Garrison Keillor issued an apology for the column he wrote last week—kinda, sorta. In case you missed it, here’s Keillor’s column (“Stating the Obvious”), and here’s my measured, thoughtful response (“Fuck Garrison Keillor”). The full text of Keillor’s apology:
Ordinarily I don’t like to use this space to talk about my newspaper column but the most recent column aroused such angry reactions that I thought I should reply. The column was done tongue-in-cheek, always a risky thing, and was meant to be funny, another risky thing these days, and two sentences about gay people lit a fire in some readers and sent them racing to their computers to fire off some jagged e-mails. That’s okay. But the underlying cause of the trouble is rather simple.
I live in a small world—the world of entertainment, musicians, writers—in which gayness is as common as having brown eyes. Ever since I was in college, gay men and women have been friends, associates, heroes, adversaries, and in that small world, we talk openly and we kid each other and think nothing of it. But in the larger world, gayness is controversial. In almost every state, gay marriage would be voted down if put on a ballot. Gay men and women have been targeted by the right wing as a hot-button issue. And so gay people out in the larger world feel besieged to some degree. In the small world I live in, they feel accepted and cherished as individuals, but in the larger world they may feel like Types. My column spoke as we would speak in my small world and it was read by people in the larger world and thus the misunderstanding. And for that, I am sorry. Gay people who set out to be parents can be just as good parents as anybody else, and they know that, and so do I.
A reporter asked me this weekend if I was satisfied with Keillor’s apology.
Satisfied? Sure, I’m satisfied. Does that mean the column Keillor wrote wasn’t bigoted and offensive? No and no. And his apology is merely satisfactory. Below average, as apologies go.
Keillor apologized only because the column was “misunderstood,” says that it was meant to be satirical, and that the kind of folks that move in his “small world”—folks that actually know gay people, artistic types and such like—were sure to get it. The humor was naturally lost on folks that don’t move in similarly artistic circles. Those folks misunderstood his intention, and for that Keillor is sorry.
Excuse me… what? I’m pretty familiar with gay people, seeing as how gay people have been sucking my cock for close to 25 years now. But somehow I didn’t get it—and neither did Andrew Sullivan, John Aravosis, or Andy over at Towleroad. It wasn’t a lack of familiarity with the gays that lead to those angry responses, Garrison.
And if the column was satire, Garrison, what exactly were you satirizing? The column is titled “Stating the Obvious,” for Christ’s sake, and it’s worth revisiting at length. Maybe I’m selectively dense—that’s certainly a possibility—but this doesn’t read like an attempt at humor:
I grew up the child of a mixed-gender marriage that lasted until death parted them, and I could tell you about how good that is for children, and you could pay me whatever you think it’s worth.
Back in the day, that was the standard arrangement. Everyone had a yard, a garage, a female mom, a male dad, and a refrigerator with leftover boiled potatoes in plastic dishes with snap-on lids…. Monogamy put the parents in the background where they belong and we children were able to hold center stage. We didn’t have to contend with troubled, angry parents demanding that life be richer and more rewarding for them. We blossomed and agonized and fussed over our outfits and learned how to go on a date and order pizza and do the twist and neck in the front seat of a car back before bucket seats when you could slide close together, and we started down the path toward begetting children while Mom and Dad stood like smiling, helpless mannequins in the background.
Nature is about continuation of the species—in other words, children. Nature does not care about the emotional well-being of older people.
Let’s stop here for a second. Opponents of gay marriage and gay adoption argue that same-sex marriage goes against nature. In the last nine months two state supreme courts—in New York and Washington—denied marriage rights to gays and lesbians because, both courts argued, marriage is supposed to put “children center stage.” Marriage isn’t about adults and their needs or rights, but about “the continuation of the species.” A male dad and a female mom—that’s the kind of family in which “children tend to thrive,” wrote the Washington State Supreme Court. Intentionally or not, Keillor is using loaded, explosive language here.
A couple of days before Keillor’s column was published, the Senate in Arkansas voted to ban gays and lesbians from being foster parents, with opponents using the same sort of language Keillor employed in this “humor” column. (The bill in Arkansas bans gays and lesbians from fostering or adopting children to whom they are related by blood!) So you’ll have to forgive me if I didn’t see the humor here, Garrison.
Under the old monogamous system, we didn’t have the problem of apportioning Thanksgiving and Christmas among your mother and stepdad, your dad and his third wife, your mother-in-law and her boyfriend Hal, and your father-in-law and his boyfriend Chuck. Today, serial monogamy has stretched the extended family to the breaking point….
Okay, so divorce and remarriage has made life more complicated for children. I agree—my parents divorced, and that pretty much sucked. My first apportioned Christmas was pretty depressing. So I’m with you, Garrison: I too recognize that marriage, life-long commitment, and less complicated family structures as the ideal, like I said in my original post.
But Keillor probably should have mentioned that he himself has failed—and failed spectacularly—to live up to these ideals. Keillor has children from two of his three marriages, and Keillor’s Wiki entry reads like a page ripped from Peyton Place.
And now for those infamous two sentences:
And now gay marriage will produce a whole new string of hyphenated relatives. In addition to the ex-stepson and ex-in-laws and your wife’s first husband’s second wife, there now will be Bruce and Kevin’s in-laws and Bruce’s ex, Mark, and Mark’s current partner, and I suppose we’ll get used to it.
The country has come to accept stereotypical gay men—sardonic fellows with fussy hair who live in over-decorated apartments with a striped sofa and a small weird dog and who worship campy performers and go in for flamboyance now and then themselves. If they want to be accepted as couples and daddies, however, the flamboyance may have to be brought under control. Parents are supposed to stand in back and not wear chartreuse pants and black polka-dot shirts. That’s for the kids. It’s their show.
I’ve already picked over these two lines at some length. (How much do you wanna bet that “Bruce and Kevin” were “Adam and Steve” in Keillor’s first draft?) But, again, where’s the humor here exactly? I mean, besides the Coulteresque pot-shots at effeminate gay men? Garrison writes that gay men—the swishy ones, at least—have been accepted. (Tell that to the guys who get bashed, guys that tend to be the obvious/swishy.) But: “If they want to be accepted as couples and daddies, however, the flamboyance may have to be brought under control.”
This line does two thing: First, it assumes that Keillor has no gay readers. Gay people are “they.” Nice. And it makes acceptance of gay couples and daddies—what about the lesbian couples and mommies?—conditional. If we behave, acceptance. And if we don’t give up our loud trousers and flashy shirts? What then?
Keillor may be a humorist but it isn’t humor that characterizes this column. It’s regret. Oh, the world is more complicated today—and that’s a dang shame, Keillor argues. Garrison pines for the days when life was simpler—when straight people stay married for life, when kids were always in the foreground, and when no one had to keep track of a gay relative’s current partner, to say nothing of his ex, because back in the good “confirmed bachelors” weren’t so rude as to bring their “roommates” ‘round for dinner.
Because gay people, back in the good ol’ days, were content to commit social and emotional suicide. Sucked for them, of course, but it was good for children. (Except gay ones, of course.)
Garrison’s whole point was that these two social arrangements—life-long commitment for straights, the closet for gays—were better for children. Remember, folks, Garrison is “stating the obvious” here. We’ve become more selfish, we adults, and we don’t seem to notice or care that we’re hurting children in the process. Oh, and we may have to accept gay marriage, but we don’t have to like it. Because, you know, it’s hurting kids.
I’m sorry, but there aren’t two ways to read this column. I don’t doubt that Keillor knows and likes gay people. But I don’t see how this column can be read—by gay or straight people, by people that know gay people or people that don’t—as anything other than hypocritical and homophobic. And, yeah, I’m sure that Keillor knows lots of homos, being in the arts. That makes his column less excusable, not more. And if it’s a joke, what explains the headline: “Stating the Obvious”? Over at Tribune Media Services, which syndicates Keillor’s column to hundreds of daily newspapers all over the country, the column has this headline: “TRUTHS ABOUT FAMILY, GENDER AND MIDWESTERN COWBOYS.”
The final irony, perhaps, is that Keillor didn’t apologize for the column itself. He didn’t apologize for what he said. He apologized for the “misunderstanding.” It’s typical of the politicians Keillor likes to mock: Apologize if someone took offense, not for the offense you gave.