uno itinere non potest perveniri ad tam grande secretum -- Q. Aurelius Symmachus, 384 C.E.

Friday, August 19, 2011

FRC's New Low: Perkins Reduced to Adolescent, Quote-Mark Rant

The Family Research Council doesn't just want to exclude gay and lesbian adults from the full rights and privileges of marriage equality. They also really want gay and lesbian kids to feel horrible about themselves.

That's the message in the hateful organization's latest fundraising letter taking aim at President Obama's participation in the "It Gets Better" campaign. In a latter sent to donors, Tony Perkins, head of the organization, frets openly about a president telling young children that they are OK and shouldn't contemplate things like suicide, a real problem for LGBT youth.

One could go many places with this. It's laughable, for example, that Perkins describes Dan Savage, heading up the campaign, as a "homosexual extremist who built a career on hatred of Christians and our values." Of course, this presumes that "Christians" all espouse the "values" of the FRC, which is ludicrous. My church has also been involved in the campaign, in response to many local suicides among LGBT youth. 

And of course, what FRC pitch wouldn't be complete without their trademark warning that it's "part of a concerted effort to persuade kids that homosexuality is okay and actually to recruit them"? This silly scare tactic (they're coming for your children!) holds less and less water with each passing year.

But what struck me in the letter was the repeated and bizarre use of quotation marks. Abusing quotation marks is an annoyance of mine overall ("Best Burgers In Town" -- OK, who said that, such that it could be placed on your menu?), but Perkins takes this to a whole new level. As any good editor will tell you, quote marks are to be used when you are, you know, quoting someone. Only rarely for added irony or effect. Indeed, excessive use of quotation marks where they don't belong is the hallmark of bad writing or casually angry writing -- the kind of thing you might expect in an e-mail screed from an irritated ex.

But Perkins not only abuses his quotation marks in this letter, he tortures them around not only words and phrases he clearly wishes were not a part of the American lexicon, but even around nondescript words he simply wishes were not granted to gays and lesbians. 

The fact that Perkins is reduced to using the language of gay rights even though he doesn't like it is telling. These are words that have become commonplace terms almost anywhere in America. 

He first dismissively summarizes the campaign aimed at stemming bullying (something he's clearly not concerned about -- bullying is what this group is all about), putting "coming out" in quote marks. What would he prefer call it? Nothing, he would prefer no such concept exists.

He then mentions the "so-called" LGBT populace, with a handy parenthetical explanation of what that stands for. Why "so-called"? Again, it appears Perkins would prefer no terminology at all exist.

After LGBT, Perkins puts "community" in quotes. Community? Really? I guess he would prefer "enclave of sin," or "coven of perversion" or some such thing. By denying that gays and lesbians even exist in a community, Perkins is truly dehumanizing them, suggesting they have no place in a civilized society. 

In the most hateful paragraph, where Perkins calls the campaign "disgusting," he puts "lifestyle" in quotes. This perplexes me the most, since gays and lesbians are not the ones who use this word, but rather Perkins and his ilk, who like to denigrate being gay as merely a "lifestyle choice." Repeatedly they denounce being gay as simply the adoption of a "lifestyle" rather than part of one's identity.

What do all these quotes mean? It's telling that most of them are around increasingly normative titles and words -- normative to everyone else, but not to Perkins and his crew, who have such hostility to gays and lesbians that he will even tacitly defend bullying while at the same time denying them any humanity. Of course, this is far from where the rest of the population is on gay rights. Just look at the dodging of past remarks by, of all people, Rep. Michelle Bachmann, who repeated (disingenuously) recently that she doesn't "judge" anyone.

The fact is, the broader culture of acceptance has moved away from Perkins and those who think like him, and these repeated quotation marks are cries of lament about losing control of the language surrounding the debate -- a debate that he has really already lost, since all professional and scholarly organizations, not to mention the majority of the public, now accept their gay and lesbian neighbors. It's most telling in putting the quotation marks around "lifestyle" -- a word I never hear from the gay community, but hear all the time from folks like Perkins. It's almost as if, while on a quote-happy reel, he slipped up and punctuated one of his own buzzwords -- an action that undermines his typical drumbeat.

The loss of language control spells the eventual end of mentalities like Perkins, and he feels mad and spurned by a society that is rapidly leaving him behind. No wonder, then, that his writing and punctuating has taken on an air of desperation, and everyday words find themselves in the excessive quotation marks reminiscent of a schoolgirl diary.

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