Why Are Conservatives So Mad About “Pajama Boy”?

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Dec. 18 2013 5:58 PM

“Pajama Boy” Proves That Conservatives Just Need a Good Cuddle

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Why does my comfort make you mad?

Courtesy of Barackobama.com

When I go home in a few days, I plan to celebrate the holidays quietly—spending time with family, catching up on some reading, seeing old friends, that sort of thing. I had anticipated doing much of this in pajamas or similar leisure clothes, often with a cup of something tasty in hand, sometimes even with my reading glasses on. Is that strange? If the bizarre conservative reaction to a new Obamacare ad is any indication, I’m basically a traitor for hoping to hang out with my mom for a bit before bed. Whatever happened to family values?

These critics—and there are many—are not just offended by the notion of a relatively modest, market-based system designed to help people of differing levels of economic privilege gain access to health care. What really gets them, apparently, is the fact that there exist young, somewhat bookish-looking men who enjoy being comfortable. At least I think that’s what the problem is, based on descriptions like “infantilized … man-child,” “metrosexual hipster in a plaid onesie,” and reactions like “liberals fear masculinity and maturity.” Hey, that may be, but I bet the Brokeback Mountain understudy who tweeted that last bit of analysis would be shaking in his boots at the sight of the bedtime getups sported by some of the more bearish men of my acquaintance.

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But I digress. It’s fascinating how much biographical information about “pajama boy” umbrage-taking commentators have gleaned from a single image of the guy. According to Charles Cooke of the National Review, he’s a member of the “Queer Students Association” where he takes part in “ ’dialogue’ about the evils of ‘heteronormativity’ or ‘micro-aggressions,’ the pressing necessity of ‘safe spaces,’ and the vital importance of whatever other buzzwords the comically hopeless liberal-arts students at Oberlin, Hampshire, and Brown are talking about these days.” Did Obama tweet out his college syllabus as well? I mean, that seems like a lot to assume from a fella’s bedclothes, but hey, I’m not as schooled in the old conservative Christmas tradition of gay witch-hunting as Cooke seems to be.

Considering that Cooke flirts with both Sebastian Flyte and Oscar Wilde in the course of his panic attack about a “vaguely androgynous” stock photo, it’s intriguing that he chose to title his article “Pajama Boy: The Obama Machine’s Id.” I would agree that ids are being uncovered in this dust-up, but it is not the “Obama Machine’s” that seems most troublingly exposed to my eye. Indeed, if liberals are afraid of masculinity, conservatives (of this sort) seem downright terrified of the idea that a more progressive generation is on the rise—one that includes many men, gay and straight alike, who do not measure their “maturity” by something as inane as whether or not they can “use a power tool.” Of course, that terror is well-founded, but change really doesn’t have to be so scary. All those people need to do is slip out of the homophobic, gender-policing straitjackets that they currently sleep in, and slip into something a little less ridiculous. Then, if they’re lucky, Pajama Boy might even be willing to cuddle.

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.