Homosexuality's instability boggles the mind. One day it's a good thing, something of which one should be proud, and the next it's being used as a weapon, and proves quite explosive. Gay, the action, the adjective and the concept, proves more mercurial than even the fiercest drag queen.
Since 1970, LGBT folk around the world have taken to the streets to declare their gay pride. And that movement has grown every year, becoming a multimillion-dollar celebration of all things homo. Gay can even be celebrated on a smaller scale, as country singer Chely Wright discovered this week. "It feels like it's my birthday," said the 39-year old about the positive attention around her coming out. That's great. I love stories like that, and so do most gay people I know. Even among the queers, however, "gay" isn't always fabulous. And its negativity comes in various shades of rage.
Gay Pride parades spawned a counter-movement, Gay Shame, which wags a finger at the consumerist turn pride has taken. That's a message I can support, especially since the movement doesn't disown "gay." It's queer, it's here and LGBT are still positive letters, although not without their flaws. Some people, of course, truly do feel gay shame, and even proud gays feed into it.
Political outings are splendid events. There are few things more satisfying than watching someone like George Alan Rekers, who built an entire career on fighting gay rights, go down in lavender flames, as he did when it was revealed he flew to Europe with a rent boy. The same goes for the Ted Haggard, Mark Foley and Larry Craig scandals: these three men all railed against LGBT communities, only to be publicly shamed for their secret sex lives. I unapologetically admit that I loved every second of covering those stories. They practically write themselves, and hypocrites deserve to be outed. It's strange, though, that "gay" here isn't a good thing. Quite the opposite: "gay," as a concept and act, becomes a smear, something used to discredit people. It's something we proud gays lob at people like Rekers, glad that it sticks and stinks them up, driving them out of business, office or into hiding. Forced outings aren't the only way "gay" can be used as a weapon, though. It's been known to make quite the criminal defense.
"Gay panic" has been introduced into two unrelated, yet strikingly similar cases over the past few weeks. Two white supremacists, South African Eugene Terre'blanche and American Richard Barrett, have been murdered over the past two months. Both were white supremacists and both were killed by black men. And, in both cases, "gay panic" has been used as the justification. Terre'blanche's alleged killers claim they killed him after the white supremacist, who led the racist Afrikaner Resistance Movement, came on to him. Vincent McGee, meanwhile, claims he stabbed Barrett sixteen times and burned the body because Barrett asked him for a blowjob.
Both the Terre'blanche and Barrett scenarios seem plausible. Mark Potok from the Southern Poverty Law Center points out, "It is unbelievably common in the white supremacist world to find people who are desperately anti-gay but secretly gay.... We've seen a good number of white supremacist leaders who have actually been tossed out of the movement when it was found that they were in fact engaged in gay relationships with men." Whether or not the crimes went down like this remains moot, because either way, gay becomes doubly dangerous: as with Rekers, internal homophobia may have informed Barrett and Terre'blanche's respective bigotry. Then, on top of that, homosexuality, and repulsion to it, is being used as part of the murderer's defense. Unwanted sexual advances, the alleged killers' lawyers claim, sparked a violent outburst. Homosexuality, then, becomes the cause and effect for heinous actions: anti-gay preaching and murder.
Waymon Hudson recently wondered whether people should feel compassion for people like Rekers. We shouldn't. People should be aware, however, of how gay, in its many forms and deployments, can both build lives and destroy lives. It lifted Rekers up, and now it's brought him down. It was a convenient enemy for Barrett, and now his killer's using gay against him. In the right setting, like Cheryl Wright's coming out, gay can be a glorious thing. In the wrong context, like the Rekers situation, gay becomes something entirely different. Gay has become so volatile; it might as well be uranium. Don't tell Osama. He'll be all over it.