Thursday, March 15, 2007

In Which My Hands Tremble with Anger at Homophobes Who Think They Know More About Gay Issues Than Gay People

When I blogged about Garrison Keillor's ridiculous stereotyping of gay men as camped-up, self-obsessed, effeminate jerks, I got a lot of comments like "can't you recognize satire?" and "lighten up." I'm really baffled by these. No, actually, I'm pissed.

I think, and hope, if you've been reading my blog, you'll know that, yes, in fact, I do have a sense of humor. About queer issues. It is that same sense of humor that tells me Garrison Keillor's remarks weren't funny. Sure, I think they were meant to be a little tongue-in-cheek, but all in the service of saying, let's go back to that peachy simpler time when men were men and women were women and children were important. First of all, much to my chagrin, gender norms are still firmly in place. Go to a random person's house: Who's cooking? What does the husband watch on TV? Who quits to raise the baby? And children, sweet mother of God, children are still fetishistically important—especially to gay parents who pay good money and put lots of time and thought into the matter.

(Now just a quick aside, Mr. Keillor is a fine one to blame others for the passing of that sweet, simple time of the nuclear man-woman family. He has cheated on at least 2 of his 3 wives.)

But how is it that people are so totally ignorant about discrimination? Here's a primer:

Jokes are a big part of the problem!

They seem to be an especially big part when it comes to queer stuff. I've had more people make jokes in front of me in that "I'm only laughing at this because I know you know I'm too sophisticated to be a biggot, but you've got to admit the stereotype is really true (or else you have no sense of humor)" kind of way. Let's just say if I pooped the tiniest turd in the world for each of these remarks, I'd have taken a mighty big shit.

The funny thing is, these people—and Keillor is especially guilty of this—think the stereotypes are true because, well, because they think the stereotypes are true. If you aren't gay sensitive, it's likely the only gay person you'll know is gay is the one that fits your stereotype. Meanwhile, non-stereotypical gays are moving all around you. Now I myself am a fairly stereotypical homo in many ways--certainly the way I look. But does that mean I'm no more than the sum of my stereotypes? That's kinda demeaning, don't you think?

And then there's this comment: "I don't think that Garrison has evil intent or wants to hurt anybody. Just like Chris Rock when he says unkind things about EuroAmericans. If we are offended by what Chris Rock says, just don't watch him and/or Comedy Central shows." Pop quiz: How is a black man making fun of white people different from a straight guy making fun of gay people? Answer: Either the humor supports real-world oppression (and if you don't think there's any of gay people, are you dead?), or it challenges those oppressions.

By the way, that's also why "there isn't this kind of outrage when straight White men are lampooned, denigrated, and presented as the stereotypical bumbling moron white man daily in TV shows (Everybody Loves Raymond, King of Queens, Friends, etc.), ads, and in countless articles and blogs." Oh, and those shows are produced and written by the people they mock. Oh, and one other thing, the purpose of these shows is not to deprive straight white men of anything.


Aaron Hoover said...

Look, not everyone who disagrees with you is a homophobe. There are other things they could be, like merely mistaken or confused. Or right.

Being gay may qualify someone uniquely to have opinions about "gay issues", but it does not make him/her a great critic of literature. And this is more an issue of literary criticism than gayness.

Look, Keillor knows about his sorry track record regarding marriage and infidelity. And he knows that everyone else knows about it, too; or could find out if they cared. So when he says he can tell you how "good" a traditional upbringing was for him, the clear implication is that it wasn't.

Keillor is a smart, well-read person and a skilled artist. He's not going to say something so contradictory unless he means to say something else: namely that traditional marriage is not the perfect incubator for little minds that we're so often told it is.

Likewise all this faux-nostaligia: when he talks about all the stuff they didn't have back then, you may notice that it is good stuff. He's saying life today is better, more interesting and more complicated.

So we have these complicated families now. We also have adults who don't stop living after high school. And Keillor is saying that added complexity is the price we pay for added freedom. He's also making it clear that freedom beats simplicity hands down. He compares traditional parents to helpless dolls.

And he sees letting gay people into the family room as an additional complication - to be welcomed. He also acknowledges that we need to put an end to demeaning stereotypes to it, while reminding us that we are after diversity, not conformity.

There just is no homophobia here. Keillor is being slandered on a misreading of his text that does not give him the professional respect he has earned.

And of course it isn't funny. It's not a joke. Not all irony is funny. It's about something he cares deeply about - respect for human diversity.

Natasha Yar-Routh said...

Ah I see Aaron, we are just not smart or sophisticated enough to appreciate Keillor's' brilliant message of tolerance eh? Bull, this sort of smarmy nostalgia is Keillor's' stock and trade. It is a soft bigotry rather than the hard bigotry of a Dobson but bigotry none the less. It not so subtly implies that to be fit to raise children we must be more like good straight Christians like Keillor. We can't be flamboyant and a good parent.

maybe I am overreacting but then I never thought Keillor all that good to begin with.

Aaron Hoover said...

Well, yeah. I'm not calling anybody stupid, but reading well-written satire requires some kind of education (formal or experience) and an investment of time and effort. People who are jumping all over this little article are not making that investment, so far as I can see.

And I'm sorry. but if you think Keillor's stock and trade is "smarmy nostaligia" you just don't get him at all. He's no kind of bigot. He stands up for progressivism and human liberty all the time. The column on his website today tries to explain his intent and says (among other things):

"Gay people who set out to be parents can be just as good parents as anybody else, and they know that, and so do I."

I HATE being made to flash credentials - I think good arguments should hold water no matter who makes them.

But I will say this: I have many dear friends who are gay. I've gone to protests with them. I've held them when they cried. I've written letters to the editor supporting gay rights. I take it as a complement when a guy hits on me. I helped a girlfriend of mine come out of the closet. She stood up for me at my wedding, and I hope to the same for her some day, if she finds someone she loves that way. I think this era of intolerance will be looked on with great embarassment by future generations.

But this treatment of Keillor is unwarranted and wrong. It is a case of hypersensitivity overriding good sense. This kind of knee-jerk oppositionism is turning American politics into an episode of a bad talk show, and it needs to stop if we are going to make any progress.

Natasha Yar-Routh said...

Actually I know and like good satire. Keillor's column was not it. Bitting back my natural sarcasm I will allow that Keillor meant it as a satire on fundamentalist views and that he just didn't do it very well. I will also admit that I find Keillor boring to the point of tedium. If the LGBT community is a little sensitive it is because that very language has been used to bash us and deny us the right to live so very often.

Cameron said...

I've reread the piece in a cooler frame of mind. I conclude: yes, it is a gently satirical portrait of the good old days. I still don't think it's funny, and I still think it's laughing *with* nostalgia rather than at it. You'll notice that the bit about gays breaks with the extremely understated tone of the rest of the piece. That's because he partly believes what his saying--or at best, he mistakenly pushed to far with teasing gays. I return to the main point of my trembling-hands post: You get to make fun of your own oppressed minority group, but rarely, rarely is it OK to make fun of someone else's. And if you try it and many people in that group get pissed and most of your defenders are not in that group, THAT'S A BIG RED LIGHT. See how that works Garrison, I mean Aaron?

Bill Samuels said...

I thought your post was brilliant -- made excellent points (that you think wouldn't HAVE to be made but what can you do?) in an articulate fashion -- but some people just don't get it -- or don't want to.

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