Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Self-hatred as proud advocacy

I've been following Dan Savage (what else is new) and June Thomas's back-and-forth (more here) about whether it is or is not OK to make fun of Marcus Bachmann for his Big Gay Al-ish ways, considering that he's apparently involved with "pray the gay away" "therapy," while his wife is more than apparently involved with trying to become U.S. president on an anti-gay platform. (Why, with ex-gay sorts, is it always Big Gay Al and never, say, Rufus Wainwright? Is this some kind of amalgam of gay inner self and what a closeted man would imagine "straight" looks like? A question, perhaps, for another time.)

The whole thing started when Savage began one of his podcasts making fun of Bachmann's voice. And... it was an odd thing. Odd, for starters, because the more Savage mocked, the less stereotypically gay each subsequent replaying of Bachmann's voice sounded. Compared with the very memorable ex-gay who visited UChicago, this was just a somewhat high-pitched voice, the sound quality too poor to say if there was even the lisp Savage claimed to be hearing. I got what it was that Savage wanted the audience to hear - and I fully buy the underlying principle, namely that the hetero men who make a big ol' fuss about The Gays are rather likely to be closeted themselves, and I'm familiar enough with Savage's oeuvre to know he'll really want to have called this one - but wasn't much hearing it in this case.

Odd, too, because Savage had just gotten through saying that 'gay voice' is a scientific fact, and yet there he is, radically modifying his own voice - he, an out gay man - in order to imitate what "gay" sounds like. This would be like if, after saying (and I do think this) that "Ashkenazi" is an ethnicity, and that Jews in a country where most are Ashkenazi will be to some extent recognizable, something altogether uncontroversial if we're talking about any other ethnicity... and then put on a big fake nose, dyed my hair an even darker shade of darkest brown, painted my face even whiter than it already is, and declared that I was pretending to be a Jew.

Basically, I sensed a touch of internalized homophobia - and once more, when Savage goes out of his way to point out that his own sense of fashion, unlike Marcus Bachmann's, is hopeless in that classically masculine way. However noble the intent, Savage was obviously getting a kick out of being more macho than a possibly-closeted homophobe. And I think that, more than a sense that we should be nice to either Bachmann, was what was making me cringe.

To continue the analogy, imperfect as analogies always are, this would be like if I held forth on how poufy-haired, specifically-nosed, etc. some anti-Semite with alleged Jewish roots was. It would be on the one hand a juicy oh-the-irony, and a chance to show that self-hatred somehow only ever manages to highlight stereotypical characteristics. But on the other, it would be a (re-)introduction to these stereotypes to a new audience, and an announcement that it's OK not only to admit that groups may have identifiable traits (which is not in and of itself so terrible, and if spun right, can lead to acceptance), but also that these are traits it's fun to mock.

1 comment:

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