By Alistair McCartney
This year on Martin Luther King Day, in the "Counter-Punch" section of the LA Times, I found myself reading the most vicious expression of homophobia Ive read in a long time. It came from none other than nationally syndicated radio-show host Laura Schlessinger, otherwise known as Dr. Laura. She breezily admitted that she had
"ÖSpoken out against gay marriage, gone on record as describing homosexuality as a deviant sexual orientation, and had spoken favorably about reparative therapy for gays who wish to change their sexual orientation."
What a gal! Having to read this trash on MLK day (a day set aside to remember the great mans dream of a future world based on respect and equality) would have felt ironic if it werent so disheartening. These days, it being the 21st century and all, I like to fancy myself as immune to anti-gay rhetorical rubbish, adhering to the old fave of childhood demos "sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me." But I found myself shaking, upping the sugar level in my coffee, a small effort to sweeten the bitter taste her words were leaving in my mouth.
Oddly enough, her startlingly homophobic sentiments came forth in a column in which she was attempting to defend herself against charges of homophobia, leveled at her by GLAAD and LA Times writer Brian Lowry.
It seems the people at GLAAD are highly concerned about the fact that Dr. Laura is soon to be making her TV debut, on a chat show marketed by Paramount. Their concern seems more than warranted, considering that these days, power lies, not as Mao famously declared, in the barrel of a gun, but in that cradle of mass communications, the television set. The thought of her poison pumped daily into people slouching on their sofas has worried GLAAD enough for them to be meeting with Paramount officials at the end of this month. As GLAADS executive director Joan Garry stated
"We believe her words give people permission to put an entire group of people in a second-class place." Garry outlined GLAADs aim as encouraging Dr. Laura to "curtail her defamatory vocabulary."
GLAAD arent the only ones in a minor panic. In a rare instance of ethics taking precedence over ratings, some gay employees of Paramount are voicing disappointment and disgust that their company would (for the sake of profit) make such a cheap move as attaching itself to Dr. Laura.
Joe Keenan, an Emmy-winning writer-producer for Frasier expressed succinctly: "What gay person working for Paramount could be happy about this? We feel the way the Von Trapp children would feel if Dad decided to divorce Maria and marry Joan Crawford. Shes not a happy addition to the family."
Another Paramount producer added, "I cant imagine the studio would be syndicating an openly anti-Semitic or anti-African American talk-show host."
In the rapacious world of the entertainment industry, driven as it is by profit margins (at the expense of everything else, including humans) such internal dissent is no small thing.
And Lowry (who excellently covered all the trouble brewing over in TV land) himself described Dr. Lauras "Im just being a good Jew" stance on homosexuality as brute "prejudice adorned in a cloak of religion and morality."
Is this woman the ugly sister of Anita Bryant or what?
So the not so good Dr. Laura set aside to clear her good name. Her first line of defense against critics was precisely what Lowry was incredulous about: "The truth is, Im not [homophobic.] What I am is a serious Jew who has consistently stated my belief that same-sex sexual activity is incompatible with biblical Scripture."
Having been raised in a strict Roman Catholic upbringing (not exactly the most swinging of religions), Im more than used to distaste for gays expressed biblically, so this barb ran off me like water off a ducks back. When bigots reach lazily for the scriptures to support their theses on the many evils of queers, it feels like old hat, positively medieval, not to say unconvincing.
But what was far more troubling to me was her second line of counter-attack, her smugly reaching for the weapon of science:
" To point out that homosexuality deviates from the norm does not constitute hate speech. It simply means that homosexuality deviates from biological normsÖ a subject I know well, having received a doctorate in medical psychology from the college of physicians and surgeons at Columbia University."
Since when, I would like to know, has branding queers as "deviants" from the "biological norm" not constituted hatred?
She wears her psychological credentials proudly on her polyester sleeve, reminding us that she is also "a licensed psychotherapist" (An instance where indeed the cure is worse than the illness. I cant imagine what her clients feel like after leaving a session with herperhaps like their psyches have been put through a meat-grinder, their souls savaged by a rabid pug dog!)
Science as a discourse occupies a dangerously privileged position. Historically it has been viewed as a neutral discipline; simultaneously it has been employed throughout history as a political tool of oppression and hatred, a means of giving rational legitimization to wildly irrational bigotry. Remember how the Nazis shrouded their anti-Semitism in pseudo-scientific claims to the "genetic inferiority" of Jews? And slavery in this country was also enabled and perpetuated by 18th and 19th century biological stupidity masquerading as scientific authority, so-called knowledge that placed African peoples at rock bottom of the chain of being, and Europeans firmly at the top.
Humans have a nasty habit of forgetting history. People are aware that religions have their biases, forgetting that science has its own deeply biased and violent story. But science still somehow gets away with its claims to innocence. More than ever, as we blindly speed into a new century, many have lost faith in religion, are wary of its dogmatic terms. In turn they have (re)placed their faith and trust in science. And if there is any dominant religion in the USA at this point in time, it is the lowest level of science, in the crudest forms of pop-psychology such as Dr.Lauras.
Despite all, (or is it because of?), her supposed psychological and scientific credentials, she shows all the worst reductionist tendencies of traditional psychotherapy, shrinking down the splendid subterranean complexity of gay identity into a mere source of "psychological angst."
She has gone on record describing homosexuality as " a biological error." What do you do with an error of a body, a mistake of a human, but cure it (she is highly in favor of reparative therapy) or do away with it? Either way, the identity is erased.
For such a "serious Jew" she seems remarkably ignorant of the fact that her pseudo-scientific reasoning closely resembles the logic Nazis used and still use to support their own hateful claims that all Jews were deviants (not sexual deviants but racial ones), deviating from so-called Aryan biological norms. If Dr. Mengele (I mean Dr. Laura) is as she claims a "serious Jew" she should know better than to follow the same sinister path.
She spews out all this bile, and still feels comfortable in saying (as a highly religious woman no doubt,) that "homosexuals are as entitled to love and respect as all other human beings." Like science, religion allows the believer the privilege of contradiction and blindness. Having the nerve to spout such blatant bullshit shows not only bad faith, but also a tremendous degree of unconsciousness for a "licensed psychotherapist". Not only is this woman devoid of humanity, but devoid of any sense of the effects her hateful views are very likely to take on in the world, material as the world is, vulnerable as our bodies are. We live in a world where metaphors and words are all too-often transformed into wounds, into physical violence. A world where names translate very easily into sticks and stones. Maybe thats why I found myself shaking as I read her column, I could feel her rhetoric settling in my bones. Names CAN hurt me. Keep this woman off the TV! And get her to a good therapist, before she does any more harm!