iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
David Groshoff

GET UPDATES FROM David Groshoff
 

Gloves (Mittens?) Off: What the Smackdown Cutting of a Gay Teen's Hair Reveals About Mitt Romney

Posted: 05/13/2012 3:12 am

Oh, I get it. Mitt Romney was only "pulling pranks" when he layed the smackdown and forcibly cut the colored blonde hair of high school classmate John Lauber, who was perceived to be gay, at the prestigious Cranbrook School in the mid-1960s, during the reign of Romney's powerful father as Michiagn's governor.

According to The Washington Post Romney said, "'He [Lauber] can't look like that. That's wrong. Just look at him!'" So Romney (and at least five others who are not the presidential nominee of one of the two largest political parties in the U.S.) targeted and teased Lauber based on Lauber's identity. Witnesses at the time also claimed that Romney tauntingly said "atta girl!" to another gay classmate during class.

Thus Romney didn't just tease John Lauber for perhaps failing to conform to Romney's worldview, or Romney's church's views, or Romney's then-governor-father's need to buy into the societal, dominant-majority, collectivist mindset. No. Rather than simply tease or pick on Lauber, Romney initiated the violent use of force against Lauber, attempting to ensure that Lauber appeared in a fashion acceptable to Romney.

The nexus between Romney's church's view relative to people with other identities remained so strong well into Romney's adulthood -- into his 30s, in fact -- that Romney's church didn't allow black clergy until 1978. So while Romney may try to suppress this claim of discrimination against Lauber's different identity during his school years by calling it a youthful indiscretion, it's more challenging to explain that claim once placed in the context of Romney's not rejecting, as a 30-something, his church's position holding that persons who were black were simply too inferior to be church clergy. Perhaps I missed Romney's personal "evolution" on that matter, but my research shows only that Romney's change on the issue occurred following his church's official change. However, I invite you to correct me if I'm in error. And while no church is beyond criticism, the point here is that Romney's worldview from cradle well into adulthood was shaped by a legitimacy underpinned by treating various "others" as inferior.

Segueing from the religious milieu buttressing Romney's understanding of others and now returning to a discussion of Romney and Lauber directly, Romney's initiation of violent force against Lauber wasn't just (the still-wrong) shoves into lockers or pushes into hallway walls that many kids endure at school. Instead, The Washington Post indicated that "Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, [and] Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors." Five different people involved recall this incident unfolding in the same way, four of whom spoke on the record, including a dentist, a practicing lawyer, a retired prosecutor, and a retired school principal. One of these men said that the attack was "vicious."

In 1984 (in the days before Ed Lesley may have mainstreamed haircutting as a silly form of entertainment), the organization then known as the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment) used a haircutting beat-down of legendary entertainer Andre the Giant (standing 7'4", weighing nearly a quarter of a ton, and displaying unwieldy locks of black hair) to set a precedent for how heel characters could draw heat from the fans. What could be more degrading in the eyes of the public, even in the eyes of those who may have recognized at the time that wrestling was indeed scripted, than for two people to hold down and cut the hair of a unique individual who looked different from everyone else? To the fans, regular scripted violence was one thing, but the scripted violence that attacked one of the core features of Andre the Giant that could be changed -- how he wore his hair -- led the television announcer (WWE owner Vince McMahon) to claim that this forcible haircutting was "sheer humiliation ... that should not happen to anybody," that "rap[ed] the dignity" of the person whose hair was being cut against his will, and that was "one of the most despicable displays of conduct in the history of the World Wrestling Federation."

Think about that. This act, the act of cutting someone's hair against that person's will, was one of the most despicable displays in the history of an entertainment genre that, at its core, glorifies violence over all else. This act was so over-the-top at the time, even in the world of pro-wrestling, that fans reacted by throwing cups and bottles into the ring at the entertainers who were cutting Andre the Giant's hair against his will.

So I invite you to advance to the 3:30 mark of this video, watch for yourself, and imagine Mitt Romney and his acolytes doing the same to John Lauber in Romney's attempt to exorcise Lauber's "wrong" difference, just as Big John Studd and former Brigham Young University athlete Ken Patera did to Andre the Giant.

When asked about the Lauber incident this week, Romney laughed and said that he didn't recall the incident. But unlike previous presidential nominees, such as Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush, whose youths were lived in chemically induced hazes, Romney (whose opposition to re-legalizing marijuana remains so strong that he wants to use force against patients who use the herb medicinally) can't explain away this part of his youth as having resulted from drug-created memory loss; he was stone-cold sober. Therefore, either Romney has beaten down and forcibly cut the hair of a large number of non-heteronormative people in his life, or he's lying. Given that he's a politician, my money's on the latter.

At least Mitt Romney's actions have helped to dispel the stereotype that only gay men cut hair.

 

Follow David Groshoff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidgroshoff

FOLLOW GAY VOICES