Alex Blaze

Oh my

Filed By Alex Blaze | May 20, 2008 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: Barack Obama, feminine boys, masculinity, Maureen Dowd

I'm kinda weirded out over the huge response around the internet to my post this past Saturday about how I'm going to make a list of all the media folks and pundits calling Obama a faggot, either directly or indirectly. But there were lots of questions, and I thought I should answer them here, even though none of them were asked by regular TBP readers.

(I'm so used to writing for the readers and commenters we have here that I forget that anyone in the world can read this site. Lots of people not really familiar with me, TBP, or the queer community have jumped in, and someone needs to set them straight.)

From Ann Althouse, a legitimate question:

As long as we're obsessing about whether criticism of Hillary Clinton is a manifestation of sexism, why not get some balance and obsess over whether criticism of Barack Obama is homophobic? Well, for one thing, Hillary Clinton is, plainly, a woman, but talking about Obama in these terms floats a rumor. You could also have a mini-project tracking insinuations that Obama is a Muslim. Are you criticizing the insinuations or propagating them?

Criticizing.

My intention was never to track rumors that Barack Obama actually has same-sex attractions or has had sex with men or is a closet case or has a secret boyfriend or anything like that. Anyone who believes that Barack Obama is a homosexual doesn't need my help.

What I was trying to do is follow insults directed his way along the lines of femininity, prissiness, faggotry, pansy-ness, etc. When I was in fourth grade, my family moved to a small town in Indiana from a larger suburb of Milwaukee. For the first time in my life, I was starting to be called a "faggot" and "gay." At age 9, I didn't have any idea what that meant to be homosexual or have sex with men or anything else related to actually being gay, and neither did my classmates. To them, it was an insult, a way of attacking someone with the language of homophobia that was mainly meant to marginalize me and to police the gender of everyone else in our class.

That's what I'm talking about. It's more that Obama's being called a faggot than it is that there are rumors that he's homosexual (they aren't all that common, compared to the Muslim ones). To say that that might actually support a rumor that he actually is a homosexual is like saying that Media Matters, when they followed mainstream media repetition of rumors that Obama was Muslim, was actually supporting those rumors.

I'm trying to bring this specific form of misogyny and homophobia out so that it can be criticized. People are generally willing to forgive or ignore an isolated incident; when it's actually a dominant narrative, they generally are more aware when someone's plugging into it.

Consider this from digby from when Ann Coulter called John Edwards a faggot:

I think that one of the reasons the conservatives are mostly hanging tough with Coulter is at least partially due to what she specifically said. She used the word "faggot" to describe a Democrat. This is the premise that forms the entire basis of the Republican claim to leadership and lies at the bottom of the media's continuing ridiculous assumption that the Republicans are more natural leaders than Democrats. For forty years the Republicans have been winning elections by calling liberals "faggots" (and "dykes") in one way or another. It's what they do. To look too closely at what she said is to allow light on their very successful reliance on gender stereotypes to get elected.

Rick Perlstein recently noted that Saint Ronnie went for it early on:

...he got the tribal stuff right, the us-versus-them stuff--as when he confronted young people harassing him with make love, not war signs. He said it looked like they were incapable of doing either.

Reagan also used to say the hippies "look like Tarzan, walk like Jane and smell like Cheetah." That's not so different than Coulter saying, "my pretty-girl allies stick out like a sore thumb amongst the corn-fed, no make-up, natural fiber, no-bra needing, sandal-wearing, hirsute, somewhat fragrant hippie chick pie wagons they call 'women' at the Democratic National Convention."

A lot of the shrieking aversion to the dirty hippie came from all that "feminine" hair on men's heads and "masculine" hair on women's bodies, if you'll recall. My brother was constantly harrassed about "looking like a girl" in 1966 Mississippi for having hair below his collar. In those days, hair was a political statement and even though forty years have passed and most of those people can only dream about all that hair they no longer have, the right successfully parlayed that gender role anxiety into a political narrative that continues to powerfully effect politics today.

Coulter is somewhat desperate so she's articulating this stuff in a crude and obvious fashion in order to keep her stale schtick going. But this concept is so ingrained in the political culture by now that the only thing that really stands out about it is the fact that she used an obvious epithet that is out of public fashion, even at a rightwing event. Suppose she had used the silly word "girlyman"? Nobody would be calling for the smelling salts. In fact, I would imagine the press corps would have told us all to "get over it."

Coulter's defense was that it was a "schoolyard taunt" and that it had nothing to do with gay people.

I'll agree that it had nothing to do with same-sex lovin', but that kind of language can't be used on a specific target. It hurts us all, even if she was really trying to say that Edwards should just be ignored because he isn't man enough to be president.

And anyone who might believe that Obama is actually a gay man won't be convinced by the fact that Tucker Carlson called him "wussy" or that Joe Scarborough called him "prissy." Those don't mean that Carlson and Scarborough have evidence that Obama's gay.

***

OK, these questions are paraphrased to protect the guilty. They're not from Ann Althouse.

Aren't you conflating gender and sexuality with this mini-project?

No. I'm tracking those who conflate gender and sexuality, or, more accurately, working within a cultural context that already conflates gender and sexuality, so any insults against women, faggots, homosexuals, prissy-boys, metrosexuals, drag queens, trans-folk, etc. that make fun of them for not following gender rules or not being masculine enough are insults towards me.

It's the same-shish kebab, and that's why I entitled the post "Obama's so gay." It's supposed to be like "That's so gay" when referring to ideas or inanimate objects - no one is actually talking about those things' sexuality, it's just meant as an insult and to police gender.

What's so bad about calling Obama prissy or whatever? That's a good thing!

It is! I agree! But when they're calling him that and using it as an insult, it doesn't help to promote the idea that people can be whatever they want to be in terms of gender. It's a form of gender policing, and a lot of these pundits sound like junior high school students when they call Democratic men wusses (I wonder how). They're not trying to say it's great to be effete, they just want the person labeled as prissy to lose, or, more likely, anyone who supports progressive policy to lose elections. And that's not cool.

I don't get half the language you're using. Why is that?

Most likely, it means that you don't follow LGBTQ issues all that closely or that you haven't really read up on the subject. I write on an LGBTQ blog known as the Bilerico Project, and most people here understand what "fabulousness" is.

If you want a better understanding of the way I talk, subscribe to our RSS feed.

You used the word "queer"! That's because you hate gay men, right?

Um, no. I love me some gay men. Sometimes all I can think about is surrounding myself with as many as I can....

That discussion goes round and round, but, in the end, there are some LGBT people who like it, some who don't, but I think it's safe to say that the vast majority of LGBT understand that when someone who identifies as queer himself uses it, it's not homophobia.

I hate gays but I want to call you homophobic. Can I do that without sounding like an idiot?

No.

I don't know the difference between the words "regulate" and "relegate." Can I pick apart your post word-by-word?

No.

I love John McCain and he is a real manly man, dammit, and he should be in the Oval Office because he fought in Vietnam. Viva la Straight Talk Express! Can I help you by telling you stupid things you should do?

No.

Waaaaaaaiiiiiit, your website just has a crush on Obama. That's what this is!

Besides the fact that that doesn't even make sense (I write my posts on my own, thank you very much, and the 55 other bloggers on this site are not responsible for what I say), it doesn't have anything to do with what we're talking about here.

And Barack isn't my type, anyway. Too young.

You just hate straight people and Maureen Dowd, don't you?

Ugh. Hating straight people? You know, I'd tell a little story about how my parents are straight and how I was raised in straight culture, but I'm thinking there's no way to talk you down from the edge.

Maureen Dowd, on the other hand- well, I don't hate her, but I don't think she should have the job she has. But I'm sure she's a lovely person.

OK, you got me. I'm not that sure.

Are you going to keep this up?

Most definitely! Keep on sending in links; I should have an update to my original list by the end of this week. I really hadn't done much; I just typed something up over half and hour and put it up on a Saturday (when hits are down) so that I could get some feedback and some ideas of directions to go in. All in all, this is something that needs to be done, considering how much of American politics is a gendered narrative that no one seems to want to question.


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Alex,
You're on target. I'm sick of the Republican shade-throwing on gender as well.

Don't forget Ah-nold's 'girlie-men' speech at their 2004 convention.

Thanks, Monica! After reading so much criticism of what I'm doing from all over the internet from people who pretend like they know me when they don't, it's good to hear that some people get it.

Keep up the good work and don't let the bastards get you down!

And, for all those who like to think gender expression and sexual orientation have nothing, I say nothing, to do with each other (I'm talkin' to you HRC and Barney Frank) this all is a reminder about how haters don't bother to make those distinctions.

Unfortunately too many people still have a false equivalence that "unmanly = feminine = gay" when it comes to men (and "masculine = lesbian" when it comes to women).

Folkswitch | May 21, 2008 1:23 AM

Alex,
I love and look forward to reading your posts and your observations. I think you are right on with this one, too. Don't let anyone convince you otherwise.
It is plainly homophobic to call someone 'gay' or 'faggot' and actually mean 'lame' or 'stupid' or 'effeminate' or 'weak'. I used to work with kids and didn't tolerate any expressions that disrespected or marginalized any group of people, and that included calling something 'gay' but meaning it was 'uncool' because that makes it seem like you're saying that being (a) gay (person) is something negative. Even kids could get that.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | May 21, 2008 7:27 AM

Well done Alex!

I have no idea why the media let's Coulter get away with half of her nonsense. Does that looney own anything other than a black cocktail dress?

I left a comment on Ann's site that read (partly):

As the owner of the Bilerico Project - the blog Alex posted on - I have to say I'm glad he's posted again to respond (mostly) to this thread. I've lost a lot of respect for Ann's readers after reading the comments.

Most of you obviously didn't read the post. Flat out. You accuse Alex of being homophobic (he's gay), criticize popular gay slang with the whole "I don't understand that word so the whole thing must be stupid!" mentality that George Bush uses when reading anything with a higher reading level than his Dr. Suess books, and generally spread more homophobic priggishness than the mainstream media he's tracking.

The comments section over there is a gushing stream of homophobic comments and critiques by people who obviously didn't read the post.

Alex, your post was well written and your idea is sound. Keep up the good work!

Alex! It's good to see you. Did you take some time off, or have I been snoozing more than usual? If it's he forrmer, welcome bsck. If it's 6he latter, /rubs eyes.

I need to pass along a comment from a friend I got a while back about Ann Coulter. She did speak at the CPAC meeting, even though she wasn't invited, and although the cameras panned away, she got cheers from the Young Republicans. It's not reasonable, but (Bil, please censor this if it's is too offensive) but brownshirts are seldom reasonable.
We all have some real enemies out there. That says to me, it's time for some grim determination and time for a little fun as well, mocking the easily mockable.

Rev Bob - Alex has been having computer issues. We're working on getting him a new laptop so he'll be back up to speed. :)