In the Daily Caller's quest to become the the go-to conservative troll site, it's published an entertaining column with this premise: Gay people were much more fun when they had to risk being beaten, ostracized, were dying of AIDS, and discriminated against. "Gays have become totally boring," Patrick Howley wrote in his column — a piece that's tagged to the Senate's passage of the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA), a measure that would prohibit employers from firing or not hiring someone based on their sexuality.
According to Howley, that anti-discrimination stuff is just one more layer of boringness on already boring gay people. The inevitable question then becomes, what does Howley not find boring? The answer is being a bottom (the receiving partner) in some projected gay man's fantasy:
I can’t even walk around DuPont Circle on early autumn evenings or interact with male bank tellers without getting eyed down like a side of ribs. It’s not even flattering. I know why it happens. I only get it because I’m skinny and I look like I’d be a bottom. It’s demeaning, really.
But that brings me to my point. At least creepy old gay dudes cowering in the corners of Metro stations are still keeping things interesting. Their weird, trembling, ballpoint ink stains-on-their-buttoned-down-shirts brand of gayness is in line with the hallmarks and the tenets of the gayness that I know and love.
Howley really put a lot of thought into the type of gay fantasy, down to the position, that he'd be a part of. But being a receiver of anal sex in septuagenarian gay fantasies isn't really the point that Howley says he's trying to make. Howley explains that the reason LGBT people have become boring is because they've been bottoms to a liberal agenda that's taken away the gay movement's beloved "back-alley glory holes," "leather costumes," and "poppers." "Gayness used to be pretty awesome, according to alternative literature from the period 1954-78," he says. But that's been lost:
And their sexual proclivities, unfettered by the Cloroxed asexuality of the progressive movement, reached glorious climaxes befitting what has always been, and must always remain, a fundamentally libertarian country.
The progressives hosed all of that activity down.
Howley ignores a plethora of things to make his theory work. One of those is technology, which has changed the way LGBT people meet. He also ignores places like D.C.'s Crew Club, a 24/7 "fitness and lounge facility" where you can probably find some combination of poppers, glory holes, and leather "costumes." Howley omits a large portion of gay culture that doesn't revolve around anonymous sex. He also forgets to give conservatives a little bit of credit.
What Howley is missing in his lament of boring gay people is that what made them what he finds so interesting — and turned them into "subversive adventurers, trolling the city streets at night on a lustful quest for experience and with an outlaw mentality not seen since the days of the Wild West," as he calls them — was a combination of fear and fear of discrimination, a kind of discrimination helped along by conservatives for past few decades.
"What Howley fails to mention, of course, is that much of the gay community’s 'outlaw mentality' probably had a lot to do with the fact that gay people were frequent targets of harassment and legal discrimination," Equality Matters, an LGBT advocacy group, wrote in response to Howlety's column.
Don't Ask Don't Tell, the Defense of Marriage Act, Prop 8., the Reagan administration's silence during the AIDS crisis, the police harassment at gay bars in the '60s, being branded as "mentally ill," sodomy laws, etc. — that's just a brief survey of the types of discrimination and hostile political backdrop that made LGBT people "interesting" to Howley.
A number of those measures were pushed and instigated by conservatives, the religious right, and politicians pandering to the religious right. Running up to the 2012 election, Mitt Romney was signing an anti-gay marriage pledge and trying to make people forget that Massachusetts passed gay marriage under his governorship.
Yet recently, there's been a rash of discrimination-amnesia in the conservative hive-mind. Howley is just the latest case, in a series of instances highlighted by the oral arguments during the Supreme Court hearing on DOMA when attorney Paul Clement, the man representing House Republicans and DOMA, had to reminded by a Supreme Court justice about the document's anti-gay animus.
That more or less brings us to the nugget of Howley's lament: the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The Senate passed the measure on Thursday, but House Republicans have all but promised to strike it down — Speaker John Boehner opposes it, and the bill might not even see the floor. Bad news for LGBT people who don't want to be fired because they're gay, but maybe they'll be a little bit less boring. And they couldn't have done it without Republicans.
Update 12:49 p.m. A couple of journalists have asked Howley to clarify his knowledge of gloryholes. Howley has defended his familiarity and gloryhole expertise in an entertaining Twitter conversation:
Update 2:13 p.m.: Howley took offense to our headline, and pointed out that Media Matters actually made fun of Howley's romanticizing of a pretty terrible era for gay people before we did.That was an obvious joke, so we've changed the headline.
Update 4:25 p.m.: Howley wrote to us and wanted a chance to clarify some of his points. He wrote to us in an e-mail and explained that he is a gay rights supporter, even though he doesn't support ENDA and elaborated on what he meant about gay being boring nowadays (emphasis ours):
I supported gay marriage in the piece, just not ENDA, which I think, like Lily Ledbetter, will result in frivolous lawsuits filed by activists that will scare businesses away from hiring gays. I've been a supporter of gay rights my entire life, and I have worked closely with gay conservatives. I wrote in a humorous way about the culture that my older gay friends once enjoyed.
In my piece, I argued that writing appreciatively about gay culture from the 50s to the late 70s without acknowledging the potent and ugly anti-gay cultural forces and discrimination at the time — part of the reason men had to go to back alleys and secret clubs was because of rampant homophobia — is only presenting half the story.
Howley wanted to make clear that even though his piece might be open to that interpretation and historical context, he did not write the words "Gays were more fun when we could discriminate against them.":
I understand the practice of interpretive headlines, but people think it was a quote and that I actually said "Gays were more fun when we could discriminate against them" or some such thing, which is what Media Matters stated. That just isn't true.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.