Homophobes Aren’t Good Enough to be Called Gay

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Stop me if you’ve heard this joke: A raging homophobe with a clear history of animus and hatred toward gays really must be suppressing his own homosexual desires, because, apparently, the only “real” motive for homophobia must be self-hatred. I’ve heard this joke thousands of times. Mike Pence. Omar Mateen. Jerry Falwell. Tony Perkins. James Dobson. Vladimir Putin. Chris Cooper’s character in American Beauty. Backwoods Appalachian hillbillies raping grown men in Deliverance.

It’s an old one for sure, but this joke is total bullshit.

It’s also been around for longer than most of us have been alive: in reaction to the nonaggression pact agreed upon by Russia and Germany that year, a 1939 comic panel mockingly depicts Hitler and Stalin getting married with the caption “Wonder how long the honeymoon will last?” Yet, like any old, humorless joke, this one persists. In the wake of this week’s Helsinki Summit, the same tired imagery of two buffoonish leaders emerges calling upon homoerotic, Dom/sub imagery. The shaming of gay sex is alive and well, it being considered shameful enough to paint villainous world figures as repressed gays with kinky tastes.

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I can’t for the life of me figure out why gay men go along with these jokes. Somehow gay sex scandals such as those of Ted Haggard, Larry Craig, J. Edgar Hoover, Mark Foley, and their ilk remain an inexplicable source of vindication for gay men, who somehow believe that their repressed desires cast gays in a good light. These jokes often blur the line between homoerotic desire and child sexual abuse, subjecting abusive priests to the same punchline. This is not a good strategy in our public discourse, nor is it doing us any favors when it comes to learning how to deal with homophobia.

41000011The harsh reality these jokes seem to resist is that some people really, truly, thoroughly hate us. People really do want us gone, invisible, or even dead. This isn’t some pathology born out of repressed homoerotic desire but an honest, earnest, deadly serious belief that some people hold. Attempts to pathologize, displace, and distort the motives of homophobes in the end do us gays a disservice. It suggests that our own desires are capable of wrenching the soul into a murderous monstrosity. It performs the same logic as those who raise the specter of “black on black crime,” blaming gays for their own victimization. It deflects the responsibility of heteronormativity for the harm caused by its totalizing, violent, and insidious agenda.

Let’s instead put blame where it belongs, and call out the heteronormative bullshit that underwrites this rhetoric. Not only are homophobes not worthy to be called gay, they’re not worthy to unlace our boots. Being gay is magical. There are things that we know, things that we understand, things that we experience that these sentient bottles of Axe can never approach. Our sex is off limits to them – they’re not worthy of a fuck, not with us, and not even with each other in our jokes and our memes. They deserve the shame, isolation, celibacy, and fear that they’ve forced on us ever since they built us opposite their image. Calling Trump a fem sub bottom or a drag queen is blasphemy, because fem sub bottoms are the priests and drag queens are the prophets of our gay religion.

If we are to weaponize our sex, let us do it the right way. Let us take it back from those who gawk and gack about how “the parts don’t fit” and force them to approach it with the respect and reverence it deserves.

What’s funnier – anal sex, or not thoroughly wiping your own ass because you’re afraid it’s too gay?

Or, what’s funnier – sucking cocks, or telling your bros how you’re so straight, you eat your hot dogs from the middle?

And again, what’s funnier – being a sub in a BDSM relationship, or getting married and being so miserable you end up making endless, only half-joking references to your wife as your “warden” or “the old ball and chain”?

Our sex is not your punchline, but by God, your homophobic neuroses sure as hell are ours. And that’s exactly how it should be.

Michelle Wolf and the New Era of American Political Comedy

dd916420e08510c5430ac810627c268b_400x400In the year of our Lord two thousand eighteen, in the shadow of a now-infamous comedic performance given at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner less than 48 hours past, the internet and the U.S. new cycle seems to be catching up to the realization that we have moved into a new era of American political comedy. Recent years have shown us, not only a number of cultural and political changes that have profoundly affected the way comics do business, but changes within the comedy industry itself. Michelle Wolf represents the pinnacle of these changes: the new political comedy is sharp, it’s not afraid to be vulgar, it takes no prisoners, and is not here to fuck around. The new political comedy rejects the conventions of the polite (or at least more politic) white, male-driven comedy of years past, which, even when aiming to cause upset, targeted more the prudish and oversensitive than concrete power structures and person of influence. Now, comedy is a form of resistance. Comedy has a new face, and the conventions of the past are giving way to something new.

Michelle Wolf is, of course, not the first comedian to cause an upset at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. In 2006, Stephen Colbert gave a surprise, in-character performance that was highly critical of the Bush Administration. Like Wolf, Colbert received instant notoriety, a mix of praise and criticism. Questions of propriety arose, as well as the question of whether or not the Correspondent’s Dinner was a wise event to hold in the first place, but in the end, Colbert signaled a cultural agenda aimed at bringing down the pretenses of those who hold and misuse power. Later that year, the Democrats seized control of the House and Senate, essentially making Bush a lame-duck president.

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Since then, which is a relatively short amount of time, we’ve been through a lot. The onslaught of the Great Recession, the historic presidency of Barack Obama, the Occupy Wall Street Movement, the birth of the Black Lives Matter Movement out of collective traumas, and the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision, and the increasing visibility of trans persons sensitized us as a nation to questions of race, class, gender, and sexuality, while the chaos of the 2016 election including the candidacy and election of the current president exposed us to the emboldened brutal callousness of a huge portion of the U.S. populace. That callousness has shown up in the public realm, not merely as angry conservatives vying for cultural power and privilege, but also as literal Nazis, White Supremacists, and White Nationalists in public discourse. In this shift, what it means to be funny has rightfully been redefined.

Colbert went on to host late night television. Jon Stewart, his Comedy Central colleague who himself was the face of an entire generation of liberal political humor, retired and Trevor Noah, a South African man of mixed race, assumed the helm of his show. The old-guard of Comedy Central went into a diaspora of sorts, with Sarah Silverman hosting her brilliant, unusual show I Love You America on Hulu of all places, Inside Amy Schumer being cancelled after four seasons, Broad City being scheduled to end after its upcoming season, and The President Show doing little more than reenacting and mirroring the real-life shenanigans of a chaotic administration. John Oliver represents the evolution of white liberal male political humor from being front-and-center on the most popular comedy network in the world, to hosting funny long-form investigative reporting on a weekly show on paid cable. American political humor evolved from white men behind desks, and it’s also evolved from irreverent but ultimately politic takes on topical issues.

Michele Wolf herself comes out of this tradition, being a regular as a correspondent on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah. She represents the evolution American political comedy has undergone: it punches up, not down; it’s angry as hell but sensitive to the concerns of the marginalized; it refuses to be polite, respectable, or nice; it puts its racial, gender, class, and sexual differences front and center instead of hiding them behind the veil of proper decorum; it doesn’t take to elaborate performativity (a la Colbert’s overlong and complicated gag with the late Helen Thomas) but offers succinct, sharpened, concise, precision-guided and profanity-laced barbs. The controversy surrounding Kathy Griffin taught comedians a valuable lesson: in the age of Trump, there is no apologizing for yourself. Controversy is how this president came to power, and controversy is part of what will remove him from power. Comedy is no longer clowning. Comedy is simply effective truth-telling first and foremost. The needs of the moment demand it, and the spirits of American audiences thirst for that refreshing slap-in-the-face of plain-truth sanity.

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Sarah Huckabee Sanders holding a glass of water while Michelle Wolf eviscerates her live on national television

Ultimately, the controversy over Michelle Wolf’s performance reveals more than it’s aware of, and what it reveals in its hysterically self-evident contradictions is the spirit of the moment we inhabit. Simply telling the truth is a radical act (her most shocking statement of the night, I argue is her closing line: “Flint has no clean water”); calling out lies is seen as an attack on persons who happen to have excellent smoky-eye makeup. To the merchants who peddle invisible cloth – the 24-hour news cycle, the sophists of political punditry, the access-first journalists, etc. – saying that the emperor has no clothes is an existential threat.

What better way to deliver that threat than through crass one-liners mocking the naked emperor?