Alex Blaze

The Times's First Gay Columnist Isn't Helping

Filed By Alex Blaze | July 22, 2011 9:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media
Tags: Frank Bruni, LGBT, marriage, New York Times, same-sex marriage

NewYorkTimes.jpgFrank Bruni was given a regular column in the NY Times a month ago. He's the first gay man to get regular real estate in the country's most illustrious op-ed page.

So, yay, go gays. (If you need to catch up on Frank Bruni's political reporting prior to being a Times columnist, Eric Alterman has a good column on just that. The short version is he's one of the vapid, anti-intellectual, and arrogant journalists who hated Gore but loved Bush who, along with his colleagues, was necessary to getting Bush into office. Also, Bush called him "Panchito.")

I haven't been reading the column since I assumed it would be stupid, but Bob Somerby has (emph. mine):

Frank Bruni writes his second column (out of seven total) about same-sex marriage. It's a perfectly valid topic, of course, and Bruni has been widely described as the Times' "first openly gay columnist." But the rest of Bruni's work has been vapid, seeming to extend an extremely strange op-ed page prescription at the Times: Women and gays are basically there to be silly, this strange rule seems to proclaim. Adding to the oddness of today's op-ed layout, Bruni's piece lies next to this column, in which Jonathan Turley argues in favor of legalizing polygamy.

On Bruni's index page, one can see he's written about same-sex marriage twice, as well such hard-hitting topics as Casey Anthony, Harry Potter, the Atlantis, how candidates talk about their babies too much on the campaign trail (first Bruni's mad at candidates for talking about facts and issues too much, now he's mad about them for talking about their children. Is there anything they're allowed to talk about, Frank?), and gun control.

That last one, gun control, seems like a decent op-ed topic, until you see Bruni's treatment of it. Three times in the column he insults the entire state of Arizona for being filled with gun owners (they have gun nuts "hard to imagine outside Arizona," Arizona is "extreme" in its love of guns, but even Arizonans "have their limits" on this gun stuff), and it's largely devoted to calling a certain Republican politician there stupid. Nowhere does he really lay out what sort of gun laws he wants; although he alludes to a few, he doesn't explain how any of them would be beneficial. Would banning concealed carry save lives? Who knows - Panchito sure as hell isn't going to tell you.

That column on guns brought me back to when I coached ninth-graders in high school debate: focus on arguments instead of anecdotes, don't get side-tracked with fluff and nonsense, and everyone repeat the topic of this debate before every speech so I can tell if we're all still on the same page. Oh, and Arizona is in the middle to the back of the pack in terms of per capita gun ownership, so I'm sure that state appreciated the snooty gay man writing at the New York Times about how no other state is as obsessed with guns as much as Arizona.

Then we get to the marriage columns. His Sunday column on marriage was just plain awful.

To catch people up on public discourse on gay parenthood, Bil explained the most common tropes used in mainstream coverage of the issue last year:

Here were the predictions I made for Gary & Tony Have a Baby without looking at any of the press materials:

  1. The couple would most likely be white although there was a small possibility that one would be black. They definitely wouldn't both be non-white.
  2. They'll be in their mid 30s to early 40s.
  3. They would be upper middle class.
  4. They would live in a gay ghetto. Most likely New York City, Washington, D.C., or San Francisco.
  5. They would both be "gay masculine," that slightly effeminate masculinity always portrayed in the media. No nellies need apply.
  6. They would be married.
  7. They would have a surrogate child instead of adopting or through heterosexual sex.

Bruni's column purports to celebrate the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York by focusing on a gay male couple that held out until they could marry in that state. They're definitely upper class, live in the West Village, seem to be in their 30s or 40s, just married, are white, and had two surrogate children. They could be swishy; I wouldn't know. But six out of seven ain't bad.

I don't resent them for any of those things - I don't even know them but I'm sure they're lovely people. What I do find annoying is how often we hear about the material discrimination that comes with denying same-sex couples to marry (seriously, the marriage equality crowd never shuts up about that one!) while the mainstream media continues to frame the issue as one that only affects the relatively privileged. If we're looking for sympathy in a country with 9-16% unemployment and shrinking real wages while families are being evicted from their homes right and left, Bruni should have at least described the material ways they needed to get married.

Instead, Bruni's poor writing humorously shines through on that point. Here's why the couple wanted to get married (emph. his):

And, as she wrestled with that, her frustration was distilled in a question that she and then her sister, Georgia, 6, began to ask more and more often.

Why aren't you two married like our friends' parents?

For a long time Mintz and Feinblatt avoided an answer because, while they didn't want to lie, they also didn't want to focus their daughters' attention on the blunt truth: that New York, like most states, forbade it. So they perfected stalling tactics, asking Maeve and Georgia if they thought a wedding would be fun and whether they envisioned being flower girls and on and on. Anything to keep the conversation happy and the girls from feeling left out.

What sort of children berate their unmarried parents (a situation that's common in 2011, even among straight people; one would expect a Times columnist to know that) about getting married? I know: The sorts of kids who, every time they mention marriage, get told how much fun a wedding would be!

Take it from someone who spent the last decade working with kids: If you want kids to shut up about something, telling them how wonderful it is won't work.

Anyway, like the gun column, there's no reason here why states should legalize same-sex marriage. Parts of Bruni's description of them grate on me (that's not a criticism of this couple), so if his goal was to make them so endearing that no one could say no to their every desire, then I hope other Americans are feeling more sympathetic than I think they are. On the other hand, if Americans were feeling sympathetic to gay people, there would be no need for columns boostering same-sex marriage.

Explaining material reasons why they needed to get married, or at least wanted to, is a less risky persuasion strategy.

Well, there's the Times's first gay columnist. Imagine reading his columns as a conservative-but-not-crazy straight person in Arizona. Would they convince you to support LGBT rights? Or would they make you a bit resentful against the queers?

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FrankInSFO | July 23, 2011 12:30 PM

Did we read the same article? I read it, loved it, and shared the article with my friends. I haven't read any of Bruni's other articles, but I am baffled with this blog. The article left me feeling good, proud, and happy for the couple, for New Yorkers, and for our community. This blog left me bewildered and questioning if we are truly a united community.

Here's the article. What do others think?