Mask debating is fun, and sometimes I can do it for hours

Collage by Guy James Whitworth.

Guy James Whitworth looks at the trials and tribulations of being a law-abiding citizen amidst anti-masker ‘rebels’. 

You know at the beginning of each year, how we sometimes embark on frivolous new projects or start up unusual hobbies? Well, I definitely have! I have a new pastime that makes me hurry home after work with keen vigour, hardly able to wait until I can plonk down on the sofa, phone in hand and take up where I left off from the evening before.  

Unfortunately, though, it appears my new hobby is arguing with anti-maskers on social media until my head could explode. 

Sometimes I can quite exhaust myself with all the, ahem, mask debating (see what I did there?).  

Although it seems I no longer have to debate, at least when it comes to Greater Sydney (including the Blue Mountains, Central Coast and Wollongong) as on the 3rd of January it became mandatory here to wear face masks in most retail situations, places of worship, aged care facilities and sex-on-premises venues. Okay, maybe not on the last one (are they even still open?).

Look, I’ll say it, wearing masks is awful and on certain days, it’s just tempting to not wear one!     

I mean they’re warm aren’t they, dem pesky things, especially on clammy, airless buses and doubly on these increasingly hot Sydney days; clammy, moist and unpleasant. I’ll admit it, I actually really don’t like them at all (almost as much as I hate the word ‘moist’).   

As a gender non-conforming individual, wearing a face mask is a double-edged disappointment for me. Firstly, people can’t see my stylish beard trim; secondly, they can’t appreciate my casual daywear neural lip stain. How doubly damningly annoying!    

But don’t get me wrong, as much as I struggle, I’m certainly no anti-masker in the making. I do what society needs me to do when needed; why would anyone ‘rebel’ against that? However, this glorious inbuilt white male confidence of mine still allows me to pop my head over the parapet of popular opinion and casually proclaim that I just really don’t enjoy it. I’m aware of the discomfort of masks, but I’m also aware of my privilege in being able to voice that discomfort.   

And that, I think, is where the problem starts: with unchecked privilege.  

My issue is with people who, totally unaware of themselves, have taken that same privilege to an extreme and decided they are above the rules that apply to us mere fair-minded mortals.

“There’s a good chance most anti-maskers have fashioned their unused masks into earmuffs, because they certainly aren’t listening to facts.” 

– Guy James Whitworth

I think it starts with privilege but ends in stupidity and selfishness.   

Numbers of anti-maskers have been on the rise over the past few days on my socials. I think it’s because like attracts like, and they seem to be swarming into ever-bolder, privileged collectives. (What is the collective term for a gathering of anti-maskers? A dumb-downing? A selfishness? A fuckwittery?) They compound each other’s ill-informed ideas that masks give the wearer cancer, increase the chance of ladylike fainting (especially in men) and if you do concede and finally wear a mask, you might drop dead from some mystery ailment, hitherto unknown to medical science.     

While the sensible knee-jerk reaction is just to defriend the jerks, I instead choose the high ground and opt to open dialogue. However, the regrettable thing about choosing the high ground is that can quite easily turn into a hill to die (of frustration) on.  

I think there’s a good chance most anti-maskers have fashioned their unused masks into earmuffs, because they certainly aren’t listening to facts. 

There’s a classic expression that comes to mind: arguing with idiots is like playing chess with a pigeon – no matter how good you are, the bird is going to shit on the board and strut around like it won anyway.    

Basically, I wear a mask because intelligent health care professionals, that I respect, have proven results that show mask wearing reduces infection rates, and without a mask I can unknowingly transmit Covid-19 to others. I do it for other people, as much as myself, because I consider and care for others wellbeing above my own mild, and yes, sometimes moist, inconvenience. (Sorry, I promise not to use the word ‘moist’ again in this article.)

Yes, masks are hideous, but not as hideous as being on a ventilator or finding out someone I care for is suffering, because of my own defiant ignorance.     

An anti-masker in the USA, perhaps the spiritual home of anti-maskers. File photo.

It’s a common argument online (and certainly in my Facebook feed) that masks can get dirty, smelly and in a very worst-case scenario, spread other diseases. Now lemme tell you, rather like underwear, if you keep them clean and change them often there’s absolutely no danger of any of those consequences. And if you do knowingly wear a mask that has become old and unclean, then I quite honestly hate to think of the state of your knickers.    

The other day I got accused online of being ‘a martyr’ but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Martyrs would happily die for what they know to be true, I’m actively trying my best not to.    

The reality is if you chose not to wear a mask, you are directly putting others at risk. You are also signalling to the world that you believe no one else is as important as you, and you believe other people (often those working in shops and hospitality) are beneath you, and you are happy for them to become horribly ill or die hideous deaths rather than deal with your own mild inconvenience.  

Please don’t let your privilege or selfishness cost the life or health of others.   

I know it’s not fun, I agree with that bit, but just wear the fucking mask.  

Guy James Whitworth is a Sydney-based artist and author. His book, Signs of a Struggle – is available from The Bookshop Darlinghurst and good bookshops everywhere. He can be followed on Instagram and Twitter.