As part of my college program and training required by international maritime law, I had my basic safety training this week. This entails survival training and fire fighter training. I have learned a lot and there is nothing like becoming competent with the gear to boost your self-esteem. After a successful day learning how to extinguish different types of fires and running an obstacle course in the dark, while breathing through a mask with compressed air, I felt pretty good about myself. Today we went one step further and entered a burning structure, once through a door and a second time through a hatch in the roof. We removed a victim (read: a stuffed fire-fighting suit that supposed to represent a human-like doll) and we practiced extinguished fires from inside an enclosed space. The day ended with some survival training, for which we had to wear survival suits and life vests and jump in the water from two meters high. I was a little wigged out about the jumping part and the water was damn cold, but it was a fun and useful training.
I trained with a group different from my classmates, they don’t go to my school and with the exception of myself and one other guy, they were all white guys. During some of the training a few were a bit unfocussed and more interested in goofing around than paying attention to the instructors. One of the instructors got a bit weary of their general behavior and started applying some bigotry in an effort to scare them into paying better attention. One of the trainees was standing in the wrong place (behind another guy, rather than next to him) and the instructor said to him “Don’t stand over there. What are you, a homo?” He also got them to focus their attention on me during a water huddle (huddling in the water with a group of people is what you do to better conserve body-temperatures and also to prevent people from floating away). The instructor said “You finally have permission to cuddle with a girl, so do it”. This caused one guy to join the huddle so enthusiastically that he nearly dragged me under. Throughout the day I was also regaled with the stories about the breasts of various women, in other words: Dumb boob jokes.
After the training ended we gathered in the cafeteria and the instructor expressed his concern about the general attitudes of some of the trainees. The trainees in question were unsure what he meant and I joked at them by saying “he feels sorry for you”. Well, clearly I had now crossed the line. The guy later took me aside and said that I should not have said that and that in their place he would have been furious. “They are simple guys,” he told me, “with a simple education (a two year maritime program, rather than a four year college).” I was told that they can’t handle such an insult and it was further implied they were fragile. I had seen them joke around and goof off all day, so clearly they had understood the concept of humor, and I thought those complaints were a bit rich coming from an instructor, who less than two hours before, had called one of the trainees “gay” and not as an inappropriate inquiry into that guy’s personal life, but as an obvious insult. I told him that they make comments all day that could also make me “jump out of my skin”, if I should so choose, and that I was sure they had understood my remark to them to be a joke. The instructor however insisted that I need to be more careful not to hurt their feelings and that he was sure they would not have understood that it was all suppose to be in good fun. I repeated that it was merely a joke, shrugged my shoulder and dropped the matter.
I was not the least bit impressed by the instructor’s beratement and I thought him a total hypocrite. However, it kept playing around in my mind, because I had not seen it coming, particularly not from that guy. He clearly has no problems whatsoever taken down his own trainees a peg, but as soon as he thinks someone else is (he thought I called them stupid, but my comment about pitying them referred to their unfocussed behavior during the training and how they would end up if they acted like that during a real emergency, which was the whole purpose of the training in the first place) there is a problem. I am not certain about the true reason he was upset with me, but I thought it was weird.