One of the ways that human beings justify being cruel to one another is through dehumanization tactics. We recoil from actual harm, we don’t want it on our conscience, but we get around that by making the Other that we’re fighting into a broad stereotype, an amalgamation of all those things we most hate and fear, ascribing to them the worst traits that we can possibly come up with. It gives us license to do what we would very much like to do without having to feel guilty about it. It gives us justification.
Much of our literature and media is based on this very idea. One of the main plot arcs of To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, is the gradual humanization of Boo Radley from creepy recluse to trusted protector. This is hardly an uncommon trope, and it can be applied to texts as diverse as Enemy Mine and 48 Hours.
And while it is an interesting trope, it is also a way that we oppress specific people. Among the most prominent are racist caricatures of black people, often in “coon” or “brute” styles, but there are certainly more. Much of that persists to this day.
Similarly, much of the opposition to LGBT inclusion and rights has been based on this dehumanization, associating queer people with pedophiles, disease carriers, and suggesting they are somehow more violent. You should have seen the sites that I refuse to link to, both not to give them the link juice and because I wouldn’t do that to you, my handful of faithful readers.
To get a good example of how stereotypes can have subtle effects, take a look at this lawsuit by a gay couple in New Jersey who’s engagement photos were used by an anti-gay group in Colorado to defeat two Republican lawmakers who weren’t sufficiently pure on hating the gays. If you’ll notice, nothing about the pictures nor what is written on the political advertisements suggest that this couple was married, or engaged, or that the politicians in question were pushing for marriage. All they say is that two men kissing is not in accord with “family values” and suggesting that it will somehow be more common in Colorado. The scary message that got two GOP reps primaried out of their jobs was nothing other than “gay people exist, and you might have to look at them.” Remind me again how most Republicans are not homophobic?
This is why all of the wishy-washy “Oh, it’s just about protecting marriage” people are full of shit. This couple became the embodiment of every stereotype of the gay community, every fear about children’s safety and “innocence”, every description of AIDS, every mad fever dream about hedonistic, drug fueled lives trying to drag down the morality of entire towns.
But even more insidious than the stereotypes regarding the gay community is not one about us, it’s about our parents. The quacks who promote “reparative therapy” and other such filth often suggest that being queer is a result of poor parenting, that the same sex parent is distant and doesn’t provide enough love and connection, so us queer folks seek out that love in others of the same sex. Seriously, see how Richard Cohen, a big name in the conversion therapy movement, tries to cuddle away the gay. Or you can watch the pretend news station’s pretend doctor pretend that lesbian parents turn little boys into transwomen. Here’s the execrable Tony Perkins suggesting that his kids could never be gay because he raised them right. I’d say that you can’t make this stuff up, but clearly, you can.
This is not new, but the reason I’m writing this is that I just read this post by anonymous blogger Registered Runaway, guest posted on Rachel Held Evans’s blog. I highly recommend reading the whole thing, but the rough outline is that he describes how wonderful his father is, how accepting he was when RR came out, how supportive he’s always been…and how this amazing dad was in tears and suffered extended anguish because he was pointed to a video that re-enforced religious doctrines about homosexuality suggesting that his son was broken and it was his fault.
I’ve made it a point whenever some pastor or politician calls for imprisonment, deportation, or the wholesale slaughter of LGBT people to take it personally, because it doesn’t allow the people saying these things to dehumanize me. When they talk about a large, anonymous swath of the population, they are talking about me, not some faceless, hypothetical bisexual. It’s me they want imprisoned, it’s me they want deported. It’s me they’re calling a pedophile and a terrorist. It’s me they want to kill.
And it’s my father that they’re discussing when they talk about how absentee fathers create queer sons. They don’t know me or my father, yet they feel entirely comfortable talking about us and our relationship. Not some speculative dad and his theoretical kid, my dad and I.
My dad is one of the best dads I could have asked for. When I brought a girl home once, she expressed her surprise that when he greeted me, it was with a peck on the lips. Guys don’t do that. Families don’t do that. I’ve never known anything else.
I can talk for hours about the time we spent watching every episode of Babylon 5, marathoning Firefly during a hurricane, or dissecting why Deep Space Nine and Enterprise are our favorite Star Treks. He started my interest in politics, and I remember how his eyes lit up when I took International Relations in my freshman year of high school because it meant I would watch the news with him every night and we would discuss it. He has never been too busy for me, and relishes every moment we spend together, even when it’s just being a human pell for me to practice my point control when I visit (it’s not necessary, but he wants to feel like he’s helping me become a better fencer).
My father, a quiet farm boy from Wisconsin, has never withheld his love or affection from me. I couldn’t ask for a better person to have raised me (along with my mom, who is awesome in entirely different ways), so the suggestion that he somehow broke me is more infuriating by a factor of I-can’t-even-count-that-high than even the suggestion that I’m broken.
These sorts of lies are vile in unimaginable ways. They are spiteful in the scattershot fashion in which they hit everybody even remotely close to their target. I hope my father never has to hear somebody tell him that he is responsible for my being queer. Other than it being a false premise that it’s something that blame should be assigned for, it’s also an evil attempt to guilt parents into trying to repress their children’s natural sexuality by appealing to their instinct to protect their children and the horror that accompanies the idea that not only had they failed, they were the cause of the harm.
I love my father deeply and have never doubted his love for me, not even when I was struggling with coming out. I can’t wait to see him again and show him some of the cooler stuff he can do with his new phone (he’s figured out a lot of it, but it’s his first Android device). We’ll share a glass of brandy, geek out over Google Sky Map, and probably watch a new show together. Then, the day I leave he’ll wake me up so we can get gas for my car, and he’ll pay to fill up my tank for the trip home while we talk about why whatever classic rock song is on the radio is so awesome.
So yes, when somebody suggests that bad fathers make queer sons, I take it personally, because I’m a queer son, and my father was and continues to be spectacular. I won’t let them get away with making broad statements and pretending it’s about imaginary people, that they’re not hurting real human beings. I refuse to pretend that they are not trying to kindly say my father failed somehow. That is what they’re doing, and the benefit of the doubt has long been spent.
And if you’re queer, they’re talking about your mother or father, too.
My dad has never raised his hand against anyone that I know of, but I also know he can take care of himself. It doesn’t matter. If you go after my dad, you go through me first. And make no mistake, I consider anyone who says that queer boys are created by absentee fathers to be going after my dad, and I will not stand for it.