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Tucson Weekly Meet Mr. Bigot?

Meet Mr. Bigot?

By Tom Danehy

SEPTEMBER 29, 1997:  I WAS AT a grocery store the other day when this guy walks up to me and says, "Are you Tom Danehy?"

I nodded.

"You look fatter than that picture they had of you in The Weekly."

"Yeah," I agreed, "because of the nature of printing on paper, the picture is two-dimensional. So that takes off one-third of the weight right there."

He sneered. "I just want to tell you you're a bigot."

I responded by telling him that his mother earns her living standing on North Oracle, doing team pushups with any stranger so disposed. She usually has to do it twice unless she can make change for a five.

The grocery clerk standing nearby thought it was funny anyway. But the guy wheeled around and walked away. It's too bad; I really wanted to talk to the guy. I don't like being called a bigot. That word hurts, especially when it's not true.

For those of you who haven't been reading the Letters to the Editor page for the past six months, I'm being attacked because I wrote a column stating that I didn't like the coming-out episode of Ellen. In that column, I made three major points:

1. Ellen DeGeneres isn't funny. She has a one-note shtick which is sometimes cute, never clever, and after a while, grating.

2. The decision to come out on TV seemed at least as much a business and career decision as a personal one, since her sexual preference had been common knowledge for years and her show was on the verge of being canceled due to low ratings.

3. Finally, I stated that many people in this country are making an honest and noble attempt at changing the way they perceive homosexuality and gays. They're doing this despite deeply ingrained impressions made by family, society, peers, the media, and, perhaps most importantly, their religion(s).

It was on the third point that I was taken to task. Interestingly, not one letter writer took the time to argue Ellen DeGeneres is funny, mostly because she's not. Nor did they question the economic and career-survival motivation assertions. For that matter, nobody really argued my contention that people are making a sincere effort to be more open and understanding of gays. Instead, I was attacked for using the phrase "gay lifestyle."

I know I've read that phrase in other magazines. Still, I should have been more careful. I realize there's no such thing as a gay lifestyle. Gay people lead many different kinds of lives in many different ways, with varying degrees of happiness and success. Just like everybody else.

However, I stand by that third point because it's the truth. I've read articles on gay support groups consisting of parents of gays. These parents have shared experiences of having gone through a cycle of disbelief, anger, acceptance, understanding, and deeper love. To me, that's simply my third point writ large.

If society as a whole is going through a similar cycle, that's a good thing. It may not be happening fast enough, but the winds of societal change take a while to get up to speed.

As for my critics, it was understandable they'd focus on terminology rather than meaning; if you can't mount an attack on the message, attack the messenger and/or the form in which the message is conveyed.

The letters poured in after the column appeared. I was somewhat surprised by the vitriolic nature of some of them, so I sought out a more reasoned response to my column.

Somewhat ironically, I play basketball on Sundays with and/or against a team consisting of gay men. (To strict Catholic constructionalists, this by itself could get me a one-way ticket straight to Hell.) Anyway, none of these guys is straight; alas, neither are their shots.

I talked to this one guy, Jim. He was familiar with the controversy, so I asked him if he thought I was a bigot.

He laughed and said, "That's ridiculous. You're not a bigot. You're just an asshole."

Well, thanks for that clarification.

Guys use words like that in the gym all the time. I think it's all that pent-up aggression, combined with 143 percent relative humidity, no air conditioning, and the smell of body funk, sweat and Gatorade (the chemical composition of the latter is sweat plus fructose and artificial coloring, at a $1.49 a quart).

I asked him if he'd thought about writing a letter, and he said, "No, I missed that part of the gay newsletter instructing me to write in."

Good one, smart-ass.

Explaining to him that I was aware in advance that the next question would be akin to asking a black person if he knew Sidney Poitier, I asked him if he happened to know this James Ru guy who's been doing the most writing.

"No, I haven't seen him at any of the meetings," he said most sarcastically. "Of course, maybe he doesn't know the secret handshake yet."

Having had enough, I threatened not to pass him the ball all day. He backed off. I told Jim that if he ever met that Ru guy to tell him to put his crayons down and stop writing hate mail. He needs to have his sorry butt on Wheel of Fortune trying to buy some more letters for his name. What, is Ru short for RuPaul? No, it can't be. RuPaul has a sense of humor (and killer taste in fashion).

Jim said he would, but it's been months and the letters keep coming. So I'll do it myself: Mr. Ru, lighten up. I'm not a bigot, but I don't really care if you believe that or not. What you need to do is be more careful in your scattershot approach to labeling people as bigots. That word can sting, but it should be used only on those who deserve it, lest it lose its desired impact. You keep crying wolf and pretty soon nobody's going to listen to you. Oops, too late.

I'll even make you a deal. Ellen is starting new episodes pretty soon. (See, all the furor boosted the ratings enough for the series to get renewed for another half-season. But even a strong lead-in by The Drew Carey Show won't save it for long.)

Anyway, Mr. Ru, if you can sit through a couple episodes of Ellen and then tell me sincerely that you think she's funny, I'll join your damn boycott.

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