Phil Robertson's Quotes in GQ Last Week Are Awesome. Here's Why.
Robertson's comments are a gold mine: a rare, honest moment in the sunlight for views about gay people that are rarely discussed openly -- these ideas get honestly verbalized only over kitchen tables or in hushed voices over beers, but they rarely make it out to the light of public dialogue. Like the crowd of Republicans booing a gay soldier or yelling "Let them die!" during the national debates, here is a rare example of the subtext becoming text. Robertson's ideas are usually obscured behind palatable generalizations like "marriage is between a man and a woman" and the self-satisfying, morally comfortable "love the sinner, hate the sin."
The beauty of subtext becoming text is that you can actually talk about it, so I want to take this opportunity to respond explicitly to what Robertson -- and many of those who stand with him -- assume about gay men:
Assumption #1: Gayness is about anal sex:Phil Robertson:
"It seems like, to me, a vagina -- as a man -- would be more desirable than a man's anus. That's just me. I'm just thinking: There's more there! She's got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I'm saying?"
When I told one straight guy I was gay 15 years ago, I begged him to ask me any questions because I so desperately wanted him to understand me, and he responded "Well I don't know what there is to understand -- I get the basic mechanics and biology," meaning he understood that gayness was about having a penis in your rectum. And when I came out to my mom, she said so kindly, "Well, you know how some guys are boob-guys and some guys are ass-guys? Maybe you're just an ass-guy?" (DO YOU KNOW HOW MORTIFYING THAT CONVERSATION IS TO HAVE WITH YOUR MOM?)
In the pornographic, sexually-objectified society we live in, humans seem to pare sexuality down to its anatomical least common denominator -- boys see vaginas and breasts as the things they don't have, and perhaps wrongly infer those disembodied missing parts are the root of their attraction. With that thinking, you might think that we are attracted to the anatomies we don't have appended, and in that framework gay people are somehow just confused about how to assemble the biological puzzle ("Where do I put this? I'll try putting it here?!").
But human sexuality is not attraction to vaginas and breasts and penises and anuses. Sexuality is the involuntary way your heart races and your breath falls short when the person you are attracted to holds eye contact for a moment too long, or brushes across your arm. It is how their smell lingering on your pillow can make you feel safe, and the way someone's absence can make a hunger like vacuum in your stomach that can't be filled. It is a terrifying, involuntary, beautiful biological reality and its power over us explains the structure and ceremony we have built as scaffolding to keep ourselves sane and society functioning.
Understanding why Robertson is wrong here only requires that you understand that this same attraction magic happens for some people with boys and for some people with girls, and that the intensity and power of that experience is overwhelming: strong enough to launch ships, provoke wars, inspire two people to commit their lives to one another, potent enough to cause a brave teenager to come out to homophobic parents or even run away from home -- and that such attraction is at the heart of our capacity to give and receive love and experience full intimacy with another human being. The sooner you know that this is no different for any gender combination, the sooner One Love starts making sense and Robertson's view of sexuality can be understood for what it is: objectification.
Assumption #2: Immoral sexuality is not logical and natural, moral sexuality is logical and natural:Phil Robertson:
"But hey, sin: It's not logical, my man. It's just not logical."
No man has ever in the course of human history experienced an erection because it was logical. I don't care if you are straight or gay or trying to have a baby or not: neither putting your penis inside another person nor having another person put their penis in you DOES NOT MAKE SENSE. Your compelling need to put your tongue in someone else's germ-infested brace-face in 7th grade was not logical, nor was you drooling while you put a dollar in a stripper's garter belt at a bachelor party. The things you say during sex are absolutely ridiculous nonsense. If you have managed to go through the years believing that your sexuality is logical because you used some of your god-given erections to make babies, wake up and realize that this happy coincidence is yet another manifestation of tremendous privilege of having your sexuality culturally celebrated. Most sex is non-procreative: 200 million American adults made 4 million babies last year. If you do the math, that would mean humans had sex about as often as those sad fat lerching cicada bugs that crawl out of the ground every 17 years. Old people have sex long after menopause and erectile dysfunction; infertile couples, people who don't want to get pregnant, and gay people are all experiencing love and intimacy and connection with another human being without making babies in the process.
Assumption #3: Gayness leads to beastiality:Phil Robertson:
"Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men."
Beastiality actually happens? Seriously? Who? Where? I live in San Francisco: if beastiality was in any way related to gayness becoming accepted, there would be a lot more terrified pets here. If you look for it, you can find both straight and gay people that are interested in peeing on one another or swapping partners or even dressing up in stuffed animal costumes and humping each other on pool tables. There is a lot of weird stuff out there, but seriously Phil, no one is sleeping with horses and house pets. And how exactly do you get consent from a sheep? Stop talking about it, Phil, because it's grossing us out.
Assumption #4: Homophobia is not hatred:Phil Robertson:
"I love all men and women. I am a lover of humanity, not a hater."
This same concept was also repeated by Sarah Palin, who called Phil's comments a "response to a question about a lifestyle he disagrees with, and yet he has said over and over again he doesn't hate the person engaging in a lifestyle he disagrees with." I said I don't hate you, so we're good right? Shortly after I came out, an evangelical Christian called me to say, "I just want you to know that I don't approve of your lifestyle, but I still love you." A judgment slap in the face, served with a slice of love-you apple pie. Mainstream Christians really struggle with the Bible's commandments against judging and I feel for them on that -- I struggle with being judgmental myself. For example, in a resource constrained world, I tend to feel judgmental about cosmetic surgery. But reverse some roles here and imagine what a unempathetic jerk you'd have to be to call up a woman who just got a nose-job -- scratch that, gayness is not something that you opt into like a nose-job, so even make it just their nose: "I don't approve of your nose, but I still love you in spite of it." As if you had the right to judge her in the first place, let alone stop loving her for being something that never hurt you or anyone you loved, or anyone ever at all for that matter.
If your morals change when your position in the world changes, those morals aren't universal. To step out of straight privilege, make yourself think about it and really put yourself in a gay person's shoes. If imagining attraction to the same sex is too mind-bending, then imagine yourself as a fully heterosexual person (perhaps you have already found your opposite sex match, so in that case put your wife or husband in the frame) -- existing in a society where only homosexuality is culturally celebrated, and powerful voices (who control laws and LIT-ER-AL-LY claim to speak for God) tell you that you need to reject the person you love and mate with someone of the SAME gender in order to be righteous. Depending on when and where you are in history, the penalties for following your heart may be physical attack or chemical castration or imprisonment or just the quiet judgmental distance of the righteous queer illuminati who sneer, "I don't approve of your unfortunate "lifestyle choice," but love you, mean it!" LUV. How do you like them apples? It would take some Ghandi-inspired patience to be cordial to those people, and you might understand why gay people remain wary of Christians. (Not all Christians are striking out here in considering gay sexuality to be sinful: I grew up Christian, still go to Catholic church, and love a lot of Christians. My chaplain in college is the reason why I gave Christianity a second chance. I am talking about #standwithphil Sarah Palin-supporters.)
No one likes to think of themselves as hateful -- not the 1830s slave owner (who justified his position with the Bible, see Ephesians 6:5, Titus 2:9 and many others), not opponents to inter-racial marriage in 1967 Virginia (who justified their position with the Bible, see Ezra 10:2 and many others), not the lawmakers who thought chemical castration was an acceptable way to punish gay men 60 years ago, nor the lawmakers who are putting gay people in jail in India and Russia today. Mitt Romney does not think of himself as a hater for supporting laws that would keep me from deciding my spouse's fate in an ICU and neither did the millions of people who rallied to vote for him.
Homosexuality has manifested in all of human history in all of human cultures, and the natural world is full of it as well: penguins, bison, dogs, you name it. People become uncomfortable discussing this openly and honestly, but sexuality in general is not something gay or straight people can just ignore or reject. It is the way we experience the greatest intimacy and closeness to another human being. It is not just recreation, or as Robertson sees it, a vaginal object, or a logical decision, or a "behavior," or a lifestyle.
"Privilege Is Never Having to Think About It," goes the poem by Andrea Gibson. White privilege gives you the space to think black people were better under Jim Crow, or that Santa Clause and Jesus are "just white." Male privilege gives you the space to believe moral absolutes about abortion while your body will never experience its moral crisis. Straight privilege gives you the space to consider gay people sinful. No one chooses to be gay -- gay people choose how to live their lives in response to their sexuality, and straight people have the privilege to choose whether to judge or love. Homophobia is a judgment, a distancing; it says "I am different from you" and it does not listen long or hard enough to understand otherwise. Love is not so easy as saying the word.
It's absolutely perfect that the same guy who thinks that gay men live a persistent analingus obsession ramping up to a goatsex-orgy afterparty also thinks 1960s Louisiana, when inter-racial marriage was illegal and civil rights workers were commonly lynched, made black people "singing and happy." And Sarah Palin and the Christian Coalition and the field of potential Republican presidential nominees are rushing in to defend him. Please A&E, put this guy back on TV and let him keep talking.