Dan Savage, Bully

What Women Really Think
July 14 2011 5:21 PM

Dan Savage, Bully

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Dan Savage begins each of his “Savage Love Cast” podcasts with a rip-roaring rant—a sword of invective aimed at homophobic school boards that won’t let lesbians attend their high-school prom, hypocritical politicians, and generally despicable people. It’s a rousing start to 45 minutes of sex advice, and it’s usually right on and empowering.

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

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This week, though, the podcast started with an attack on Marcus Bachmann’s masculinity. After a short preamble about the accuracy of gaydar (with a scientific citation, no less), Savage—whom I respect tremendously—played a tape of Michele’s* husband’s speaking voice. Bachmann has a tiny bit of a lisp—though it’s barely perceptible—and he slurs his words slightly. To Savage’s ears, it was a gay accent. Savage played the tape over and over, and reprised it several times throughout the podcast. He even did his own Bachmann impression, exaggerating the lisp and camping it up.

In other words, the man who launched the “It Gets Better Project,” an effort to stop the bullying of gay teens, was acting like a big bully. As Savage always notes, the kind of smear-the-queer taunts that can cause so much pain to young people aren’t aimed only at kids who are gay, they’re often aimed at boys who don’t live up to some mythical standard of masculinity and girls who just aren’t girly enough. I can only imagine how listeners who happen to have the kind of lisping, effeminate speech and affect that Savage was ridiculing felt upon hearing the attack.

Marcus Bachmann makes money in what I consider to be a reprehensible way: offering “reparative therapy” to “cure” gay people. Judging from the testimony of people who have sought Bachmann’s help, it’s no exaggeration to say that he tries to “pray the gay away.” But that doesn’t justify bullying, and it’s not a good message to send.

I cut Savage some slack. He is a proud gay man who has done amazing work for the community, and I know from having watched the It Gets Better video that he made with his husband, Terry, that he has been bullied and victimized. I’m less forgiving to straight ally Jon Stewart who devoted six minutes of Wednesday’s Daily Show to suggesting that Bachmann is light in the loafers based entirely on his affect. Sure, he had a good line—“Marcus Bachmann is an Izod shirt away from being the gay character on Modern Family.” (check the video, there was an eerie resemblance!)—and he did note that “Dr. Bachmann’s therapy to ‘cure’ gayness does real damage to real people”; but the whole bit was based on outmoded notions of gender expression. Meanwhile, comedian Mo Rocca tweeted a couple of nudge-nudge wink-wink riffs about Bachmann, but his efforts thus far have been more pathetic than funny. For example, “SIGHTING: Marcus Bachmann campaigning in Provincetown during Bear Week.”

I’ve learned that it’s best not to speculate about strangers’ sexuality. But if I had to bet, I’d say Marcus is as straight as the suburbs. Check the 3:22 mark in the Daily Show video: No gay man dances that badly.

Correction, July 14, 2011: This post originally misspelled Michele Bachmann's first name. (Return to the corrected sentence.)