It’s time for the liberal community to stop using gay insinuations to insult and tear down Trump, particularly when it comes to his relationship with Putin.
Before you say it’s not homophobic, let’s deconstruct the joke. And before you say, ‘but I have gay friends, and I’m down with gay marriage,’ well, let’s just stop right there.
Why is the joke supposed to be funny?
Let’s start with good intentions. That’s the place I operate from, and why it took me a minute to think ‘hold up here.’ Most folks will say, “Trump is bad for gays. He is also homophobic, so calling him gay is the worst insult we can think of.”
Okay. It still assumes that gay is an insult. Gay being a bad thing, the greatest slur you can hurl, underpins the joke - no matter the application. As into social media as he is, do you really think Donald J. Trump is going to personally see that gay Putin joke you posted or re-posted and be hurt by it? It’s much more likely that your gay friend will see it. That person may well laugh. That person will also bury that gay-is-bad subliminal message in our deep reservoir of internalized homophobia.
How about this. Would you accuse Trump or Putin of being secretly black? How about secretly being women? Or secretly being deaf? Neither Putin nor Trump is big on those constituencies either – so why the big liberal okay with ‘that’s so gay’ when it comes to those boys?
Why? Because it reaches back into our cultural memory and assumptions about gays and it tears them down. We’re scared of Trump and Putin. We ought to be.
Making them gay, feminizing them, is a way of showing them as weak and vulnerable. That’s how gay men are stereotypically viewed in our culture.
Don’t think you’re above accepting that at some level and being comforted by seeing people you fear weakened. Don’t think ‘we’ve moved on from that.’ Even if you’re gay.
You’re also aligning being gay with being a misanthropic fascist. Sure, gays are everywhere and some of us are undoubtedly evil. Putin might actually be gay, and he’s certainly evil. But the joke is about two closeted men conspiring to do horrible things to people. That reinforces and recycles a lot of old, harmful narratives about gay men.
“You know that’s not what I meant.” Perhaps not. Whether you meant it or not, I hear, on some level, “Gay is the worst insult I can think to use here.”
Let’s all understand and accept, gay or not, that internalized homophobia is present in all of us. Just as racism, ableism, and sexism is present in all of us. It is impossible, for example, to separate yourself from the mainstream American narrative. It is impossible not to feel shame over having a pussy when the President of our nation reduces your worth as a person to your rating on a shag-ability scale, shames you for bleeding out of your pussy, compares your pussy to an impulse buy-item at the checkout, and is then rewarded for it by at least 45 percent of our citizens.
It is also impossible not to feel shame over being gay when our Vice President, once Governor of Indiana, believes that involuntarily electrocuting children is preferable to having homos as constituents. Surround me with as many allies as you want. I still know 45 percent of America is okay with torturing the gay out of me. Maybe it’s the person in line at the liquor store next to me. Maybe it’s the person making my dinner who just saw me kiss my wife. Or the mechanic who saw two women on our paperwork getting ready to tune up my brakes.
Trump voters may also say about Pence, “You know that’s not what I meant.” To which I respond, “I don’t.”
Internalized homophobia is a nasty, wicked, self-sabotaging collage made up of tiny pictures pasted together over a lifetime of being a gay American. Drips and drops of accusations, being less-thans, lynchings, firings, imprisonments, growing up hearing jokes that were meant that way, and jokes that end with ‘no offense.’ Public debate over whether or not our homes are more or less safe for children than, say, putting bleach in the sippy cup.
Two years ago I stopped and bought Girl Scout cookies outside the grocery store. I always take care to have a solid interaction with the girls selling the cookies. One of the moms struck up a conversation with me as I paid. We joked and laughed, and I think I asked the girls a couple more questions. I told the mom how much my wife and I loved the Samoas. Because I’m out and proud.
Toward the end of the conversation, she told me I ought to consider being a troop leader. It’s died down, but the discussion about gays in the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts is still part of our national discussion. It was particularly hot back then. I was thrilled to be asked. I love the Scouts. As I walked back to the car I couldn’t help but smile.
When I got to the car, I started to cry. Because that was one of the rare, maybe only, times in a public setting someone I didn’t know personally told me they’d outright trust me to be alone with their children. A stranger – not a friend who knows me as an individual, has vetted me and deemed me safe – a stranger - knows I’m gay and still thinks I’m kid-safe.
I couldn’t believe someone who understood that I am gay still wanted me to be a role model for her kids.
I’ve spent years consuming messaging that when it comes to kids, gays are not okay. And that means me. Me. I am a danger to children. That stereotype lurks below my surface, along with all the messaging about corrupting society and marriage and going to hell. Which I don’t believe in, but it still means there are a bunch of people out there who think I should go to the worst place they can possibly imagine.
I cried because somewhere deep down, even as a woman who ran a major gay pride event and was essentially professionally gay for a number of years, I still had that tiny bit of doubt about myself squirreled away. Hearing a woman say that I ought to be trusted with her kids – it unlocked, and hopefully released - a little bit of the shame that’s stuck to me over the years.
So those Trump and Putin gay jokes? Time to move on. And while you’re at it, the ones with Trump made up like a woman can go right into the round file with them, because the funny / not funny is the same. “Trump is a woman. That makes him less.”
In-group or not, using gay as an insult or female make-up as an insult has a cultural competency chance of hitting home in a good way at about the same rate as using the phrase, ‘you people.’
PSA over. Onward together with the hilarity. Because this terribly painful time is helping us create some terribly wonderful art and humor that will endure long after the hate has subsided.