Sex at Dawn

Exploring the evolutionary origins of modern sexuality

Is Alec Baldwin a Homophobe?

Is homophobic language proof positive of homophobia?

Alec Baldwin—not known for his self-control or adherence to political correctness—is now being accused of having exposed himself as a homophobe due to a few recent outbursts that feature indisputably homophobic language. Andrew Sullivan, who would apparently prefer to consider Baldwin an ally, has regretfully concluded that Baldwin is a "raging, violent bigot" who is impossible to defend any longer.

Maybe Baldwin is beyond defense (MSNBC's answer to Mel Gibson), but let me propose that maybe, just maybe, he's not actually a homophobe—despite having called a gay journalist a "toxic little queen" (among the least offensive phrases in his outburst).

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Mind you, I've never met Baldwin and I admit going into this that I'm probably wrong, but there's an angle on this sort of thing that I think deserves more consideration than it's getting.

I've lived in Spain for a long time—plenty of time to become familiar with Spanish swearing, which tends to focus on elaborate descriptions of defecating in various sacred places. A few examples of things you might hear if a Spanish man slams his finger in a doorway:

  • I defecate on the host (the wafers symbolizing the body of Christ)!
  • I defecate in the milk of the Virgin!
  • I defecate in the milk of the mother who gave birth to you! And my personal favorite:
  • I defecate in the salty sea!

Now here's the thing: the people who say these things aren't necessarily Catholic—or even Christian—despite the extremely Catholic overtones of the first two. Nor is anybody seriously considering defecating in anybody's milk or off the side of a boat.

Andrew Sullivan's condemnation of Baldwin pivots on the notion that despite "Baldwin’s anger in both cases [being] thoroughly merited ... these outbursts reveal who he actually is."

But do they? Baldwin has a long history of enthusiastically supporting LGBT rights. In fact, today, Dan Savage tweeted, "I would rather be [insulted] by someone who supports LGBT equality than called a nicer name by someone who works against it. Crazy!"

Speaking for myself, the only time you're likely to hear me utter the words, "Jesus Christ!" are when I'm upset about something. I wasn't raised as a Catholic—nor do I have any reason to blame JC for my having stubbed my toe. My parents, however, were raised in that religious tradition, so I'm sure my unthinking outbursts are just subconscious echoes of what I heard growing up. (Somewhat embarassingly, I've noticed recently that my wife, who was raised in a Hindu/Muslim family has starting blaming JC for her stubbed toes as well.)

To be sure, I'm not saying Baldwin should be excused for losing his composure or—even less so—for taking to Twitter to berate and threaten a harassing journalist. But I think it's a mistake to assume we know someone's inner nature and intentions based solely upon the content of their outbursts.

 

 

 

 

 

Christopher Ryan, Ph.D., is co-author of Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality (HarperCollins 2010).

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