Sunday, April 24, 2011

Conservatism - The Limits of Tolerance

The Greeks had a word for it, probably, but in this case I don't know what it was.

There are times, and they seem to be coming along more often lately, when I despair of my fellow whatever-we-ares: leftists, liberals, progressives, queers, atheists. This weekend has been another one of those times. When Professor Ellen Lewin of the University of Iowa got an e-mail announcing a "Conservative Coming Out Week," she responded with a rousing "F*** YOU, REPUBLICANS." (I'm presuming that her actual e-mail didn't include asterisks. Shit, I hope not, that would be just too gay.) This led to repercussions, and Professor Lewin apologized.
"This is a time when political passions are inflamed, and when I received your unsolicited email, I had just finished reading some newspaper accounts of fresh outrages committed by Republicans in government," she said in an email to the Republican group after the incident. "I admit the language was inappropriate, and apologize for any affront to anyone's delicate sensibilities."

Lewin was also upset that the group had appropriated the language of the LGBT rights movement, despite Republicans general disapproval of same-sex marriage.

I appreciated the delicate sarcasm in her apology, and I'd like to think that its echoes of right-wing rhetoric -- I was just so outraged by these dirty commies' disrespect for our flag, our nation, and our fighting men that everything just went black, Your Honor -- were intentional. But somehow I doubt that too.

It's not as if this sort of thing is new. As the Daily Show clip above shows, the first Conservative Coming Out Day took place at UC Davis in 2003. (Straight Pride events sponsored by campus right groups are even older.) Given the historic ties between homophobic conservatives and the closet, I can't help wondering if cute little George Andrews later became a member if not an officer of UC Davis' Queer Students Union. More Conservative Coming Out Days were organized around the country, and some met with abuse eerily similar to that which gay campus events often receive from conservatives. Professor Lewin played right into the Iowa group's hands, allowing them to look like the aggrieved victim. (And then Lewin complained that the College Republicans' chairwoman addressed her by her first name, not as "Professor Lewin"! The Des Moines Register article reads like a parody of the handwringing over civility we've been hearing lately.)

I don't accept conservative behavior either, but there are better ways to deal with these people than throwing a public tantrum (and sending abusive e-mail is public; of course the College Republicans printed her message in their newsletter). One way I've always favored, but never have had a chance to try, would be to offer oneself as a Conservative Ally, and volunteer to serve as Marshall if they have a Pride march. (After all, members of PFLAG or straight celebrities are usually chosen to lead Gay Pride parades.) A good many of my Facebook friends are conservatives, and while their aberrant behavior is abhorrent, we must realize that they are God's children too. ... Why not appropriate the Right's rhetoric, as they appropriate ours, and turn it back on them? Why not point out, say, that conservatives and Republicans weren't born that way, are not a true minority, but chose their unnatural lifestyle?

I don't object to Professor Lewin's e-mail because it was mean; I heart meanness. I object to it because it was stupid, and we (leftists, queers, human beings) can't afford to be stupid.