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Obviously, the fact that you proclaim yourself to be a “liberal” or a “progressive” doesn’t necessarily mean that you subscribe to liberal or progressive values. You might be deluded, you might be a liar, you might be a hypocrite. Even crazier, you might simultaneously believe in these values and not at the same time (one of the more amazing, depressing capabilities of the human brain). But if your beliefs don’t match up with your label, smart hypocrites usually know enough to hide the less attractive set.
Which is why I’m so surprised by this recent post to the blog of liberal/progressive American Prospect magazine. In it, political science professor Tom Schaller attempts to make the point that athletic gay men more frightening to straight men than are gay men who are effeminate. Which is a decent point, whatever.
But for no apparent reason, Schaller includes these little gems:
As a straight guy, I can tell you how easy it is for straight guys to make fun of gay men who are demonstrably effeminate. (I’d be lying if I said I have never made gay jokes; in certain settings straight men often make gay remarks, often about and to each other.) So, for example, Carson Kressley from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy makes a convenient target because he fits the even more convenient stereotype: a thin, neat, self-described sissy who proudly knows his way around Sephora…
Kressley is a guy you could — pardon the pun — lick in a fight…
So… it’s easy for straight guys to make fun of gay guys, Schaller makes fun of gay guys, making fun of effeminiate gay guys is even easier than making fun of macho gay guys, and in a puzzling pun at the end, I guess effeminiate gay men are more… “lickable” than macho gay men or straight men.
Let me go back to my surprise factor: you write for a progressive mag and you write “I make fun of gay people”? You don’t think to yourself “yes, I do make fun of gay people, but maybe I’ll just keep that to myself to maintain my liberal cred”?
Two things stand out to me most in Schaller’s remarks. First, he says that the effeminate Carson Kressley “makes a convenient target” because he fits the stereotype. As though Kressley is to blame for the ridicule he receives from others. A more honest comment for Schaller would have been “I choose to target Kressley because he fits the stereotype.”
The other comment is the weird “you could lick him in a fight” line. That only makes sense if the “you” is a male. Which fits the tone of the whole piece, “just us straight guys talkin’ ’bout them funny gays.”
After about a jillion angry responses, Schaller comes back to clarify his position. His first line is, I shit you not, the “some of my best friends are gay” defense. I have written a number of times on this site about how white Americans frequently define racism solely as hatred of someone from another race, conveniently exonerating themselves from all charges of racism. Schaller seems to have a similar definition of homophobia; he likes gay people, therefore he is no homophobe, despite his seeming underlying beliefs that gays are weird and funny.
He then makes one comment about his main point condemning outright bigotry against gays. Hey, good for you, Tom.
Then he talks about his joking about gays, which he claims is not mean-spirited ridicule of gay people, but wacky hetero male “dude, that thing you just did means you’re totally gay.” I’d imagine most straight men are familiar with this, whether or not they participate in it. It’s an affirmation of “traditional” male behavior by implying that non-masculine behavior is gay, weird and wrong. He concludes this point by misinterpretting his critics, who he seems to think will see this sort of joking about who’s gay as the latent homosexuality of Schaller and his ilk. I don’t think anybody was going to argue that.
And his final point is that it’s okay to make fun of gay people because gay people make fun of straight people (ya hear that, gays? You’d better stop making fun of straight people if you ever hope for them to stop making fun of you). It’s rather astounding that he’d make that claim. We live in a power structure where straight people dominate and gay people risk their careers, safety, and even lives unless they hide all hints of their sexual preference, romantic relationships, or ties to the gay community. In this context, straight people making fun of gay people is part of the system of oppression, while gay people making fun of straight people is a mild form of resistance against that oppression. Schaller is an asshole.
But the main reason I’m writing all this is so that I can quote Arthur Silber’s angry, hurt response to Schaller’s idiocy, which nails it pretty well.
It is one thing to be openly hated and despised, as gays and lesbians are by many on the right. We’re used to that, and we got used to it a long time ago. As was required, we manufactured intellectual and emotional armor to protect ourselves. In the current climate, we have to put it on every single damned day. It weighs a great deal, and it exacts an awful price. But without it, we would suffer injuries too grievous to be borne.
But how much worse it is to be cajoled into taking off that armor — to hear you tell us that you understand we’re “just like you” in all the ways that matter, and that we’re really “just the same” — and then to read or hear about “how easy” you think it is to “make fun” of us, especially when our status as Freaks is too obvious. How much worse it is when we believe you, when you tell us you think we’re all equal — except that you can get married, while almost every leading Democrat will say, well, no, we can’t get married. But we can have “civil unions.” Because, you see, Freaks don’t get married.
But we had believed you, so we took off the armor — and then you plunged the sword deep into our guts. You revealed that many of you actually do think we’re Freaks. Many of you don’t believe we’re really “just like you”…
When you strip away all the verbiage, all the intellectual tap dancing, and all the efforts to “understand” and be “tolerant,” that is the inescapable, the terrible bottom line: many of you think we are Freaks. Speaking for myself with regard to these issues, I don’t want you to “understand” me or to be “tolerant” of me. I don’t want you to “study” me, and try to graph all the various points of similarity and difference between us: I want you to recognize that I am completely and entirely a human being, just as you are. And I want you to understand fully what that means, and to genuinely mean it.