoulder.
But we are friends. At locals, you say “let’s walk”. We leave the cafeteria and we’re in a different world of books and conversation. When we return, you grab my partner and talk strategy. You two sit together on the other side of the cafeteria, hunched over your laptops. I must have missed the invite. When I wander over to join in, you’re halfway through fleshing out the fifth turn to a niche argument. You don’t seem to like anything I say. When my partner talks, your attention snaps away. I don’t think you notice when I disappear.
And maybe we don’t have a “debate” relationship, but we bond over our other shared interests: Anderson Paak, Bojack, the Bachelor, and World of Dance. But not this. Even though this is an activity we both care so much about and love so deeply, I am invisible to you as soon as we step foot into the student lounge of whatever random high school we will be spending this Saturday at.
In the absence of a clear warrant or counterfactual for why this is true, I am forced to accept the most probable link. At the point where I am closer to you than any of the males you consistently go to for prep, I am forced to accept the fact that it’s my gender that prompts this decision. It’s the fact that I am female that makes our relationship emotional instead of intellectual.
Because it’s not that I’m dumb or that my partner is infinitely better than I am; I’ve beaten you in round, had relatively more competitive success, and you often take our cases. It’s just that I’m never enough in your eyes and you’re my best friend.
I hate how this sounds so bitter and I’m trying my best to “frontline” that with the message that our friendship is otherwise perfect. Sometimes, it feels like we have telepathy. I just hope that you’ll see me the way I see me — as a confident, powerful debater. I want the beauty of my debate experience to merge with yours as our worlds overlap in this one, final way.
Epilogue from one of the authors/ pre-emptive frontlines:
Some variation on “they don’t owe you friendship or to talk to you about debate”
Of course. I don’t think anyone owes anyone anything in that respect. I think I’ve realised two things, though.
By categorising me as someone to share emotional baggage with but exclude from intellectual conversations, my value to my friend isn’t what I want it to be. And…
I don’t deserve to be shut out of places no matter who I am. It doesn’t matter if I’m winning every tournament or dead last. If my partner is allowed at the table, I want a seat as well.
“Maybe you’re just bad”
I don’t think so, but I feel like listing accomplishments or rankings isn’t the point. Even if I am, that still isn’t a reason to shut someone out of a conversation. For one thing, the purpose of debate is education, and there is always something you can learn from someone else and teach others. That’s something we espouse on our team where we try to encourage maximum collaboration. Debate is a game, but it’s more fun to play a game with friends.
Moreover, I view it as disrespectful to shut people out of conversations and opportunities to learn and no one ought to earn respect. There have been so many incidents wherein my partner and I have had to earn respect from our opponents by beating them for them. Frankly, it’s tiring. Also, it’s unnecessarily hostile. Not everyone has the resources to overcome challenges.
And a final message from me
This is something I really care about and it’s been really hard for me to talk about because I’m not trying to turn this into a blame game or victimise myself. Obviously, this is only one perspective — I am a fraction of a bird’s-eye picture. I acknowledge that. I do think, though, that this is a hidden perspective that deserves to see some light and enter the discourse.
I need to have a candid conversation with the person this letter is directed at to solve my personal problem, but having wrestled with this for over a year now and then discovered others with the same stories, I hoped that posting this would impact someone else in the same way it did to me. I felt really alone with this for a while and pretty uncomfortable thinking about being undervalued or maybe even disrespected by someone I care about and who I know I mean a lot to.
Maybe I’ll post an update to the story one day. I hope it’ll be a positive one. I have faith that it will be.