Ugggggh. I really would like to do a Knesset ruling coalition or a French President Francois Hollande blong. But, our domestic news has been dominated by sexual orientation news and debate. And, it seems irresponsible not to say more about it. In two days, we’ve had NC adopt a constitutional amendment forbidding the legal recognition of any sort of same-sex civil arrangement; President Obama was “forced” to admit his support for same-sex marriage by the admissions of his Veep, Joey B.; and Mitt Romney has been accused of shearing a fellow classmates hair, in high school, for the classmate’s perceived homosexuality and against his will.
As I’ve confessed, I’m constrained, most notably by my day job, from commenting too specifically about the legal aspects of the matter. And, I’m personally wary of offending some or all of my audience. It’s hot button. And, my courage is not red badge.
But, the Romney accusation exposes a blind spot in the dialogue of the right and among people of faith about the homosexual issue. As the story is told, Romney became obsessed with what he perceived as the inappropriate length of a blonde classmate’s hair (circa Ronnie Bass of Remember the Titans). Witnesses say that Romney took a pair of scissors, held down the classmate, and cut it off — the hair. Romney first claimed that he didn’t remember the event but then offered that homosexuality couldn’t have been any sort of motive because that was “the furthest thing from [their] minds back in the 1960s.”
The rejoinder misses the mark.
Ducking the hate crime or homophobia accusation doesn’t save you from the most damning one.
That you’re cruel.
When I was about 11 I saw an advertisement for the television premiere of the movie, The Elephant Man. I BEGGED my parents to VHS tape record it for me. They kept saying, “You know it’s really sad, right?” But, I was apparently so intrigued by the sort of sideshow aspect of it that I insisted.
As best I recall, in the movie, the Elephant Man builds, out of match sticks or cards, a replica church. One night a group of drunken revelers comes by his hospital room. They destroy his model, pour alcohol over his face and body, and then show him his own misshapen face in a mirror.
In that moment, I ran sobbing convulsingly from the room. Like couldn’t catch my breath, ran into the wall type crying. It was abhorrent cruelty. It was gut level, my reaction. Pure grain empathy. No real analytics or moral processing. Just base sadness. I spent 2 hours swinging on the playground. I couldn’t sleep for an actual week. (It didn’t help that my dad thought Poltergeist was a “comedy” and that I had seen it that very same week. The irony is that my parents were, and remain, about the most prudish movie consumers I know. I didn’t see Robocop until I was 27.)
That scene is, for me, the emblem of cruelty.
Mitt Romney is an old man. (Sorry Dad.) He went to high school FIVE decades ago. I would never hold him to account for basically anything he did then, including this alleged incident. “Every five years or so I look back on my life and have a good laugh.” – The Indigo Girls
That Mitt Romney might have disagreed with homosexuality in the 60s or that he disagrees with it now or certain civil benefits for the same, should be permissible in our public discourse. But, this alleged story epitomizes the problem with those that would — disagree that is.
We don’t stop at disagreement. All such opposition is eventually marked by a type of metaphorical “holding down” and “shearing.” In private conversation, in political strategy, in the voting booth, we don’t seem to stop at disagreement. It nearly always morphs into cruelty.
I saw a girl in high school who lived in Toms River, NJ. And, by “saw” I mean so in the Biblical sense, if you get my drift. She was a devout Christian and her father was a pastor. I was visiting with her family one summer and they began talking viscously about “faggots” and “queers.” At that time, I probably shared nearly identical theological and political views concerning the LGBT community. But, I was just stunned by the rhetoric. Even then, at 17 or so, there was this impassable gap, for me, between the viewpoint and the hatred. And, trust me, to be completely above board, at that time and even now, much of the pattern and practice of the LGBT community illicits from me only revulsion. I was not, and am not now, any sort of specific behavioral sympathizer. My instincts, in other words, have never been ones of appreciation and understanding. But, the hatred to it is simply foreign.
Hate crimes, bullying, dirty politics, name calling, talk radio. These are symptoms of something more universally disgusting — our inclination to cruelty. But it’s not just freaks and gays we treat meanly. We invite underclassman teammates to the back of buses, through dark tunnels, strip them naked, duct tape their ankles and wrists, and send them back to their seat. (Hypothetically speaking, of course.) We build whole stand-up and talk-radio and late-night television careers out of ridicule. We love a good prank show. Clever condescension. The snide. Cruelty can be so cool.
I have been plenty cruel in my life. I don’t mean to cite some set of silly anecdotes to distinguish others from myself.
But, in our moral policing and proselytizing, let’s make sure we don’t find ourselves straddled over a classmate, taking hair against his will.
Performed by ipoet. Music produced by Sundance.
Today’s song blog here:Haircut