Back in December in my review of the Alan Turing biopic “The Imitation Game,” I pointed out that the message of the movie about the martyred gay proto-nerd was reminiscent of an old Onion article:
Gaywads, Dorkwads Sign Historic Wad Accord
Feb 10, 1999
ROCKVILLE, MD—In a historic show of wad solidarity, delegates representing gaywads and dorkwads signed the first-ever Wad Alliance Treaty Monday in the cafeteria of Adlai Stevenson Memorial High School.
The landmark accord, whose signing was presided over by President Clinton, is considered the most significant step ever taken toward wad unification. …
Gaywad Jeff Brunner, 14, agreed. “From this day forward,” he said, “we will no longer see each other as dorkwads and gaywads, but instead, simply as wads, brothers united in our collective struggle against wad persecution.”
Many of those present at the signing ceremony were overcome with emotion, necessitating the emergency use of a number of asthma inhalers. At least one attendee shot milk out of his nose.
“The road to wad healing has begun,” said Clinton, who, working closely with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and the ASHS Key Club, was instrumental in the delicate after-school negotiations that led to Monday’s signing. “Thanks to the efforts of those on both sides, we can look forward to the day when the wads of this great nation can all sit down together and play Magic: The Gathering at the table of brotherhood.”
Though some feared there would be trouble at the signing ceremony, it went off mostly without incident. The notable exception was a brief episode in which a Games magazine belonging to major gaywad Stephen Tempelman, 15, was confiscated by three junior-varsity basketball players. After a brief scuffle, during which the popular athletes engaged Tempelman in a spirited game of “keep-away,” National Guardsmen were mobilized to seize the magazine and return it to its rightful gaywad owner. …
“The countless cruel acts perpetrated against wads, including swirlies, noogies, titty-twisters, wet willies, purple nurples and Indian sunburns, as well as the throwing of wad headgear and retainers onto the roof of the school, have been tolerated long enough,” said gaywad leader and chaotic evil magic-user/thief Lenny Berger, 15. “But such injustice will not cease until the day we finally join together, forming an unstoppable wad juggernaut to defend ourselves against the jocks, stoners, stuck-ups, cheerleaders, metalheads, gearheads and all others who would seek to destroy us. We can no longer afford to waste our efforts fighting against each other. Too many mathletes have died.”
I’m serious about the intent of the movie being to engineer a nerd-gay alliance. The screenwriter of The Imitation Game, Graham Moore, is the son of Democratic political operative Susan Sher, who was Mrs. Obama’s chief-of-staff and is now a
bagwoman fundraiser for the Obama Library, so Moore has a good Chicago political head on his shoulders. The screenwriter comes more from the nerd side of the divide (Moore is apparently an effeminate heterosexual). His first book, The Sherlockian, was an updated Sherlock Holmes mystery; and his movie minimizes the gay stuff (which would have to have been about an aging toff with a taste for teenage rough trade) in favor of Benedict Cumberbatch doing his Sherlock-as-supercilious-nerd impression again.
So, everything was working according to Moore’s plan to build Clintonian bridges between the geeks and the gays until the screenwriter got up to give his Oscar acceptance speech. But he implied that being a “weird” kid in high school, like he was, is comparable in victimism Pokemon points to being a gay kid in high school, and all hell broke loose with the Designated Gay Avengers at Slate. Lesbian June Thomas immediately responded:
Moore went on to share with the millions of telecast viewers that at the age of 16, he tried to kill himself “because I felt weird, and I felt different, and I felt that I did not belong. And now I’m standing here, and I would like this moment to be for that kid out there who feels she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes, you do. … Stay different, and then when it’s your turn, and you’re standing on this stage, please pass the message to the next person that comes along.”
I wish that Moore had drawn a clearer line between his comments about Turing—a man who was persecuted and prosecuted for his homosexuality—and his “it gets better” message to teens who are merely weird and different. … But it’s also important to note that being gay simply isn’t the same as being a “geek.” Moore may see them as comparable (and, though he has identified himself as straight, his affect may have opened him up to homophobic bullying), but the truth of the matter is that the social force behind anti-gay prejudice is far stronger and more pernicious than the animus against social outcasts. Moore’s heart was surely in the right place, but I wish he hadn’t conflated these identities.
The next day, professional homosexualist J. Bryan Lowder chimed in on Slate:
During his speech, Moore—who confirmed to BuzzFeed early Monday morning that despite widespread assumption to the contrary, he does not identify as gay—revealed that his own vague adolescent weirdness and concomitant difficulties led him to the precipice of suicide when he was 16, and he offered his success as a sort of “It Gets Better” case study for teens who might feel like outsiders themselves.
Obviously, Moore’s general sentiment is a fine one—nobody is debating that—and any criticism of his delivery must of course be tempered by an allowance for the craziness of speaking from the Oscar stage. But those who are expressing discomfort with the speech are not wrong to find fault with Graham’s implied comparison between the experience of being gay in a still largely homophobic society (liberal Hollywood award shows notwithstanding) and standard teenage disaffection. Moreover, the number and intensity of incredulous dismissals of that response (see the comments on June’s post for a bracing sample) suggest that a lot of people don’t understand or reject the difference entirely….
Homosexuality is a fundamental identity that, despite the occasional “it’s a small part of me” talking point, deeply determines how one sees and is seen by the world. On the other hand, being “weird” or “different” presumably involves a set of interests or chosen behaviors (however deeply beloved) that distance one from the cultural mainstream in a more limited way. Put differently: Being a straight weirdo is, on balance, just not as totalizing or stressful a situation as being a gay person. …
Bullying may suck for everyone, but being a Trekkie or socially awkward or straight edge or whatever just doesn’t have the same weight in that regard as being a sexual minority. For gays, the bully is the entire culture—a culture that often works its way insidiously inside your head—not just a stupid cool kid in third period.But for that, we need a social justice strategy focused on correcting deep-seated structural inequality rather than one that merely encourages a “tolerance” of diversity.
And then Lowder goes on to document that all his other gay activist friends on Twitter were as offended as he was.
To be clear, this isn’t about playing a round of “Oppression Olympics.”
Oh, yes it is.
Moore’s mistake was to think of Democratic Identity Politics as a game of coalition building. But it’s actually a negative sum game based on self-pity and hate, of being fringier-than-thou. Without an Emmanuel Goldstein / Haven Monahan hate figure to unite the minorities, the liberal coalition groups turn their knives on each other.