Kissing vs. injustice.

That Vladimir Putin. He’s a piece of work. As you likely know, last month he signed into law new legislation that forbids “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations around minors” — ie: the “gay propaganda law,” ie: the law which holds that Russians can be arrested for discussing LGBTQ rights and relationships within the hearing of children, ie: the reason some folks are talking about boycotting the 2014 Winter Olympics scheduled for Sochi.

After winning the 4X400m relay with their team at the IAAF track championships in Moscow, Russian runners Kseniya Ryzhova and Tatyana Firov had a different idea — in the tradition of Jesse Owen, who showed up despite Hitler’s hate, they showed up with a kiss, “to protest their own country’s anti-gay propaganda laws.”

This isn’t the first protest of Russia’s laws that penalize anyone for talking about homosexuality in front of children, but it’s the most visible one done by Russian athletes. U.S. runner Nick Symmonds dedicated his silver medal in the 800m to his gay friends back home, and Swedish high jumper Emma Green Tregaro painted her nails in a rainbow in honor of LGBT pride.

…One of the reasons many LGBT sports leaders are against a boycott of the upcoming Olympics in Sochi, Russia, is because more can be accomplished by LGBT athletes and their allies standing atop the medal stand with pride.

I’m not gay, I’m not an athlete, I don’t even much watch the Olympics when they roll around, so there is a level at which none of what I might say matters. I do think that the officials involved and sponsoring corporations must do something to protest this gross abuse of civil rights, but I also think that people who spend their lives building to a single moment should not be forced to deny themselves that moment because of the assholery of a nation’s government. That on the contrary, as the President suggested at a recent press conference, the best response to Putin is for LGBTQ athletes to go, to win, and to get up on that podium and fly their flags. I don’t know what I would do were I one of those athletes.

But I’m grateful to the two women who defied their nation’s leaders with a kiss, and I hope that their act is just one of many to come. To defy injustice with love — that’s a world in which I want to live.

You can’t make homophobic jokes and be a Progressive.

Lindsey GrahamI have real, enormous, and numerous issues with Senator Lindsey Graham. Indeed, my first tweet of the day was to call him an asshole. Because he is. An asshole.

Also a dick.

Douchnozzle.

Douchcanoe.

Human sack of effluvium and fucknuttery.

And what have you.

But here’s the thing: If I, or any other Progressive in this country, want to take issue with any of Graham’s hateful and cruel policy positions — that’s what we should do.

We should argue the value of not holding up important Presidential nominations for the sake of personal glory; we should argue that President Obama’s plans for immigration reform are an important step forward; we should work to turn the tide of public opinion against the gun lobby; we should make clear the advantages of Obamacare; we should clarify just what it means to oppose the Violence Against Women Act; and we should lobby aggressively for the right of women everywhere to bodily autonomy (links to all these issues in the list of insults, above).

What we should not do is make puerile jokes about the fact that Lindsey Graham “looks/seems gay.”

For the record, I have come around to believing that when conservative politicians and anti-LGBT activists are, in fact, in the closet, it’s an important political act to out them publicly. I understand the arguments against such actions, and I have genuine compassion for the people who have been so outed — but if you have spent your days and your power dehumanizing your fellow Americans, your fellow Americans have a right to know how much you’re lying. Given the imbalance of power, our right to know outweighs your right to privacy.

But that is not the same thing — by any stretch of the imagination — as making jokes that traffic in America’s widely-held homophobia.

It’s not Progressive to belittle and/or dehumanize anyone, period. It is, thus, Not Progressive to belittle and/or dehumanize LGBTQ Americans — and when we mock Lindsey Graham or any other person in a position of political and social influence (Marcus Bachman comes to mind) for appearing to be that which they loathe, we’re agreeing that calling them gay is an insult. We’re agreeing that there is a way to “look” or “act” gay, and that these things are laughable.

Now, I’m not going to presume to judge the gay community on this. If you’re a member of the LGBTQ community and you want to mock Lindsey Graham, go on with it. That’s your community and your struggle and you folks have to decide for yourselves what the limits are within your own community (to the extent that consensus can be reached, and as a Jew, let me say: Good luck with that).

But straight Progressive America? Step off. If you cannot find a way to mock Lindsey Graham’s heartless version of “conservativism” without resorting to humanity’s centuries’-long abuse of gay folks? Then you’ll just have to work against his agenda without eliciting the lulz.

Because you can be a Progressive, or you be that assclown who mocks teh gayz. You can’t be both.

Oops – here’s why I think Marcus Bachmann’s sexuality matters.

It dawned on me, sometime between last night and this morning, that I hadn’t actually said in yesterday’s post “why I think it matters” that Marcus Bachmann might be gay. I was, I will admit, kind of worked up!

So, here’s why I think it matters:

  1. If Marcus Bachmann is gay, and has spent his life not just in denial but actively persecuting people like himself — OMG, look at what our shared homophobia can do to a person. If Marcus Bachmann is gay, then in among the wasteland of the lives ruined, wasted and shattered by the homophobia that he so spews with such venom, is his own. And furthermore:
  2. If Marcus Bachmann is gay, and has spent his life not just in denial but actively persecuting people like himself — OMG, look at how fucked up our society is. Not only did we produce this monster, but we are aiding and abetting the damage that he is wreaking.

We’ve already seen all of this in the long list of outed anti-gay crusaders to which I referred last night, and the fact that our cultural norms and mores can produce and support such a disturbing level of self-hate is, or certainly should be, deeply, deeply troubling.

None of which is to say that if Marcus Bachmann is not gay that he gets a pass on his malignant homophobia. It is odious, it is genuinely life-threatening, and it must not be allowed to further warp our national dialogue. And it remains a very clear indication of just how fucked up we are.

It’s just that if he (or one of his children, or his wife) is gay — all that gets turned up to eleven. And a half.

Why I think Marcus Bachmann might be gay (and why I think it matters).

Updated, below

Not very long ago, a bit of audio tape emerged in which Marcus Bachmann, husband of Presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann, likened gays and lesbians (and, one presumes, the entire LGBTQ community) to “barbarians”:

We have to understand: barbarians need to be educated. They need to be disciplined. Just because someone feels it or thinks it, doesn’t mean that we are supposed to go down that road. That’s what is called the sinful nature.

Given the virulence of the hatred in those remarks, not to mention the fact that Mr. Bachmann appears to have been involved with/aggressively pushed the so-called “reparative therapy” designed as a “cure” for homosexuality, much was subsequently made of the fact that Mr. Bachmann’s voice sounds not dissimilar to that of the standard-issue stereotypical “gay man” — a bit foppy, a bit high-pitched, the hint of a lisp. Much was also made of the fact that he dances in a mildly flamboyant fashion. The idea underlying all of this japery was and is, of course: OMG it’s so funny, he hates gay people but dude is soooooo gay!!1!

Here’s the problem with that:

I have no idea how quantitatively true it is that gay men sound “gay,” as a rule. Like most people like me, I have what I think of as gaydar, and it is of course set off by men who evidence such things as a lisp, a predilection for pastels, or a greater-than-average interest in musical theater.

For all I know, these things are, in fact, a genetic component of “being gay,” and like any other genetic thing, they run in greater and lesser degrees through the blood of a majority of gay men — just as having a certain physical build is often identifiable as Scandinavian, or a tendency to bald young is associated with Jewish men. Whatevs. I don’t actually care, in any real, meaningful sense. If the LGBTQ community wants to make jokes about the stereotype — or even about Marcus Bachmann — more power to them. We all get to joke about our own. It’s part of how we maintain sanity/autonomy.

However, when society at large starts to giggle at a man’s lisp, or limp-wristed dance moves, even if it’s in an effort to point out possible hypocrisy — even if it’s in an effort to point out pernicious, dangerous hypocrisy in a politically powerful figure — we are not helping to solve the problem. We are, in fact, perpetuating it.

If Bachmann’s slight lisp is funny — why isn’t it funny when some other man lisps? If Bachmann’s failure to maintain stereotypical manly mannerisms is funny — why isn’t it funny when boys play with Barbies or men arrange flowers? When we laugh at these things in Bachmann, we’re saying, loud and clear, that they are laughable. (We’re also, by the way, saying that they can only mean one thing: gay. Not bi-. Not non-normative. Not straight-guy-with-a-lisp. No — these mannerisms mean one thing and one thing only. And we decide what that is). If I were a gay man who had been beaten up for my “girly” behavior — would I be enjoying the jokes made by straight people at Bachmann’s expense? Maybe. Maybe it would feel like payback. But maybe it would also re-confirm what the bullies had been screaming at me all along. (We’ll leave aside, for the moment, the misogyny inherent to finding feminine behavior laughable. But trust, dear reader: There’s misogyny here, too).

So are Bachmann’s mannerisms indication that he’s gay? Hell if I know. And I’m not going to join in on the comedy.

But there is one thing that suggests to me, very powerfully, that Bachmann is, in fact, a closeted member of the LGBTQ community: the very virulence of his hatred (and that of his wife) for the community.

Time and time again, we have seen anti-gay crusaders revealed to have active same-sex sex lives. Whether they are gay, bi-, or something else all together doesn’t really matter — what matters is that they spend their on-camera time demonizing human beings who have same-sex sex, and their off-camera time having same-sex sex. The hypocrisy is horrible, but when coupled with the very real danger that these people pose to the lives of actual human beings the hypocrisy moves from “horrible” to “loathsome and unforgiveable.”

Ted Haggard, former head of the National Association of Evangelicals; Larry Craig, former Republican senator; Bob Allen, former Republican state senator (Florida); Glenn Murphy, Jr., former president of the Young Republican National Federation; George Rekers, psychologist and founding member of the Family Research Council; Eddie Long, influential Atlanta pastor; James McGreevy, former Democratic governor of New Jersey; Roy Ashburn, former Republican state senator (California); Richard Curtius, former Republican state senator (Washington) — the list, frankly, goes on and on. All of these men actively engaged in ruining the lives of their fellow American citizens, all while quietly engaging in the very activity they declared reprehensible.

And then there’s this: Homophobic Men Most Aroused by Gay Male Porn.

So is Marcus Bachmann gay? I don’t know.

But the bitter contempt that he and his wife express toward people who have the temerity to not lead heteronormative lives (not to mention, frankly, the close knowledge of the need for “education” and “discipline”) sounds very, very familiar — and it carries the stench of hypocrisy.

The kind of hypocrisy that shatters lives — not least, and not incidentally, the lives of those peddling the lies in order to cover their own shame.

Dan Savage puts it best:

You can’t pray away the gay — but you can torture a conflicted closet case to death.

************

7/19/11 update: Please also read the follow-up that I posted this morning for the “why I think it matters” part (which I seem to have forgotten last night!).

Oldie-but-goodie: Think of the children.

I’m doing some serious thinking about my place in the blogosphere, but in the meantime I’ll be running the occasional oldie-but-goodie —
because some posts deserve another moment in the sun!

*****

You know what the world needs? Fewer kids growing up scared and alone.

Honestly. If we were to make that a real priority in our social struggles, I think that half of our troubles would fall away in a generation or two.

And you know what would really help with that? Less shame.

When kids grow up ashamed of themselves, it usually doesn’t play out very well later in life — for the adults they become, or for the world around them. Shame is a hell of a motivator, it’s true, but not necessarily in the right directions.

So the other day, over to the Atlantic, Andrew Sullivan wrote a little something about the fact that President Obama’s safe schools “czar,” Kevin Jennings, is under attack by the GOP as a “radical homosexual activist.” Sullivan’s focus was on the editorial umbrage being taken by the Washington Times over the fact that Jennings wrote the forward to the 1998 book Queering Elementary Education.

Ok, so, first of all, full disclosure: I didn’t know. There is so much anger and umbrage being taken all over the place, what with the world going to the dogs and your whatnot, that I missed this one.

But now I know, and (aside from the fact that I sure as hell hope that Obama doesn’t cut Jennings loose*), I have found myself thinking a lot about the passage that Sullivan quoted from the Washington Times piece (and no, I won’t be linking. They can get their own damn page views):

Mr. Jennings’ foreword explains why he thinks it is important to start educating children about homosexuality as early as activist-educators can get away with doing so. “Ask any elementary-school teachers you know and – if they’re honest – they’ll tell you they start hearing [anti-homosexual prejudice] as soon as kindergarten.” And “As one third-grader put it plainly when asked by her teacher what ‘gay’ meant: ‘I don’t know. It’s just a bad thing.’ “As another author in the book notes: “Any grade is ‘old’ enough [for the proper education] because even five-year-olds are calling each other ‘gay’ and ‘faggot.’

And that’s the bad thing about this Mr. Jennings, apparently.

Here’s the thing: What kids do matters. How kids talk, about each other, about themselves, and about the world around them, matters. And if a gay kid, or a kid who might be gay, or a kid who has a two moms, or a kid with a gay uncle, hears “gay” used as a pejorative all the fucking time, that kid will get one message, loud and clear: “Gay” is bad — indeed, it is laughably bad.

It matters that we raise children to become good adults, but it matters first that they be good children — we need to teach them to treat each other well, at every age and stage. I know that the right would have us believe that conversations about gay people are conversations about sex (and nasty sex at that), but they are, in fact, conversations about love, and identity.

Who you are is who you are. And our children need to learn that shaming people for who they are is a bad thing — and the sooner they learn that, the better.

A few weeks ago, out of nowhere, my son told me that last year (when he was 9), someone in the school library said “That’s so gay!” — and he told the kid to cut it out. I almost fell over from the pride.

Our kids can be part of the problem — or they can be part of the solution. They don’t need to talk about sex, to learn that there is no shame in being who you are. They don’t need to be introduced to topics beyond their ken, to learn that kindness and acceptance are the building blocks of a healthy society.

And if we teach that, fewer kids will grow up in shame, alone, and frightened. And this country will be a much better place — a more perfect union — indeed.

*****************

In a related matter, just look at this! 50 Years of Pentagon Studies Support Gay Soldiers.

I think my favorite line is this, from the 1988 study:

Studies of homosexual veterans make clear that having a same gender or an opposite-gender orientation is unrelated to job performance in the same way as is being left or right-handed.

Being left-handed was once considered unnatural and indeed “sinister” (go look up sinister – definition #4 in my American Heritage: “On the left side, left”). Children had their left hand tied down in order to force them to change to a more “natural” right-handed life. Is it possible that the day will come that gay people will actually just be treated like a somewhat rare kind of person, like the 7-10% of the population that is left-handed?

One has a right to dream.

*6/9/11 update: I’m happy to say that Obama didn’t cut Jennings loose. Click here to read his DOE biography. (His partner is mentioned at the end, as is his “granddog”…!)

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