“But privilege isn’t about what you’ve gone through; it’s about what you haven’t had to go through.” —Janaya Future Khan
Welp, I guess we have to talk about Lady G, and no, I do not mean Gaga.
Lefty Twitter shit its pants last week because a D.C.-based male sex worker tweeting under the name Sean Harding attempted to crowdfund enough cash to allow a group of male escorts allegedly hired by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham to break their nondisclosure agreements and go public with his (open?) secret. Harding asserts that Graham is a closeted gay man who makes frequent and exuberant use of these sex workers, and mandates the nickname “Lady G”. Saucy! Given Graham’s lengthy and consistent rhetoric and voting record of discrimination against the LGBTQ community, it’s reasonable to want potential hypocrisy exposed and accounted for. While I have no way of knowing the veracity of Harding’s claim, I begrudge no one a moment of schadenfreude.
Naturally, this episode revived the question plaguing people since Senator Graham’s abrupt switcheroo from Trump critic to Trump sycophant in 2017: is THIS the kompromat discovered when Russians hacked the RNC in 2016? Furthermore, this shitshow we refer to as 2020 elicits another question from our weary, traumatized brains: that’s it? THAT was worth committing treason and enabling autocracy?
Assuming this claim is true, is it really that big a deal, you ask? So, Lindsey Graham might be gay! Who cares? Well, you don’t care and I don’t care, but I can assure you that South Carolina evangelicals care. A lot.
I grew up in evangelical Christianity. Here’s a snippet of lived experience. I was explicitly taught that being gay was a sinful “lifestye choice” that people only undertook because they hated God. Yes, hated God. Grown-ass adults actually said that with a straight face. My Sunday School teachers, parents, and grandparents told me that gayness was a sign of how deeply our society had turned its back on Christianity, and that my generation was needed to fight back against this “scourge”. That was the serious, explicit lesson, which doesn’t begin to convey all the barbs, mean jokes, and snide comments that proliferated in my home, my church, and my relatives’ homes. Literally too many to count.
Despite my family’s deep dive into fundamentalist paranoia, I was mostly public schooled, for which I am eternally grateful… except for one hellacious year I was forced, against my will, to attend one of those horrific “Christian academies” aka evangelical private schools. Seventh grade. It was awful in every way, including sloppy and retrograde teaching. The history teacher taught – at the height of the tragic AIDS epidemic, no less! – that AIDS was a punishment from God for “sexual sin” and that anyone who tested positive should be “lined up against the wall and shot.” One time the science teacher casually told a story about visiting Houston, Texas with her husband and another couple, and how she and her friend ventured to the Montrose neighborhood one afternoon for the express purpose of mocking gay people; she told this story so casually, laughing the whole time. Since adulthood, I’ve had more than one gay friend who grew up evangelical admit to having suicidal thoughts and even a few attempts as teens. I’ve watched parents try to push their gay teens and college students into straight marriages with bribes and threats. And about ten years ago, I personally had one of my closest friends antagonize me to the point of no return just for having gay friends and “refusing to apologize” for it. This is an unsettling yet very short and incomplete list, coming from a person who is – and I cannot stress this enough – straight.
I’ll let you do the math on whether you think a person in Lindsey Graham’s shoes would feel comfortable coming out.
It’s tone-deaf and ignorant to scoff that you don’t care if Graham is gay. I don’t care either, but a lot of people do. And those people have dark track records of ostracizing and disowning LGBT people. They have compelled gay and trans teens to think about, attempt, and tragically sometimes commit, suicide. You can’t sit there and tell me a sitting Senator who depends on them for votes doesn’t on some level fear them.
I know what you’re now thinking and I fully agree: Senator Graham is of course responsible for his choices. Regardless of his sexual orientation or whatever rumors may be flying, he deserves scrutiny and criticism for using his position of power to discriminate. And I fully agree, assuming he was suddenly faced with blackmail in 2017, there were at least a hundred avenues available to him that did not include enabling a dictator. He could have gotten in front of the blackmail, thus neutralizing it. He could have fabricated a sympathetic excuse to retire, like a health problem or family emergency. Hell, he could have embraced his reputation as a “liberal Republican” and retired from the Senate for a lucrative contract on MSNBC! He’s entirely accountable here.
I have struggled with this piece, not because I don’t know what to say, but because I’m not sure it’s my place to say it. Like I said, I’m straight. I’ve never questioned my sexuality, never once felt any sexual urge or attraction towards a woman. Like Liz Lemon, I like a bald spot and a hairy back. That is privilege, and it means I have no clue what it’s like to be gay in America, let alone Trump’s America. So who am I to talk about Lindsey Graham in this manner? But I also know that when straight people are silent, we are complicit in oppression. As an ally, that’s the last thing I want to be. So I take a deep breath and hit publish, and hope this speaks to someone, hope it educates someone who’s had the good fortune to live their life outside of repressive, insular evangelical circles. When you scoff, “Pfft, who cares if Graham is gay!?” know that you are erasing decades of pain experienced by gay (and trans!) people, particularly teens, who are caught against their will in a brutal, dehumanizing system. Know that you are erasing the abject terror they felt at the prospect of coming out, not to mention the catastrophic and near-total loss of everyone and everything they’d ever known when they did. Most teens and young adults outside evangelicalism* can be who they are and do things their parents and extended families don’t approve and keep their sense of stability intact. Gay people growing up evangelical cannot.
All I am saying is that Senator Graham’s electoral bread is buttered by hardline evangelical homophobes. I grew up around those people too, and I can imagine if it may have contributed to his personal and professional calculations about what he feels comfortable disclosing. I loathe Graham’s apparent cowardice and sycophancy. But I have real problems with the flippancy inherent in conversations about his rumored secret. That flippancy is unexamined privilege, and when people engage in such scoffing, they are hurting real people who aren’t in positions of power.
*I should mention that other, fundamentalist organized religions function similarly to evangelical Christianity in that they exert total and brutal control over children and teens.
Blueberry Cornflake Muffins
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- ¼ tsp kosher salt
- 1 cup blueberries
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 6 tbs unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
- ¾ cup sour cream
- 1 large egg
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1 cup cornflakes (you can absolutely use a store-brand version of cornflakes)
- ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- ¼ cup turbinado sugar
- Preheat your oven to 350 F. Take a 12-cup muffin tin and either grease the wells with softened butter or cooking spray, or just line them with baking cups (oh hiiiii!).
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Reserve ¼ cup of this mixture. Transfer this reserved amount to a small bowl with the blueberries. Stir gently to coat, but don’t mash the berries.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (you can also use a large mixing bowl and a hand mixer), cream the sugar and butter on medium speed until the mixture is smooth and pale yellow, about 2-3 minutes.
- Turn the mixer off and add the sour cream, egg, vanilla extract, and lemon zest. Beat on medium speed until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, then mix again to incorporate everything together.
- Add the flour mixture to the bowl and mix on low speed for just about 30 seconds, until mostly incorporated, about 15 seconds. Using a spatula, gently fold the coated blueberries into the batter. Don’t smash them up.
- I like to use a regular ice cream scoop to evenly portion out the batter into the muffin tin, you’ll want each cup about ⅔ full.
- Top each muffin evenly with the CORNFLAKE TOPPING. Use all of it, mound it on there. You want to press those flakes into the batter too, otherwise they won’t adhere during baking and will just fall off when you transfer the muffins from the tin. Which is sad.
- Bake for 25-28 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.
- Let them cool for about 5 minutes, then gently remove them to a cooling rack or plate to cool completely. If you leave them in the muffin tins to cool, they will overcook from the residual heat and taste dry.