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As anyone who has even glanced at the internet this week couldn’t help but notice, the level of fervor over Trump and Russia reached a new pitch.
In this essay, I am setting aside any discussion of the veracity of the myriad charges being leveled at Trump and “the Russians” regarding the election, business dealings, “treason,” etc. Of more interest, and ultimately importance, are the social phenomena of how these issues swirl through social circles and what they say about people in the USA in general and Democrats/liberals and radicals in particular.
Photographs from an anti-Trump rally in front of the White House on Tuesday (July 17th), show Neera Tanden speaking. Tanden is president of the Center for American Progress and was a “policy aide” to Obama when he was president. At this event she called Trump a “traitor,” characterizing his behavior as “commonly understood as treasonous.” [source: After Helsinki, Dems struggle over Trump, the term ‘treason’ ]
Behind Tanden in the photograph is a sign that reads: “I HOPE THEY USED CONDOMS WHEN TRUMP TOOK IT UP THE ASS FROM PUTIN.” It’s my understanding that Tanden “disavowed” the sign when asked about it, but regardless I wholly agree with Black Agenda Report Editor and Senior Columnist, Margaret Kimberley, who said that “the issue is bigger than this one instance.”
Indeed. Homophobia’s presence in society remains persistent, despite decades of activism. This is hardly surprising, given Christianity’s centuries-long dedication to it. (The misreading of Biblical texts is also a subject for another day, but suffice it to say that the “good book” is not nearly as cut-and-dry on the issue as many people would make it out to be. (See “Seven Biblical arguments against homosexuality (and why they’re rubbish).”)
But to focus on the present day, and on secular culture, acts of homosexual behavior, and specifically of male homosexual behavior, are still freighted with negativity. In the case of this rally sign, to “take it up the ass” is to be weak, passive and unmanly. This is one very small step away from just calling Trump a “fag.” Perhaps Tanden didn’t even see the sign. But if she did, she could have asked the person to stop displaying it. In all likelihood, she’s simply not the sort of person who would even think of it. Most people are not that thoughtful, not even “liberals.”
I went to an all-male high school where “fag” might have been the most commonly used word in everyday speech, or at least it seemed like it because of how often it was thrown at me and my friends, and I’ve certainly encountered the term innumerable times since, so I’ve given it a lot of thought.
To insult a male by characterizing him as a “fag” or his behavior as “gay” is not necessarily the same as accusing him of literally being homosexual. Given. But that’s beside the point. To use a scale of “gayness” as your measure of negativity is definitively homophobic. The fundamental assumption there is that to be gay or to engage in a homosexual action is decidedly in the negative column.
It is worth noting that words or phrases specifically evocative of female acts of homosexuality are quite rarely used. Indeed, that’s because calling a man a “fag” is analagous to comparing him to a woman. The shade of difference is quite slight. Simply put, homophobia is an expression of misogyny. Patriarchy – which is institutionalized, enculturated, structural misogyny – demeans women for being women and, with the club of homophobia, demeans men who are too much like women. There is nothing about these attitudes to admire or defend.
(It is yet another subject for a different day that hatred for women is closely akin to hatred for nature. Our environmental destruction of the planet – now reaching catastrophic proportions – is part and parcel of Patriarchy. The whole thing is utterly disgusting and the world will be a better place when we root it out and smash it.)
The sign at Tuesday’s anti-Trump White House rally was not the first of its kind. I’ve spotted a smattering of them in other protest pics since the Inauguration. I have occasionally seen them called out on social media for the homophobia that they are, but not often enough. I’ve also been to enough protests IRL to know that it’s typical to observe a wide range of opinions, some more intelligent than others, and that malice can be expressed merely through thoughtlessness as well as clear intent. Perhaps some bearers of such signs would stop using them when made aware of the subtext. And perhaps others would not.
But random individuals in a crowd are one thing. If the content is produced by the New York Times and bears its official imprimatur, that is quite another.
I rarely read the New York Times for the same reason I generally avoid junk food: I care about my health and know that exposing myself to poison is risky. However, it came to my attention through social media that “the Grey Lady” had posted a video cartoon called “Trump and Putin: A Love Story.” I hesitate to provide a link here, but am doing so with the hope that you will share my outrage and tell the Times to drop it: [ video | contact the Times ]
This video does more to display the homophobic attitudes of the artist than it does to illustrate Trump, about whom we get very little real information. The artist is either unashamed or unaware of the grotesque indulgence of this piece. The video is undated, but is labeled as a “recent episode” and another has been posted since. So I don’t know for sure how long it has been up there but I am shocked that it did not come to my attention until now. How is it that no one in the New York Times readership has yet to make a fuss about this? Why isn’t my social media feed clogged with posts demanding that it be taken down? If this is what “Resistance” looks like, count me the fuck out.
The cartoon is part of a series called “Trump Bites.” This title is itself subtly homophobic, since “that bites” or “bite me” are stand-ins for “that sucks” or “blow me” and the like. Again, the term is meant to be insulting because it evokes a “passive” role in sexual activity, as would be played by either a woman or, in this case, a man engaging in a homosexual act.
Betrayed in all of this is a view of sexual roles through the lens of dominance and submission, a lens that is a product of barbaric Bronze Age religions. Actual sexual experiences freed from the strictures of Patriarchy are by their nature far more nuanced, and those who strike out from the vanilla – not just physically but also psychologically – can explore such things. Particular acts are not so black and white. For example, one can “top from the bottom,” and do so respectfully or not. There’s a world of possibilities beyond the narrow confines of the conventional.
And when we live in a time when the conventional is wreaking so much destruction – through war, through oppression, through greed – we must all strive to break out of the normality of every day in every way we can. If we do not, what we are threatening is our collective tomorrow.
To my eye, what we are witnessing with the Russia frenzy is what happens when blind hatred takes the lead. Opposition to injustice loses its head and becomes a mirror to the ugliness it is purporting to fight. When anti-Trumpism becomes homophobic – as it has, first on the fringes and now within the establishment – it crosses a line and now contributes to injustice itself.
Democrats and liberals who are not going to drop this Russia thing should at least not resort to homophobia to make their points, and call out such hatred and reject it whenever they see it. Those who won’t should consider themselves candidates for what they call the “basket of deplorables.”
The radicals who have jumped on the Russia bandwagon should be very careful. They are participating in a liberal campaign which is inherently partisan in nature, and is entirely disconnected from root causes (Capitalism, Patriarchy, Racism, etc.). How it can be anything other than a distraction from our fundamental struggles, I do not know. But if the fight is against hate, you can’t ally with homophobes.