Magazine June 2, 2014, Issue

The Tolerance that Dare Not Speak Its Name

People tweet all sorts of things, and the brisk snap-and-crackle of the medium means you sometimes don’t phrase them as elegantly as you might. So it’s possible that the keen intellect of Ed Schultz, the MSNBC evening bleater, didn’t quite mean it when he tweeted a picture of a piece of text that said “between 5,000 and 15,000 gay men were interned in concentration camps in Nazi Germany,” and added what seems to be a new twist on Holocaust studies:

“Gay people were really the ones being persecuted in Hitler’s Germany. #edshow”

It’s hard to believe he thinks that the godless mechanism for mass extermination of the Jews and assorted other racial untermenschen was a cover for doing away with 15,000 homosexuals. It’s possible that he thinks the Night of the Long Knives, which eliminated Ernst Röhm and other SA leaders, was not a consolidation of power but pure homophobia, straight up. (Literally.) It’s possible Mr. Schultz fell asleep watching Liza Minnelli in Cabaret and woke up in the middle of Schindler’s List.

I don’t follow Mr. Schultz on Twitter, for the same reason I have never volunteered to be the fellow with the broom and dustpan who follows the elephants in a circus parade. But I gather from tweets that he was noting how conservatives were freaking out over the gay NFL player who had kissed his boyfriend. No doubt some did. No doubt some could not care less, unless it’s proven that televised same-sex kisses increase the federal deficit.

Here’s the problem: It’s not a matter of “Who cares?” anymore. It’s a lurking fear that you should care, and you had better care the right way.

Of course, there’s the always handy what-if: If the player had thanked “Jesus Christ My Lord and Savior, my parents for raising me with a sense of right and wrong, and the party of Lincoln that fought for emancipation and Reagan who renewed American confidence,” and the draft pick was interviewed on a gun range, he would be an evolutionary throwback one step above brutes who clubbed women and dragged them by their hair back to the cave. Cue the thumbsucking:

“It’s interesting that he mentioned Reagan, given the charges back in the ’80s that the CIA introduced crack to African-American neighborhoods,” someone on ESPN would opine. If a gay player had been drafted as well, they’d ask the conservative straight guy how he felt about playing on the same team with the gay player, hoping for an icky-icky-homo-cooties remark. 

“I’m happy to play with anyone who can play the game,” the conservative would probably say, which would be a springboard for think-pieces about the deep rifts in the African-American communities about gays. If he was photographed high-fiving with the gay player, it would show how the healing power of sports was breaking down old divisions — and encourage a conversation about how the GOP had to confront a new reality.

Because it can’t just be about two guys on a team.

Anyway. Back to the matter of why everyone has to care, and care correctly. Indifference towards the gender of someone getting a celebratory smooch is sufficient, for the moment, as long as you don’t make too much of a point of declaring how you don’t care. That could be a microaggression in itself, since it proclaims a lack of interest in what the event signifies. And it does signify something: It would take a heart of coal not to realize that it meant something for the player to assume the culture had shifted enough to permit him to be honest about whom he loved. Some people’s inner Archie Bunker may groan: Oh, stifle. But for those of us who grew up actually thinking Elton John was straight, well, honesty, best policy, and all that.

But honesty has to swing both ways, so to speak. It is already impermissible to Archie Bunker out loud: “Aw, don’t be kissing guys there, jeez.” Now you sense you’re in trouble if you defend the right of people to object. Not to the act itself; no one has to watch it. (Onion website headline: “Local Man Still Outraged by Gay Kiss on TV After 35 YouTube Viewings.”) But people get the sense that they’re judged poorly if they don’t celebrate the event. Silence = Disapproval. Acceptance isn’t enough. Endorsement is required.

Will the defense of other people who decline to endorse homosexuality be a hate crime? Don’t worry. That will founder the moment someone does a survey of the number of mosques that wave rainbow flags as a sign of inclusion. Then it’ll become a Difficult Issue for people Buffeted by Cultural Changes, and the New York Times will find one groovy imam who’s making waves on the acceptance front, and even though he will represent .001 percent of all mosque preachers, it will be an assurance of Hope, and Dissolving Barriers.

In the meantime, watch what general principles you defend.  If you retweet someone’s remark that the female-identifying bearded man in a dress who won the Eurovision contest was “shocking,” you might have to be called into the Special Room to explain your position. We have an allegation of transphobia, Winston. How do you explain this?

“It was shocking. Seriously, that belt with those shoes? Really.”

“Ah. Good. You understand, it appeared that you were expressing a non-inclusive private opinion.”

“Of course, but I’m not stupid. I’d like to keep my job.”

The interrogator would grant absolution — as long as you tweeted three Mea Culpas. And one Hail Liza.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at www.lileks.com.

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