Listen to this audio (only 1 minute 41 secs). A pastor tells this flock that when they see a limp wrist in their sons, they should “crack that wrist”.
“Give him a good punch,” he adds.
Called “a horrific anti-gay tirade”, it was featured on the Huffington Post, 1 May 2012. The recording was originally publicised (provided?) by Jeremy Hooper of the blog Good as You. The voice in it is said to be that of Sean Harris (pic at right), a pastor at Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, in North Carolina.
Harris is heard endorsing the use of physical force on boys if they show any sign of effeminate behaviour.
The audio fragment was reported to be part of an hour-long sermon – I reckon from Sunday, 29 April 2012 – in support of an upcoming vote on a proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage in the state as between one man and one woman.
|Transcript of audio:|
|So your little son starts to act a little girlish when he is four years old and instead of squashing that like a cockroach and saying, ‘Man up, son, get that dress off you and get outside and dig a ditch, because that is what boys do,’ you get out the camera and you start taking pictures of Johnny acting like a female and then you upload it to YouTube and everybody laughs about it and the next thing you know, this dude, this kid is acting out childhood fantasies that should have been squashed.|
|Dads, the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist. Man up. Give him a good punch. Ok? You are not going to act like that. You were made by God to be a male and you are going to be a male.|
|And when your daughter starts acting too butch, you rein her in. And you say, ‘Oh, no, sweetheart. You can play sports. Play them to the glory of God. But sometimes you are going to act like a girl and walk like a girl and talk like a girl and smell like a girl and that means you are going to be beautiful. You are going to be attractive. You are going to dress yourself up.’|
His remarks were widely circulated. Harris then issued a statement to the local newspaper, the Fayetteville Observer, claiming that he had been “joking”. His words, he said, had been “taken out of context”, with “every article . . . misquoting me”.
An official retraction was put up on the church’s website 2 May 2012. It said: “I did not say that children should be squashed. I have never suggested children . . . should be beaten, punched, abused.”
He also posted on his blog.
Outrageous though his spoken words were, it was what was posted on his blog that was truly revealing. It tells us much about the driving force behind much of the homophobia we see today, reinforcing a point I have made repeatedly over the years: that homophobia is largely an expression of male chauvinists’ fears of female equality.
Trying to explain away his Sunday remarks, Harris wrote:
Ultimately only the gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to deliver one from sexual immorality and behavior including effeminacy . . . Hopefully, you understood that I was speaking in a forceful manner to emphasize the degree to which gender distinctions matter to God.
Note the words “gender distinctions”.
What you see is a conflation of gender expression and sexual orientation. These are quite distinct things. In simple terms, gender expression (or sometimes gender performance) is the outward behaviour that society sees and classifies into “male” and “female” (though academics will have a more complicated take on it). Sexual orientation is the direction of one’s erotic and romantic interest. Many gay men are indistinguishably “butch” or “masculine”, and yet have no erotic or romantic interest in females. Some heterosexual men exhibit feminine-like behaviour. Many women who are indistinguishably “feminine” are lesbian, and vice versa.
There is some relationship between gender expression and sexual orientation, but it is far from watertight.
Thus you would notice that while the issue which Harris was nominally addressing was the right to marriage for people of same-sex sexual orientation, his tirade was directed at something else: gender expression. Thus, his focus on limp wrists and girls acting butch. It’s like when one claims to be talking about immigration, yet the emotion is about race. This misdirection shows the true locus of his fears: beneath his recoil at men having sexual delight with other men, is panic that women are usurping the power and privileges that (in their minds) should be reserved to men.
Look closely at his words in the audio transcript: To be a girl, “You are going to be attractive. You are going to dress yourself up.” In essence, the purpose of being female is to serve the needs of males.
* * * * *
One can argue that it has not always been so conflated; it may be a recent phenomenon. Historically, many highly patriarchal societies such as China and the Muslim societies across the Arab, Persian and Turkish worlds, all the way to Morocco on the Atlantic coast, had a thriving, albeit underground, homosexual scene among men. Emirs and Sultans kept male harems as they did female ones (example). Early Western visitors to China wrote about their amazement at the size of the male-male sex industry.
It would seem then that so long as the gender divide is clear and unchallenged, where men go to seek pleasure is not of great public concern.
It is of concern now in modern societies because that gender and power divide is being challenged. However, since speech that is overtly sexist and anti-female emancipation is considered outside the pale, gay men and women instead have become the surrogate targets.
* * * * *
Perhaps it is an area crying out for research — but why is Christianity always dragged into this issue? It seems to me that there is a terrible failure of leadership to allow what ought to be the spiritual and enlightening, to get sucked into an issue of social power, particularly one that is quite obviously backward a question. Why must Christianity take sides with male privilege?
Last month, the Vatican criticised a US organisation of nuns claiming it was undermining Roman Catholic teaching on homosexuality and promoting “feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith” (BBC, 19 April 2012, Vatican orders crackdown on ‘radical’ nuns in the US). The Leadership Conference of Women Religious is the largest organisation of Catholic nuns in the US and is said to represent about 80 percent of them.
Nuns do a great deal of work among the poor and downtrodden,
To read the report here in New York is to feel that somewhere along the alleys and switchbacks of power in Rome, the actuality of life as lived by religious women in much of the United States was lost. The pews in the churches may be empty, but they have turned the lowest places into cathedrals.
– New York Times, 1 May 2012, In deeds, nun answer call of duty, by Jim Dwyer
The nuns rejected the Vatican’s accusations.
“I’ve no idea what they’re talking about,” Sister Simone Campbell, head of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby, told the BBC.
“Our role is to live the gospel with those who live on the margins of society. That’s all we do.”
Focussing on the work the nuns did led the Vatican to accuse the organisation of ignoring matters of “crucial importance” to the church, such as campaigning against abortion and homosexuality. The women’s position on social justice issues, which their work naturally led them to, alarmed the investigators sent by the Pope. Thus, the report slammed the group for their “radical feminist themes”.
Once again, the root issue is revealed to be panic at the erosion of male superiority.
* * * * *
Such panic is not the only source of homophobia. Two psychiatry researchers wrote recently in the New York Times about their new study in which they found “empirical evidence that homophobia can result, at least in part, from the suppression of same-sex desire.”
Other researchers have found the link before, and this new work adds to the evidence.
The study involved 784 university students. Participants rated their sexual orientation on a 10-point scale, ranging from gay to straight. Then they took a computer-administered test (involving subliminal responses to gay-related words and images) designed to measure their implicit sexual orientation. Over 20 percent of the participants who had self-described themselves as highly straight gave responses in the subliminal test that indicated that they actually associated themselves with the gay-related words and images flashed to them.
Notably, these “discrepant” individuals were also significantly more likely than other participants to favor anti-gay policies; to be willing to assign significantly harsher punishments to perpetrators of petty crimes if they were presumed to be homosexual; and to express greater implicit hostility toward gay subjects (also measured with the help of subliminal priming). Thus our research suggests that some who oppose homosexuality do tacitly harbor same-sex attraction.
What leads to this repression? We found that participants who reported having supportive and accepting parents were more in touch with their implicit sexual orientation and less susceptible to homophobia. Individuals whose sexual identity was at odds with their implicit sexual attraction were much more frequently raised by parents perceived to be controlling, less accepting and more prejudiced against homosexuals.
– New York Times, Sunday Review, 27 April 2012, Homophobic? Maybe You’re Gay, by Richard M Ryan and William S Ryan
Maybe it’s a good idea then, isn’t it? If your son is gay, and there’s no way you can change his implicit sexual orientation, then at least you can be such a controlling and aggressive parent (“crack that wrist”, “give him a good punch”) that you make him a self-loathing homophobe.