Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Gays: Are We Weird?

I've been following Gene Weingarten, a humor columnist for the Washington Post, for years and years. I've read nearly everything he's published that is accessible online. He writes books, magazine pieces, and hosts a monthly chat on the Post website. He's one of the smartest people online, and a treasure. I already live in dread of the day that I can't read new work from him anymore, and I hope that he keeps writing for decades.

Sometimes Gene is brilliant. For instance, he once gave me this bit of advice on dealing with homophobic "friends" who use their religion to justify their bigotry:
Gene would dislike these people intensely.

You happen to be treading on an area where I am uncommonly sure of myself and obnoxiouisly opinionated. (With food, I'm sort of kidding. Here, I'm not.)

Yeah, I'm an atheist, but I don't disrespect religion; we're all seekers of truth and understanding, and science and religion go about it in parallel ways. I'm most comfortable thinking about religion as a form of philosophy.

So far, so good. My problems with religion are when it is so reactionary that it institutionalizes bigotry. At that point, reason and faith no longer coexist, they are at war. At that point I feel it is the duty of the moral person to jettison the bigoted faith for another. Or for none.

"Love the sinner, hate the sin" is astonishingly patronizing, and duplicitous. It's a cop-out. Love the slave as though he weren't your property. Separate but equal.

I had a very close friend, a devout Christian, who told me that she worried about me because, as a nonbeliever in Jesus, I would be going to hell. What do you SAY to someone like that? I said nothing, but I never felt the same about her. She's chosen an interpretation of her religion that consigns Mathatma Gandhi to hell. I'm supposed to RESPECT this?

Here's the thing you need to remember: All those people who tell you that homosexuality is a sin, but they love you? They don't. They think you are a lesser form of life.

Act accordingly.
Yes, exactly. Gene (#ICallHimGene) has said some absolutely brilliant things about atheism, education, art, literature, and history. He can be, at times, a raging gender essentialist, however, and one time he copped to some transphobia that he has since turned around on. But his willingness to stick to "women are/like/hate x" and "men are all dumber than women" stuff really bugs me. So, I recognize that he can sometimes be problematic. In the poll for his chat this week, he asked whether his cartoon for the Washington Post's Style Invitational is homophobic. I really wasn't sure what to expect, but because I am a Professional Over-Thinker, I figured I'd probably think it was.

Here's the picture, and I've copied his limerick below it:
There was an old man with a beard
Who said, “It is just as I feared!
I thought I’d seem straight
With this pretty young date,
But I still hear them calling me ‘weird.’ ”

— Gene Weingarten, 2011

In the poll, I said that it wasn't homophobic. The truth is, there are still people calling us weird. I believe that Gene is being honest when he says in the chat that he doesn't endorse this view, but he thinks that bigots do. I agree! Lots of people think we're weird, and mean it in a bad way. That's why they're bigots, after all.

But I like being weird! I think it means that I go against the status quo and the mainstream and all that stuff, and that the very idea of queerness presents a counter-narrative to normative views of sex, gender, class, race - all kinds of things. That's why I feel, sometimes, as though the movement for marriage equality and the DADT repeal is perhaps focusing too many resources on trying to mainstream gay people, when we could be spending that money on AIDS research and grassroots community development.

One gay man wrote into the chat to say that the idea of "weirdness" for gay people is outdated. I disagree, and wonder what world he lives in. Perhaps he is white, upper- or middle-class, cis, and monogamous? In other words, the only thing that differentiates him from most white upper class cis men is that he's gay. I'm glad that the people who can mainstream want to, and that they aren't feeling oppressed. But I think perhaps he's a bit myopic in his perspective. Being queer is still weird in lots of places, for lots of people. Some of us embrace that, and I think that's really healthy, and leads to some of my favorite things about the queer community, like artistic expression and drag.

What do you think? Is there value in embracing weirdness?

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