Smile Politely

The parade goes on… (or why Sarah Palin is so very not gay)

I have been commissioned this week to address two issues. One, Sarah Palin. Two, why calling someone gay is a compliment. And I will get to those issues. But, typically, my mind is all over the map this holiday weekend and I have to dispense with the koans and mysterious fragments that comprise it.

“crane glides over creek, coyote dodges in corn, sun draws new shadows,” I twittered – or is that tweeted? — one morning last week.

“Haiku! Gesundheit,” responded Susan, a librarian in Milwaukee I play Scrabble with online.

“Just reporting on my morning,” I replied.

“In 17 syllables, Basho.”

And then the fourth of July parade was cancelled for the first time in history. Why is God punishing us? Whom can we blame? Gay people? American’s immorality in general? Sarah Palin calling it quits perhaps, as the entire Republican party seems to implode?

I started to collect a list of 50 reasons Sarah Palin threw in the towel.

Reason #1: She wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail.

But I gave up. The exercise was like shooting dead fish floating downstream with the flow, to use one of Palin’s own bizarre metaphors from her concession speech, I mean, her Zen-like “not-quitting-would-be-quitting” speech.

Palin tweeted (or maybe twittered): “Critics are spinning, so hang in there as they feed false info on the right decision made as I enter last yr in office to not run again….”

That marble-mouthed gobbledegook is reprinted verbatim. It’s like an 8th grade grammar teacher’s quiz question: how many errors can you spot in this sentence?

Ross Douthat, the new conservative Op-Ed columnist in the New York Times, gave the most meaningful explanation of the Palin phenomenon. He lamented not so much her departure but the fact that Palin got involved in national politics in the first place. It was too much, too soon. “She should have said no,” he began.
Palin may get a radio talk show; she is publishing a book; she may go on TV; she is unlikely to go away. If she joins the ranks of Limbaugh and Beck, fine. I will ignore her just as I ignore them. If she attempts to re-enter the arena of public, political life, then the temporary sympathy I’m feeling today for the poor woman and her family will instantly evaporate.

And how am I going to tie this to gayness as a compliment? Like a rambling and incongruous speech given by Sarah Palin while someone slits the neck of a turkey behind her, I will do so by continuing on and typing more words, as if it’s the natural order of things.

The discussion began when I posted an article to Facebook from the San Francisco Chronicle called “Confirmed: God is slightly gay.” The author, Mark Morford, revealed how homosexuality among animals is “common and obvious and as normal as a warm spring rain falling on a pod of giddy bottlenose dolphins having group sex off the coast of Fiji.”

Some took offense at calling God gay, even slightly gay, and as the twits twittered faster and faster, I managed to suggest that calling someone gay these days was a kind of compliment.

Gay people in many cultures throughout history have been considered special and exceptional. Virtually all native American tribes had their “berdache,” two-spirit people who were honored and given special stature, men who lived as women and women who lived as men.

In southern Mexico today, there are the Muxes, cross dressers and transsexuals who are welcomed into the culture as gifts of God.

Our own modern culture has also exceptionalized gay people, mostly by using them as scapegoats. The Christian demagogue leaders are quick to blame hurricanes and terrorist attacks and the general decline of everything on gay people.

No doubt, the function of the scapegoat serves a purpose in a society, but it is a false and negative one and, I hope and believe, a fading function.

More and more I hear the word “gay” being used in a new way that is neither cruel nor celebration. It is somewhat affectionate, maybe slightly teasing, and often is used to express a begrudging admiration for someone having been gifted with this exceptional stature and having the strength to live up to it.

I have heard it used this way between 8th graders, best friends teasing each other when one does something expressive. It doesn’t mean that they consider the other person homosexual, only having attributes of the special status of gayness.

I have heard it used this way in movies like The 40 Year Old Virgin and Superbad. I have seen it expressed in the British TV series Skins (which gave us the Slumdog Millionaire star Dev Patel, a straight character who is best friends with the series unabashed gay kid).

I’ve read it on Facebook frequently, when somebody posts a picture that’s a little too expressive or affectionate and he is taunted, “You are the gayest,” when what the poster actually means is, “You really put yourself out there and deserve credit for not being afraid to express yourself.”

It’s sort of like calling your best friend a bonehead because you can’t tell him how you really feel about him. In many of these contexts, it can be a way of telling someone you care.

In The Full Monty, the entertaining musical currently playing at the Station Theater, two working class men find themselves partnering up. At the funeral of one’s mother, the other comes to stand next to him.

“Look,” whispers one of their friends. “They’re holding hands. I don’t even hold hands with my wife.”

“Good for them,” the lead character, as macho as they come, whispers back.

Not everyone has the capacity to comprehend, let alone act on, same-sex affection. I feel sorry for those people. Sarah Palin would probably wrinkle her nose and frown at the thought. Or maybe not. Things are changing.

Sometimes calling people gay can be a kind of compliment. It can be, even if halfway in jest, an acknowledgment that people are unafraid to be themselves. Good for them.


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