My mother, nearing the century mark, has taught me plenty.
Among the first lessons I recall was her sitting me down at Christmastime during kindergarten. She felt it important to explain to me that Santa was fiction. Her guidance was along these lines: “Some kids in class will debate whether Santa Claus exists. I want you to know he’s not real. I don’t want you to side with the ignorant.”
I’m certain this isn’t a false memory, as the phrase “side with the ignorant” was fixed in my head long before I quite understood what it meant.
Years later, in high school, an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation featured a birth. The mother was delivering in some sort of futuristic, medical-chair thingy. I found this curious. I turned to Mom.
“Does that make sense to you? Would the future have some kind of birthing chair?”
Dora looked up from her Cryptoquote puzzle to peer briefly at the TV.
“Well, yes. Squatting comes naturally for giving birth. But most doctors have been men, so they position mothers where they have the best view.”
I got the same no-nonsense answer as an adult, complaining about the weight of a North Carolinian’s thick, wooden furniture I’d been enlisted to move.
“What is it with Southerners having all this crazy heavy, ornate, wooden furniture??”
“Well, the ones with that furniture rarely had to carry it themselves.”
Much of what I’ve learned from Mom has, however, come indirectly. Thanks to a cruise I organized for her 80th birthday, I learned that gay cruises have nothing on straight-cruise hedonism. I was checking the dates online and discovered that once we returned to Tampa, the ship would be heading back to sea as a fully chartered “lifestyle” cruise. On gay cruises, we get a friendly lecture not to have sex in the hot tubs and other public areas. On a lifestyle cruise, you apparently get a friendly lecture to exit the public play spaces once satisfied.
Not a lesson from Mom, but one I would not likely have learned without her.
Amid the current sociopolitical climate, another indirect lesson is particularly relevant. On a recent, routine Sunday call, she mentioned that her newly adopted corner of Texas has a reputation as being home to loads of child-pornography enthusiasts. I can’t recall the context, and she wasn’t trying to impart any wisdom, but she — and Google — enlightened me, nonetheless.
What on earth was she referring to, I wondered, down there in Texas’s 1st congressional district? This is deep-red territory, long represented by Louie Gohmert, infamous for his homophobic bigot bullshit, among other obnoxious traits. Trump got 72 percent of the district’s 2020 presidential vote, says Wikipedia. And, lo and behold, it is both God’s country and child-porn country.
From KLTV, May 17, 2023: “Tyler man pleads guilty to child porn charge.”
Also from KLTV, March 29, 2022: “Federal judge sentences Tyler man to 5 years for possession of 20K child porn images.”
From KNUE, 101.5, Nov. 1, 2022: “Tyler, TX Man Facing 150 Years in Prison for Child Pornography Charges.”
And the Tyler Morning Telegraph, Nov. 22, 2019: “Tyler man indicted on child pornography charge, allegedly shared over 400 images or videos of female minors.”
To be clear, these are separate cases, and on and on they go. We’re just stopping here because I have a word-count limit.
Now, child pornography is not something I spend much time thinking about. I do, however, spend quite a bit of time studying how the Queer community is being demonized by the right, to the point that the word “groomer” has bolted back into circulation.
As in Florida Gov. Ron DeSant-this’s press secretary Christina Pushaw defending his “Don’t Say Gay” law on Twitter, as reported by The Hill, with, “The bill that liberals inaccurately call ‘Don’t Say Gay’ would be more accurately described as an Anti-Grooming Bill…. If you’re against the Anti-Grooming bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children.”
Pushaw’s had her moment, so let’s turn to the Anti-Defamation League: “Far-right and extremist voices have launched a significant attack against the LGBTQ+ community…demonizing people via repeated false claims that LGBTQ+ people are ‘pedophiles’ who are ‘grooming’ children in order to abuse them.
This false and malicious narrative has been weaponized to label the LGBTQ+ community as ‘groomers’ and has fueled a slew of hostile legislation and policies aimed at erasing the discussion of LGBTQ+ related issues in schools, removing LGBTQ+ books from schools and public libraries and, especially, to ostracize, defame and harass transgender people.”
So, indeed, piss off, Christina. You’re doing more than your part polluting America to the point that a Trans woman in an obscure Bud Light ad sends sales plummeting. What awful thing did Dylan Mulvaney do by endorsing Bud Light? She existed. The right wing’s discourse has become so toxic that even the meekest association with a Trans person ignites a dangerously absurd volume of performative offense.
I am reminded again of my mother, who attends a Unitarian church in her new Texas town. Thanks, quite likely, to some anti-LGBTQ asshat “influencers,” a Unitarian church in nearby Plano, Texas, just suffered an arson attack.
If you are a Queer or Queer-friendly person feeling the sting of this retro-repression burning across the country, please remember that we’ve been here before and that this hubristic hate is built on lies, ignorance, and hypocrisy. The emboldened bigots are trying to make us all suspect. They’ve used the “groomer” epithet to good effect in the past, and they don’t have anything new, aside from now targeting the Trans community as the primary gender outlaws.
You want groomers? Check out high school cheerleading outfits. You want debauchery? You won’t find it at a Drag Queen Story Hour, but try a “lifestyle” cruise. (Which should not be read as slut-shaming. I’m all for those crazy kids enjoying a consensual, sex-filled cruise!) Where do children seem to be in particular danger? Blood-red Tyler, Texas, looks pretty scary.
We in the Queer community have been accused of all sorts of depravity through the years. We’re in a particularly loud moment. But don’t you believe them. It’s all projection.
The bigots’ imaginations are running wild, and they’re simmering in queer panic. It would be laughable if their neurotic malaise wasn’t ablaze at a Unitarian church’s door, or slithering its way into legislation. Who is a threat to decent American society? The answer, yet again, is the right wing. I’ll thank my mother for instilling me with enough sense to see that clearly.
Will O’Bryan is a former Metro Weekly managing editor, living in D.C. with his husband. He is online at www.LifeInFlights.com.
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!