PRINT November 2011


right-wing masculinity

Marcus Bachmann at a National Press Club luncheon, Washington, DC, July 28, 2011. Photo: Jason Reed/Reuters.

AS THE PRIMARIES APPROACH, there has been much outrage (and even more amusement) over the mincing, glide-walking, and supersibilant Dr. Marcus Bachmann, spouse and dance partner of Tea Party Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann. Doc Bachmann is a therapist whose counseling practice, Bachmann & Associates, is known for its techniques of praying away the gay, transforming miserable homosexuals into blissful Christian heterosexuals. The funny thing is that Bachmann is, in the words of Jon Stewart, “an Izod shirt away from being the gay character on Modern Family.”

Andrew Sullivan noted a strong resemblance between Doc Bachmann and Corky St. Clair, the flaming married director in Waiting for Guffman. Actually, Bachmann reminds me most of a toned-down Rip Taylor or Jonathan Winters’s drag persona Maude Frickert. His pantywaist deportment leads some to suspect hypocrisy, assuming that Bachmann is himself closeted. While the Bachmanns have shown hypocrisy in accepting about half a million dollars in Medicare, state and federal grants, and farm subsidies while portraying themselves as enemies of big government and entitlements, accusing him of being hypocritical about his sexual identity isn’t that easy. I’m from the Midwest, so I’m not surprised that Bachmann is widely accepted as heterosexual by millions of Republicans and Christians. If you believe in angels, devils, and imminent rapture, you can certainly believe this wiggly doctor is hot for his spouse.

When I told my grandmother that Liberace was gay, she didn’t want to hear it. When I told my mother that Merv Griffin was gay, she didn’t want to hear that. When I mentioned that Merv was the defendant in an eleven-million-dollar sexual-harassment lawsuit brought by Deney Terrio, host of the Griffin-produced Dance Fever, she got angry. Midwesterners have poor gaydar. Even the gays.

The feminized male head of household is a Middle American tradition. Think of James Dean’s dad in Rebel Without a Cause, Jim Backus in that frilly apron. For every alpha male there are many betas—gelded married dads. Some, like numerous Republican congressmen, lead secret gay lives. Some are simply eunuchlike, and maybe with good reason, as we’re now told that scientific research shows that parenting saps testosterone.

America’s is an either/or culture that assumes either you’re gay or you’re straight. But in other places and other times, such as ancient Greece and Rome, there have existed cultures where sexuality was viewed as a broad continuum of desires and behavioral options, where, as Gore Vidal said, “there are no homosexual people, only homosexual acts.”

The first real theorist of polymorphous sexuality was Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (1825–1895), a radical thinker and early gay liberationist who asserted that there were many norms of sexuality. Ulrichs postulated that among male sexual orientations there was the basic heterosexual, or Dioning, who is attracted to women, and the basic homosexual, or Urning, who is attracted to men, but that there exist other types as well, including the Uranodioning, or bisexual male; the Mannlinge, or hypermasculine “rough trade” homosexual; the Virilisierte Mannlinge, or closeted homosexual; the Uraniaster, or situational homosexual (think prison or navy); and the Manuring, or feminine straight male.

It’s easy to assert that Bachmann must be gay, but it is even likelier that he’s just a Manuring, doing what they do. In this hetero couple variation, the woman wears the pants and they both like it that way (especially considering the social costs of the alternatives in Christian-conservative territory). Butch women may well find femme men more socially manageable. Ironically, the girly man may be more desirable in a straight milieu than in a gay one. Women may prefer an easygoing guy who can pick out a nice dress for them while they’re at work, while gays may prefer macho guys like Rick Perry (Virilisierte Mannlinge?) who dress like the Marlboro Man. It is Perry’s hyperbutch rough-trade style (and a photo of him deep-throating a corn dog) that has led to rumors he’s gay, despite his vocal opposition to gay marriage. Perry was guest of honor at a fund-raising banquet for Cornerstone Action, a New Hampshire group that seeks to overturn gay marriage in the state and that, like the Bachmann clinic, supports curing gays of their misguided orientation. Hey, if Perry is gay, he may not know it. He could have simply misinterpreted the Village People. In any event, it’s shaping up to be a don’t-ask-don’t-tell election. But if the doc is a gay-bashing sissy, or Perry is a gay-bashing top, do we really want to go there anyway? Do we want to judge men on a macho scale, assessing their sexual orientation so superficially?

There is a double standard buried deep in the heart of the Tea Party. What kind of a name is Tea Party, anyway? It reminds me of the Mad Tea Party from Alice in Wonderland. Remember? The Mad Hatter was always having tea with the March Hare as a strategy for stopping time. At their tea party, it was always 6 PM! And doesn’t that seem exactly what our rather mad present-day Tea Party is all about? But instead of keeping it 6 PM they want to keep it a perpetual 1956, back when gays knew their place.

Glenn O’Brien is the author of How to Be a Man (Rizzoli, 2011).