I was taken aback by a recent political ad from Texas Gov. Rick Perry, not just because the content is so vile and homophobic but because for years Perry has been dogged by rumors that he is gay.
I don't mean "gay" in the playground pejorative sense, I mean that he's had to fend off talk that he's a closeted homosexual. These unsubstantiated rumors have followed Perry since 2004, when he had to deny having a homosexual affair in an interview with the Austin American-Statesman. More recently this summer, Politico ran a story on the subject, comparing the perpetuation of those rumors to the fringe movement of the "birthers" who believe President Obama wasn't born in the U.S.
One might defend the Republican presidential candidate against such a smear campaign of unproven gossip—and until two weeks ago I would have agreed—but once you use the private sexual lives of other people as a tool to drum up votes, you open yourself up to the rest of us talking about what you do in the bedroom.
The anti-gay ad, in which he struts around a meadow in a Carhartt jacket (what an awesome cultural signifier of "real" America) and bemoans that something is wrong with this country when "gays can serve openly in our military, but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas," may be the most brazenly homophobic ad by a national candidate ever.
Given how hateful and tasteless it is, anyone who thinks realistically about what fuels homophobia cannot help but raise an eyebrow. This is actually a good tip for you guys out there: Think about the most homophobic friend you have (because we all have them) and note his discomfort when the topic arises in conversation. If his reaction is bizarrely hateful, it's fair to speculate whether the dude has thought about what you look like naked.
And given the tolerance my generation is slowly shaming our parents and grandparents into, you can now no longer toss around homophobic slurs. The code has changed to "stuff" like Perry's ad.
We are living through one of the fastest civil rights paradigm shifts in American history. To have gone from a majority anti-gay marriage country and a homophobic president ready to enact a constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality to that right being extended in multiple states, Obama ending "don't ask, don't tell" and a complete reversal in public support in just a few short years is remarkable.
So I don't feel bad for Rick Perry because of his continued fight against these rumors. I feel bad because someday his grandchildren will watch that ad.
REDEYE SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR STEPHEN MARKLEY IS THE AUTHOR OF "PUBLISH THIS BOOK." REDEYECHICAGO.COM/MARKLEY