Knock this off
June Thomas at Slate thinks that Dan Savage is behaving like a bully toward Marcus Bachmann. Bachmann, the husband of right-wing firebrand, Rep. Michele Bachmann, and is a proponent of reparative therapy to “fix” homosexuality. Writes Thomas:
This week, though, [Savage’s] podcast started with an attack on Marcus Bachmann’s masculinity. After a short preamble about the accuracy of gaydar (with a scientific citation, no less), Savage—whom I respect tremendously—played a tape of Michele’s* husband’s speaking voice. Bachmann has a tiny bit of a lisp—though it’s barely perceptible—and he slurs his words slightly. To Savage’s ears, it was a gay accent. Savage played the tape over and over, and reprised it several times throughout the podcast. He even did his own Bachmann impression, exaggerating the lisp and camping it up.
In other words, the man who launched the “It Gets Better Project,” an effort to stop the bullying of gay teens, was acting like a big bully. As Savage always notes, the kind of smear-the-queer taunts that can cause so much pain to young people aren’t aimed only at kids who are gay, they’re often aimed at boys who don’t live up to some mythical standard of masculinity and girls who just aren’t girly enough. I can only imagine how listeners who happen to have the kind of lisping, effeminate speech and affect that Savage was ridiculing felt upon hearing the attack.
I don’t know that I agree that Savage’s attacks on Bachmann amount to bullying per se. Bachmann has chosen to promulgate beliefs that many find odious and harmful, myself included. Further, those same beliefs have been the basis for the stigmatization of gay and lesbian people, and provide ammunition for those who would keep us marginalized and hidden. I understand Savage’s anger. Bachmann’s wife has also thrown her hat into the presidential ring, and with that decision comes all manner of scrutiny and criticism for her spouse. Much of it will be unfair and cruel (just ask Michelle Obama or Hillary Clinton), but it comes with the territory.
That doesn’t make it seemly, however. Thomas makes a sound point about the dissonance between Savage’s humane and compassionate crusade to give hope to isolated, depressed LGBT youth and his trafficking in the very same anti-gay stereotypes when the target suits his purposes. The power of Savage’s message is diluted when it combines with hypocrisy. As for Bachmann, if he really is a closeted gay man at war with his own nature, my primary response is one of pity. As poisonous as the results may be, it’s an awful way to live.
Regardless, it profits us nothing to sneer at our opposition. Whose approval will this win? For those inclined to agree with Bachmann’s viewpoint, the mockery from Dan Savage or (heaven help us) Cher will only feed the ressentiment from the social conservative faction that considers itself the victim of contempt from the liberal elite. That ressentiment is what’s driving his wife’s campaign in the first place. If anything, this episode will redound to her political favor.
Finally, this ad hominen attack against Bachmann should be unnecessary. Would we consider his ideas more compelling if he swaggered around like Steve McQueen redux? Would we be forced to take him more seriously? I would hope not. His take on homosexuality and its potential to be “cured” has long been discredited and abandoned by the mental health community, and represents an attitude falling out of favor even within Republican circles. The message is dying, and we merely distract ourselves with childish snipes at the messenger.