Shortly after Mitt Romney's new gay foreign policy spokesman, Richard Grenell, was announced, he was scrubbing his caustic tweets about women and the media from his Twitter feed amid much attention to them. Among the women Grenell had insulted was MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, whom he ridiculed for looking too manly: "she needs to take a breath and put on a necklace." He also said she looks like Justin Bieber.
Many of the reports included those comments among the examples of Grenell's tweets critical of prominent women's appearances, like Callista Gingrich (wondering whether her "hair snaps on") and Hillary Clinton ("starting to look liek Madeline [sic] Albright") and some called them sexist. But the comments about Maddow actually fall into a category that gays and lesbians know by a different, more colloquial term: dyke-bashing.
Maddow wasn't just another women whose appearance Grenell was critiquing; he was mocking her for expressing her gender as what he apparently views, negatively, as a stereotypical lesbian. (Ironically, in the process of this and the other tweets about women, Grenell was playing into a gay stereotype himself: the gay men obsessed with women's hair and style.)
It was the kind of crack many people would expect from a homophobic straight guy. Why would a gay man make a homophobic comment about a lesbian? Actually, it's all too common. And much of it (but certainly not all) comes from gay conservatives, often Republican, who seem to be embarrassed by much of the LGBT community as they try to blend into society's idea of what good gays should be like.
Now, let me say this is not a screed against gay GOPers.I'm all for their working in the party to change it and I respect the work of a lot of gay Republicans. But as one activist said on Facebook, "I want to support Republican gays for working for change behind enemy lines, in the belly of the beast... [but] why must they all be such enormous, fucking, stupid assholes?"
Like the classic case of the bully who picks on people because he's afraid, deep down, that he is the one who actually is weak, it appears that these guys beat up others in the community to divert attention from themselves and to show that they're down with everyone else who's doing the bashing.
In the case of Grenell, it's particularly interesting because if you watch a video of him being interviewed you'll see he is not exactly the standard of masculinity. And that's totally fine -- few men are, gay or straight. But for him to then criticize a lesbian for not meeting a standard of femininity does reveal a certain "lady doth protest too much" quality.
We've seen similar kinds of tweets about Maddow from Chris Barron, one of the founders of the conservative gay group, GOProud, who once mocked her for looking like a "dude." He's also tweeted that Barney Frank is "catty," has a "purse" and wants to "sit in Scott Brown's lap." Curiously, Brown also obsessively tweets about his gym workouts and tweets many photos of his worked-out abs, in what seems like a desperate exercise in overcompensation, as if to say, "See, I really am a real men, really!"
We live in a society obsessed with gender and gender stereotypes, as many transgender activists always remind us. The basis of much of the bullying we see in schools is about gender expression -- boys perceived as gay because they have a less masculine demeanor. More often than not the bullies are insecure about their own masculinity, and sometimes they're even secretly gay themselves, engaging in exactly the behavior that Grenell and Barron engage in as adults. Gay men who bash lesbians (and other gay men) are at once victims of homophobia as well as perpetrators of it. And they need to be called out.
Follow Michelangelo Signorile on Twitter: www.twitter.com/msignorile