Eric Alva: Honored at The 2004 Texas State GOP Convention 

Former Marine Staff Sgt. Alva at Home 

Former U.S. Marine Staff Sergeant Eric Alva

The following article is reprinted from Andrew Sullivan’s blog in The Atlantic, The Daily Dish.  It is Sullivan’s response to the ugly slur made by Ann Coulter in her address last week to the Conservative Political Action Conference, the preeminent national gathering of the conservative movement:

“I watched Ann Coulter last night in the gayest way I could.  I was on a stairmaster at a gym, slack-jawed at her proud defense of calling someone a “faggot” on the same stage as presidential candidates and as an icon of today’s conservative movement.  The way in which Fox News and Sean Hannity and, even more repulsively, Pat Cadell, shilled for her was a new low for Fox, I think – and for what remains of decent conservatism.  “We’re all friends here,” Hannity chuckled at the end.  Yes, they were.  And no faggots were on the show to defend themselves. That’s fair and balanced.

I’m not going to breathe more oxygen into this story except to say a couple of things that need saying.  Coulter has an actual argument in self-defense and it’s worth addressing.  Her argument is that it was a joke and that since it was directed a straight man, it wasn’t homophobic.  It was, in her words, a “school-yard taunt,” directed at a straight man, meaning a “wuss” and a “sissy”.  Why would gays care?  She is “pro-gay,” after all.  Apart from backing a party that wants to strip gay couples of all legal rights by amending the federal constitution, kick them out of the military where they are putting their lives on the line, put them into “reparative therapy” to “cure” them, keep it legal to fire them in many states, and refusing to include them in hate crime laws, Coulter is very pro-gay.  As evidence of how pro-gay she is, check out all the gay men and women in America now defending her.

Her defense, however, is that she was making a joke, not speaking a slur.  Her logic suggests that the two are mutually exclusive.  They’re not.  And when you unpack Coulter’s joke, you see she does both.  Her joke was that the world is so absurd that someone like Isaiah Washington is forced to go into rehab for calling someone a “faggot.”  She’s absolutely right that this is absurd and funny and an example of p.c. insanity.  She could have made a joke about that – a better one, to be sure – but a joke.  But she didn’t just do that.  She added to the joke a slur: “John Edwards is a faggot.”  That’s why people gasped and then laughed and clapped so heartily.  I was in the room, so I felt the atmosphere personally.  It was an ugly atmosphere, designed to make any gay man or woman in the room feel marginalized and despised.  To put it simply, either conservatism is happy to be associated with that atmosphere, or it isn’t.  I think the response so far suggests that the conservative elites don’t want to go there, but the base has already been there for a very long time.  (That’s why this affair is so revealing, because it is showing which elites want to pander to bigots, and which do not.)

Coulter’s defense of the slur is that it was directed at an obviously straight man and so could not be a real slur.  The premise of this argument is that the word faggot is only used to describe gay men and is only effective and derogatory when used against a gay man.  But it isn’t.  In fact, in the schoolyard she cites, the primary targets of the f-word are straight boys or teens or men.  The word “faggot” is used for two reasons: to identify and demonize a gay man; and to threaten a straight man with being reduced to the social pariah status of a gay man.  Coulter chose the latter use of the slur, its most potent and common form.  She knew why Edwards qualified.  He’s pretty, he has flowing locks, he’s young-looking.  He is exactly the kind of straight guy who is targeted as a “faggot” by his straight peers.  This, Ms Coulter, is real social policing by speech. And that’s what she was doing: trying to delegitimize and feminize a man by calling him a faggot.  It happens every day.  It’s how insecure or bigoted straight men police their world to keep the homos out.

And for the slur to work, it must logically accept the premise that gay men are weak, effeminate, wusses, sissies, and the rest.  A sane gay man has two responses to this, I think.  The first is that there is nothing wrong with effeminacy or effeminate gay men – and certainly nothing weak about many of them.  In the plague years, I saw countless nelly sissies face HIV and AIDS with as much courage and steel as any warrior on earth.  You want to meet someone with balls?  Find a drag queen.  The courage of many gay men every day in facing down hatred and scorn and derision to live lives of dignity and integrity is not a sign of being a wuss or somehow weak.  We have as much and maybe more courage than many – because we have had to acquire it to survive.  And that is especially true of gay men whose effeminacy may not make them able to pass as straight – the very people Coulter seeks to demonize.  The conflation of effeminacy with weakness, and of gayness with weakness, is what Coulter calculatedly asserted.  This was not a joke. It was an attack.

Secondly, gay men are not all effeminate.  In the last couple of weeks, we have seen a leading NBA player and a soldier come out to tell their stories.  I’d like to hear Coulter tell Former N.B.A. Player Amaechi and Former Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva that they are sissies and wusses.  A man in uniform who just lost a leg for his country is a sissy?  The first American solider to be wounded in Iraq is a wuss?  What Coulter did, in her callow, empty way, was to accuse John Edwards of not being a real man.  To do so, she asserted that gay men are not real men either.  The emasculation of men in minority groups is an ancient trope of the vilest bigotry.  Why was it wrong, after all, for white men to call African-American men “boys”?  Because it robbed them of the dignity of their masculinity.  And that’s what Coulter did last Friday to gays.  She said – and conservatives applauded – that I and so many others are not men.  We are men, Ann.

As members of other minorities have been forced to say in the past: I am not a faggot.  I am a man.”

Photo Above: Former US Marine Staff Sergeant Eric Alva (R) speaks as Rep. Marty Meehan (L), D-MA, listens during a February 28, 2007, press conference in which Rep. Meehan said he will re-introduce legislation to repeal the US Military “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy.  Alva was the first US soldier to be wounded in Iraq and has said that he is gay.

A day later, a reader responds:

“Thank you, Andrew, for that post.  I will testify to you about the bravest man I ever knew.

My brother, eleven years older than me, my godfather, was a semi-nelly queen from rural southeast Texas, where we grew up.  Talk about steel.  There, especially then, you take your life in your hands if you’re queer and honest about it.  Far more likely you grow up closeted and hating yourself.  Well, my brother didn’t hate himself, but plenty of people down there did.  And somehow, in the face of hate, he displayed understanding and equanimity.  How he managed understanding was sometimes beyond me.  Like your friends, Andrew, my brother had more strength and courage and grace than Hannity and Coulter put together.  He died of AIDS, Christmas 1994. He lived long enough to have several fatal diseases – Kaposi’s, pneumocystis carinii, etc. – by the time he died.  He lived his illness without bitterness, complaint, or regret.  He planned his death, from the hospice to the urn, so as not to be a burden to our parents or to his brothers or friends.  All the while offering comfort to his friends who were sicker, cooking meals, driving to appointments, enforcing medical regimes.

I’ve never seen someone so kind to the nurses and doctors attending him.
“I’m sorry, I look horrible,” he said to the doctor at his last appointment.
“Do you feel like you’re dying?” his doctor asked.
“Yes.  Is that okay?”

He faced eternity with peace and wisdom and a great good humor that I continue to find simply stunning.  I am not prone to experiencing profound revelations.  But his death was just that to me.  And this, of course, says nothing about who my brother was apart from his disease.

My brother was not a faggot.  He was a man.”

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A Postmortem on Viswanathan’s Opal Mehta: Wolves Circle for the Final Kill

Shame on Her, Shame on Us, Shame on All of Us

Last week, on a widely-read writers’ blog, I published this brief discussion during the media’s histrionic and wildly inflamed coverage of the emerging revelations about Kaavya Viswanathan’s plagiarism in her first book, Opal Mehta:

“Is it hard work being a poser?” One commentator has pointed out that this is the taunting question that one high-society classmate asks Opal Mehta near the conclusion of Kaavya’s first novel, a book for teenagers. And this is the very question that has come back to contemptuously haunt Viswanathan herself.

[A critic] recently has published a very interesting and well-written article that compares the seriousness of her offense with the exaggerated fabrications contained in James Frey’s memoir, A Million Little Pieces. Unfortunately, the comparison seems to be based upon demonstrating that plagiarism and imaginative fictionalizing are not the same thing. Most readers might respond that this difference needs little explanation; it is self-evident.

Another issue that [critic] brings up in his comparison of the two works is the question of literary worth. Again, the issue begs the point: it is generally acknowledged that romanticized novels for teenagers are by their nature characterized by a lack of literary merit or value.

For me, the simpler, but far more important point is that long-term memory is highly inaccurate. Some have wondered whether the plagiarism could be accounted for by the phenomenon known as cryptomnesia, the unknowing appropriation of what one has read as part of one’s own thinking? Experimental psychology has provided some evidence for instances of this. But to claim that such out-of awareness influences could account for the now many more than forty instances of similar or exact replications is simply not believable.

It is the very accuracy of Ms. Viswanathan’s copying that gave lie to her initial attempts to explain away what she had done.

Some days later, however, my attention now has turned to another deplorable aspect of the plagiarism controversy, this time focusing upon the harrowing behavior of the critics themselves. Our present electronic technology, along with the incessant and often ruthless social interaction that it has enabled in the digital age, has driven the interest in this controversy into a state of uncontrolled mania.

In today’s climate on the Internet, critical examinations of literary works have become a form of mob rule, fueled by a feverish global beehive, pulsating everywhere at once. And if an issue is interesting enough to serve as a forum to give blogger-critics their own “fifteen minutes of fame,” it can incite a frenzied horde of amateur analysts, each with a world-wide publishing medium in the living room and what appears to be unbounded amounts of free-time. The expressions that ensue are typically characterized as the unbridled release of personal narcissism.

It has turned into a frightening incarnation of mob rule, fueled by a sense of blood lust. The amateur critics as “petty gadflies” (as one writer has called them) have become a pack of wolves all smelling blood, circling for the final kill. Suddenly, not to excuse Viswanathan’s blatant act of plagiarism, this mob-like tyranny has become more dreadful and loathsome that the original act itself.

As a monumental testament to sick and perverted dark humor, the on-line peddlers of “The MehtaMorphasis Award” (snipurl.com/Mehtaward) were offering $75 (not exactly the size of a Nobel Prize) for the most eloquently crafted moral to a week of charged debate surrounding the frothy, ephemeral novel.

Among the submissions were:

The controversy may deservedly be far more interesting than the story itself.

I might agree, but with the caveat that the far more compelling aspect of the controversy is how easily it can be to forget our sense of humanity, instead either joining or implicitly condoning the mentality of mob rule with the aim of fatally attacking its target. In this sense, the controversy is compelling because of the tacit acceptance of totalitarianism that the critics’ frenzied excitement seems to display.

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