Sunday, January 10, 2010

Hoist with Her Own Petard

This gem by Andrew Sullivan by way of Homo Superior:
Where there is Christianism, there is usually hypocrisy, corruption and abuse. From Haggard to Maciel, from the Vatican to the Swaggarts, from Rove to Limbaugh, the sheer gulf between their public moralism and their private failings is vast. That's because they're human; and they deserve compassion and understanding, the compassion and understanding they always, always deny to others.
This caps a link to a story about a reactionary, bigoted Irish politician, Iris Robinson, who had an affair with a 19-year-old boy she'd known since he was 9. She is around forty years older than he is. To add to the fun, Robinson funneled money to her boy toy from local developers to fund a business he wanted to start, and got a 5,000 pound kickback into the bargain. As Sullivan wrote, such behavior is only to be expected from someone of Robinson's opinions, and not because they're "Christianist," but because they're human. I'd say that hypocrisy and corruption will turn up anywhere there are human beings, and in a weird sort of swerve, Sullivan even concedes as much. But the way he sets up this paragraph, it's clear he thinks that "Christianists" are especially prone to it. I think it's just more fun to make fun of them when they get themselves into trouble.

But two things occurred to me. One is that Sullivan could just as easily have included his own name in his list of Christianist malfeasants. Back in 2001, queer gossip writer Michelangelo Signorile attacked Sullivan for advertising for bareback sex on the Web. Sullivan used the term "power glutes" to describe his own mighty haunches. (At around the same time, Signorile was getting mileage out of his own adventures without condoms, flagellating himself for his lapse -- these Catholic boys! -- but also attacking the gay community for somehow making him do it.) It's often hard to keep up with Sullivan's changes of mind -- he reinvents himself as fast as David Bowie -- but he'd become notorious in the first place as a gay Catholic moralist who scolded other gay men for their tomcatting, and advocated same-sex marriage on the ground that it would civilize us. Somewhere along the line, though, he got into leather, testosterone injections, cruising, and other fun stuff, and decided to keep touting marriage while enjoying what we laughingly call the benefits of gay men's culture. So, of course, when the news broke, Sullivan whined about other people's "Sexual McCarthyism." Eight years on, even his fans equate "power-glutes" with Sullivan, not least because he keeps the phrase alive himself.

Second, I read Virtually Normal and have read stray bits of Sullivan's writing over the years, and I can't remember ever seeing him exhibit any compassion for or understanding of anyone. If he changed his mind on gay men's sexual culture, it wasn't because he began to empathize with men who inhabit a different world than he, it was because he moved into it and adopted its customs and language himself. Similarly, as David Talbot wrote at Salon in October 2001, after George W. Bush took office and the 9/11 attacks made frothing superpatriotism the hysteria du jour, Sullivan lashed out at anyone who didn't meet his standards of (what else can you call it?) Political Correctness. Four years later he was still at it. At some point he changed course again, and wrote an essay condemning torture that even I find difficult to fault, but that's another of Sullivan's distinguishing traits: he reacts first to any problem with reactionary ideology, condemning "the left" with gleeful self-righteousness, then does a little thinking and crabwalks to a more sensible position -- but without, as far as I've seen, ever conceding that the leftists he used to condemn were there first. This makes him an effective media brand, a gay Catholic Limbaugh, but it doesn't make him much of a thinker.

(Red Velvet Jesus from -- or via -- The Gay Librarian)