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The Year in Suck #3: Retro Homophobia
Conservatives aren't pretending anymore
© 2008 Bilerico Project, used under a Creative Commons license
[This final week of 2022 we’re ringing out the old in five installments. Monday we had #5, in which rightwingers and prestige media cheered for a “red wave” that never arrived, and Tuesday we had #4, about how the “People’s Convoy” showed the limits of bullshit populism.]
You may have been surprised to see Chaya Raichik, the force behind Libs of Tik-Tok — the savagely anti-trans social media hive devoted to siccing internet trolls on trans people and the organizations (such as children’s hospitals) that try to help them out —saying on the Tucker Carlson show that “the LGBTQ community has become this cult and it’s so captivating… They’re just evil people.”
That is, you may have been surprised but you probably were not, because nearly everyone now knows, or can find out from just examining five minutes worth of their bullshit, that the bigotry of anti-trans people is neither narrow nor specific, and it is very hard to find one who doesn’t also hate O.G. Original Gay people as well.
Mind you, there are some anti-trans types who don’t even know they’re anti-trans and claim they’re just concerned because [insert incoherent or plain loony idea here]. Take children’s book author J.K. Rowling, who said in 2020, “I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth.” You have to wonder what Rowling’s beloved trans folk think of her now that she has become such a hero to the “gender-critical” crowd that Republican Senator James Lankford cited her in an argument against the 2020 Equality Bill that would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in several areas.
Maybe Rowling would be surprised that her anti-trans beliefs put her in solidarity with a major anti-gay bigot. Or maybe she doesn’t give a shit.
Then there are those who say they’re only doing it For The Children because doctors are, in their lurid fantasies, performing gender-erasing surgery on them — like Alicia Hendley, a clinical psychologist who in 2019 claimed that while she herself “remained steadfast in my beliefs that transgender individuals were vulnerable, and that women should accommodate them,” she had come to believe trans advocates “blindly adhere to the view that some people are ‘born in the wrong body,’ and that the only way to ‘fix’ this error is through medical intervention, such as puberty-suppressing drugs, cross-sex hormones, and various surgeries, rather than with psychological intervention.” (This made Hendley a key figure in the Canadian gender-critical movement — which she renounced in 2021, calling it ”founded on bigotry, falsehood, and lies.”)
But most anti-trans people aren’t so scrupulous, as you can tell by looking around the Republican Party and the conservative movement. If you figure, sure, these guys hate trans people, that tracks, but they would never express equal contempt for LGB-let’s-just-leave-it-at-that, if only for political reasons… you haven’t been paying attention.
The GOP Presidential front-runner, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, for example, definitely swings both ways: He not only spread malicious fake stories about gender-affirming care (“they are giving very young girls double mastectomies, they want to castrate these young boys”) and appointed medical board members who have banned such care for trans youth; he also made his national reputation with his infamous Don’t Say Gay law.
Unlikely Rowling or Hendley, DeSantis never tries to split the difference; he never says, I’m not a homophobe but… or I have trans friends but… he just lets you know, much as Raichik does, that he thinks they’re all a degenerate menace.
But the rest of us kinda knew all along, didn’t we? I mean, now when I see headlines like “‘We failed’: Gay Republicans who fought for acceptance in Texas GOP see little progress,” sorry, I can’t help but laugh.
Given the resentment than animates conservative politics, it would make sense that the enfranchisement and acceptance that LGBTQ people have recently found in America would lead to a backlash from the kind of shitheels Lankford and DeSantis consider their electoral base. But I think the rightwing rage against the sexual Other to which they pander goes deeper.
You can see it in their hate campaign against drag queens, which has progressed from verbal opposition to “Drag Queen Story Hours” for children to physical attacks and intimidation against such events to stochastic terror attacks on power substations that are clearly related. It seems that, as important as the sex part is to them, what really riles them up is the flaunting of failure to conform. As I wrote in August about it:
Drag is big, and God knows it’s ebullient. That’s really what makes these Story Hours and Brunches so popular with adults as well as children. They bring a spirit of play, friendliness, and invention — re-invention, really, which is probably a spirit a lot of kids (and adults) can use.
Conservatives hate anything that threatens the rigid class and sex structures they’re desperately trying to preserve in the face of growing social change. But the targets they want to attack are getting harder to hit — anyone can be gay, or gay-friendly, or trans, or okay with that and more; they might even find such people in their own families. So their targets have to be cartoons — either made garish by their mockery (though all their tropes for that purpose have gotten pathetically tired over the years) or by the size of their affect. Drag is right there in the spotlight, shining and a center of attention and joy. No wonder they ache to hurt it.
Like I said, their hate is neither narrow nor specific, and it will reach pretty near everybody soon enough.