I learned long ago not to take Ann Coulter seriously. This understanding allows me to view her ritually screeching pronouncements (calling 9/11 wives “harpies,” Arabs “camel jockeys,” etc.), as what they ought to be: politically incorrect bon mots from the court jester of American conservatism. Yet most liberals have yet to adopt this attitude towards the blonde bombshell of punditry, as is evidenced by their earnestly outraged reactions at everything she says.
Coulter went farther than her usual self last month, when at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, she said: “I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, but it turns out you have to go into rehab if you use the word ‘faggot,’ so I – so kind of an impasse, can’t really talk about Edwards.”
Admittedly, when I first heard Coulter’s remarks, I laughed. It represented the sort of humor that any gay man would instantly recognize: high camp. Wikipedia provides one of the most accurate and concise definitions of camp: “an aesthetic in which something has appeal because of its bad taste or ironic value.” Gay male drag culture is defined by camp, with bitchy queens resorting to caustic, personal insults about anyone and everyone. It is their rudeness, their outrageousness, and their defiance of the pleasantries of polite behavior that makes them so funny. It is for this reason that the gay writer Andrew Sullivan refers to Coulter as a “drag queen impersonating a fascist.” He explains, “I don’t even begin to believe she actually believes this stuff. It’s post-modern performance-art.” Once you view Coulter this way (and not with the gravity that both her most ardent supporters and detractors do) you actually start to appreciate Coulter’s camp value.
Because I do not take Coulter seriously, it is almost impossible for me to take offense at anything she says. As much as I’m supposed to hate her as a gay man, I can’t bring myself to do so, irrespective of what the nation’s gay groups want me to believe. No matter how hard I try, she reminds me of all the bitchy drag queens I’ve come to love in gay bars across the country.
Following her “faggot” remark, in an ostensibly backhanded compliment to gays, she told the New York Times via email, “C’mon, it was a joke. I would never insult gays by suggesting that they are like John Edwards. That would be mean.” Say what you will about her original comment, but her retort was a hoot.
THIS WASN’T the first time Coulter aired an outrageous and unfounded allegation of homosexuality about a politician. Last year on MSNBC, after having claimed a day earlier that Bill Clinton showed a ‘level of latent homosexuality’ because of his promiscuity, she corrected herself by telling Chris Matthews, “I don’t know if he’s gay. But Al Gore — total fag.” Can one think of a more vigorous, practicing heterosexual that Bill Clinton? Spreading gay rumors about our 42nd president is as absurd as claiming Liberace was straight, and thus part and parcel of the whole Coulter oeuvre of absolute ridiculousness.
Yet with her comment at CPAC, Coulter did cross a line. She is after all, not a drag queen, and she uttered her bombshell not as an entertainer at a gay bar but rather in the service of a distinctly homophobic political agenda (which I doubt she genuinely endorses making her pandering all the more opportunistic) before an audience of people who support the continued legal and social exclusion of homosexuals. Her use of the f-bomb does not appear at all to be ironic nor was she chatting it up with Chris Matthews; she was addressing the right-wing base of the Republican Party.
The word is especially ugly; most gays shudder upon its utterance as it invokes childhood taunts. Calling the soft-featured, boyish, drawling John Edwards a “faggot” means one thing coming from the mouth of a drag queen in San Francisco. “Faggot” means another thing entirely coming from the mouths of bullies taunting a gay kid incessantly at school. Given the context in which Coulter delivered her remark, it ought to be obvious on which side of the spectrum it falls.
FORTUNATELY, some Republican presidential nominees have repudiated Coulter. The spokesman for Senator John McCain, who did not even attend the event, said, “The comments were wildly inappropriate.” Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said, “The comments were completely inappropriate and there should be no place for such name-calling in political debate.” And the spokesman for Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, whom Coulter has endorsed for President, said, “It was an offensive remark. Governor Romney believes all people should be treated with dignity and respect.”
Coulter, in spite of her shrill right-wing views on nearly everything, is not particularly known for her homophobia and is said to have gay friends. But her comment earlier this month, intended to feminize and thus discredit John Edwards by using the epithet, was inexcusable, especially considering where she uttered it. But most ironic about this whole spectacle is that gays are attacking Coulter — deservedly so — for embodying a form of humor that they created and popularized in mainstream culture. Perhaps, with this truth in mind, the joke is really on those conservatives who yukked it up at the expense of John Edwards and “faggots” everywhere.