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Backlash

I am waiting to see if—no, make it how—the Tea party and other way-right-leaning Republicans react to this week's barely-qualifies-as-news that TV journalist/personality Anderson Cooper admitted he is gay. (Details here)

Another story from this week also has me worried about the backlash, but first, Cooper:

I have no idea how much courage it takes for a public figure like Cooper to come out. Nor do I have any idea about the extent and tone of the flak that will be fired at him and how he'll deal with it. He will be abused online by people (a great many of them anonymous) who feel threatened by homosexuality or opposed to it because of personal or religious beliefs. I don't think I'd be strong enough to shrug off their pounding.

To be fair, many of his potential critics will keep their counsel because they're aware of advice in the Bible about glass houses and stones, or about biblical admonitions that we need to clean up our own lives before we pass judgment on others'. It's also fair to say not all of the criticism of Cooper will come from the right. Plenty of people from across the political spectrum won't be able to resist making smirky little wisecracks.

Setting those not-inconsiderable matters aside, the story about Cooper prompted me to shrug my shoulders and move to other, unrelated stories for several reasons, among them: one, his sexual preference has been what one writer called "an open secret" for years; two, his sexual preference has no influence on my life; and three, his sexual preference doesn't make him any more or any less of a journalist than a heterosexual reporter is, and it's journalism I care about. Everything else about Cooper is moot.

So far, the only reaction I've seen was found by following a link in Charlie Pierce's politics blog over at Esquire.com (A daily must-read). Pierce's blog provided a link to a tweet (Clever? Not.) by Brent Bozell, founder of a group called the Media Research Center (Damned liberal media!), where you can read reports like "How Network News Has Twisted Obama's War on Religion Into a Conservative War Against Women" or from which you can buy, among other things, a bumper sticker that says, "I don't trust the liberal media."

I have to admit that I didn't know that the word "teabagging" refers to a sexual practice. After I consulted the online Urban Dictionary, I better understood why Bozell's followers thought his tweet was not only delightfully snarky, but also perfectly justifiable: because they say Cooper himself used the word to describe Tea party practices, so two wrongs make a right. Or maybe it's three wrongs. There will be plenty more than that in the days to come.

I'm not going to look too hard, but I have a hunch that the blogosphere and tweetland are alive with declarations today that Cooper's sexuality is either one, proof of a liberal media bias, or two, proof that the liberal media is part of a government-sponsored socialist plot to destroy marriage, the family, values and morals, the Second Amendment, and America as we know it. Those are not outcomes I'm prepared to wager a considerable sum of money on based solely on the fact that Anderson Cooper is gay. But this is why I expect most of the backlash against Cooper to come from the right. You don't hear liberals complaining about the media's so-called liberal leanings. I say "so-called" because the concept is as bogus as a "reality" TV show, but that's a topic for another time.

Moving on: Another story from this week about another television journalist has me a little more concerned. The Huffington Post yesterday included an article titled "Rachel Maddow Talks About Battles With Depression In Rolling Stone" (Here it is). This will be a more difficult story for Tea party members and other right-leaners to attack because unlike homosexuality, mental illness is a darker matter, less discussed and less understood. I may, however, be underestimating the degree of ignorance and meanness people harbor against people with mental health problems; in fact, we may be due for a storm of unparalleled viciousness and stupefying ignorance, particularly because the venom and hate will be directed toward a television journalist who, in addition to having mental health problems, has a woman as her life partner (Oh-my-God-another-liberal-and-a-lesbian-serves-her-right!). This has been known for quite some time, and I'm sure she's been treated like a piñata about this over the years, but her dealing with depression is an issue that will overshadow her sexuality, at least temporarily. Or it may give her critics two bull's-eyes to aim at.

I am concerned about the Maddow story backlash because I have firsthand experience with clinically diagnosed depression. When my mood swings down, it swings way down, down into a deep blue funk, down to the point where I can't get anything done, down to the point where mere conversations are an effort, down to the point where I get home from work at, say, 6 p.m., go straight to bed and don't get out of bed until the alarm clock rings the next morning. Depression is, to use an old blues phrase, down in the bottom, and until my meds finally bring me back to balance, it seems there's no way out of the pit.

Now, picture being a television journalist who is depressed. Picture being a television journalist whose on-air persona is that of someone calm, rational, even-tempered, smart as hell, and occasionally humorous in an ironic way. Carrying on with depression for an hour a night in front of the cameras must be a hugely draining task. I don't understand how she has been able to do it.

I hope people of all political leanings will limit their comments about Maddow to expressions of well-wishing. Perhaps that hope is somewhat less realistic than my hope that the hair on my bald head will grow back—in dreadlocks—and again, you don't have to be a Republican, a Democrat, a Tory or a Whig to be a jerk. Anyway, I say "expressions of well-wishing" because Maddow doesn't need sympathy. It doesn't help. Nor do statements like "You'll get over this," because the words only show how little people understand about depression. The intent and the remarks are laudable and goodhearted, but the words only make us more frustrated because it doesn't seem as if we'll ever clamber out of the pit. They don't cause hope, but just the opposite.

Maddow's story, then, is like Cooper's in that both journalists are perceived as leaning toward the left, and no doubt someone somewhere has cobbled together some sort of Monty Python logic to prove that both of them are subversive liberals because they float. My reaction to Cooper's story is a bit detached because I don't and can't understand what a gutsy move he made. However, he's not a journalist I pay particular attention to.

Maddow's story, though, is something I understand better on a personal level—and I hope she finds the strength she needs to maintain a more even perspective on life so she can continue to deliver the smart, incisive journalism I turn to her for.

Comments

( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
penshark
Jul. 4th, 2012 12:46 am (UTC)
An excellent piece -- thank you. And I fear there will be a lot of people looking to find people who are "subversive liberals because they are made out of wood and therefore float" over the next five months (or more -- what makes me think the mudslinging will end with the election?)
patrick_vecchio
Jul. 4th, 2012 02:13 am (UTC)
Fk the mudslinging. Bring 'em on.
sahlah
Jul. 4th, 2012 12:48 am (UTC)
I just love Rachel Maddow. I had not read these stories about her, so thanks for the links. When will it stop being an issue to be gay, depressed, tall, short, left, right, skinny, fat, and on and on? Simple human empathy goes a long way.
patrick_vecchio
Jul. 4th, 2012 02:13 am (UTC)
To tell the truth, I seriously considered not posting this, thinking the post might be part of the problem you mention.
sahlah
Jul. 4th, 2012 02:33 am (UTC)
You shared from your own experiences - that is different.
patrick_vecchio
Jul. 4th, 2012 03:01 am (UTC)
I don't write about my mental health often, because it's sort of like dragging a dog out of a bedroom and into the living room and making it do tricks for the company. The company was fine without even knowing the dog was there. Other people handle writing about mental illness differently, and I'm not being judgmental of them; their way isn't my way, that's all.

But Maddow's situation hit my head and heart, and I felt compelled to give people an idea, just a glimpse, of what she might be going through. When the black dog comes 'round and I'm trying to teach, sometimes it takes all I have to not walk out of the classroom, run upstairs to my office, lock myself in, turn out the lights and cry. I can't imagine what it must be like for her to sit in front of a camera with hundreds of thousands of people on the other side of it.
nodressrehersal
Jul. 4th, 2012 02:03 am (UTC)
What an insightful, in-depth, informative post, pjv.

During the Mental Health Association board meetings, we've had new members added almost every month in an effort to get the board up to its full membership. So each month, we go around the table and tell a little bit about ourselves, why we got involved, our line of work, whatever. There's a woman there who, month after month, says a bit about what she does and then declares that she's the token lesbian. Every month, I want to ask, "How do you know that, and what does it have to do with anything?" We really, really need to not care about sexual preferences, and I for one am doing my part.
patrick_vecchio
Jul. 4th, 2012 02:18 am (UTC)
Maybe she's saying "tokin' lesbian," which gives it a whole different meaning.

Sorry. I couldn't resist.

Seriously, you're doing good work, important work, with the MHA, and I humbly tip my hat to you for getting so involved. There's a world full of stigma to overcome.
createdestiny
Jul. 4th, 2012 06:31 am (UTC)
Ha ha! Too funny!
nodressrehersal
Jul. 4th, 2012 02:57 pm (UTC)
Ah, hadn't thought of that... and thank you.
minnesattva
Jul. 4th, 2012 09:17 am (UTC)
"How do you know that, and what does it have to do with anything?" We really, really need to not care about sexual preferences...

It sounds to me like you're making the queer version of the "colorblind" mistake. A lot of white Americans, me included, have been brought up to believe that the best approach we can take towards people of color is not to care that they are people of color. This reduces systemic inequalities to mere personal or individual shortcomings and disrespects people of color by ignoring their perspectives, experiences and legitimate beefs with our institutionally racist society.

Replace "people of color" with "lesbian, bi or gay people" and "racist" with "heterosexist" and we are having the same problem all over again.

I don't know how the person you're talking about here would answer your questions, but I'd like to offer you my answers.

"How do you know that?" Well, because no one else is saying it. There may well be other lesbian, gay or bi people in the room, but since she's the only one talking about this, what reason does she have to think there are? I firmly believe no one has an obligation to be out to anyone (I didn't write this but I wish I had) but I admire people who can be; visibility is one of the most powerful weapons we bring to the struggle for fairness and equality.

"What does it have to do with anything?" You know, I used to think this too. I thought it wouldn't be a big deal not to tell my parents that I was bi (my mom reacted so badly to the news that a high-school friend was gay that I just haven't told her about any of the others since; for all I know they might still think I'm in favor of LGBT rights just because of that one guy).

But this meant not only hiding my relationships with women from them (even though it caused some tension with someone who didn't need any more excuses to feel shameful or like she was better off hidden away, because while I fervently believed she shouldn't feel she had to hide, I couldn't really put my money where my mouth was if we had to be "just friends" to my parents).

But it turned out I also couldn't tell them about how biphobic abuse at work contributed to the stress that eventually ended up with me leaving that job, and it meant I don't tell them that my days now aren't as empty as they sound in my phone conversations because I'm running a workshop on accessing mental health services for the second year in a row at the UK's national bi convention, and I'm on the exec of my political party's LGBT+ organization, helping campaign for equal marriage, fairness in blood donation, etc. This is a big part of my unemployed/unemployable life; I feel like I've got a self-imposed unpaid internship. But I can't talk about it, so the gulf between me and my parents widens, and my stress and sadness about this increases.

That's just one example; there's all kinds of ways in which it matters, not least a big long list of discrimination.

If you knew the visceral reaction I'd had to reading We really, really need to not care about sexual preferences you might be surprised, or dismayed. Whether it's meant to or not, it sounds like you're saying you don't care about me. And that's because my sexuality is an integrated part of my identity -- it's not everything, but it gives me a perspective that affects (to a greater or lesser extent) almost everything about me, especially as it puts me in a minority.

I can't speak for her, but your token lesbian may feel similarly.

Edited at 2012-07-04 09:18 am (UTC)
nodressrehersal
Jul. 4th, 2012 02:54 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry that you had such a strong reaction to my comment. I'm certainly not saying that I don't care about you. What I'm saying is, it doesn't matter to me that you are or aren't of any particular sexual persuasion - you're minnesattva and I enjoy and appreciate your lj friendship because of the whole package that is you. Your sexuality doesn't matter to me any more than felixwas's does.

I think you've misunderstood my point, at least to some degree. When I say "we need to not care" I mean it as, it shouldn't matter; people shouldn't be judged or discriminated against or any of the negative things that currently happen in our society, simply because of sexual preference, skin color, religious beliefs...

I realize this is not reality, and I'm sorry that people ARE judged when they shouldn't be.

I will also add that I'm not one to share any of the particulars about my sexuality. Yes, I'm married to a man, but in reality that doesn't reveal anything about my sexuality, because I consider that to be a very private and personal aspect of me; maybe that weighs in on my feelings as well.

But unless she polled the 24 people sitting around that conference room table, I'm not sure how she can declare herself a token anything. I happen to know that her outspokenness makes another gay person who's chosen to keep his sexuality private uncomfortable because he's not speaking out. I'm left-handed. Is it relevant in the context of what we're gathered there for? No. Am I a minority? Yes. Does it matter? No.

I think there's a time and a place for speaking out, and I think it's a worthwhile cause to fight for equality for all with regard to every aspect of personhood. I just don't see that conference room table as a place to make a repeated point about her sexuality because it simply isn't relevant to the gathering.

Thank you so much for conveying your thoughts and feelings about such an important issue for you - I truly appreciate reading your vantage point.
minnesattva
Jul. 4th, 2012 04:56 pm (UTC)
It wasn't even a strong reaction, not after the initial fleeting "Wow, I wasn't expecting that!" and that's only because I know you; I may forget that what's "normal" in the circle of friends I'm closest to is certainly not so normal in the wider circles like LJ friends, but I expect this from strangers/society at large. I am not after an apology or sympathy; I just thought you might be interested in another perspective.

When I say "we need to not care" I mean it as, it shouldn't matter; people shouldn't be judged or discriminated against

I don't really feel like I have misunderstood; I just think it's not clear that it sounds to me like the best we non-straight people can hope for is for nothing bad to happen.

Ironically, things aren't going to get better while people pretend that we're all the same, because we're not. I recently read: "There is no national anti-discrimination bill for such things as employment and housing. There are still parts of the country where it is completely legal to sack someone for being GLBT, or to refuse them housing, where parents lose custody of their children after coming out. Even in areas where there are local anti-discrimination laws, these are often still ineffective – it’s easy enough for a bigot to discriminate without being caught." You think this isn't going to have an effect on that mental health stuff you're there to talk about?

I'm left-handed. Is it relevant in the context of what we're gathered there for? No.

But being lesbian, gay or bi is relevant. LGB people have on the whole worse mental health than heterosexual people, are more likely to be homeless or insecurely housed, feel less secure in their employment, are less likely to report abuse or harassment, are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol and have higher rates of suicide and self-harm... I could go on.

And also...a person feeling uncomfortable about her speaking out, is that a reason to silence her? That man has, as I said, every right and every speck of my support in staying closeted about his sexuality, but think about why he might want to keep quiet. And don't tell me sexuality is private, because everybody's assumed to be heterosexual until proven otherwise. Our culture finds it completely unremarkable to see a mixed-gender couple hold hands or kiss in public, or a family photo at work of mom, dad and kids, or "boy meets girl" rom-coms, etc. All that stuff is public. Sexuality is about a lot more than sex. Consider having cagey about what you did over the weekend, what bars you like to drink in or what the name of your partner is... all this contributes to poor mental health too.
createdestiny
Jul. 4th, 2012 06:31 am (UTC)
Hmmmm, I read the Rolling Stone Maddow article last night and my take-away was this:

The perfect Maddow segment, he says, begins with some obscure image from the fringes – "a bird covered in oil in 1979," say – and then slowly winds its way into the heart of the political debate. "Eventually, you realize that the story of that bird is all about Mitt Romney," he says, "and it fucking blows your mind."

This kind of indirection – starting with the obscure and working toward the headlines – goes against the most basic rules of television, but for Maddow it can have a rare seductive power. "It's really important that in the top third of the segment you don't say 'Khalid Sheikh Mohammed,' or 'military tribunal,' or 'Guantánamo,'" Maddow says. "Because as soon as you say those things, people think they know what the story is. If you don't edit mercilessly to keep out all of the words that make people leap to conclusions about what you're going to say, you'll never persuade people that you're going to tell them something they don't already know."


And when I went to bed last night I was thinking how brilliant this is......

So I'm surprised (but in hindsight I see I shouldn't be) that Huff Po (and now others) are putting the focus on what I perceive as a brief mention of her struggle with occasional depression, which, by the way, I don't think of as "mental illness" any more than I think of an occasional cold as "health problems." RS or Huff Po could have easily put the focus on her anger and spun it as a whole "Maddow Wars With Her Anger" thing or even "Maddow Wars With Her Perfectionism."

As always, I enjoy your posts.
(Anonymous)
Jul. 4th, 2012 08:44 am (UTC)
People with mental health issues are often perceived as weak and unable to exert enough control over their brains to maintain their daily functions. For those of us that work in the field, the exact opposite is the truth. The strongest people I know are those that endure the depression, intrusive thoughts, anxiety, obsessive compulsive behavior and still go about their business. If one has never experienced it, understanding it is difficult. As a society out tolerance for DIFFERENT is low. The conservative Right is especially cruel in understanding different. I have often thought that the Right cannot tolerate deviation of thought for that weakens the force they bring to bear on issues they don't agree with. Fear and ignorance are the tools of their trade. Unfortunately, fear and ignorance are the parents of three children, assumption, prejudice and discrimination. And, discrimination is something they are very good at.
patrick_vecchio
Jul. 4th, 2012 07:22 pm (UTC)
Well said. Thank you.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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