TIME politics

Backlash Against Gay Men Who Hosted Ted Cruz Dinner Is Counterproductive

Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz leaves the stage after speaking during the Republican Jewish Coalition spring leadership meeting at The Venetian Las Vegas on April 25, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ethan Mille—Getty Images Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz leaves the stage after speaking during the Republican Jewish Coalition spring leadership meeting at The Venetian Las Vegas on April 25, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Steve Friess is a freelance writer.

Attacking a known ally because he fed the enemy can only end one way—with more anger

The weekend before the Supreme Court was set to consider the question of same-sex marriage, critics in the gay community in New York City found a new target: two gay men who dared host a dinner with U.S. Senator Ted Cruz.

The angst may have been justified if the presidential contender had been there to raise money. Or if he had been there to campaign about gay issues. Or if the hosts were not two of the most well-intentioned gay men in the New York-area LGBT community, Ian Reisner and Mati Weiderpass, who have created and successfully managed wonderful spaces for LGBT travelers to enjoy in Fire Island and Manhattan and given often and selflessly to the gay-rights cause.

No, no. They allowed Cruz — to be sure, an anti-gay demagogue of the highest order — to eat with them and talk about the political issues with which they agree. And for that, the men became radioactive until they asked for mercy in the same virtual space where they had been critiqued: Facebook.

“I made a terrible mistake,” Reisner wrote. “I was ignorant, naive and much too quick in accepting a request to co-host a dinner with Cruz at my home without taking the time to completely understand all of his positions on gay rights.”

That’s not the mistake he made. The mistake he made was not taking heed from other firmly pro-gay figures who have had their motives and reputations questioned by noisy busybodies with hair-trigger tempers. In the 1970s, Billy Crystal played an openly gay character on TV at a time when that could have ended his career; he was recently attacked for being prudish about sex on TV. Actress Rose McGowan, a solid LGBT ally, was targeted for daring to suggest on a podcast with American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis that “gay men are as misogynistic as straight men, if not more so.”

In the Cruz case, Reisner didn’t do himself any favors by suggesting that he didn’t know that the senator was stuck in 1985 when it comes to homosexuality. (If Reisner is so far behind, then maybe he shouldn’t be opining about other political issues — Reisner, Weiderpass and Cruz discussed Israeli-Palestinian relations at the dinner.)

Still, the idea that people with radically different backgrounds can break bread with one another is, dare I say it, a good thing. It may not always — or often! — produce a valuable result, but the people who are willing and able to do so are to be admired. When the Rev. Al Sharpton sits down in Harlem with Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly, that’s progress. When we hear that Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg are best friends and celebrate holidays together, it should provide hope that other people of different views can get to know one another as people.

In the earlier phases of the gay-rights movement, advocates insisted that getting to know gay people would help the nation to like gay people. Now look at the polls.

Here’s what Reisner and Weiderpass should have said to their critics: “Guys, it was dinner. We ate dinner with one of the most powerful politicians in the world, elected by one of the most populous states in America. We can ignore that he and his views exist, or we can build bridges, however tenuous.”

We all bemoan the coarsening of our politics, the unbreachable chasms that prevent the likes of Republican Senator Mitch McConnell and Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren from finding any common cause the way former Republican President Ronald Reagan and former Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill once could. Anti-gay views aren’t going away, and, in Cruz’s case, they can come out of the basest and most cynical political instincts. But that doesn’t mean there can’t be a dialogue. It doesn’t mean that anyone who dares be kind and respectful — even to those who are not kind or respectful in return — must be shunned.

There is something to be said for being secure enough in your convictions and confident enough in the righteousness of your cause to be able to hear what other people have to say. Critics insist that the backlash against Reisner and Weiderpass show the newfound strength of the gay movement. It doesn’t. It merely adds credibility to the usually specious argument that LGBT advocates are intolerant. It’s petty and, worse than that, rude.

Protest laws that allow same-sex discrimination, for sure. But attacking a known ally because he fed the enemy can only end one way — with more anger, more distrust and more fear.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME technology

Can We Build an Internet That Includes the Hearing Impaired?

Steve Friess is a freelance writer.

In the Age of the Internet, one group is being left out of the conversation—the hearing impaired.

Like any good Apple fanboy, I stopped everything last Monday to see what new goodies CEO Tim Cook had up his sleeve or, in this case, on his wrist. I came away uncertain if I need an Apple Watch—and wondering why a company as admired for devices that break down barriers for people with disabilities had chosen to make this event inaccessible for millions of people like me. My frustration: The presentation’s live stream didn’t have real-time closed captioning.

This is a common problem for people with hearing loss in the digital age, and the next day I found myself equally aggravated to see that just one major news website—CNN—provided live subtitles for Hillary Clinton’s email press conference. MSNBC, CBS, Fox, ABC, Bloomberg, and CSPAN all lacked live captioning on their streams, especially baffling since they all included them in the live TV presentations of the same event.

Such is, but should not be, life in the Digital Age as one of the 36 million Americans who have hearing loss or are deaf. Those of us who rely on captions—I have worn bilateral hearing aids since I was in the second grade—are being left behind, stuck reading recaps, tweets, and live-blogs instead of experiencing key cultural and news events firsthand like everyone else.

The irony of the problem is that Deaf advocates had enjoyed a near-complete triumph in getting the FCC and Congress to force broadcast and cable TV outlets to provide live captioning in the late 1990s. Then, the party moved online and those gains became increasingly worthless in the Internet age.

As streaming video improved—and became more critical to basic cultural literacy—access has gotten worse. In 2012, the FCC finally set up some rules that are only now kicking in for broadcasters regarding what they post online, but they’re very weak. By next month, programs shown on TV and posted in full must have closed-captioning within 45 days of airing. By April 2016, that window drops to 15 days. But video “clips” are exempt, as is live programming and, of course, all made-for-Web content.

There are legal challenges in the works regarding some situations, such as the federal lawsuit filed against Harvard and MIT last month to force them to caption online lectures and other educational materials. It boggles the mind that nobody at either of those liberal bastions—located in the same region that boasts WGBH, the Boston PBS station that essentially invented closed captioning—said, “Oh. Right. Duh. There. Fixed.” But neither the law, the courts, nor anyone’s conscience has yet to touch news or entertainment content providers in any important way.

What’s more, it’s stunning how little they seem to care, given that it’s not just a terrible moral decision but an awful commercial one as well. The number of Americans with hearing loss—already about 17% of the adult population—will skyrocket as Baby Boomers age and as Millennials and Gen Xers start to pay in decibels for their lifelong addictions to earbuds. An awful lot of people are going to start missing out on an awful lot of stuff. You’d think that advertisers would at least want their commercials captioned, given the millions they spend trying to get their messages out. But almost no ads online—and very few on TV, actually—are subtitled.

Every person with hearing loss has a list of personal grievances. I pay as much as you for HBO Go, so why don’t the extras and featurettes for Game of Thrones have subtitles just like the show itself? I’ve waited seven years and counting to watch Neil Patrick Harris’ pioneering Web series Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, but there were no captions when it first appeared for free—and still aren’t even now when they get $3 an episode on iTunes. And I’d love to know what the big deal is with that lady who bathes in milk and Froot Loops while interviewing the president—or something—but, again, no captions.

Google, owners of YouTube, deserve props for offering tools for its posters to caption the videos they upload. But YouTube also provides an automated captioning “service” of such poor quality that it creates more, not less, confusion.

An Apple spokeswoman emailed me to say the iWatch presentation is now available on their site with captions, which really is great. But it still fails to include folks like me in the making of such cultural, collective moments. That example was merely a small disappointment; in the case of breaking news, the imperative to communicate effectively to the largest possible audience is occasionally a matter of life and death.

There are two obvious solutions. The FCC, fresh off of reclassifying the Internet as a public utility, can try to impose stricter rules on what must be captioned and how fast. Or Silicon Valley could step forward with yet another killer app. Surely someone is close to creating software with voice-recognition capability that isn’t a joke, so captions can be both accurate and cheap.

Either way, someone needs to get on this sooner rather than later. Most hearing loss is irreversible and inconvenient, as millions of Americans are due to discover in the coming decade.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME sexuality

What the Reaction To Billy Crystal Tells Us About Gay Tolerance

speaks onstage during the 'The Comedians' panel discussion at the FX Networks portion of the Television Critics Association press tour at Langham Hotel on January 18, 2015 in Pasadena, California.
Frederick M. Brown—Getty Images Billy Crystal speaks onstage during 'The Comedians' panel discussion at the FX Networks portion of the Television Critics Association press tour at Langham Hotel on Jan. 18, 2015 in Pasadena, Calif.

Steve Friess is a freelance writer.

Gays won by persuading everyone to view us as sexless—now the culture needs to adjust to reality

By now it seems fairly clear that the comic actor Billy Crystal did not intend to single out gay sex scenes in his reply to a question this weekend about how uncomfortably graphic some television has become. He was speaking broadly about a lot of what’s on TV now of all sexual varieties, but a reporter clipped the remark for maximum impact. The scolds of the Internet, always on alert, did the rest of the work. But set aside the insane idea that Crystal — the first straight actor to play an openly gay TV role on “Soap” back when it was career-lethal and truly cutting edge — might be some sort of sex-negative homophobe. The preposterousness of that is baffling enough; if anyone in the history of the cathode ray deserves the benefit of the doubt, it would seem, it would be him.

And yet — what if Crystal’s unremarkable remarks hadn’t been sensationalized? What if, in fact, he was just a 66-year-old grandfather who finds the increasing visibility of same-sex intimacy, especially on network TV, off-putting or startling to his sensibilities? What if seeing the bobbing head of a woman as she implicitly performed some sex acts on another woman’s lower half, say, makes some viewers uncomfortable — and they have the gall to admit it when asked?

I ask because those people exist. There are, in fact, a lot of them. The smug folks in their L.A. and New York bubbles might think they’re backwards, irrelevant, and scarce, but they’d be wrong. Their points of view are easy to understand, really. And it does not make them “haters” or any of the other epithets thrown at Crystal this week.

In fact, gay activists are as responsible as anyone for the fact that a large swath of Americans who thought they were OK with gays are finding themselves surprised by their own reactions to what they’re starting to see. This is, after all, a civil rights movement that aggressively worked for many years to downplay the mechanics of gay sexual behavior.

The gay-rights push may have started in the 1960s and 1970s with its pursuit of the fundamental liberty to have consensual sex with whatever other adults one pleased and to break free of traditional gender roles, but it morphed in the 1980s into one that preached, rightly, that being gay was about much more than mere sex. When gay male intercourse in particular became equated in the minds of millions with the transmission of AIDS, the best option was to de-emphasize it and instead make the case that our relationships are the same in every meaningful way as straight ones. Also, it did nobody any good to have our parents, much less our grandparents or our teachers or our bosses, visualizing us naked in sexual positions.

This is how the fights over the integration of the military and legalized same-sex marriage were won. Every time anti-gay forces tried to gross out the nation by referencing the gritty details of, say, anal sex, gay advocates would reply by accusing them of being secretly titillated by and obsessed with it. Whenever some crusty old military hack would grouse about gays being naked in showers or barracks with straight soldiers, gay activists did everything they could to insist gay people are supernaturally capable of stifling every fleeting sexual thought even when something attractive is before them.

Gays won, essentially, by persuading everyone to view us as sexless because we knew that how we express love and lust was at best unfamiliar — and at worst repulsive — to many people. Looking back now, it was probably the right strategy, and it was definitely a successful one. It enabled enough fair-minded people to look at couples like Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer, together for more than 40 years before Thea died and the government tried to disinherit her octogenarian widow Edie, and imagine how they’d feel if the law did that to them after a lifetime of companionship. When the Supreme Court fixed that for Windsor in a landmark 2013 decision that forced the federal government to recognize their marriage, most Americans felt a grievous wrong had been set right.

But now, after decades of telling the folks that what we do in our bedrooms is not of their concern and should not matter to their opinions of us, we demand that they be happy to look upon depictions of gay sex with a big shrug or, even, a round of applause. If anyone breathes even the slightest hint of discomfort or dismay, they must be berated and humiliated. Where once the anti-gay legions used shame to scare and silence us, now it’s the pro-gay forces who think it’s a weapon.

So here’s a dirty little secret: I’m gay and I hate watching straight sex scenes in TV shows and movies. I always have. It subconsciously conjures up the apprehension and anxiety I felt when I was still closeted and tried to force myself to want to experience that. I know what straight people do, how they do it and what all of their parts look like. But I could do without bouncing breasts in every other scene of “Boardwalk Empire” and “Ray Donovan.” It’s the opposite of what I want to do or feel or see, so I wait it out and enjoy the rest of the show. It’s part of the bargain of consuming art sometimes and occasionally it actually even has a purpose.

Does all that make me a heterophobe? I hope not. Some of my best friends are straight. It’s just not my preference. And yes, in this case, we’re talking about preferences and not orientations. As Crystal said, albeit in a broader context, it’s about one’s personal tastes, nothing more.

Hollywood and its audiences are in a transitional period regarding how to cope with the modern era of out gays and the specifics of how to show and talk about it. Some straight people, especially older and more traditional ones, will be uncomfortable. Others won’t. Most will, as we gays have regarding explicit heterosexual sex scenes, come to accept it even if they never love it.

And all of that should be fine. Gays have enough actual enemies: people who really don’t want us to live happy, productive lives as our true selves. We certainly don’t need to turn our straight allies — be they grandparents or groundbreaking actors — into bogeymen, too.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

What Parents of Down Syndrome Kids Get About Sarah Palin That Others Don’t

Sarah Palin
Mark Wilson—Getty Images Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) walks onstage to speak at the 2014 Values Voter Summit in Washington on Sept. 26, 2014.

Steve Friess is a freelance writer.

For parents of a child with Down syndrome, their children figuring out a solution to any problem is a tremendous triumph

My sister stood around the corner and deliberately out of sight, curious to see what her then-14-month-old son, Chaim, was up to. He sat on the kitchen floor, legs spread around the dog’s dish. With a devilish smile, Chaim looked around a couple of times before plunging his bare hands into the bowl and extending it as an offering to his closest friend, Sammy, the family’s poodle mix.

My sister, Sheryl, couldn’t have been more delighted. No, she wasn’t fond of Chaim boy-handling the Alpo. But the idea that Chaim knew he was doing something wrong and took precautions to avoid being caught showed logic and reasoning skills that she hadn’t before seen or anticipated. After all, before a baby with Down syndrome is born, doctors warn the expectant parents that a dire, sad, dependent life may lie ahead.

“I remember thinking, ‘Boy, there’s a lot more going on in his brain than I thought,’” says my sister, Sheryl Zellis. “When you see a child sneaking to do something, it kind of heartens you.”

Steve Friess

This is the side of those controversial images—the ones that former GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin posted of her son, Trig, standing on his dog—that my sister and other parents of children like Trig and Chaim say is overlooked. Even Palin, confronted by Savannah Guthrie on Today this week, understood that standing on small animals is generally not a good habit. But for a woman hoping that her 6-year-old will exceed the low expectations placed on him by both doctors and the rest of society, the fact that Trig figured out a solution to any problem is a tremendous triumph.

I admit I didn’t get that right away, either. Yes, I cringed, too, at the photos Palin proclaimed to be a terrific example of how we all should live in the year ahead. But then I saw a Facebook post from a close friend–an unimpeachable animal lover and inveterate political liberal—who is also raising a boy with Down syndrome. Along with one of the most adorable photos ever taken of a 7-year-old with his dog, Cindy Glover of Boynton Beach, Fla., wrote:

“I’m finding myself in the very odd and somewhat disorienting position of defending Sarah Palin. My 35-pound son sits on our 82-pound Golden Retriever all the time (and, yes, he has stood on her to reach something). They have a beautiful bond, and I have great confidence that Ginny will simply get up and move if she objects. It feels weird to say it, but in the Palin/PETA smackdown, I’m going to have to side with Palin this time.”

There hasn’t been much notable scientific literature on the relationship between dogs and children with Down syndrome—I found just one study about a program that uses dogs to help special needs children learn to read—but anecdotal examples abound. This week, for instance, a mother asked on one of my sister’s Facebook forums for parents of Down kids whether getting a puppy was good for her 18-month-old. She was clobbered with replies from parents offering their tales of how key a relationship to a canine has been to helping their children.

Both Sheryl and Cindy have their own examples. Sheryl used Chaim’s fascination with Sammy to teach him to roll, sit up, and cruise—all motor skill functions that Down children can have great trouble with and can take months or years longer than typical kids to master. Walking the dog “alone” around the house on a leash gives Chaim a sense that he’s accomplished something on his own, which builds his confidence. Dylan, who is generally nonverbal, will nonetheless “sing” to his dog with a little microphone. When he comforted Ginny last year as fireworks spooked her, his mother took it as a remarkable and unprecedented display of empathy.

Certainly there are other ways to encourage movement, interpersonal skills, and problem-solving thought for kids like this, “but animals are so much fun to children,” Sheryl says. “Children with Down syndrome are very visual in how they learn, and animals are very visual and dynamic, as opposed to a toy, which always does the same thing.”

Steve Friess

That Trig Palin chose to stand on Jill Hadassah–quite a name for a dog, indeed–was decried by many as animal abuse, particularly because his famous lightning rod of a huntress mother touted it with pride but no empathy for the dog. This is, unfortunately, how she’s become conditioned to react to any negative feedback, to become defensive and sharp-elbowed and treat it like any number of other liberal-versus-conservative skirmishes.

For the sake of other parents of Down syndrome kids, though, she might consider another approach. Her mothering of Trig is, by far, the most admired, most humanizing part of her biography to many, the one thing even her fiercest critics respect. She may not feel she owes anyone any explanations, but she did anoint herself as an advocate for children with special needs at the 2008 Republican National Convention in her first major national speech. The role of advocates, first and foremost, is to educate people so they will understand and then support your cause.

Those photos show an intrinsic trust between the child and his dog that implies so much about Trig’s relationship with Jill Hadassah. Sheryl worries it’s not a great habit to encourage, if only because Trig might try to stand on someone else’s, less amenable dog and get hurt in myriad ways. But surely Palin knows that, too.

Palin has that gigantic microphone. It comes with a ton of drawbacks, especially when it comes to public reaction to her family. But this is a teachable moment she can seize. It probably won’t quell PETA’s ire, but that’s the fringe anyway. The rest of us are open to knowing more.

Steve Friess is an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based freelance writer and former senior writer covering technology for Politico.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

How Obama Bungled Obamacare’s Success Stories

The president's health care plan has saved many lives. So why hasn't he told us about them?

By now, there are thousands of people who can make Barack Obama and the Democrats’ case for the Affordable Care Act. Across the nation, there must be countless tales of Americans who would be broke and broken were it not for Obamacare. They have to exist in all walks of life, in every state, of all political persuasions.

And yet this week, as Monday’s deadline approached for signing up for 2015 health plans, none of those people appeared as part of the pitch. The most frequently aired TV ad features a racially diverse cast of young people speaking in generalities about how their Obamacare plans provided “peace of mind” at a surprisingly low, low price. These folks, none of whom seem to have been sick, gush about the heckuva deal they got and how happy it makes them.

But why? Why is America still being asked to take it on faith that the ACA is a social and moral good? Why does the Obama Administration continue, even after these many years of largely unanswered attacks by Republican opponents, with a failed marketing effort that amounts to, “Trust us! You’ll love it!”

Here’s the ACA ad they should make: a grizzled, Duck Dynasty-like Alabaman stands outside a neonatal intensive care unit. “I was against Obamacare,” he tells the camera. “I sure didn’t vote for Obama, either. And, man, I liked my health plan, wanted to keep it. When I found out I couldn’t, boy was I pissed.” The camera pans to a wriggling baby, tubes everywhere, the man’s wife gazing longingly into the incubator holding their child. “Then my daughter was born, and she almost died,” he says, choking up a little. “My old plan wouldn’t have covered this. We would’ve lost the house, probably would’ve had to go bankrupt. It’s all still pretty dang expensive, I can’t lie. But my Obamacare coverage really saved us. Thanks, Obamacare!”

You think that’s some liberal, nanny-state fever dream? It’s not. This is not conjecture; it is a statistical certainty based on all the data used by insurance carriers to set rates. A certain chunk of the 8 million people who signed on to Obamacare plans – or the millions more whose existing plans were bolstered to comply with the ACA – suffered health catastrophes in 2014. Many opposed the law and were angry when Obama’s “like it, keep it” promise was broken. But without the reform that required comprehensive plans and eliminated rejections of coverage based on pre-existing conditions, many would have met the same fate of so many in recent decades.

That is, lest anyone forget, how it was. Obama, strangely, really never told those stories back then, either. In 2009, when he stood before a joint session of Congress to make his case for health insurance reform, the political genius who campaigned in 2008 with such art and eloquence failed to use the moment to introduce skeptics to a parade of average, hard-working Americans who endured the all-too-common financial devastation of a serious illness. Can’t you see those people, their wheelchairs and colostomy bags and adorable kids, festooning the dais as Obama made his case? How could a purported Judeo-Christian nation see those faces and hear those stories and not agree that something had to change? Instead, the president gave a boring, wonky speech that nobody remembers, a teaser for the incompetent public relations effort to come.

And there they go again. The current marketing effort also failed to appeal to anyone’s emotions or sense of justice. Rather, it insisted that having good insurance makes you feel good about yourself the way, say, eating tofu or reading Tolstoy might. Perhaps Obama once had to rely on unproven predictions, but that ended on Jan. 1, 2014. Since then, ACA supporters have had their pick of uplifting stories of tragedy averted by this law.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., knows this. Last month, in a Chicago Sun-Times essay, she cited several specific cases of ACA success. Cancer-stricken David Price, for instance, saved $4,000 this year on his meds versus 2013. Gary Wood, bankrupted 18 years ago by the cost of care from a heart attack and then shut out of coverage ever since, underwent a life-saving quintuple bypass in 2014 paid for by the Obamacare Medicaid expansion. And so on. It’s not hard to find these people. They’re everywhere, even in the deepest red of states.

The gang behind this year’s campaign offered up just one limp trick: rebranding. The TV ad, for instance, opens with a woman who says, “Healthcare.gov allows me to continue on with my life.” In other words, it’s not Obamacare. It’s not even the ACA. It’s now just “healthcare-dot-gov,” as if that’s a policy or a government program rather than a place on the Internet. Given that the rollout of the website was among the biggest PR disasters of any sort in recent history, it’s an odd and ineffectual choice.

Stop being so cute. This is really, really easy; just tell the story. It goes like this: Obamacare has successes. It has already saved many Americans from financial doom. It has improved the health care of millions. It has given many entrepreneurs the courage to quit jobs they hated and start new businesses. Here, meet some of these folks. They’re just like you. You could be next.

The evidence is now on Obama’s side. It is mystifying that he doesn’t seem to know it.

Steve Friess is an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based freelance writer and former senior writer covering technology for Politico.


Our Dog Has Cancer and We’re Not Treating It. Stop Judging Me.

Steve Friess Steve Friess' dog Jack

Steve Friess is a freelance writer.

The sticker shock of giving Jack another year made the discussion almost academic

It took longer than expected to realize something was wrong. Jack has always been so thin that I often soothingly trace the outline of his ribs with my fingers as I fall asleep. But we’d never really worried about it because he always ate as much as he wanted, enjoyed treats galore and remained around a healthy 11 pounds.

So I shrugged when my partner suggested he seemed leaner than usual. When Jack became a bit harder to rouse from naps on my office sofa or his dog bed, I reasoned that cooler weather often made him sluggish. But in late October, after weighing myself on the scale, I picked him up to see the difference. He had whittled to less than 8 pounds.

Three days later, our vet was drawing blood and aspirating lymph nodes that had enlarged under his jowls to the size and shape of Raisinets. Jack was diagnosed with, to quote the email I received with the various results, “Lymphoma, large cell, high-grade type.” Below that was this: “All lymph nodes are prominent. There is a remarkably high mitotic rate.” Translation: Jack has an aggressive cancer coursing throughout his body.

A childhood friend who is now a vet tried to provide hope by urging us to “do the full chemo protocol ASAP!” That could send Jack into remission for “usually 9 to 12 months. However, they can live longer if they have good remission.”

So this was the beginning. My friend did not intend to give us a guilt trip, and neither did our vet when she laid out the same options. But I nonetheless felt shameful as I asked the question that would determine our answer: How much will it cost?

Yes, I was concerned about the impact of chemotherapy on this lovely creature, but all of my research had convinced me that the debilitating nausea and hair loss familiar as side effects in humans don’t usually occur in dogs. In theory, aside from the stress this already nervous little animal would face going in weekly for his drip, it might not be so bad.

But as much as we love our pets, the sticker shock made the rest of the discussion almost academic. The process would cost, at the least, $5,000.

My partner and I are trying to adopt a baby – a human! – and $5,000 gets us about a third of the way there. If that $5,000 could cure the cancer and restore Jack’s full life expectancy, maybe we’d do it. Maybe. It certainly would be a tougher choice. But to buy a year during which we’d be waiting for his lymph nodes to resume their swell? We could endure the end stages either now or later.

We are opting for now, which means we have about 30 days. The end will probably come in time for holidays already shrouded in gloom because of the unexpected loss this year of my mother-in-law. It feels macabrely efficient to ruin just one otherwise festive season rather than string this out and feel this way next year, too.

We’ve received a lot of advice, both solicited and unwelcome, through social media. Nobody comes right out to say it, but the disappointment some express at our decision shows that they question our love for Jack. In an era when people spend big on animal clothes, artisanal foods and medical intervention, and when medical science makes it possible to spend $5,000 so Jack dies slightly later than sooner, there is pressure to go as far as we can.

We’re just too practical for that. Three years ago, Jack was diagnosed with a heart murmur during a routine exam, so we saw a cardiac vet who urged a battery of expensive tests. Armed with advice and courage from vet-author Dr. Nancy Kay’s book Speaking for Spot, I asked about treatment options. Turned out, as the vet reluctantly conceded using jargon I had to repeat back to him in English to be clear, there weren’t any. The murmur would grow gradually louder, then Jack’s heart would fail. Until the end, he’d be unaware and in no distress. When I declined the exams, the vet barely hid his dismay, an exchange that left me with a burble of guilt ever since. Now I feel, strangely, doubly vindicated.

Jack’s cancer, we’re told, is moving wickedly fast. Those Raisinets will soon be grapes, interfering with swallowing, breathing and gastrointestinal functions. There are diet adjustments that might forestall this a bit, and we’re doing that. An oral steroid might slow the cancer, but it also induces incessant peeing. Jack, in normal times, has always told us he needed to go out by trembling. Adding to even more of that anxiety hardly seems wise or humane, so we won’t do that, either. When he’s uncomfortable and there’s nothing palliative left to do, we will end his life.

And, all in all, it has been a lovely little life. We found our dogs whimpering in a cage at the Nevada Humane Society in 2005 with the sign, “Brothers. Must Adopt Together.” The black one was always friendly and cheerful; the brown one was naturally grouchy and suspicious, growling and twisting straight through our first meeting. Their names, Cheech and Chong, didn’t suit them; they would be Black and Jack, my partner decided as we crossed the Las Vegas Strip on our way home.

Their prior owner had trapped them in an apartment bathroom for hours a day before mercifully surrendering them to adoption, so I am the only human either of them has ever fully trusted. Black has mellowed, but Jack still growls if my partner tries to hold my hand when he’s in my lap. Jack is, undeniably, “my” dog; while I half-heartedly scold him for his recalcitrance towards his other owner, I secretly revel in the exclusivity of our little club.

I don’t want to lose Jack. I look at him, still relatively normal, and find it impossible to believe the speed and finality of what is to come. I put aside my book or iPad more often now so I can return his Nancy Reagan gazes, trying to record in my mind the feeling of caressing his silken little ears.

To be a pet owner these days means inevitably exposing one’s self to varying helpings of guilt at every stage. Breeder or shelter? Crate, dogwalker or doggie day care? Treat the disease or let him die?

But I don’t want to feel guilty. We will have enough emotions to contend with. We’re going to brace ourselves and then we will grieve. It’s going to be a crappy time. But we believe this is the right choice. You may not. That’s fine. We won’t judge you, so don’t judge us.

Steve Friess is the co-host of the podcast The Petcast, which will return from hiatus in 2015.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME women

Rose McGowan Was Right: Women Can’t Lean on the Gay Rights Movement Anymore

amfAR LA Inspiration Gala Honoring Tom Ford Hosted By Gwyneth Paltrow
Jeffrey Mayer—WireImage Actress Rose McGowan attends amfAR LA Inspiration Gala honoring Tom Ford at Milk Studios on October 29, 2014 in Hollywood, California.

Steve Friess is a freelance writer.

LGBTers were once so desperate for allies that they supported any and every liberal cause

Seventeen years ago, in the dark ages of the gay-rights movement, I was a member of the board of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association when we voted to move our 1998 national convention from San Diego to Las Vegas in protest of California’s passage and subsequent legal defense of Proposition 187. Prop 187 had nothing to do with gay rights; it was a measure, later thrown out by the federal courts, that stopped undocumented immigrants from using health care, public education and other social services in the state.

I was new then to identity politics, so I naively wondered what this issue had to do with ours. It was explained to me that we “owed” our friends in the National Association of Hispanic Journalists because they moved their convention some years earlier from Colorado after that state passed a measure, also later invalidated in court, that barred cities or the state from enacting gay-rights measures.

The episode springs to mind this week because actress Rose McGowan endured a crushing backlash for her declaration that gay men owe it to women to support her definition of feminism. “Gay men are as misogynistic as straight men, if not more so,” she told the American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis on his podcast. “I have an indictment of the gay community right now. I’m actually really upset with them.” After she was attacked for these statements, she backpedaled modestly and apologized for glibly suggesting the gay-rights movement was all about earning the ability to appear in Speedos in pride parades and take drugs. On Twitter, though, she suggested gay men owe women like her because, “I fought for your right to do that as well.”

To those who were offended and appalled by these remarks, I say, get used to it. But the Rose McGowans of the world also better get used to not being able to count on “gay people” as automatic supporters of every liberal or progressive cause. LGBTers were once so desperate for political allies that they had little choice but to show support for any and every other group that might return the favor, from racial minorities to women to the poor.

Now that gays have become stunningly successful at winning their key battles at a speed that is the envy of other minority movements, their political priorities are changing and their monolith is crumbling. There will always be a hearty component of the LGBT population who agree on principle with the goals of progressive groups, but going forward neither other oppressed groups nor the Democratic Party should assume gay support without earning it. We are morphing from an interest group to a constituency.

The fact is, the objectives of gay activists are decidedly different from that of advocates for abortion rights, amnesty for undocumented immigrants, universal health care, gun control, government assistance for the poor or legal protections for racial minorities. What these contingents and gays chiefly had in common – and still do, though perhaps not for long – were common enemies. It was the same gang — the religious right, straight white men and Republicans in general – who opposed all of us.

Yet as civil rights movements go, the gays have had a staunchly conservative and traditional agenda. Our chief aims over the past two decades were legal recognition of same-sex marriage, permission to serve openly in the armed services and freedom from legal interferences in private, consensual, adult sexual relationships or discrimination because of it. Translation: we’re pro-family, pro-military and anti-Big Government. Given that, is it really an obvious contradiction or hypocrisy to be both gay and a member of the National Rifle Association? Or to be gay and believe in lower taxes and less regulation? Or, heck, even to be gay and believe that abortion is murder – especially when science could very soon help parents screen for and then dispose of their gay fetuses?

For a long time – and still in certain quarters today – African-American and feminist leaders took great offense to the LGBT community’s insistence on equating the gay struggle with theirs. It has certainly been rhetorically useful for gays to do this, especially when we fought for an integrated military and marriage equality. But perhaps, after all, they were right. But now they resent not having knee-jerk support from gays and they wonder why that is.

Please note: I am not stating my own political beliefs here. I absolutely believe that gay people, having been oppressed and subject to vicious discrimination, would do well to hold on to their sense of social justice and have that empathy influence their views on many other matters.

But the cold reality is that progressive groups will someday soon be unable to presume the overwhelming support of gay people. The nation is rapidly approaching a point at which sexual orientation is seen as a distinction as insignificant and immutable as eye color. Once gays are comfortably mainstreamed, Republican presidential candidates will garner ever-larger chunks of votes from fiscally conservative and religious gays.

McGowan may not realize it, but this is what is bothering her. Gay men are, in fact, men first. We probably aren’t actually more misogynistic, as she contends, but there’s no obvious reason why we would necessarily be any less misogynistic than any other men.

There will be times in this gay new world when the interests of LGBTers will align in direct, obvious ways with that of other minorities, or in which alliances will be mutually beneficial to similar aims of both sides. And there will be times when they won’t. That’s going to be quite a shock to everyone who took us for granted for so long.

Steve Friess is an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based freelance writer and former senior writer covering technology for Politico.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Media

Everyone Needs to Lay Off the Miss America Contestants

The 2015 Miss America Pageant Finals
Donald Kravitz—Getty Images Kira Kazantsev, newly crowned Miss America 2015 walks the runway at Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall on September 14, 2014 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Steve Friess is a freelance writer.

If we're criticizing the pageant for degrading women, why should we ourselves degrade those individual women in our commentary?

The newly crowned Miss America speaks Russian and Spanish. She earned a triple degree – in political science, global studies and geography – and is heading to law school at Fordham. She’s an outspoken advocate against domestic violence and sexual assault at a moment when we can use as many different voices addressing that problem as we can find.

To read social media last night and today, though, you’d think Kira Kazantsev was a talentless idiot with no self-respect. Beyond the mockery of her performance tapping a red cup to the beat of “Happy” – which she said later was her way of encouraging little girls to think outside the box – she was also blamed for the fact that a production flunky misspelled Jane Austen as “Austin” in a pop-up fact about her favorite literature.

What was especially disconcerting was the fact that so much of the snark and insult came from feminists and other progressives. Some of the same oversensitive, full-time scolds who the day before were on a tear because CNN’s Chris Cuomo wondered aloud where the line is between a spanking and assault on a child, were completely at home degrading the finalists in utterly stereotypical terms or retweeting such remarks.

These women were reduced, by the very people who oppose the objectification of women, to their looks and clothes and what that presumably says about them.

One, Miss Massachusetts Lauren Kuhn, was once attacked by a cheetah in Zambia, according to a pop-up factoid. The woman is at Harvard Dental School, but that didn’t stop people from getting sarcastic about why someone like her would ever go to Africa.

More importantly, can you imagine any world in which it would be OK to have two or more women of any color other than white on a stage and people casually remarking, without controversy, that they’re hard to tell apart? You know, like these:

Even when they tried to show off their entertainment talents, it went like that.

By the time the Jane Austen snafu took place, the hate-watchers were giddy. Some had tried to make hay out of replies to questions about ISIS or domestic violence, but it didn’t really stick.

The Jane Austen error, though – that went viral. Because, of course, it confirmed every negative thing certain people think about women like these.

At some point, some of the allegedly offended folks admitted their self-loathing for how they’d spent their Sunday night. They had many choices – I watched Boardwalk Empire and part of the PBS mega-documentary on the Roosevelts, both more allegedly highbrow – but instead there they were feeling superior to the women they were appalled by. Odds are good the TV audience for Miss America was primarily women anyhow, given that there was a football game on, too.

I don’t begrudge the masses, anonymous and notable, the joy of remarking on the clothes, the performances, even the question of whether a grown woman should have to bare her midriff to win a scholarship. That’s all fair game. But when folks project societal issues onto these individual women, it seems worthy to step back and ask why.

As Taylor Marsh, a feminist and Miss Missouri in 1974 who put herself through college with winnings from pageants, noted in a Huffington Post piece before the show yesterday, “You’d think by now there’d be a higher bar on expressing opinions and rendering judgments on another girl’s choices that are actually nobody else’s business.”

Steve Friess is an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based freelance writer and former senior writer covering technology for Politico, who teaches journalism at Michigan State University. You can follow him on Twitter @stevefriess.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.


A White Gay Man and a Black Woman Hug It Out

Steve Friess & Courtney Jones Stevens

In the name of an open dialogue on race, two sides of a divisive opinion try to come together in an online chat

Last month, Time.com posted a piece, “Dear Black Women: White Gays Are Your Allies, So Don’t Push Us Away,” by regular contributor Steve Friess responding to University of Mississippi student Sierra Mannie’s op-ed, “Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture,” also published on Time.com.

The reaction to both pieces was explosive, proving how large the racial divide remains in America and how different the perspectives are of even well-intended people of both sides.

After engaging with his dissenters, Friess asked one of the women with whom he exchanged emails to have an on-the-record chat, in the name of an “open dialogue about race.” Courtney Jones-Stevens, a 26-year-old who recently earned a master’s degree in college student affairs administration from the University of Georgia.

Their conversation has been edited for space and approved by both parties.

* * *

SF: Good afternoon, Courtney. How are you?

CJS: I’m not feeling especially peaceful today in general considering what all has transpired in Missouri, but I’m ready for some insightful discourse.

SF: So is this a good time to have a dialogue on race relations in America?

CJS: It’s a good time for white allies to get into white communities and do some educating.

SF: Well, that’s a good segue to why we’re talking in the first place. I wrote a piece that I had hoped was a way of describing the commonalities between white gay men and black women and why we ought to be allies. I felt the original writer, Sierra Mannie, singled out a pretty small group of people—white gay men maybe make up one percent of all non-black people— for ridicule and attack.

CJS: Correct.

SF: Please tell me as best you can what you found wrong about what I said.

CJS: I know the title set the tone as directive and patronizing.

SF: I agree the headline was specifically problematic. It was, however, written as a parallel to the title of Mannie’s piece. Do you see the reverse problem of tone and disrespect?

CJS: I do empathize. I can see parallels in the casting out of gay White men and Black women. But for many Black women, race and gender exists in a strange space. What resonated from Mannie’s piece was that, although you may not be one of them, there are plenty of gay White men who at least make attempts to emulate Black women. You felt she was speaking to you even though you say you aren’t one of those men, and that speaks volumes to how privilege works.

SF: The discussion of privilege is frustrating because black people don’t want their world views, worth or ideas boiled down or dismissed based on their color. Yes, I’m white. And male. And gay. And disabled. And Jewish. Why does my perspective become invalid because of some of my traits?

CJS: Not invalid, but you can never understand what it is to be Black in America, to be forever objectified and subjugated. Mannie didn’t come from a place of disdain but exhaustion. I cannot tell you how many experiences I’ve had with microaggressions, with decent white folks who assume things about me and approach me or respond to me accordingly.

SF: You say many white gay guys emulate black women. I don’t believe there are so many, but if there are some, so what? Anyone admiring and celebrating black female culture would seem like people who are not out to harm you.

CJS: Steve, if someone says, “X is offensive and it’s not taken as you might have intended,” and your objective is to forge an alliance, your respond cannot be, “So what?” Do you know how many times I get “Whaddup sistah girl?!” and my white counterparts get a simple, “Hello.” Or how many times I’ve been asked to teach someone how to twerk. It’s just exhausting. This is from white gay men in the work place, in bars and clubs, etc.

SF: You must understand that that sounds completely bizarre and alien to me. And most gay white men I know.

CJS: Maybe it’s regional. I doubt it is. In the South, using blackness and being adjacent to black things is a cash cow.

SF: Do white straight men do this?

CJS: Absolutely. Although from straight white men, it’s more of a sexual objectification and fetishizing.

SF: So it’s a white male thing. Why isolate a very small portion of white men, the gays, for attack? Mannie accuses white gay men who “act” too black-female of being cultural thieves.

CJS: Mannie called out some folks who’ve flown under the radar.

SF: So the sense is there’s been enough written about racist behavior coming from the white world in general and that her piece was about a subset, white gays, who hadn’t been called out?

CJS: Right. The racism that’s rampant in the LGBT community and the cultural appropriation that happens in that community goes unnoticed. Nobody has a problem with gays doing the “Single Ladies” choreography in the club with each other, but there comes a point where we enter territory in which we don’t belong.

SF: One of the great ironies is that I’ve been shopping an essay for more than a year in which I react to Andrew Sullivan and others who are just stunned—stunned— by the head-spinning advances toward gay acceptance. It’s really easy and obvious; white men and women have been so involved. Whites came while having been embedded or secretly on the inside of America’s levers of power. Look at the gay movement through the lens of privilege and it’s pretty easy to see why it has been so successful so fast.

CJS: Okay. This is good. As awful as it is to hide parts of your identity, gays can and have. And to climb to a position of power with whiteness and then come out, I can’t describe it, but I don’t have the luxury of doing it. Who I am, what people think about who I am, and how people treat me on a daily basis is always visible. And that’s what’s so disturbing about folks from all walks of life who pick parts of who I am to use for their own amusement or advancement and tuck those things away when they no longer need them.

SF: Are we trying to determine whose historic burden has been worse? Because going the first 20 years or so of your life in a family that might reject you like a foreign organ is not a way to prepare anyone for a happy life.

CJS: No. I don’t play that game.

SF: But aren’t we? When you or Mannie want to describe why being closeted and fearing everything dear to you could be ruined or taken from you if your identity is known is someone a luxury?

CJS: It would be a luxury to be seen as something other than my color and gender at the outset of every interaction.

SF: For most of my life, I wore gigantic hearing aids. People always treated me as though I was mentally impaired until they got to know me. Anyone with any physical deformity, too, knows how it feels to be judged on sight. It’s not just people of color.

CJS: Yes, but do the police follow you, stop you, frisk you? Do they assume you have a weapon and shoot you? Do you see that?

SF: Yes. I do. Just because I felt called to defend very nelly gay guys doesn’t mean I can’t see the difference.

CJS: Fair enough.

SF: During the firestorm that followed my piece, I was goaded by many people to explain what I had done for black women or what all gays had done. And any time I offered any answer, I was then attacked because that wasn’t good enough or people thought, “Oh, so just because you did this you think…” It was incredibly frustrating.

CJS: I’m trying to think of the best way to say this. It’s multi-pronged. There is never enough to do when a cause is still ongoing. And I am honestly sitting here trying to think of instances where gay White men have stood side by side with Black women in solidarity. I’m stumped. And that’s not to say that it never happens, but I’m at a loss for examples.

SF: Actually, several prominent gay groups and people have spoken out about the Michael Brown death. I just sent you a press release showing a statement from 17 major gay groups condemning the Ferguson police. Are you surprised by that?

CJS: I wouldn’t say surprised I am glad to see it. It is unexpected, but I wasn’t taken aback.

SF: The reaction of the gay community to this incident isn’t as novel as you think. Going back 20 years, I’ve seen gay organizations boycott states that passed anti-black or anti-Hispanic laws. There were columns in the gay press about what Trayvon Martin had to do with gay social justice. I want to believe that you’ve seen pro-gay writing in the black media as well that I’d never have known about. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

CJS: Right and because access to that isn’t as open as it should be, it’s easier to say it doesn’t exist. I guess I have to bear responsibility for not having looked. But, still, the euphoric alliance you wrote about does not exist, and I don’t know many people on either side making an effort to forge it.

SF We can’t solve this or even pretend to represent anyone more than ourselves, but I look at these two groups and I see a lot of commonality. And people were hectoring me, “What? What is there in common?” Do you see it?

CJS: Between white gay men and black women? It’s nothing I’ve ever even considered. I suppose it exists, but I’ve not had a chance to build many relationships on that foundation.

SF: Why? Surely the opportunity has presented itself.

CJS: It’s not an organic thing for me, honestly.

SF: That’s where I’m confused, because it is organic for me. And to say that sounds like I’m going, “some of my best friends are…”

CJS: I don’t feel like being a social justice educator in every single interaction, you know? Sometimes I just want to be. I know several gay white guys and I’ve built great relationships, but they weren’t based on shared experiences of oppression.

SF: Well, no. That’s not a basis, but it is something you learn about one another as you go through life.

CJS: Yes, for sure.

SF: So Mannie wrote from her experience. I wrote from mine. I live near Detroit, I’ve always had a very broad range of close friends not only of races but also of different ages. And because I see it that way, because I feel optimistic that people who get to know one another will like and want to help one another, I walked into a buzzsaw with this piece.

CJS: Yes, yes you did. Your piece seemed to come from a place where gay white men are extending the savior hand and helping us black girls come up from the depths as you all have done so swiftly.

SF: I didn’t mean it that way! I just saw two groups with a lot in common who should be encouraged to help one another. It feels like a delicate line.

CJS: It is. Absolutely.

SF: People of good intentions will step on (and in) it.

CJS: In a way, we have to walk on eggshells with each other until a foundation built on trust has been laid. I believe in treading lightly as a general rule because I never know what life experiences have altered someone’s perspective.

SF: But whenever I hear about the importance of having a “dialogue on race,” I wonder – who is supposed to do this? Who qualifies? How does anyone do it without causing controversy or being attacked? What does it even mean? If the only people who can do it are the people who know precisely how not to misspeak or those who are willing to just cede the entire argument to the other people, what good is it?

CJS: Opening a dialogue should go something like what took place with us. Neither of us started by attacking each other personally. We have very different epistemologies, but we built something before having this conversation.

SF: Take the election of Obama. No, it didn’t end racism. But it was something substantial that showed millions of white people can look beyond race.

CJS: No one wants white people to look beyond race.

SF: Wait. You don’t?

CJS: I want to be seen for who I am. I want my history to be understood. I want my cultural differences to be acknowledged and appreciated without being encroached upon or perverted.

SF: We’re going to need to wrap up. Do you have questions for me.

CJS: We were actually able to cover my questions. The dialogue delved into your thought process. That’s what I wanted to know more about.

SF: Well, let me be clear. My intent was not to issue marching orders. It was not to pretend to be a savior. It was to describe my own reality, the world I dwell in. Mine is as legitimate as that of Mannie’s. But I felt like I was describing ways of coming together and she was trying to divide groups.

CJS: You’re entitled to have a reaction. I genuinely believe in people’s reactions being shaped by their experiences. Much of the way we respond to things is shaded by what we know to be true based on the lives we lead.

SF: Also, I didn’t enjoy being run through the ringer on Twitter, but I couldn’t deny that many people were telling me something hard to hear. I tried to agree with some and explain my differences with others, and that got distorted and amplified. So after this comes out, I am going to try to keep my trap shut and observe regardless of how hurtful and dehumanizing much of the reaction can be there.

CJS: I’m definitely nervous about the response. I’m grateful for this opportunity, but nervous.

SF: Well, here’s a hint I learned a little bit too late: The “mute” button on Twitter is your friend.

TIME sexuality

Dear Black Women: White Gays Are Your Allies, So Don’t Push Us Away

We, too, know what it's like to be ostracized and pushed down.

In the earliest months of our relationship, my now-husband wanted me to understand something fundamental about his tastes, so he took me to a concert with acts I’d only vaguely heard of. I knew Queen Latifah, obviously, and was somewhat aware of Erykah Badu, but the rest of the lineup at the 2005 Sugar Water Festival, a short-lived summer showcase for black songstresses, were new to me.

Also new to me as a child of an upscale, white Long Island suburb: the composition of the audience. There were an overwhelming number of black women filling the vast Mandalay Bay Convention Center, which was unusual enough for a show on the Las Vegas Strip. But these women were accompanied, to my surprise, by more than a smattering of white men. Gay white men, that is. Very gay white men.

Those relationships fascinated me — and made a certain sense. It’s easy, once you start to imagine it, to see the natural connection between the two ostracized groups, both of which have translated that marginalization into defiant, self-affirming subcultures. My then new beau came of age in the urban nightclubs of Washington D.C., New York, and Tampa, all places where many white gay men found acceptance and common cultural cause with their oppressed black sisters who, in turn, flooded the scene, seeking places to revel away from so many predatory, demeaning straight men of all races.

Last week, that alliance came under attack by misguided University of Mississippi senior Sierra Mannie, who believed she was defending black women from cultural theft by launching an assault on white gays who, to her mind, behave too black. She zinged, “You are not a black woman, and you do not get to claim either blackness or womanhood. It is not yours. It is not for you.”

Others have already burned the piece down to its homo-ignorant nub, noting that Mannie writes cluelessly and obscenely about the nature and challenges of being gay. Her fire is fueled by some undeniably racist interactions, a supposed epidemic of white gay men who actually wish to be called by stereotypically black names and anoint themselves “strong black women.” It’s difficult to dispute that such behavior is weird and offensive, but it’s illogical to suggest all gay white men are “thieves” on that anecdotal basis alone.

Yet here’s what else Mannie overlooks in her full-frontal assault: White gay men as a group could be the truest friends black women can have in American society. No alliance is perfect, but this one has the potential, if nurtured properly, to reconfigure the stories of race and gender. White gay men — once intensely vilified but now able to harness our white male privilege for good, having learned what being on the outside is like — are a conduit through which black women can work against both countervailing forces that push them down.

Gay white men, in fact, pioneered a prototype for this. Not long ago, the biggest barrier for social acceptance for gays was heterosexual men. Then we co-opted them. At first, those old enough may recall, straight men refused even to speak to us, lest others perceive them as less than fully virile, if not gay themselves. Even those who deigned to be friendly did so at an arm’s length, claiming to be discomfited by irrepressible images of us — with them? — in sexual positions. Over time, this eroded. They liked our music. Straight women liked our clothes, our hair and our manscaping, and straight men will do just about anything to appeal to straight women. We were house-proud, fashion-forward, smart and funny, versed in both high and low culture. By the early 1990s, straight, urban men even accepted a hybrid moniker: the metrosexual.

Once those lines were blurred, once straight men not only accepted gay men but sought out our advice — remember “Queer Eye For the Straight Guy”? — men of all sexual orientations could see their similarities far outweighed their differences. Familiarity bred affinity, and affinity forced straight men to realize they had little to lose — and perhaps the admiration of straight women as a fringe benefit — by supporting full equality for gay people.

Our willingness to share our culture facilitated this detente. But “willingness” may be a strong word because it would have happened whether we were happy or angry about it. Mannie can bark at the gay white universe to lay off, but an appealing means of expression and art are the ultimate in open-source culture.

There is no question white gays have intrinsic advantages over black women in American society. Sure, we’ve taken our lumps, but black women certainly win the sweepstakes of oppression by a landslide. It is, in fact, this basic difference — race — that has enabled us to blitz through our civil rights movement in head-spinning fashion, while black women continue to face painful economic and political hurdles. Why did gay rights go from fantasy to entitlement in a blink of the historical eye, even as other oppressed minorities fend off efforts to deny them the ability to vote or obtain a decent education? Because so many of the gay men (and women) who came out were white and, thus, already embedded in the nation’s most powerful institutions.

But we’re here now, and we’re natural allies. The mutual fondness between so many black women and white gay men arises both from similar, if not shared, experience, but also a strikingly similar approach to coping with it. Some tropes emerged from black female culture and some from the gay world, but how or why is the stuff not of pundits or essayists, but of doctoral dissertations by social anthropologists. We aren’t going to get to the bottom of that on Twitter.

Still, cultural alliances like this are rare and should be treasured, not chastised. Black men didn’t have one. Neither did Jews or Native Americans. Arab Americans sure don’t. But through some fluke of cosmic association, black women have kindred spirits in white gay men. Don’t push us away.

Friess is an Ann Arbor, Mich.–based freelance writer and former senior writer covering technology for Politico, who teaches journalism at Michigan State University. You can follow him on Twitter @stevefriess.

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