I Tolerate You So Much, You Need to Shut Up and Hide!

I’ve been blogging a few years now and it’s been a long time since I read something that made me as angry as what I read last night.

Jeremy Hooper of Good As You points us to a piece by Anthony Esolen, Professor of English at Providence College. He’s writing in a Witherspoon publication — the same folks who financed the Regnerus study.

Esolen thinks well of himself — he is a great and good-hearted tolerant man, and it’s bugging the crap out of him that we homosexuals are not giving him his due. In his words:

Tolerance of wrong-doing is freely given; it is an act of graciousness, and not the paying of a debt. Therefore it rests with the offender, at the very least, to refrain from aggravating the burden of tolerance.

Esolen wants me to know that any public acknowledgement of my relationship with Will is an aggravation of Esolen’s burden. And this is Esolen being gracious.

It’s easy to summarize the man’s essay, because it says so little. It’s hard to do it using his own words, because he uses so many. But let me try. After several paragraphs invoking Thomas Aquinas and exploring Latin, Old English, and German word roots, he gives an example:

The local convenience store sells Playboy magazine. They are legally permitted to sell it. But it is a wrong; it degrades the beauty of the human body and turns sexuality from its proper sphere in marriage to the private quest for gratification. If they tacitly request tolerance, they tacitly incur a debt of reciprocity. They will keep the offensive magazine out of sight.

Yes: He’s willing to tolerate the existence of something as long as it’s kept out of sight. This sets up his view homosexuality — he lets us happen, and we acknowledge our debt by hiding ourselves away.

He starts like this: 

I want my son to be comfortable being a boy. I want him to grow up to be attracted to women, and to be attractive to them in turn…I want him to walk and talk and work and play and fight and laugh like the man I see developing within him. I want him to love the beauty and grace and wisdom of girls and women… I hope he will marry a good woman and raise happy children…

And so on. But homosexuals endanger his son. We are a — well, look at the word he gives us:

Therefore it is natural that I should want no one to lay a snare in the boy’s path.

Esolen pauses to praise his own wondrous tolerance:

All right, then. I understand there are men who have not attained the healthy masculine nature I hope my son will attain. I don’t make fun of them. I don’t wish them ill. I count some among my friends. I extend to them my tolerance of a state that is at least a significant falling-short of a natural good.

Yes, he’s great of soul. But…

But it requires pretty serious reciprocity. For one, the rights of my son should be respected. No snares in his path, thank you. He should not have to suffer, by suggestion or invitation or public example or enticement or moral sophistry, any complication along his way to becoming a healthy man, able to love a woman in a healthy way. Mr. Madison and Mr. Unger live in the same apartment: they are roommates. The history teacher, Mr. Delvecchio, is 40 and unmarried. Well, some people are confirmed bachelors. And indeed they may be. The freedom-clearing presumption of normality ought to obtain.

I don’t even know what that last sentence means, or how freedom could possibly figure into a scenario where we must limit our lives to accommodate his personal views and feel indebted that he’s permitting us to do so. Esolen will tolerate two men living together, as long as they call themselves no more than roommates. Esolen will tolerate the existence of a man who never marries a woman as long as the man is silent on the reason why.

Esolen will let homosexuals be as long as homosexuals are silent.

He devotes four paragraphs to this demand for silence. A celibate homosexual who confesses his status but never acts upon it? Too much! Too great an aggravation of Esolen’s burden!

Every person alive is beset by temptations. We may utter them to our confessors, or, less often, to our best friends on condition of secrecy, or to our spouses, when it would not cause needless pain. Beyond that, we assist the tolerance of our neighbors by keeping our serpents to ourselves.

And for Esolen, admitting one’s homosexuality is morally equivalent to advocating the slaughter of a busload of people. No, really:

The man who parades his temptation may be seeking approval. “Look at me! I am tempted to do things with another man that God and nature never intended. But I’m not going to do them. Aren’t I to be congratulated?” No, not a bit. If a man said, “Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to open fire upon a bus full of professionals. Oh, I’ll never do it, but just imagine the blood,” we’d rightly consider reporting him to the police. And then it is a small step from approving the brave fellow who makes his temptation conspicuous and conspicuously averts the sin, to suggesting that perhaps the sin isn’t really so bad after all, if such a conspicuously virtuous fellow is tempted by it.

That too is an offense against tolerance.

Sorry. I had to quote that in full or you’d never believe it.

It occurs to me that I haven’t critiqued his words, merely reported them. They’re self-critiquing, self-damning. Am I to take seriously Esolen’s notion that my life is a gift that he graciously allows me to have despite the burden it places on him? But let me adopt his logic and see where it leads:

Esolen and his views hurt people, especially gay teens. I was a gay teen myself, and feel for those good people struggling to value themselves in the face of continued condemnation. I want no one to lay snares in their path. They should not have to suffer, by suggestion or invitation or public example or enticement or moral sophistry, any complication along their way to becoming healthy men and women, able to love in a healthy way.

I am willing to tolerate Esolen and his views, but he should remember this is an act of graciousness, and not the paying of a debt. It rests with him, at the very least, to refrain from aggravating my burden of tolerance. He must keep his serpents to himself. He must keep silent.

Can you imagine Esolen’s reaction, his cries of Persecution! and Oppression! What an ass this would make me. What a pompous, arrogant, entitled, privileged, freedom-destroying, intolerant ass.

Yes. Exactly.

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29 comments to I Tolerate You So Much, You Need to Shut Up and Hide!

  • 1
    Alec Griggs says:

    I want him to love the beauty and grace and wisdom of girls and women…
    How many gay men I know who respect the grace, wisdom and beauty of women so much more than many of the straight men that I know.
    Wasn’t it the republicans who were saying that colleges were a breeding ground of advanced thinking and godlessness and should be stopped? (something to that effect anyway)
    This guy apparently wasn’t in that line of thinking.

  • 2
    Spunky says:

    Aside from being offensive, this is one of the dumbest, most closed-minded pieces I’ve ever seen you criticize. I just hope you didn’t waste too much time worrying about it–articles like Esolen’s are not worthy of anyone’s attention.

  • 3
    Jason D says:

    It’s funny how he invalidates his own argument here:
    Tolerance of wrong-doing is freely given; it is an act of graciousness, and not the paying of a debt. Therefore it rests with the offender, at the very least, to refrain from aggravating the burden of tolerance.  
    If it is NOT the paying of a debt, the “offender” still owes you nothing. You cannot say something is “Freely given” and then expect something in return. It is not freely-given, it is not gracious if there are strings attached. You are not noble, and you are not doing something out of the goodness of your heart if you expect anything at all in return. It is not charity, it is a transaction. 
     
    He bases his arguments on a lot of assumptions that I and most gay people simply do not share:
    “Tolerance of wrong-doing” — I do not consider myself to be doing anything wrong.
    “Not attained the healthy masculine nature…” — I do not consider myself unhealthy, nor does any reputable scientist, sociologist, or psychologist, nor do I think it’s up to Esolen to dictate his ideals on me or anyone else. 
    “beset by temptations”  — I don’t consider my relationship a temptation.
    “I am tempted to do things with another man that God and nature never intended”  God has yet to be proven to exist, and nature is not conscious, it has no “intentions” for me to violate. It has no desires, on plans, no goals. It simply IS. 
    As a comedian Louis CK once said “Theyre not being gay AT YOU”
    I always find it curious that so many narrow minded people assume that everyone is on the same page, has the same viewpoint of the world, but simply chooses do be rebellious or whatever. People of faith with this attitude might say something like “Athiests know there is a God, they just chose to reject him” or “Women know abortion is wrong, they just don’t care”.  Similarly, this dude seems to be of the mindset that “gays know they’re doing wrong, they just want to force us to watch and pretend it’s okay”.
    No, no, no. a thousand times NO. I spend very very little of my day caring one bit what any random straight person, let alone entire groups of them, think about me and my relationship. I do not call my husband hoping that they will overhear and be upset when I call him “babe”. I do not introduce him to strangers as “my husband” for shock value. My life, in short, is not about pissing you off. I don’t see myself as some horrible sinner, or someone who should be ashamed. That’s their baggage, and they can keep it for all I care, I’m not touching it. 
     
     

  • 4

    The trouble with these people is that they believe themselves to be the center of the universe. This is what enables them to think that “equal tolerance” means that he gets to talk about his wife and the child they had together, but that the gay couple next door has to refer to themselves as “roommates” in hushed tones. Only a spoiled, entitled brat could view this as fairness and still believe that he’s being “tolerant,” as if a couple of complete strangers should give one semblance of a shit about his personal approval.
     
    Not to mention how all of his hopes about his son are about HIS wants and needs, not his son’s. What if your son is gay, Esolen? Will you still hope he can talk and work and play and fight like a man? Will you still hope he can love someone with grace and beauty and wisdom? Will you still fight anyone trying to leave a snare in his path that aims to prevent him from becoming who he’s destined to become?
     
    Or are you as hateful and dimwitted as your words suggest: will you be the one throwing “snares” in his path; treating your own son as some sort of nasty stain that must be hidden in order to be “tolerated” because he, like all the gay strangers you resent, has committed the grave sin of living the life that HE wants instead of the life that YOU want?

  • 5

    Oh and by the way; as a biologist, let me tell you a little something about “nature” and sex…
    http://5bmisc.blogspot.com/2012/09/gays-vs-nature.html
     

  • 6
    Chris M says:

    Tolerance. He keeps using that word. I do not think it means what he thinks it means.

  • 7
    Matthew says:

    What if one is an effeminate male (even celibate)?  Do you have to remain indoors your entire life and never set foot in public?  What if the mere existence and public display of gender bending creates problems for his little boy (as he sees it — he has to see another version of manhood in public).  Its not just that he wants us to be silent.  He wants invisibility too.  Which is how previous generations got the message that it would be better if they killed themselves because the public spectacle of their manhood would be too much for all to see.  Which is also why the disabled were often not only silenced but kept shuttered indoors quarantined, because it would be too much for the outside world to have to see such a spectacle. 

  • 8
    Russ Manley says:

    Another good analysis, Rob.  I notice too the unelaborated implication in his piece that the very existence of us “snares” will do something ghastly to his precious little boy’s heterosexuality.  Which is, of course, utter nonsense.  When the hormones kick in at puberty, 95 percent of little boys go automatically into full skirt-chasing mode, regardless of whether teh gayz are in sight or not.  Nothing you or I or Big Daddy himself can do about it – their little minds are hardwired that way.  Somewhere, there’s a whole raft of studies proving this common everyday occurrence, aren’t there?
    But even if you printed every one of them out on parchment and delivered them to his house, it would do no good.  Esolen is a snooty, self-righteous prick riding way up on a high horse, just like Rick Santorum.  Nothing anyone says will change his views.  In another century, he would have squeeled with righteous glee to be one of those inquisitors chasing down teh sodomites and burning them alive at the stake.  I’ll bet he’d even love to do that right now if only he could.
     

  • 9
    Russ Manley says:

    *squealed.  Though actually it sorta looks better the other way.

  • 10
    Vadim says:

    Keep in mind that Providence College is a highly religious school run by Dominican friars, in the same category as Oral Roberts University.  It’s not exactly Harvard.

  • 11

    Also, Rob, I don’t think that your way is “equally” arrogant. I think there’s a huge difference between someone saying “I’m gracefully burdening myself by tolerating your very existence (and only abusing you a little)” vs. someone saying “I’m gracefully burdening myself by tolerating your hatred of me (so long as you stop trying to justify abusing me and mine).”
     

  • 12
    Roosterbear says:

    My inner Butthead had to giggle at his choice of words:
    Beyond that, we assist the tolerance of our neighbors by keeping our serpents to ourselves. (emphasis mine)
     
    It’s just a great out of context quote, because it says so much about this sad man.
     
    I understand everyone’s anger, but my first reaction is to laugh at him. He takes himself so seriously! Poor little critter. Given his fixation about where I might put my penis, I’m guessing it’s only a matter of time before we find him with his pants down in a public restroom, or hooking up with a gay hustler doing meth, or something along those lines. And given that he’s a local to me, I’ll probably hear about it in a timely fashion if when it happens.
     
    Esolen clearly does not own G*d, no matter how much he pretends to do so. Funny thing, I feel the same way about his crazy religious views (which are totally a choice BTW) as he does about my sexual orientation (which is not at all a choice).

  • 13
    Roosterbear says:

    PS: Rob, you do much better with Esolen’s logic than he does. Nicely put.

  • 14
    Ben In Oakland says:

    Russ–
    You had it so right.
    SQUEEL, LITLE ES-OLE. SQUEEL LIKE A PEEG!

  • 15
    Ben In Oakland says:

    The whole thing boiled down to this;
    I am a superior being who deigns to tolerate your right to exist by virtue of my superiority. however, do not press hard upon my tolerance, because I may withdraw it…
    and you will suffer, as you used to before I was tolerant.
    So, the tolerance was merely tolerance, and doesn’t recognize its own prior bad behavior. Funny about those “snares”, though. They’re baited with compassion, intelligence, and facts– reality, for short.
    Reality is what happens while youre busy being superior.

  • 16
    clayton says:

    If Esolen is so worried about gay men laying “snares” in the path of the son, if he fears that even the acknowledged existence of homosexuality will lead his son astray, I suspect that snares have been laid in his own path, i.e. I suspect Esolen is just one more self-hating, closeted homosexual projecting his inner struggles onto his son.  If this son is indeed genuinely and healthily homosexual, he will be no more susceptible to homosexual “snares” than I am to the wiles of the vampiest femme fatale life can throw at me.

  • 17
    Bilstr says:

    As a gay man who spent decades trying to appear heterosexual I have become confident w/o statistical evidence or extensive studies that many men are bisexuals who do decide to be heterosexual in their behavior/appearance.  These men are threatened by my (now very out) existence – they made a choice that is fragile at best and they fear for all males.  
    In Esolen’s case the fragility seems to extend to the inability to judge thoughtful premises or logical arguments.

  • 18
    OldBaldGuy says:

    I’m reminded of the wisdom of one Shel Silverstein: “there’s the kind of helping that helping’s all about, and there’s the kind of helping we can all do without.”  I’ll take a pass on Esolen’s “tolerance,” thank you very much.

  • 19
    Peter Jacoby says:

    Recognizing that Providence College is a Catholic university, and that any discipline by the academics there of Esolen is extremely remote, I still think that a mass effort should be undertaken to have this arrogant, homophobic and totally intolerant thug removed from his position on the faculty.  Yes, there is a value in free speech, and censorship — especially in an academic setting — is to be avoided because even views that we consider to be utterly wrongheaded should be allowed to be voiced.  But “hate speech” is quite a different thing; no one should be allowed to engage in that activity, and Esolen’s diatribe crosses that line in so many places, and in so many regards, that it almost defies enumeration and categorization.  But solely by way of example, the libel that gay males are out to “proselytize” young males like Esolen’s son (my terminology, not a quotation from Esolen, although I believe it correctly captures his claim) is utterly despicable and perpetuates the myth that gays are predominantly responsible for sexual abuse of boys, when in fact it is well documented that most such sexual predators are heterosexual.  In sum, Esolen’s brand of “tolerance” is seriously INtolerant of the sexual minorities that he pillories, and it would be a travesty for him to be accorded the right to spout such tripe from his platform as a professor of a legitimate university in the name of tolerance of his viewpoint.

  • 20
    robtish says:

    Freedom of speech means that everyone is allowed to engage in hate speech as long as it stops short of inciting violence, and I support that right. Now the University is free to investigate whether he’s broken their conduct code, but given the Church’s view of homosexuality as an “intrinsic moral disorder,” I imagine they would find nothing officially offensive about it.

  • 21
    Nick Weeks says:

    Screw “tolerance” !
     
    We’ve moved on a long way since the 1960′s, where “tolerance” was the basis of the 1967 UK Act providing limited decriminalisation of (male) homosexuality. The 21st Century is about diversity – about recognising that society is improved by welcoming the different perspectives, strengths and insights that people of different religions, ethnicities, cultural backgrounds, ages, sexualities and physical abilities bring.

  • 22
    Jason D says:

    This morning I was reminded of something by a writer who’s name has no disappeared. Sigh, aging.
    Anyway, she wrote a blog about how we sometimes do the work of our oppressors for them. For example, when African Americans sat at the back of the bus, they were complying with bigotry. When married gay couples file federal tax returns as “single”, they are also complying with bigotry. NOW not everyone can be a pioneer, and not everyone necessarily should. We all have to weigh our responsibilities and moral ideals against reality. 
    Anyway, the point being that when Rosa Parks refused to move, she was saying “I refuse to do your dirty work for you.” She refused to oppress herself. By refusing to obey prejudiced laws, we are forcing the government to be openly ugly in their oppression of our rights. We are refusing to be complicit.
    Esolen is obviously a coward. And he’s trying to convince LGBT people to do his dirty work. Oppress yourselves so that I don’t have to. Not everyone has the stomach for bigotry. “Good people” tend to shy away from doing the dirty work. It’s far easier to convince a minority to oppress itself, so that you can continue to believe you are a good person. You motivate them with shame and guilt, and you convince them with seemingly “fair” sounding arguments like his. It’s like when an abusive spouse says, “Do you think I LIKE hitting you???!!!” and act as if their hand was forced. As if they had no choice. Pure manipulation.
    The problem here, for Esolen, is that this is 2012, not 1912. LGBT people aren’t buying shame in bulk the way we used to. So instead of sounding like a well-meaning, good-hearted person, he sounds like what he is: an oppressor. An abuser. An ignorant relic. He sounds like he lives in some other world, not this one. 

    (Aha, the writer was Irene Monroe!)

  • 23
    JCF says:

    This reminds, in whackadoodle-ness, of a piece I read by a conservative Christian theologian (woman) about 20 years ago (name escapes, but it was fairly prominent at the time. She, too, wanted the rep of “tolerant”).
    Seems she was eating dinner at a fancy restaurant in the city, w/ a female friend. It occurred to her that she and her friend could be {GASP!} possibly imagined to be lesbians on a date. She then imagined the Bad Consequences (discrimination, in various forms) that could occur from that misperception.
    Her conclusion? [paraphrase] “Darn Those Lesbians, for causing me and my straight friend to be mistaken for Them!”
    Their “logic” (hers and Esolen’s) just ain’t. Neither their morality. [Not to mention the total absence of Christian (actual) compassion!]

  • 24
    JCF says:

    One more thing:
    “I extend to them my tolerance of a state that is at least a significant falling-short of a natural good.”
    Esolen honestly believes WE also believe this—of our homo selves! :-0

  • 25
    Emma from NC says:

    “I count some [homosexuals] among my friends.” 
     
    Yeah, I have a feeling it’s not mutual. 

  • 26
    Regan DuCasse says:

    I look at this thread, and the comment threads generated by the usual anti gay suspects, and the difference in intelligent commentary is amazing.
    We’re all just folks here.
      Bigotry does reduce IQ points, it really does. It’s fun for me to compare. Not just the articles, but the comment threads are quite a window into how people who have NO experience, NO quality interaction or diversity of involvement, think their opinions are more expert than those with that experience.

     For all his academic background, Esolen hasn’t learned a thing.

  • 27
    StraightGrandmother says:

    “If they tacitly request tolerance, they tacitly incur a debt of reciprocity. They will keep the offensive magazine out of sight.”
    The fight to end our governments discrimination against sexual minorities must be fought hard and won. For it will be only after our governments end Discrimination against Sexual Minorities that the public will change and give up their bigotry and prejudice. We are writing the pages of history right now and we stand on the shoulders of Giants who have come before us and cleared a narrow path for us to follow and widen. If History is our teacher we can see by the Black Civil Rights movement that it will be 40 years before the majority of the public solidly affirms your humanity, goodness, and equality once your government ends Government Sponsored Discrimination against you.
    That Rob, and every single commentor here can so easily refute this sanctimonious piece of crap article in a plethora of different ways, is proof to me that soon, very soon We.Will.Win. I do believe we are at the Beginning of The End.

  • 28
    Lymis says:

    Usually, pernicious bigotry and intolerance has a twisted truth at it’s center, and in this case, it’s a gross misuse of the idea of tolerance and its place in socitey.
    As Nasty Alaskan points out, just reversing the words isn’t enough to create a parallel. Tolerance can’t extend to graciously allowing someone else to simply exist – that isn’t tolerance in any meaningful sense. Similarly, it isn’t tolerance when you are saying “Speaking as a member of the powerful majority, I say that our tolerance of you is contingent on you being invisible.”
    He would be right if he were to say that tolerance looks like “Don’t demand that I approve, and I’ll keep my condemnation to myself, but ask my opinion, and you’re going to get it, even if you don’t like it.”
    But extending that to saying that he demands the right to live in a world where he doesn’t even have to acknowledge the mere existence of someone who is different, and that it is the responsibility of those he disapproves of to maintain that illusion is making completely unsupportable demands.
    Tolerance isn’t something we grant to other people. Tolerance is something each individual does on their own, for themselves, in order for them to fit into a society of people who are different. 
     

  • 29

    [...] year, another thinker on the Catholic Right, Anthony Esolen, wrote a much-criticized essay for Public Discourse in which he [...]

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