Last Thursday Twitter exploded with the news that House Republican Michele Bachmann, future failed Presidential hopeful, had signed “The Marriage Vow.” The 14-point pledge was designed by Bob Vander Plaats of The Family Leader, a conservative Iowa hate tank that was responsible for recalling state supreme court justices who had ruled in favor of marriage equality. It includes several disturbing portions, not least of which is the racist preamble that waxes nostalgic about slavery. Candidates who sign the pledge promise to take certain steps to strengthen “traditional marriage”—banning pornography, ending abortion, and denying the legitimacy of all marriages except those between two heterosexuals of the opposite sex. Which is pretty funny, since the Internet has decided her husband is gay.
Lest the readership of Bitch think social justice has 404ed my sense of humor, I must admit I laughed long and hard when reading these tweets—the corker was the one he retweeted from another Twitter users alleging Bachmann is so gay “he triggers car alarms.” The recent speculation about Bachmann’s sexuality was kicked off by two widely-circulated videos: One is of him walking down a hallway and having a conversation, the second is a video of Bachmann giving an interview about the homosexual scourge to a conservative radio show.
I think a good gauge of how adroit we are at talking about gender and sexuality is not how we speak about the lives of those we consider righteous or pure, but how we talk about our enemies. The Bachmann family receives thousands of federal dollars a year to provide religious counseling to queer people who are struggling with their sexuality, or rather, struggling with society’s stigmatization of their sexuality. This is a person who preys on people brutalized for their desires and he does it with our money, but that doesn’t mean that the rules have changed for how we talk about his sexuality. Not because it might hurt him—wherever Marky Bachmann lies on the Kinsey scale he is still a stinking pile of garbage—but because it erases the experiences of people whose gender expression doesn’t conform to our assumptions about their sexuality. Effeminacy and masculinity are not deterministic indicators of sexual attraction, and when we assume Bachmann must be gay because he doesn’t sound like the Marlboro man, we dishonor those people whose desires do not conform to our expectations.
This decoupling of sexuality, sexual behavior, and gender expression is something we can understand when it comes to private individuals out of the public spotlight. But when it comes to public figures, their right to self-identify is often abridged to make points about the nature of the conservative movement and the lives of those who are its most visible proponents. Focusing on whether or not Bachmann is an “anti-gay closet case direct from central casting” is beside the point. The Bachmanns are very powerful people with very scary beliefs who want to remake American into a theocratic dystopia ruled by Christian fundamentalism and the corporate state. That is much more important than speculation about their sex lives.