There are plenty of good reasons to question Michele Bachmann’s fitness for the presidency, including but not limited to: her thin record of legislative achievement, her blatant hypocrisy in opposing government spending while her family accepts farm subsidies and government grants and her bigotry. Here are two things that have nothing to do with her fitness for office: being prone to migraines and her husband’s supposedly effeminate mannerisms.
And yet, for the last week, the media has put intense focus on those two non-issues. Bachmann’s husband Marcus, a counselor, has been getting a lot of attention for his shockingly homophobic views (he calls gays “barbarians”) and the fact that his clinic has employed “reparative therapy” to wean patients off homosexuality. Marcus Bachmann’s homophobia and unhelpful “therapy” reflect on his wife’s fitness to be president, so they are fair game. What should be off-limits to real journalists is baseless speculation that Marcus Bachmann is gay because of the pitch of his voice or sway of his gait.
And yet, taking their cue from comedians such as Jon Stewart and Bill Maher, reporters have begun openly speculating that Bachmann is a closeted or repressed homosexual. Andrew Sullivan made fun of his voice, comparing it to Corky St. Clair from Waiting for Guffman. Keith Olbermann, perhaps unintentionally, seemed to elliptically reference the speculation in a segment on Marcus’ homophobia by calling him "bizarre-sounding" and saying he can’t be "kept in the closet" during the campaign. More seriously, Michelle Cottle wrote an article in the Daily Beast in which these jokes about Bachmann transmogrified into full-blown “rumors.” These “rumors” about Bachmann’s sexuality cited no claims of Bachmann having ever actually engaged in sexual acts with another man. Absent such evidence, or even assertion, it is simply irresponsible for journalists (as distinct from comedians) to publicly muse on the subject.
It is also a rather perverse sight to see progressives and gay rights advocates reinforcing retrograde norms of gender conformity by arguing, or even merely implying, that a man with a high-pitched voice must be gay. This does nothing to help us build a society in which a wide spectrum of non-conforming gender identities are respected. Homosexuality should not be mocked as the absence of manliness, a point that Sullivan and Dan Savage — who has delighted in mocking Bachmann’s “fruity” mannerisms — would be sure to make if the victim of their innuendo were not a political opponent. Just because the victim of vulgar, unsubstantiated attacks is a bigot does not justify them.
There is also a curious assumption by liberals such as Savage that calling Bachmann gay undermines his homophobia. Is the implication that if Bachmann is perfectly straight then his views are not odious? Or that if the voice delivering his statements on homosexuality were gruff and macho they would be any less hurtful and unprofessional?