I don’t want to fight with you anymore, Steve.
Ah, the merry, merry month of May. Spring is in full bloom—so are fear and ignorance in Washington.
This month I witnessed an unabashed display of willful, harmful ignorance and fear on the part of social conservatives. This time it was about sexual orientation and gender identity and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
Two weeks ago, in an interview with gay-obsessed Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) expounded upon his opposition to ENDA by saying that employers only discriminate against gays and lesbians because
“…they wear their sexuality on their sleeve.”
He went on to put glitter and day-glo streamers on the depth of his ignorance and fear by adding,
“If you don’t project it, if you don’t advertise it, how would anyone know to discriminate against you?”
Ugh. This again? It’s like saying you’d have more black friends if they just didn’t act so… black.
This brought up some pretty strong feelings in me. I wanted to put them in a song and serenade Steve beneath his D.C. bedroom window. But I thought I’d probably get myself shot and, at any rate, I refuse to subject anyone to my singing, even Steve King.
You see, I’m a nice person who takes others’ feelings into account before I speak and act…and sing. So I sat with this for a good long while before deciding, instead, to write him a letter that I thought might actually be helpful. In the process, I discovered a soft spot in my heart for the man, one I didn’t know was there.
Or maybe it was Stockholm Syndrome. Whatever.
I’m sharing it with you here. Steve doesn’t know, though, so please don’t say anything to him. I think he’d be pretty embarrassed if he knew this was out there.
Dear Representative Steve King, Republican from the Great State of Iowa,
Hi. How are you? I’m fine. I hope you are, too. You’ve been on my radar a lot lately. I think it’s because of those pesky gay activists. They seem miffed and a little confused by your comments about us wearing our sexuality on our sleeve. You know, Steve (can I call you Steve?), I’m a lover, not a fighter. I am dead-dog tired of these “culture wars” you talk about so much. I never signed up to fight in them. Know what else? It seems like just when I’ve started to forget about them, you drag matters up again, like a dog with a bone. Well, more like a cute little puppy with a bone. Or whatever.
Hey, what if the nation held a culture war and nobody showed up? JK! LOL! I’m crazy! But I do wonder if it wouldn’t free up a lot of your energy to do good things for your constituents. As it stands, I’m worried about them. I heard what you said to Tony Perkins about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act a couple of weeks ago. I know Tony’s your friend and all, but you’re hurting your constituents when you say stuff like that, Steve. Not to mention postponing the inevitable.
I’m a gay man who’s been pretty lucky in life. First off, I’m a man (duh! LOL!). Secondly, I’m a white man. Then there’s the fact that I was raised in a middle-class household and went to college and got a Master’s degree. I’ve had it much easier than a lot of my brothers and sisters out there. I know this because, as a gay man, I’ve also been on the receiving end of discrimination. So I recognize it more readily when it affects others. I know what it feels like to be judged purely on the basis of who I am, on realities I have no control over and no ability to change. So I have a different perspective on discrimination than it appears you do, my educated, Caucasian brother. Mine is subtler and more nuanced. Yours is kinda blunt. That’s not good for a political career. Just ask George W.
The ENDA legislation would accomplish one thing and one thing only. It would make it illegal to engage in discriminatory employment practices against ANY person on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity for civilian and non-religious employers with more than 15 employees. That’s it. It’s pretty simple. This thing isn’t new, Steve. It’s been introduced in every Congress but one since 1994, minus the gender identity piece. That’s just in there this time because we’re acting more uppity than usual these days. You know the old saying… Give em an inch!
I work at a Chicago LGBTQ organization with 200 employees. We would be required to abide by the ENDA legislation if it ever makes it to the President’s desk. That means we wouldn’t be able to discriminate against a straight man like you, Steve, if you ever came to us asking for a job. I think that’s a good thing, don’t you? As it stands now, I could totally tell you we weren’t hiring you because you’re a breeder and you’d be powerless to do anything about it. JK! You know you’re my BFF!
I’ve been to your Congressional webpage. I’ve read your ideas there. Man, you sure are against an awful lot of stuff. It’s kind of a drag to read after a while. Can’t you please talk about something positive now and then? When I start to glaze over at all the negativity, I have to remind myself to go back to your picture at the top of the page. Okay, I’m just going to say this and get it out of the way.
Girl, you have the most gorgeous blue eyes! I could get lost in those robin’s eggs for days! Don’t be shy, now. You know you have pretty eyes. Don’t hide them. Show off what the good Lord gave you! LOL!
Anyhoo… when you do, try this little game I like to play. Imagine you’re in a different world, one where people despised you and were mean to you all the time because you had blue eyes. How nightmarish to imagine a life where you were constantly in fear of your brilliant blue eyes being discovered. What would you do to hide the fact? How would you convince the world that your eyes weren’t that awful (and by “awful” I mean “heavenly”) shade? Would you wear colored contact lenses? Would you hide away in your home, isolated from a world that didn’t affirm you, where you never saw healthy images of yourself reflected back to you on TV, on billboards, in print, on the internet? One thing’s for sure. You’d waste a lot of energy worrying about it and trying to keep it a secret, energy that could be used for much more constructive purposes, like serving Iowans.
Eventually you’d have to go outside, though. Sooner or later one of those contact lenses would pop out in public revealing your icy, azure, sublimely blue eyes. You’d be caught. The innate blue-eyed wonder of YOU would reveal itself, beyond your control, against your steeled will. The veil would drop and your true nature would claim its birthright: TO BE… openly and unashamedly in the world just as you are, beautiful with dreamy, blue eyes till Tuesday. OMG! I can’t believe I just said that! I’m such a freak!
Hey Steve, did you know that years ago I used to see a lot of personal ads by men-seeking men who would describe themselves as “straight-acting.” I sort of understood this, but it also used to confuse me. It’s not hard to understand why a guy might want to “act straight” so as not to be recognized in public as the giant homo that he is. I get it. I spent more than 20 years trying to do it, albeit not very convincingly. What confused me, though, was the description itself. I mean, please, “straight-acting?” I think a guy who sucks dicks is pretty “gay-acting.” Am I right? ROTFLMAO!
As I got a little older, I developed a relationship with my own internalized homophobia, shame and self-hatred. Once I realized I had been trained to hate myself and had even colluded in the process, I understood what describing oneself as “straight-acting” really is. It’s a survival mechanism. Don’t believe me? Ask Matt Shepard. Oh wait, you can’t. Two straight guys killed him in 1998. Maybe if he’d been a little more “straight-acting” he’d still be here and you could ask him all about survival mechanisms. What do you think, Steve? (sad trombone)
In your interview with Tony Perkins you said, “This [ENDA] is the homosexual lobby taking it out on the rest of society and they are demanding affirmation for their lifestyle, that’s at the bottom of this.”
I like you, Steve, and I want to help you think straight about this, so let’s look closely at that statement as a way of working toward mutual understanding.
For the sake of clarity, I would like very much for you to define “homosexual lobby,” mister. Because unless you’re referring to the lobby of the Chicago Palmer House Hilton during the annual International Mister Leather convention and expo, that term means nothing to me or anybody else. Referring to LGBTQ folks as the “homosexual lobby” just makes us the “other” in your culture war. It certainly has no foundation in any reasonable person’s understanding of reality. It’s just faulty thinking, Steve, and faulty thinking can be the death knell for a political career. It goes hand-in-hand with non-nuanced interpretations of the world.
Then there’s the “taking it out on the rest of society” bit. Assuming I’m part of the “homosexual lobby” you speak of, what exactly is “it” that I’m “taking out” on the “rest of” you? You need to be clear about that, Steve. Otherwise, you leave your listeners to fill in the blanks themselves. I’ll assume you mean I’m taking my anger out on you. Isn’t that what people usually “take out” on others? Perhaps it’s my frustration or my confusion or my sadness and grief. Those all work well with the definition, too. Oh, Mr. King… lord knows I’d have reason enough to take all that out on you if I considered myself a victim. But that’s a conversation for another day. JK!
Let’s move on to the last part of your sentence: “they are demanding affirmation of their lifestyle.” Heavy, heavy sigh, Steve. How many times do you have to be told this before you get it? Vegetarianism is a lifestyle. Belonging to a country club is a lifestyle. Being gay is not.
Lifestyles are predicated upon choice, either conscious or unconscious. I choose to eat meat. I choose to pay exorbitant monthly dues so I can hang out in the men’s locker room at the club. Being gay is no more a lifestyle than having blue eyes. It is not a choice, Steve. Until you can understand this fundamental truth, until you and I can start our conversations with this truth as our common logical ground, any communication between us is going to look and feel like a culture war. I don’t want to fight with you anymore, Steve.
And as for needing to have affirmation from society… Okay. I’ll give you that one. But my question for you is, “And????” We all need that. Even you, Steve. The problem is, you get it with every dollar you spend, in every personal interaction you have and with every breath you take. In your America you are so entitled to unquestioned affirmation as a straight, white man that you don’t even see it. It’s literally the air you breathe. You can’t honestly fault the rest of us for wanting the same thing, Steve. Not unless you’re a complete and total asshole. I’m trying to give you the benefit of the doubt here. I want to like you. No, let me be clear. I really want to like you.
Lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered persons, queers, inter-sexed people, straights…. None of us walks around wearing our sexuality on our sleeve. Do you? Of course you don’t. You just walk around and breathe and talk and work and play and contribute and take and love and fight and grieve and dance and sleep and eat and pee and poop, same as the rest of us. And like me, you walk around with blue eyes. Nothing you can do to change that. Not that you’d ever want to. Your eyes are pretty, Steve, like the pool on the Lido Deck of a Disney cruise ship.
The country is changing, Steve. I know you know this. I also know how hard it can be to work with big changes. Trust me, I KNOW. It’s not easy waking up one day and realizing that nothing is what you thought it was, that you’ve been deceived and that you’ve been deceiving yourself all these years. That’s one hell of a kick in the nuts. It’s okay. Take a few deep breaths and find your happy place. It’ll feel much better once it stops hurting. If I were with you right now, I’d totally hold you, BFF.
Once you’ve calmed down, take a look at this ABC/Washington Post poll. Turns out three-quarters of the people they asked are in favor of letting gays and lesbians serve openly in the armed forces. People are much more accepting of us than they used to be. It’s obvious. In fact, even better, I hear fewer people speaking about the issue in terms of acceptance and more in terms of not really giving a shit one way or the other. I don’t see very many men-seeking men in the personals these days describing themselves as “straight-acting” either. I see a lot of (relatively) healthy images of myself reflected back at me in popular culture, too. I mean, admit it. It’s becoming harder and harder to find a hit TV show that DOESN’T have gays and lesbians in it. I consider all these things a triumph of the heart. I wish you would, too, Steve.
When I hear you talk about me “projecting” and “advertising” my sexuality, I can’t help but think you’re afraid of effeminate men, or maybe it’s masculine women, or perhaps it’s anyone who displays gender-variant behavior of any kind. How many LGBTQ folk do you actually know, Steve? Do you ever invite them over for dinner? Maybe play a round of golf with them at the country club? Sit next to them in church? Maybe you should. Familiarity leads to acceptance leads to understanding leads to the end of the culture wars, Steve. Hallelujah! Let’s catch a movie some time! Dutch treat, of course. Unless you want me to pay. Because I totally would.
I see your swagger on the House floor on CSPAN. Hell, I can hear it in your voice on the radio. Why are masculine men like you so afraid of the effeminate ones? I’ve thought about this for many years and when I drill down to the bottom of that rabbit hole, there are only two answers that make sense. You’re either gay yourself (oh please, oh please, oh please) and scared shitless of being found out, or you just have a deep-seated fear of being penetrated. Either way, you’re afraid all gay men are gonna want to have sex with you.
In your dirty place.
Uhhhh… conceited much? Just because you’re a powerful, white man doesn’t mean everybody wants to be you… or be in you, as it were. But I’m getting sidetracked now. See? That’s what happens when I start talking about man-sex, you little tease. LOL! ZOMG! Can you believe I said that?!
What I’m trying to say is, please summon up enough courage to take a mean, hard look at that fear. When you do, you’ll find it’s just like any other fear. It dries up and blows away when you stare it down. Take a deep breath. Not all gay men want to have sex with you, Steve. Okay, I do, but not all gay men want to. There, I said it. It’s out there now so let’s just move on. (OMG, I’m so embarrassed right now.)
The world is changing, Steve, and you’re not. Words like ‘mass-extinction event’, ‘dust bin’ and ‘trash heap of history’ come to mind. Your fear is hurting you, Steve. It’s also hurting your constituents. I thought you had learned after 9-11 that great leaders never lead by stoking fear in the people. They lead by reaching out and forming connections between groups who wouldn’t otherwise reach out to one another. They lead by assuring people that their fears are nothing, just the ghosts of their pasts. They lead by example, by facing their own fears and conquering them. They lead out of love and their life’s purpose to serve others.
Until you realize this, your fellow Iowans are suckling desperately at your teat and getting nothing but black, poisonous milk. Is that the kind of mother you want to be? I don’t think so. I know you have a heart as big as your eyes are blue. I love you, Steve. (OMG, I’m so nervous right now!!) I want what’s best for you. I’ll be here for you if you want to talk on the phone some night, if you need a shoulder, an ear. Your secrets are safe with me. I would never take advantage of your vulnerability, Steve. Please believe that.
I bought you a ring. I can’t wait to see if it fits!
Kert Hubin is a gay white male.
So white, in fact, that you can see his veins under his skin. He lives in Chicago with his husband and two adoring miniature Dachshunds. He attended Naropa University many years ago and is very happy to appear in elephant. He likes pickles.