Stop calling it a “culture war,” call it what it actually is

So I saw another truly ridiculous piece of conservative outrage today, about the squawking, dishonestly named “One Million Moms” group (a proud owner of 3,000 Twitter followers) getting upset that gay people exist. The newest target of their ire is American Girl magazine, which had the temerity to feature an article about a pair of gay adoptive parents, without first seeking the permission of bigoted conservatives and ensuring that the language was appropriately fawning toward Conserva-Jesus and his well known hatred of gays. For the most part the Moms’ rhetoric is the usual claptrap, assuming that their appeasement is the sole purpose of every form of media, and getting arch that their imprimatur was neither sought out nor apparently thought about in the least, but one particular part of it, one specific, commonly used phrase, stuck in my head when I saw it:

1MM supports adoption and taking care of orphans as we are biblically instructed to do in Psalm 82:3, but American Girl could have focused the article on the child and not about the parents since it is a magazine for children. The magazine also could have chosen another child to write about and remained neutral in the culture war.

“Culture war.”

The phrase wouldn’t leave my brain after I’d read it. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, it seemed… wrong, somehow. Unfair. It didn’t gel, didn’t fit… and then I realized why:

You know who wants the most to not be in a culture war over homosexuality? Gay people.

If you focus on the actual words of the standard conservative rhetoric on this issue, and ignore the overall aggressive tone and outrage, you might get this idea that this “culture war” is something being inflicted upon them: they are desperate for people to “remain neutral,” when it comes to depictions of gay people. Show a happy gay family? Don’t do that, stay neutral! Gay parents in a canned spaghetti ad? No, stop, why would you do that? A Chick-Fil-A sponsors an LGBTQ film festival? Hey, nuh uh! Don’t turn chicken into a political battleground, that should be simple!

The behavior of the christian right is all about stopping things from being battlefields in this culture war over homosexuality, one gets the idea that they are beleaguered peacekeepers demanding neutrality, stepping in to deal with all these fires being started by the other side. But the truth is, as is usual for the christian right, the exact opposite. This culture war is not the gays’ to fight.

To the family in the American Girl article, this isn’t some fucking battle. They didn’t appear in the magazine to get conservative christians, nor did American Girl publish the article to attack anybody. They both did what they did for the reasons explained within the article; they did it because they were talking about the foster care system and that gay couple happened to be a (rather photogenic) part of that, and were passionate about it. They are an accurate reflection of the topic that was under discussion, and hence were included in an article attempting to portray that reality. What made it into a battle was a cadre of loudmouthed conservatives unable to separate their own personal offense at the existence of something they don’t like from the reasons that thing might exist in the first place. It’s a battle because a certain subset of conservatives are unable to see the rest of the world as anything other than a reaction to them, as a group.

What, you think we’d have these “culture wars” over homosexuality if gay people were simply left alone, with the same rights as anybody else? The objection being leveled by One Million Moms is that gay people are being depicted as existing, not that they’ve actually done something wrong. You think we’d have these pitched social issues over transgenderism if transgender people were just allowed to be the gender identity they identify with, with all that entails? You think any of this would be happening if the religious conservative movement in opposition to it stopped and let us see what happened without instigating any outrage?

Because that’s what a war is, you know. A war involves at least two sides in active disagreement, it is sustained by all the parties within it, not just one. If the anti-gay side just stopped here, though, there would be no war. Gay people just want to live their lives in peace, and if there had never been any homophobic cultural history here, there would be no culture war now, and certainly no bad feelings on the part of the gay community toward those that are seeking to oppress them now. This is a self inflicted war, begun and sustained by a group of people who simply will not let others live their own lives without their intervention.

There is a kind of war that is begun by one party in it and not the other, and is not sustained by mutual enmity, but rather one side’s insistence… but we call it something else and aren’t generally okay with what it is. That kind of war is called an invasion, and it’s characterized as an interaction between an aggressor and a defender. When was the last time you heard about an invasion, in which nobody would be harmed and no conflict would arise if it were to stop, and thought that the aggressor was in the right?

To be clear, I’m not talking about motivations here; it’s clear that the anti-gay side has a motivation for what they’re doing, it’s one they’ve made abundantly obvious. I don’t agree with it at all, I think it’s a completely unjustified motivation, but I cannot honestly deny that it exists, nor will I pretend that this invasion of theirs is happening out of baseless spite, because that would be untrue. It’s not just troublemaking, it is happening for a reason, even if it’s obviously a bad reason.

No, what I’m talking about here is a clear problem in the language surrounding this issue, the dishonest way that the religious right hopes to characterize the interactions at play. It’s not a “culture war” for any other party but the anti-gay side, and so for them to assert that other parties should “remain neutral,” attempts to apply a mindset about all this to people that do not share it; America Girl was not firing a salvo in any sort of war, they were reporting on an issue. That this got reinterpreted in its transmission to One Million Moms is not their fault, nor is it something they can control. The Moms’ seem to want to make others responsible for how they react to media in ways that the creators did not intend, and this is both arrogant in that it places the onus on everyone else to appease One Million Moms as a matter of course, and entirely misrepresentative of how that media was created in the first place. You cannot retroactively add a malevolent (from their perspective) motivation to a work, nor can you attempt to phrase it as “taking a side” in a culture war when your own objection betrays that you would find it impossible for them to do otherwise.

What was it that One Million Moms said in their article, again?

The magazine also could have chosen another child to write about and remained neutral in the culture war.

Uh huh. And what is their objection at all? Why, it’s that gay parents were depicted in American Girl! Which means that the Moms’ idea of winning would be the removal of gay people from the magazine…

Do you see the problem here? One Million Moms’ idea of neutrality is the same as their victory condition. For one to “remain neutral in the culture war,” one has to allow the anti-gay side to win. Anything else isn’t “remaining neutral,” it’s taking a stand against them.

Keeping this in mind, how dare One Million Moms attempt to turn this into an attack? How dare they classify this as a statement against them in the culture war when the way to remain neutral, to them, is to just give them what they want? That’s not remaining neutral! That’s explicitly endorsing their side exclusively! How self serving of them, to think that neutrality is just them winning!

I could go on, pointing out how hypocritical it is to assert that presenting a gay family isn’t “being neutral,” and yet doing exactly the same thing for their side is just fine, or I could ask why depicting a straight family should be the neutral baseline while depicting a gay family at all is inherently taking a side, but that’s not the point. The point is that this is, in no way, a culture war. This talk of neutrality is entirely misrepresentative, when the hidden premise of the “neutrality” being asked for is to unreservedly give one side whatever they want. It’s not a war when the sole goal of one side is “to live in peace,” and the other’s is “my god says you can’t do that.” It’s not a war when it’s the work of one party entirely and the grievance is the existence of the other side at all.

That’s the objection One Million Moms has, plainly: other people aren’t pretending that gay people do not exist. If they acknowledge that gay people do exist, a completely factual statement, then they aren’t being neutral to the Moms’ self-imposed culture thing. But that’s not a war, that’s a campaign of erasure kicked off with no input at all from the party being erased, and no real world reason that this erasure should happen. That’s a cultural pogrom, not a cultural war.

If gay people were just left alone then they wouldn’t cause any trouble. This isn’t a war for them, nobody asked their opinion of this supposedly pitched cultural battle they’re in and, frankly, they don’t want to be a part of it. You can trust me on that, because I fall under the LGBTQ umbrella (I won’t say where) and all I want to do is live unimpeded, not cause trouble for a group of conservatives I don’t even know. I wouldn’t even think of One Million Moms if they’d just stop insisting that we’re at war.

The framing of a “culture war” implies that both sides are taking shots at one another, but that’s not true. What’s really happening is that one side is taking all the shots, and the other side is just insisting that they should be allowed to live their lives without being killed by those shots. Those shots, by the way, have made very real casualties for the gay side, actual people who have died because of the right’s insistent stoking of cultural homophobia, but never for the opposition. We don’t even want anybody to be killed on the other side, on any side… we just want to be left alone.

Only one side is actually fighting here, so let’s not lie and call this a culture war. This is a cultural invasion, and there is no neutral ground for the invaders. They’ve seen the cultural landscape turn toward acceptance for the LGBTQ members of society, and so they are attempting to push their ways onto us under the guise that their victory condition is some kind of fair and neutral compromise. Such self serving rhetoric should not go unanswered.

Wars have combatants. This is nothing more than an attack on people who want nothing to do with it. Call it what it is, not what the anti-gay side would prefer because it makes them look better.

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