Shirley, You Can't Be Serious!

7.10.2008

By Josh Kilmer-Purcell

One more thing to love about us homos: Not only do we have the power to create divas with the swish of our hands, but we can also create anti-divas -- and we enjoy them almost equally. Last February, when I wrote in this column that the homophobic Fred Phelps Family Band ironically do great things for GLBT rights, I didn't expect that within a couple of months that Fred Phelps' daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper, would become the latest antigay anti-diva.

E-mailing Shirley with some follow-up questions shortly after writing that column, it became clear to me that she had a wicked sense of humor that rivaled almost any queen's. After explaining that I was Episcopalian, she wrote, 'a gay Episcopalian? Isn't that redundant?' We quickly became BFF pen pals.

Shirley is now being contacted as a reliably humorous pundit by gay publications all over the world, an incredible testament to the power of queers to turn that which oppresses them into that which amuses them. A few weeks ago I was sent a link to an Australian gay publication that had asked Shirley to weigh in alongside more gay-friendly celebs on the gayest song of all time. Her reply:

'I'd have to say the American national anthem -- 'Star Spangled Banner.'... And 'Bohemian Rhapsody' by Queen comes a close second.'

That's seriously funny stuff coming from someone we previously only saw ranting Scripture on Fox News. While the rest of the mainstream straight media is busy debating and screaming at Shirley, the gay media is joking with her. For a truly surreal experience listen to a podcast we did at FeastofFools.net, where we chat about American Idol and America's Next Top Model.

Our collective gay history with anti-divas goes way back. Think of Anita Bryant. During an antigay press conference in 1977, a gay activist threw a pie in her face. Before she even had the whipped cream wiped out of her eyes, she deadpanned, 'At least it wasn't a fruit pie.' C'mon. What gay man didn't see a kindred bitter sister in her after that?

And for years we sat back smirking as we listened to Star Jones -- formerly Reynolds -- spout antigay Christofanities at us on The View. Privately, we'd already concluded that hubby Al was one of us, and all we had to do was wait for her sham MarriageTM to implode. The jokes wrote themselves. It was simply easier to enjoy watching her do herself in than to become outraged by her.

What's so great about how far we've come is that we don't really even have to try to show the world the humor in these bigots anymore. We can just sit back and wait for the next angry conservative homophobe to spout off, and hold for the laugh track. What did Ellen DeGeneres do after Oklahoma state representative Sally Kern was recently caught on tape spouting clich'd homo hate? She simply rolled the tape. A gasp of horror from the audience soon turned into laughter at the incredible silliness of Kern's Oklahomo bashing.

Interestingly, we don't generally lampoon antigay men like James Dobson or Pat Robertson with the same joie de vivre. (Unless, like Larry Craig, they get caught with their homo pants down.) Is it misogynistic that we seem to have our fun only with homophobic women? Maybe. Then again, why are most of our positive icons female as well?

I think we embrace our anti-divas because deep down we know that their bigotry comes from a hollow place. We know that they were likely manipulated into their ideology by the men around them. Poor Star Jones had such low self-esteem about being single that she felt she had to staple an organ shut to land a man. Would Shirley be quite so mean had she not been raised by a father whom some of her siblings have called abusive? Her personal e-mails always include sincere good wishes. She worried about me driving through a snowstorm once, and she eagerly tuned in to one of my partner's TV appearances just to see what he looked like. And every one of her e-mails is prolifically punctuated by smiley-face icons.

Maybe we get the impression that these women have been bullied by straight men as much as we were as children and that our antigay divas simply don't really mean what they say.

While there are plenty of alpha male bigots in this world, have you ever met a strong, independent, stand-up-to-your-man female homophobe? Just as many of the most virulent male homophobes are closeted fags, maybe our favorite fab anti-divas are simply closeted fag hags. And Shirley, because I know you're reading this... ; )

Read more about Shirley at JoshKilmer-Purcell.com.

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