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    Ann Rostow: It’s a Little Bit Funny

    By Ann Rostow–

    It’s a Little Bit Funny

    I’m not a fan of this headline in Out magazine: “Study says everyone’s at least a little gay.” The article cites a “new study” conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information. There are a number of problems here, starting with the fact that the study was published online in 2015, meaning that it was compiled prior to that. Not new. 

    Second, I’ve never been totally convinced by research based on people watching porn. No one’s in their right mind watching porn. I remember all of the gay male porn that arrived at the Bay Times office for review back in the day, and it was all vaguely erotic (except for that one about the fire station). That doesn’t mean I’m even a little bit attracted to gay men. Oh, I love you guys, but you know what I mean.

    Third, even if a study purports to conclude that, let’s say, “drinking coffee causes tooth decay,” it usually means that one person out of a hundred thousand coffee drinkers might have ended up with an extra cavity or two. These studies are essentially meaningless. It’s just somebody trying to get their graduate degree.

    And finally, what does it mean if everyone is a little gay? It’s like saying everyone is a little bit Republican, or everyone has a pinch of Neanderthal DNA, or everyone is a child at heart, or everyone contains a little bit of stardust. It adds nothing to our understanding of humanity, let alone sexual orientation. I reject it and I condemn the editorial staff responsible for its dissemination.

    SCOTUS, We Hardly Knew Ya

    I’m having a hard time focusing on the various legal travails of our community, considering that the Supreme Court, the final arbiter of our civil rights fate, is in the process of shifting to the enemy. Once, it was exciting to dwell on every detail as some Title VII case slowly wound its way towards a favorable conclusion. Now, it’s like watching your pet kitten slide inexorably towards the edge of a cliff. Fluffy! Come back!

    And I’m not the only one. I just read an article pointing out that a zillion GLBT organizations and allies once wrote briefs urging the Supreme Court to accept review of a workplace discrimination suit by a lesbian out of Georgia. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit had ruled that Title VII, the federal law banning discrimination on the job, does not cover sexual orientation claims. But, Dear Reader, we begged to differ, and we begged the High Court to settle the matter.

    Last year, the Supreme Court declined to review that Georgia case, and now two more Title VII lawsuits sit in the petition pile. One is brought by the estate of a dead gay skydiver (Zarda!) who won before the full Second Circuit, the other is another Eleventh Circuit case that, predictably, we lost. So, have we jumped into the fray to ask the justices to hear these cases? Um, no. (Cue: lonely chirping crickets.) That’s because the new Court will likely rule against us, undoing much of our recent progress and cementing antigay jurisprudence into American law. Far better for these cases to go away on their own and far better for these and other GLBT legal challenges to await the next Court shift.

    I can hear you moaning. Well, that could take a generation. Yes, and no. Just two short years ago, we could never have anticipated the Court we face today. Who knows what a few more years will bring?

    Bake This, Bozo

    What else? Speaking of legal news, I burst with frustration whenever the name “Jack Phillips” passes through the headlines. The holier-than-thou Masterpiece Cakeshop owner who sort of won and sort of lost his contest with Colorado civil rights law last June, has proclaimed victory despite the fact that he “won” on a technicality and despite the fact that Justice Kennedy also backed Colorado’s right to ban GLBT discrimination in the public square. 

    In other words, Kennedy and his fellow justices (many of whom wrote their own concurrent or dissenting opinions in this case) left a big mess for future courts to unravel at their discretion. 

    Meanwhile, a year ago while the Masterpiece lawsuit was still waiting for the High Court to decide whether or not to take review, a mischievous transgender woman, Autumn Scardina, called Masterpiece to order a transition celebration cake, blue on the outside and pink on the inside. This was an obvious legal ploy, considering that Scardina explained the symbolism in advance. But still!

    Naturally, Phillips took the bait and refused the order on religious grounds, leading Scardina to file a discrimination complaint. A couple of weeks after the High Court ruled on the original Masterpiece suit (which involved a wedding cake for two men) the Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled that Scardina may well have been the target of illegal discrimination. 

    This means that Jack Phillips is back in the limelight, reprising his role as a martyred baker, a simple man who would happily sell all of us a snickerdoodle, but chooses to distance himself from the heretical trappings of our personal flaws. 

    In the first case, Phillips refused to do any business whatsoever with the two men in question, only later insisting that he would have sold them other things, but that the sale of a wedding cake would be akin to forcing him to promote a same-sex marriage, a violation of his First Amendment right to free speech. This time around, it’s even less clear how the special cake, designed by the client, would trespass on Phillips’ constitutional rights. That said, I have no doubt that his buddies at the Alliance Defense Fund will contrive some arguments to that effect.

    The problem here, as mentioned earlier, is that Justice Kennedy’s opinion in the first Masterpiece case was so vague that there’s every reason to believe a new Court could “clarify” the decision to our detriment should this issue reach the Court again. 

    Meanwhile, another wedding discrimination case is still very much alive, heading back to the Washington Supreme Court, and presumably back to the Supremes from there. This involves Arlene’s Flowers, the shop owned by Barronelle Stutzman, who declined to do business with one of her regular clients: a man who was marrying another man. 

    The worst part of this case, aside from the fact that it holds the potential to annul gay rights ordinances and laws throughout the country, is that I never know how to spell “Barronelle Stutzman” and have to look it up every time. Two n’s? Two r’s? Are there two n’s at the end of Stutzman? If I ever figure it out, it will be a bad omen.

    Hook ‘Em

    Moving on to the category of people we wish were not even a little bit gay, here’s news that crazy murderous former football player Aaron Hernandez broke down in tears before his attorney when he realized his gay affair (along with a straight affair) might become public at trial. According to a new book by the lawyer, Jose Baez, Hernandez was worried about how his fiancée would react to the information.

    “But Jose,” Hernandez said. “She’ll be devastated. I never meant to hurt her. I know I keep disappointing her. But she is my soul.” 

    I was planning to make fun of Hernandez, who killed himself in prison, because come on! You never meant to hurt her? You had sex with two other people that we know of, and plus you killed a guy for no reason. That said, the guy’s brain was reportedly in shambles, with one of the worst cases of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy that researchers had ever seen. 

    This reminds me of one of my several conflicts—I love football, but think it’s a deadly and barbaric sport. The other big conflict I have is that I love adorable animals and yet allow them to be slaughtered for my dining pleasure. But speaking of football, it’s that time again. Some of you know what I’m talking about. Some of you care. Yes, it’s college football season! 

    As I said, I’m conflicted here because the first game for one of my favorite teams is against the University of Maryland, where a student was basically killed by macho coaches who made him run around and do whatever until he collapsed. The coaches made little effort to get immediate medical care, which would have saved him, eventually calling 911. The boy never recovered and died a week or so later. Making matters worse, this happened in early June and the coaches are still employed, although I think they had to take a leave of absence for a while. The strength conditioning coach, who sounds insane, was let go with a nice severance package. But this is all the more reason for everyone to root for Texas, right? Go Horns!

    Them Too

    So what else is new? I was reading about how Batwoman was created in order to take the pressure off of Batman and Robin, who were starting to attract rumors. I always wondered about those two myself.

    I was also reading that horrible story about the transgender girl in Oklahoma who was the subject of violent threats by her classmates’ parentsTwelve-year-old Maddie was in her first week of middle school in an unfamiliar building, where she was using the girls’ bathroom instead of the staff bathroom she used at her previous school. Facebook posts included a threat to get “a good sharp knife” to help Maddie transition “really quick.” The local sheriff closed the school for several days while the threats were investigated, while Maddie’s mother got a restraining order against one of the aggressive fathers. A couple dozen teens held a rally in support of Maddie; this was the only good thing about the story. I have a lot of faith in the rising generation, GenZ, iGen or whatever. I wish they’d grow up faster.

    Then there was the sexual harassment accusation against a New York University professor, Avital Ronell, by one of her students, Nimrod Reitman. I have a small confession to make, and that is that I am so tired of Me Too stories and the various variations on the theme, that I tend to swipe right past them. But I can’t ignore a story that includes someone called “Nimrod.” Nimrod! Is that really his name? Well, yes, it is! And Nimrod was relentlessly harangued and texted and cajoled and phoned and pursued and harassed in the broadest sense of the word by his older female professor. And they were both gay! Say what?

    A good article in the Christian Science Monitor explains how exhausting it is to be the target of someone with more power; someone you can’t easily escape. It’s not even the sexual side. It’s the constant need to deflect, to parry and to carve out space for yourself without destroying the underlying relationship. Because, if you think about it, when there’s no power dichotomy and when the relationship doesn’t matter, sexual harassment is never prolonged. It’s arrested at once. Here, the man was beset. As the article describes it, Ronell demanded his attention “at all hours of the night, across three continents, on email, phone, Skype, in person, on campus, on other campuses … in apartments, classrooms, hallways, offices, subway stations … . It’s almost as if Reitman could have no life apart from her.”  

    Ronell claims her affections were part of a whimsical repartee, “largely gay-coded,” she says, “with literary allusions, poetic runs and obviously exaggerated expressions of tenderness that were often initiated and returned by Reitman.” Indeed, some of his emails sound extremely affectionate; in particular, the early ones. Frankly, I can’t figure out their odd bond, but it seems clear that by the end, Nimrod had been driven mad by this woman, calling her “the monster” to others and dreading every encounter. 

    The whole business turns sexual harassment on its ear and I think it reveals the real horror of it all: being under someone’s control, being trapped, being used, being dehumanized. Sex is only one tool for that. Literary allusions and poetic runs can work too, in the right hands.