Sometimes We Hate Each Other

1.10.2008

By Aaron Hicklin

Am I wrong to think that we get offended too easily? Not that we don't have a lot to get angry about, but sometimes I get so weary of the acrimony and the bile, the high-pitched whine that seems to settle over the gay landscape like one of Dante's circles of hell. There was a time when it was commonly assumed that being gay doomed us to a life of misery and bitterness, but until I saddled myself to the gay media wagon I'd never imagined that we'd be the ones to help perpetuate it.

You only have to scroll through the comment boards on popular gay blogs to get a sense of the seething broth of resentment in which our debates are conducted. Sometimes I think we don't just hate those who do us harm, we hate each other too. With a passion. Whatever I think of what Andrew Sullivan has to say, I'll defend his right to say it -- without feeling the need to slander or libel him. That shouldn't be a dying art, yet it is.

We've all heard it said that gay men are in a state of arrested development, but until recently I didn't take that to mean that we also communicate like fractious teenagers. Witness the recent brawling over ENDA, the legislation passed by the House that extends nondiscrimination rights in the workplace to gay men and women but excludes transgender people from the same protections. Many of us feel that's a betrayal too far, but does anyone really believe that the Human Rights Campaign is no better than Pastor Fred Phelps for supporting the revised bill, albeit reluctantly? You would think so from the tenor of the debate. But when debate is that polarized it doesn't leave an awful lot of space for calm, measured discussion (although you can find it if you look -- a brilliant op-ed by Ryan Lee in the Southern Voice among them).

Take the hate-crimes bill that was hastily uncoupled from the National Defense Authorization Act (to which it had been attached as a matter of political expediency, but certainly not courage). I'm sure there are good reasons for such a bill, but in all the mudslinging back and forth no one is actually taking time to tell me what those reasons are. That's fine if you feel the rationale for a hate-crimes bill is self-evident, but I'm not among those people.

Aren't all acts of violence by definition hate crimes? And if I smack an antigay bigot in the face because I hate what he stands for, should I be subject to similar laws? We may well need special tools to defend ourselves in a largely homophobic culture -- it makes sense that gay men and women be treated like other minorities, after all -- but I'm just asking the questions here, and I'd like some illumination. To quote the filmmaker Errol Morris, 'When someone says that something is obvious, it seems almost certain that it is anything but obvious -- even to them. The use of the word obvious indicates the absence of a logical argument -- an attempt to convince the reader by asserting the truth of something by saying it a little louder.'

Morris was talking about an essay by Susan Sontag, but he might as well have been talking about the level of gay debate right now. I know there are lots of smart, articulate people out there with eloquent arguments to make, but given the din, is it any surprise that we can't hear them?

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