I wanted to be elated at Madison Cawthorn’s primary defeat, but as a gay man, there’s a bittersweet element. It feels like the trio of homoerotic leaks that seem to have been his final death knell. A photo of Cawthorn wearing women’s lingerie and two videos of him suggestively interacting with a male cousin were picked to intentionally court the homophobia I can occasionally fool myself into thinking we’ve moved past.
It’s weird because I don’t even blame those who spread the content. I believe Cawthorn is a specific danger, and it’s time the left played as dirty as the right. Still, for me, it dampens this victory.
I’ve diligently followed (some might say stalked) Cawthorn’s social media since his tenure and noticed a marked shift in the interactions after the lingerie photos surfaced. Prior, the comments were mostly sycophantic, mostly fellow right-wing, radicalized Americans telling him how great he is.
Now? Your occasionally sanctimonious commenter says how disappointed they are. They thought they’d elected a Christian — but the comment section at large feels like a roast, with people from both sides of the aisle gleefully taunting Cawthorn for wearing women’s clothing and humping men. No other controversy energized commenters this much, not his pathological lying nor helping cite an insurrection that killed five Americans.
Now, I was initially delighted by Cawthorn’s “gay phase” — texting friends and tweeting nonsense myself — but I fear most of the other commenters weren’t mocking the Republican ethos of “do as I say, not as I do” as much as they were making light of being gay. It pains me how long I convinced myself this kind of homophobia-lite was something to accept because of its prevalence.
I’ve started pushing back when I hear it now, which, in my experience, means I should lighten up and learn how to take a joke. Some people are mortified. If they’d known I was gay, they’d never make those comments in my presence.
Do I think this is what lost Cawthorn the election? Not necessarily, but it’s been a helpful reminder of where I stand in America.
If I wanted to show affection to a hypothetical partner in public, conservative folks are the first to tell me to think of the children. I remember being at a family wedding and overhearing some relatives complain about a gay couple “rubbing their gayness in everyone’s faces.” Said couple was participating in a very chaste slow dance alongside multiple straight couples. When Cawthorn videotapes behavior much lewder than anything I’d ever feel comfortable showcasing publicly, he has the luxury of claiming jest.
Imagine if photos of the openly gay Pete Buttigieg wearing women’s clothes ever surfaced. He’d be dragged, similar to how Tucker Carlson dragged him for taking paternal leave, saying he was doing so to breastfeed. This is the same Tucker Carlson who released a trailer for his “The End of Men” documentary that’s more homoerotic than the best of Abercrombie and Fitch’s mid-aughts advertising.
Conservatives could creep up to the gay line, but living openly? That’s a bridge too far. That’s what’s immoral. It makes one wonder if a naked Cawthorn filmed atop a woman would’ve been enough to make up for the cocaine and orgies. I can just picture an interviewed older Hendersonville resident smiling, shaking their head, and calling him a “rascal” or “sly dog.”
Last week, I’d penned a draft of this piece but started doubting my instincts. Maybe, Pat, I thought you should just be happy Cawthorn lost. Maybe, you’re just getting increasingly frustrated that homophobia is the only openly religious-sanctioned bigotry, but aside from overzealous bigots like Cawthorn and our lieutenant governor, people at large aren’t that bad.
Then, last Sunday, as I tried to enjoy a post-workout sauna at my Asheville gym, I had to hear one gentleman ask another if he ever went to the hot yoga place across the street. The man said no, hot yoga is only for women. “Not at all,” the first guy said, “A guy owns that one, and the nice thing is he’s not even gay.”
“Well, thank God for that,” the other man responded.
When I asked why they must thank God for this straight miracle, I got mumbled apologies and assurances that if they’d known I was gay, they wouldn’t have said anything in front of me.
Pat Brothwell is a former high school teacher, and current writer and marketing professional living and working in Asheville.
This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Opinion: Madison Cawthorn’s loss may have been aided by homophobia