“Suck my dick, you faggot.” Those five simple words have led actor Jonah Hill to a very complex, and necessary, public explanation and apology. See, while I might voice that sentence intimately toward the end of a good date, Hill uttered it in a pejorative, nasty, casual context.
Basically, a paparazzo badgered Hill—whose ubiquity as a character actor is obvious to anyone under 40—as he walked down a public street last week. Then, Hill, apparently forgetting that he’s chosen to make his living as a public figure, regressed to middle school, called the intrusive photographer a faggot, and told him to suck his dick. TMZ, of course, immediately disseminated the video.
Let’s break this down a bit, shall we?
Hill wasn’t literally suggesting the photographer perform fellatio. If that had been what he meant, we’d all be calling him brave for coming out during Pride Month. Nope: Hill, who identifies as straight, was using a figurative turn of phrase that essentially means, “Go fuck yourself.” As such, he was insulting someone by implying that sucking a cock was a bad thing, rather than what millions of men do to one another to show love and affection.
Promptly, those who make a living being outraged gleefully started taping a dunce cap together and demanded an apology from the actor for his blasphemy. After all, establishment types in the whiny left—not the entire left, the whiny left—have got to act like they’re doing something now and then.
This, despite the fact that it wasn’t so long ago we read about Hill speaking up to protest anti-gay policies in Russia, telling the E! network, “I have tons of gay friends, gay family members.” Hill said that wondering why people are living openly as gay is “like saying, ‘Why do you think people should breathe?’”
While the phrase “I have [insert minority status] friends!” is usually a lead-in for saying something stupid, Hill is obviously pro-equality. He’s not a bigot. He doesn’t appear even remotely homophobic if you look at his associations, career, public statements and overall public persona. And in the wake of his excited utterance, Hill has made the rounds to very publicly, and earnestly, apologize for offending a few people. In fact, he seems genuinely hurt himself for having acted in such a stupid way. Clearly, he understands his mistake, and he gets that the slur is hurtful particularly when used thoughtlessly and meaninglessly.
The storm, then, has passed. Jonah Hill is allowed back in the kumbaya clubhouse.
There’s a problem with this entire situation, though. While Hill feels the proper obligation to recognize and apologize for his mistake, there’s an entire swath of America right now that society has given a pass for saying something far more bigoted and odious than what Hill did. This crowd feels no obligation whatsoever to apologize for their hateful intentions.
See, when you say gay people aren’t entitled to marry, you’re saying something much worse, much more dangerous, than when a Jonah Hill or even Alec Baldwin utters a stray, harmless “faggot.”
Folks who say I shouldn’t share their civil rights are thinking very deliberately about their words. They aren’t just hurling an insult in an angry tirade—they’re bending over backwards to justify their juvenile queasiness with the idea of same-sex coupling.
Consider this quaint bit of recent, cute legalese from Philadelphia Daily News columnist Christine Flowers: “It’s one thing to say we want to treat gays, lesbians and the rest with fairness and dignity and quite another to twist the Constitution around to give us cover for cultural sympathy… To argue that ‘sexual orientation’ is of constitutional importance such that it mandates carving out special preference and privilege is dishonest.”
Oh—is that what’s dishonest? You can blather all you want about my rights and dignities, but if your underlying point is that they should be taken away, whatever you’re saying is just a mask you’re wearing to pretty up your bigotry.
Not that it’s much of a mask. Flowers starts out her column with a quite deliberately taunting response to the news that marriage equality had arrived in Pennsylvania: “So it’s fairly certain that Adam and Steve and Madame and Eve can start wiggling to the electric boogaloo.”
That statement is astoundingly more offensive than Jonah Hill saying, “Suck my dick, faggot” in a moment of frustration. Not only does it demonstrate a callous indifference to the experience of literally millions of fellow human beings, it also denotes a careless lack of empathy for the suffering of others at the hands of bullies.
I remember walking down Walnut Street when I was 18 years old, holding hands with a man I was dating. Some bros saw us. “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” they yelled. It was intimidating. That was deliberate.
Now go back a few years and contrast that with every time I heard one seventh-grade classmate say, “Shut up, faggot.” Which is worse, really? The stupid little shits who were just repeating phrases they’d heard? Or the charming group of gentleman on the street who, recognizing I was gay, made sure to tell me I have no right to exist?
Yeah, using a slur like “faggot” isn’t very nice. It deserves some knuckle-rapping; it warrants a mea culpa. But it doesn’t deserve our ire—or our focus. Nope: We should reserve that for those who would come after us with malice.