Carpenter on Foley and Homophobia

Dale Carpenter has an excellent essay on the response to the Foley scandal from the anti-gay right. I think he correctly highlights what this episode tells us about the response of the religious right. I'll post a long excerpt below the fold.

William Eskridge, a Yale law professor, has written that anti-gay prejudice has been marked historically by three characteristics. These are: (1) "hysterical demonization of gay people as dirty sexualized subhumans"; (2) "obsessional fears of gay people as conspiratorial and sexually predatory"; and (3) "narcissistic desires to reinforce stable heterosexual identity . . . by bashing gay people." The primary historical traits of homophobia are thus hysteria, obsession, and narcissism.

We can see the first of these characteristics, hysteria, in some of the reactions to the Foley scandal. "While pro-homosexual activists like to claim that pedophilia is a completely distinct orientation from homosexuality, evidence shows a disproportionate overlap between the two," declared Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.

There is no good evidence of a link between homosexual orientation and pedophilia. Professional anti-homosexuals, like Perkins, often cite junk science to support their hysterical views of dangerous and hypersexualized homosexuals.

Ken Lucas, a Democrat running for Congress from Kentucky, said that Republican leaders should have closely monitored Foley simply because he's gay. There was no more reason to watch over Foley because he's gay than there was to supervise the other 530 or so members of Congress because they're straight, but hysteria sees no inconsistency.

The second characteristic of anti-gay prejudice, obsession, has been on full display. Some Republicans in Congress and religious conservatives told reporters that they suspect a "gay subculture" has infiltrated the party. This "Velvet Mafia"--as some have called it--allegedly consists of a number of gay Republican congressional staffers and other personnel. A conservative website asserted that the gay conspiracy includes nine chiefs of staff, two press secretaries, and two directors of communications for prominent congressional Republicans.

The conspirators, the story went, included several gay Republican staff members who personally handled the Foley case. An especially irresponsible report by CBS News's Gloria Borger recounted how the scandal had "caused a firestorm among GOP conservatives." Without any rebuttal or fact-checking, Borger reported that conservatives "charge that a group of high-level gay Republican staffers were protecting a gay Republican congressman." There is no evidence for this charge, and some pretty good evidence against it, but anti-gay websites quickly praised Borger for breaking the "PC barrier."

This baseless fear of a gay mafia wielding enormous power undetected has a certain obsessional quality. It is deeply conspiratorial, fed by fantasies of gays as sexual predators.

Others--including Perkins, Newt Gingrich, Patrick Buchanan, and even the Wall Street Journal editorial page--suggested that Republican leaders were paralyzed from acting against Foley early on by fear of a pro-gay backlash. To believe this of GOP leaders--who have opposed every measure for gay equality--requires obsessional and conspiratorial delusion about the power and influence of the gay civil rights movement in America.

Finally, the Foley mess has demonstrated the third characteristic of anti-gay prejudice, narcissism. If the GOP loses one or both houses of Congress in November, one supposed lesson will be that the party was too lenient on homosexuals--turning off the party's base of religious conservatives. Some thus see the scandal as a chance to cleanse the GOP of the impurity of homosexuality, to reassert the party's stable, pro-family heterosexual identity.

Chances are that most Americans, including most Republicans, will reject the hysteria, obsession, and narcissism of anti-gay prejudice this mess has loosed upon us. Most GOP leaders have been careful to avoid drawing any of the "larger lessons" about gay people that professional anti-homosexuals would like us to learn.

The Foley scandal doesn't say anything very important about America's gays. But it says a lot about America's anti-gays.

I think that gets it about right.

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These are: (1) "hysterical demonization of gay people as dirty sexualized subhumans"; (2) "obsessional fears of gay people as conspiratorial and sexually predatory"; and (3) "narcissistic desires to reinforce stable heterosexual identity . . . by bashing gay people." The primary historical traits of homophobia are thus hysteria, obsession, and narcissism.

Gee...where have I heard these traits before? Try this as a thought experiment. Substitute "black" for "gay" and "white" for "heterosexual" and I think you're describing racists. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Quite a shame that some are so chronically incapable of learning from past mistakes.

Better yet, go back to 1933, substitute "the Jew" for "gay people," and "Aryan," or "German," for "heterosexual."

As old as time; we GOTS to have some "Other" to hate.

Hey, don't forget the secular humanists! Try substituting "atheist" for "gay people."

In every age, the bigot's rage/ Requires another focus,/Another devil forced on stage/By hatred's hocus-pocus:/The devil used to be the Jew/And then it was the witches;/And then it was the Negroes who/Were digging in the ditches./The devil once was colored pink/And labeled Communistic;/Now, all at once, in just a blink,/The devil's humanistic. (Curt Sytsma)

Oh, and while I'm quoting poetry:

We and They

All good people agree
And all good people say,
All nice people, like Us, are We
And every one else is They.

--Rudyard Kipling

Substitute "black" for "gay" and "white" for "heterosexual" and I think you're describing racists.

Not just black, even; they did the same with Filipinos, Chinese, and Japanese. I've noticed several themes of slander when trying to vilify a specific group, that (as SharonB notes) goes beyond just what has been done in this country in recent times:

*Portray them as diseased
*Portray them as predators of one of two traditionally-dependent classes: women or children. Both women and children have traditionally been the dependents of the man of the household. Blacks, Filipinos, Chinese, Japanese, were all after women; gays and Jews were after children (more comparisons between anti-Semitic and homophobic rhetoric has been written up here).
*Portray them as criminals
*Portray them as seditious and unpatriotic; a fifth column
*And of course, call them "unnatural" and "ungodly"

I don't know how well these points would synch up with every discriminated group, of course.

The current hysteria would make Roy Cohn proud.

By natural cynic (not verified) on 17 Oct 2006 #permalink