Gender Identity is No Laughing Matter

New Jersey Republican Senate candidate Steve Lonegan came under fire this past week for comments regarding the sexuality of his opponent, Newark mayor and prominent Democrat Cory Booker.  In an interview with right-wing website Newsmax, Lonegan makes references to Booker’s penchant for late-night manicures:  “I don’t like going out in the middle of the night, or any time of the day, for a manicure and pedicure . . . I have a more peculiar fetish.  I like a good Scotch and a cigar.  That’s my fetish but we’ll just compare the two.”  The implication is clear:  Booker’s metrosexuality is a ‘fetish’ that makes him less of a man, makes him ‘weird’. Whereas Lonegan’s affection for booze and cigars makes him more masculine and therefore a more viable candidate.  “Maybe that helps to get him the gay vote by acting ambiguous,” Lonegan snidely implies.

That this comes from a Republican is no surprise.  Democrats have become used to this type of personal attack from the notoriously homophobic GOP.  Just a week earlier, however, I noticed that even liberal-leaning publications wrote with a subtle condescension about the newly-revealed gender identity of convicted Wikileaks source Chelsea Manning.  Several news outlets stubbornly refused to use the proper pronoun “she” in their articles (some of these have updated their articles on Manning and changed their stance on the pronoun issue, and have acknowledged their gaffe).  And I saw several comments from self-identified progressives on Twitter poking fun at Manning’s revelation.  My Twitter feed was full of retweeted jokes and thinly-veiled snark on the subject.  And as has happened more than once, I felt my heart drop from the weight of the disappointment in my liberal comrades.

As I’ve said here before, I love Twitter.  I follow quite a few people on Twitter, the majority of them progressive like myself, and I learn something new and informative and interesting from them every day.  But every now and then, something ugly pops up on my feed that makes me question some of my followers, and my decision to follow them.  A conservative troll will start tweeting something about someone’s sexuality and instead of pointing out their bigotry or stupidity, one of my tweeps will hurl the same slurs right back.  It also happens after conservative darling Ann Coulter says something stupid, which is often.  Inevitably, someone will whip out the whole ‘Man Coulter‘ parade of gender-based jokes and insults, and I never fail to be disappointed by how many retweets and favorites these comments get.

Let’s make something clear, right now:  I loathe Ann Coulter.  I think she’s hopelessly, culpably ignorant; a shameless sellout at best, a heartless wretch at worst.  I always laughed when Keith Olbermann referred to her as “Coultergeist” on   Countdown .  My personal nickname for Coulter has always been “The Harpy”, since every time I hear her speak I’m reminded of a quote from my favorite Shakespeare play:

“I will go on the slightest errand now to the Antipodes that you can devise to send me on . . . do you any embassage to the Pygmies, rather than hold three words’ conference with this harpy”

Spend thirty seconds listening to her and you’ll see how fitting the moniker is.  But I have never – ever – referred to her as ‘Man Coulter’, neither privately nor in company.  The reason for that is simple:  a person’s sexual or gender identity is not a joke or an insult, and to use it as such insults the LGBTQ community much more than the person at whom your remark is aimed.

How can any liberal/progressive, who claims to stand for equal rights for all human beings regardless of race, creed, gender, or orientation use sexual or gender identity as a slur?  How can we expect to be able to fight in the main events such as voting rights, marriage equality, and the end of gender- or orientation-based discrimination if we cannot even bring ourselves to get into the ring for an undercard fight like gender- and sexuality-based verbal sparring?   Even Olbermann, my pundit idol, has been guilty of this and it breaks my heart every time I see it.  I’ve heard the argument that such comments are used specifically to gall social conservatives, since to most of them the idea of homosexuality and sexual or gender fluidity is abhorrent.  True though that may be, it is a paltry argument and a pitiful excuse for behavior that is, by our very nature as liberals, anathema.  Would we put up with this from our children?  Or would we teach them that it is never okay to use a person’s gender or orientation as an insult, and that it is just as bad as a racial slur?  Would we tolerate this from a conservative?  Or would we speak up and call them out on their ignorance?  Why, then, do we shy away from the same argument when it is with a fellow progressive?

If we are willing to teach our children to know better and to speak up against this type of rhetoric from conservatives, why then do we tolerate it from our peers?  We cannot and we must not.  There is enough laughter and derision from the right; we on the left have a moral obligation not to add our voices to this grotesque chorus.  We must be willing to fight the discord, from all sides.

  1. Cory Booker Newsmax interview
  2. Bradley Manning is now Chelsea Manning : Atlantic Wire
  3. Chelsea Manning – from now on in the (New York) Times


[Smash Binary Gender] photo: Thanks to: TransGuyJay
 Review the Creative Commons licence applicable
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