Ever since I saw the film Mean Girls, almost ten years ago, I have been waiting for Mean Gays.
The instant classic starring once-innocent Lindsay Lohan, orchestrated by the pre-Palin-slayer Tina Fey, wasn't as much about the meanness of females as about a maladjusted social world populated by people who resorted to games to overcome their own insecurities. The film spurred discussion among women about how to stop being nasty. Unfortunately, the LGBT leadership seems determined each year to make gays more and more like adolescent girls. Therein lies a tale.
In Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792), Mary Wollstonecraft presented many of the same issues. Wollstonecraft depicts British women of the eighteenth century as petty, brainless gossipers, fulfilling all the worst male stereotypes of females because, by refusing to educate them, men created the monsters who would populate their misogynistic fantasies. Of course, if you deprive a specific class of information, outlets to express their true feelings (including aggression), and a means to pursue their life ambitions, members of that subjugated class will begin to engage in subterfuge. They will become vain, shallow, and small-minded. They will judge one another and become rivals. Relationships that ought otherwise to be based on affection and loyalty will play the same role as patron/client, boss/underling, or liege/vessel.
Ergo, the subjects of such mis-education would become animalistic -- "catty" or "bitchy." Wollstonecraft's solution was for women to be tutored in serious subjects and kept away from sexual competition. Anyone who's read a Jane Austen novel knows that other women of Wollstonecraft's generation were similarly concerned.
In Chapter 2 of Vindication, Wollstonecraft wryly -- and shrewdly -- compares women to soldiers (footnotes removed):
Standing armies [...] will seldom contain men under the influence of strong passions, or with very vigorous faculties. And as for any depth of understanding, I will venture to affirm, that it is as rarely to be found in the army as amongst women; and the cause, I maintain, is the same. It may be further observed, that officers are also particularly attentive to their persons, fond of dancing, crowded rooms, adventures, and ridicule. Like the fair sex, the business of their lives is gallantry. They were taught to please, and they only live to please.
The comparison struck a chord with my army experience. Male troops, when sequestered into platoons and cut off from news of the outside world, act like high school girls: forming backstabbing cliques and bad-mouthing one another to get ahead. Barracks intrigue can be much like girlish cafeteria politics: picayune and invidious in its principles, yet Shakespearean in its performance. When one is defined purely by the worth of one's body, one's appearance, and one's utility to larger societal purposes that one is not allowed to decide, one starts to whine and connive. Hence, soldiers and women have often shared the same sense of powerlessness and passive-aggressiveness. (As would gays, who fit much of the above checklist.)
Soldiers got to rise above the status of bodily instruments and be men again. Discharged from the army, they could become husbands and fathers and participate in civic debates. Women were forever trapped in the pettiness of a life only half-human.
Naturally, many things changed between 1792 and 2004. Right?
In March 2002, Amelia Hill of the Guardian wrote:
Girls have always had cliques and hierarchies; they have always gossiped, bitched and ostracised, but according to psychologists there is a new form of non-physical cruelty spreading through schools so extreme it has been given a new name: relational aggression.
In an August 2004 interview on CBS, Lindsay Lohan herself was asked, "That stuff really does happen, huh?" Lohan, blithely unaware of how much her personal life would become fodder for Kathy Griffin's relentless bitchery, said, "It really does."
In a March 2011 piece in TIME by Megan Gibson, the secret of the Mean Girl allure is explained point-blank: "A new study shows what teenage girls have known for decades-being mean can be a surefire way to make friends." Later that same year, in the Daily Mail, Daisy Dumas and Tamara Abraham concur: "women are often portrayed as catty creatures. Now, a leading gender expert has admitted that the fiction is not far from reality."
At least women are acknowledging the problem. Not so in the gay world. Having been raised by a lesbian and her partner from the earliest ages I could remember, and having identified as gay at twenty, then bisexual at thirty, I have spent forty years in the LGBT community. I've grown up as gayness has grown up. Much has changed -- but the nastiness hasn't.
The crudeness of "anti-bullying" Dan Savage is traumatizing, yet he gets encouragement from gays and lesbians who pattern their personal attitudes after his politics. This is what passes, in Dan Savage's world, as civilized behavior: outing people, combing through the personal lives of people like Ted Haggard with righteous nosiness, fantasizing about sodomizing Rick Santorum, making fun of Marcus Bachmann's lisp, calling Christian students pansy-assed and the Bible "bullshit," and dismissing gay Republicans as "house faggots." Now, well into middle age, he has a reality show on MTV that allows him to troll around college campuses talking to nineteen-year-olds about kinky sex.
Dan Savage isn't alone. If anything, he brandishes tactics that countless gays and lesbians have learned: stay offensive, hurt others before they hurt you, gather allies around you through sarcastic mockery, and humiliate until you get your way. That's how women held each other back for thousands of years. That's how soldiers led each other into innumerable acts of fratricide and sabotage.
It isn't difficult to understand how these survival tactics emerged: gays and lesbians grew up in a world that often punished them for openness and rewarded secrecy. Their only chance of finding romance is to enter a dating market consisting of 0.7% of the total population. Then, within that small dating pool, the vices of each gender are exponentially compounded. Gay men have to deal with the prurient optics of other men's sexual drives -- hence the eating disorders. Lesbians have to deal with the cloistering, smothering tendencies of other women -- hence the stormy high theater of decade-long feuds I saw in the lesbian community where I grew up.
Ever since the mid-1970s, I've wondered when gays will stop being so mean. In my childhood, I reacted to antisocial behavior among gay adults by withdrawing into a fantasy world. In my adolescence, I took gay people's undercutting slurs and sudden cold-shoulder treatments as proof that there was something wrong with me. Then, in my adulthood, cattiness was simply a logistical problem; it was annoying to have gay co-workers forming subterranean plots at the office. I learned, by then, to be wary of letting anybody gay into my inner circles, for fear of encroaching melodrama and rivalry (sadly, this meant I had to be cold to other gays, thereby exacerbating the problems for others). Eventually I got into a faithful marriage to a woman, because I fell in love. As a result, now I deal with distrust and accusations of treason for being a bisexual married to the opposite sex.
Rather than replace subterfuge with real civic power, gays have made subterfuge a permanent weapon. They've taught everyone -- especially Obama's left -- how to wield it. Bill Maher sounds like a bitter gay barfly wisecracking about some innocent woman's bad fashion the more he carries on about Sarah Palin's family. Others like Maher have been mis-educated by powerful gays to think mean people write history.
It is time for a Mean Gays moment: a film or something to wake gays up. They need to stop being mean. Unless they can, nothing political will lift the cloud from their lives and allow them the joys felt by those they envy.
Robert Oscar Lopez is the author of The Colorful Conservative: American Conversations with the Ancients from Wheatley to Whitman. His novels about the hidden truths of gay life are going to be published in January 2012 by the owner of the Runaway Pen.