Monday, November 08, 2010

Signorile and the gay voters who revolted from the fold

My problem with Signorile is this:

He lives in a very insulated bubble.  I get that this is a product of fame, and its a fame he's earned largely resulting from his AIDS activism and risk taking during the early years of outing people.  Indeed, he now enjoys a national platform. On FOX and on CNN he is quite the media favorite. But I'd offer that it is his extremism, not his rationality, that grants him this spotlight. Like Howard Stern or Glenn Beck, he makes for good radio.

Signorile has provided tremendous service to the gay community, but Signorile is not, in many ways in touch with the rest of the nation. His brand of activism is not well targeted or appropriate in all communities.  What works in NYC will not work in many other areas of the country---which last time I checked is part of the diversity we claim as sacred in our country. You have to be a rude loud mouth to be heard in NYC.  You don't in Little Rock. Still, we are all mutually dependent on one another. But talking down to people who don't share your opinion, or follow your game plan, is the beginning of hate speech.  Signorile, by his urban status seems to have achieved a cut and dried life.  Many of the rest of us haven't.

Signorile, post recent election defeats seems to suggest that if a person is entirely committed to civil rights they must also, therefore blindly support the democrats.  Indeed, polls show that over 70% of Americans support the repeal of DADT. Isn't that in direct contrast with the landslide the Republicans just realized via those same survey respondents?

The only way this recent election can be read is:
Many voters are unhappy with the direction of the country. They expressed this displeasure via the ballot.
Many of those voters who expressed their unhappiness with the direction of the country still support the repeal of DADT.
Many of these same voters voted Republican. 
The democrats did not represent the better choice in these voters minds.  For a plethora of reasons.

And having a tantrum, aimed at these voters, on national radio show is not going to help your cause.

The democrats were provided a mandate. They squandered it. Let the finger pointing begin.  But don't even think of pointing it back at the voters.

My brother (who is also gay), my sister, and my brother-in-law all voted Republican. None of them are the homophobic bigots or self serving fat cats Signorile would like to make them out to be.

Yet Signorile tries to infer voters must be all of these things if they voted for the Republicans. He has tunnel vision and the quakiest litmus test he utilizes to come to this conclusion.

In doing so, Signorile becomes just as simple and yes, bigoted, as the Christian Conservatives who also try to guilt their voter bases into an unrealistic litmus or purity test.  Maybe that sort of simplicity works in Manhattan but in flyover country, that plane just won't fly. To try to ascribe the math that all republicans are bigots and homophobes is pure desperation.  If the republicans overreach, and attempt to shoot down gay civil rights, they will have a fight on their hands, and be bounced right back out of office. The moral majority is dead and the conservative claim to morality has been decimated. This is not 1980's Morning in America.

But Signorile, by clinging to his assumptions and definitions of what determines enlightened voting, leaves no territory unscorched in his firestorm torching real diversity.  Voting for a republican is not always buying into a conservative agenda. Yet to castigate voters for doing so,alienates the very people the democrats will need if they ever hope to be in power again. This kind of thinking has left moderates in perpetual swing because moderate voters form no allegiance, they despise litmus tests, and thus the country is subjected to volatile swings. 

Yet we are not a land of one-size-fits all.  Many people of very good conscience voted republican because Obama and many democrats voted against their perceived interests. They were voting against the democrats, not for the republicans.  The so called values platform was not part of the equation. It's a no brainer.  Both conservative and liberals ignore this at their peril.

I've personally witnessed this trait of Signorile's.  In 1998 I had a good knock down, drag out argument with him about this type of activism in my dining room.  Indeed a chapter of his last book relates a now decades old trip he took in a semi truck courtesy of my invite.  During our argument Signorile just couldn't seem to get the fact that some people use the term "straight acting" not out of any sort of internalized homophobia but rather because it was simply the most efficient and universally understood way they could describe their preferences. It wasn't a political statement, just an off the cuff statement simply stating the boundaries of their attraction. They weren't the typical schooled urban gay men with the required self censored pretty talk.  And this really got Signoriles panties in a bind.

I realize "straight acting" as a term is problematic.  But when you are a log truck driver, who maybe didn't graduate high school, or a ski hill groomer, who has to travel 80 miles just to have coffee with a potential date, how much burden do you place on these people to communicate perfectly, all the time?  But in Signoriles view, there was no slack--- just shame.  That was in 1998.  At the end of the argument Signorile called me stupid for defending their view.

Signorile and I (and a former partner) did the trucking trek.  I've never talked about this publicly but I will now because it shows a lack of integrity on Signorile's part.  When the story first appeared in a 1998 issue of OUT Magazine, Signorile immediately wrote to me and apologized for language used in the piece that painted one particular character in a very dark light.  He claimed an editor had changed the wording, and that when he found out about it, he was very angry. 

OK  fine, I know things get edited---no worries.  But then a decade later, when the same piece is reprinted in Signoriles book Hitting Hard, the language remained the same.  Now I am not so sure. 

Indeed, I've heard Signorile mention northern Idaho on his show, and his references seem to reinforce a perspective that this is a scary place indeed.  I can damn well guarantee you dear readers that when Signorile was in my care, he met a very diverse group of people who completely contradict the image of westerners that he portrayed in his story. He slanted the story and neglected to mention all the progressive people he met who were residents of what is generally known as Hate central.

Yes, I do know people that are white separatists, and I've written about them---but they are not violent.  They are live and let live.  Not everyone is attracted to people from other ethnic groups or races.  But that does not mean they are violent or hateful. I've had my share of hate mail from people who protested that I'd even write about such people but I thought it interesting that a gay man could be a bull hauler, a vegetarian, a horse trainer, and a white seperatist.  I did not color the story and I let this man share his peace. That's what writing is supposed to do---illuminate.

Which is exactly why I'd offer that if Signorile has a flaw, it is tunnel vision. 

Signorile is too PC about word choice, ignoring action, and he launches his tirades from the comfortable perspective of his NYC lifestyle, brimming with options, sub communities, and PC doublespeak.  The friends I referenced were far braver than he, out, gay, working class men, living in challenging circumstances, up against the wall financially, and they were men who had no interest in partnering with someone who didn't share their lifestyle interests, would put them down for their hunting license, or who preferred a more urban existence.  They are not Neanderthals.

Signorile's one size fits all approach to politics, language, and activism is efficient.  He's very effective, but only within the context of his environment which is the brash world of the NE.  He'd be dead on arrival and far too alienating for his approach to work in the west. But that doesn't mean our approach out here is any less valid. Western hospitality is built on the premise that people take great pride in finding commonality rather than focusing on their differences.  Agreeing to disagree is our litmus test.  And if you've looked at a map lately, the map is far redder than it is blue.

I also understand the world needs activists to stir things up and that activism, by its nature means you won't be popular in some circles.  I applaud Signorile for the way he's changed history and I'm sure its cost him dearly at times.  But his refusal to agree to disagree, and his refusal to see anyone's perspective but his own, is truly unfortunate.  In this manner, he is very much like Obama.  It is his blessing and his curse.

A few weeks ago I called into the Signorile show to protest his blanket condemnation of Rutgers University and an editorial that ran in the student newspaper.  It is true that the editorial depersonalized the victim of a bullying suicide. That approach was unfortunate and misguided. I said as much.

But I called to make my point that I could also understand the school's editorial boards position that now, because of a few men, who as recent arrivals weren't even truly members of the community, their horrific actions shamed thousands of innocent students.  The rest of their academic experience will be affected. The shame that stains the university, from that day forward---for decades, for that matter, will have lasting impact. The entire study body, the faculty, and the weight given to the credentials of the university and the city that hosts the school will struggle to emerge from this new unjustified reputation. Two people have poisoned the lives of thousands and resulted in the suicide of one. It's just the way our world works but I empathize with the school as it struggles to cast off this new post script.

We as a society are time pressed to muddle our way through the choices we have presented to us. We live and die by labels, fair or not.  I offered this to Signorile to say that for most people the first words that come to mind when they think of Laramie, Wyoming is Matthew Shepperd. In Birmingham Alabama, it is civil rights murders.  In Coeur d' alene, it is Aryean Nations and white supremacy. Those labels have and will last for decades. Yet they are small footnotes of actions that are only reflective of a few individuals in those places.  Yet community shame lingers.

Signorile tried to paint this as over.  He closed the call advocating that most people see beyond this, and inferred that I was too defensive.  Yet speak to residents of Laramie, Coeur d' alene or Birmingham---I know residents of each, and they all feel victimized and labeled by events that occurred in their midst that they played no part in nor encouraged. 

Media crews, just traveling through, do no service when they arrive and broadcast sensational stories, pack up and leave. They care not about the stain they leave behind, the selective views they've offered, provided by commentators and reporters who know so little about the local terrain and are not invested in the community. While media hides behind the cloak of objective journalism, with the ticking time bomb of viewer ADHD, I see it as purposely selective and destructive.

The media will never interview community stakeholders, those who had no part in the tragedy at hand, because in their words, "they are not part of the story".  Yet they are all too willing to mine the minority, focusing on the actions of the guilty, to stamp a collective "on the record" guilt on the community. For most of these communities the stain will last decades.

I guarantee you, day in and day out random acts occur in NYC and Los Angeles that would make Matthew Shepperd's Laramie WY murder seem humane. Racism, far more brutal, extends beyond Birmingham and Coeur d' alene and reigns in the urban territory Signorile inhabits, but these two cities are uniquely map- quested with the stigma of hate. 

Just as now, thanks to Signorile, is any gay voter who voted republican. For years they will be stigmatized as a barrier to full gay civil rights, just like the Reagon Democrats, because they didn't vote for a democrat in the last election. And by doing so Signorile will empower the democrats to once again avoid scrutiny for their failures

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