Published in: September-October 2013 issue.


The Confession of Pope Francis  It’s official: there really is a “gay lobby” in the Vatican as rumors would have us believe. The newly seated pope, Francis I, actually used this phrase when discussing his plan to clean up the mess left behind by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, whose unexpected resignation was apparently hastened by reports of scandal and corruption, including whispers involving this very “lobby” of high-level Vatican insiders. The New York Times observed that “corruption, blackmail and violation of one of the highest codes of Catholic conduct were part of the intrigue that scandalized the Vatican in recent years.” The presence of gay clergymen was uncovered through a massive leak of secret documents last year. The text of the Pope’s speech, which the Vatican has not disavowed, is worth parsing lightly. Addressing a Spanish audience, Francis observed: “In the Curia, there are also holy people, really, there are holy people. But there also is a stream of corruption, there is that as well, it is true. … The ‘gay lobby’ is mentioned, and it is true, it is there. … We need to see what we can do [about it].” In the characteristically cryptic language of swamis and ayatollahs—that use of the passive voice!—Francis isn’t giving much away. But the mere reference was taken by Vatican watchers as a stunning admission that there are gay priests and laymen right under the Pope. Interestingly, though, Francis isn’t ranting here or proposing an inquisition. In tone he seems resigned, as if to acknowledge that, like the poor, the gays will always be with us. Which seems a valid if humdrum conclusion when we’re talking about this ancient, hermetic fraternity. But its existence had always been one of the Holy See’s darkest secrets, until now. [As we go to press, the Pope has just exonerated gay priests: “Who am I to judge?” he asked. Er, the Pope? But right on!]


Those Annual Superlatives  It all started as a quirky story coming out of sleepy-hollow upstate New York, but before we knew it, Dylan Meehan and Brad Taylor—who had been voted the “cutest couple” for their high school yearbook—were big stars on the Internet. DylanMeehan&BradTaylor,It was the senior class of Carmel High School that chose the two boyfriends to receive this traditional pæan to heterosexuality. A first in America? At any rate, the story soon “went viral” and all that that implies: vast numbers of views on YouTube, zillions of “likes” on Facebook, countless tweets on Twitter, etc. etc. Doubtless much of the fuss derived from the fact that Dylan and Brad really were the cutest couple in their class—a conclusion that’s firmly grounded in the many class pictures that were released. Had one of them been even slightly dorky looking, the selection could have been seen as ironic—which would be part-and-parcel for this generation, one gathers—and that would have left behind just a soupçon of snarkiness, a hint of homophobia.  It was the sheer accuracy, and thus the justice, of the selection that rendered it Twitter-worthy.


Unfab  We’ve been reporting on the precipitous decline of the “ex-gay” movement, which has made the transition from tragedy to farce in record-breaking time. The plunge into self-parody came when a newly formed umbrella group called Voice of the Voiceless (VOV) sprang up as a replacement for Exodus International and announced that an “ex-gay” confab would be held on July 31st. They invited a few prominent sympathizers such as Rep. Michele Bachman (R-MN), but… er, where were the ex-gays? As Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out observed, honest-to-god ex-gays are “as rare as the dodo bird,” since these programs never really succeeded in “converting” anyone. (In a recent survey, 92% of “ex-gay” alumni said they were damaged by the program.) So, putting such a conference together could prove a challenge. Thus it came as no surprise when the event was canceled—officially “postponed” and “moved to an undisclosed location.” Uh huh. But it was the explanation offered by the VOV that moved things from mendacity to comedy: the cancelation was “due to some anti- ex-gay extremism that has occurred since we first announced Ex-Gay Pride 2013” and to “security threats.” Of course, this patently bogus claim also justified the need for an “undisclosed” venue for the postponed event. That way, no one will find out when the conference draws no attendees—or indeed when it fails to take place at all.


Searching in Urdu  “Why is gay porn so popular in Pakistan?” asked a recent headline in Mother Jones magazine (June 2013). After adjusting to this somewhat surprising revelation, the mind reeled with hypotheses. Could it be related to the unavailability of actual gay sex in Pakistan? a response to the repression and isolation of women in Pakistani society? But these explanations could apply to any Pakistani mennumber of countries, especially those with large Muslim majorities. One factor is that Pakistan has a relatively free press and apparently unfettered access to the Internet. And while a recent Pew survey revealed that Pakistan is among the most anti-gay countries in the world (with only two percent saying that homosexuality should be accepted), the country came in as number one in Internet searches for the terms “teen anal sex,” “shemale sex,” and “man fucking man.” It dropped to second place on searches for the term “gay sex pics.” One expert on Pakistani society, Farahnaz Ispahani, cited the position of women, whose sexuality is downplayed: “Even highly observant Muslim males often have physical relationships with men without considering themselves gay.” Fair enough: many travelers have observed the easygoing physicality of male friends and relatives in public. Still, this doesn’t quite explain the popularity of a search term like “man fucking man,” an act that’s not only illegal but strictly taboo—which  might just be a big part of its appeal.


Ghosts of Broadcasts Past  Dickens was intrigued by the ways in which the past is never past but continues to haunt our dreams and waking hours. Scrooge’s penalty late in life was the apparition of ghosts of the people that he’d wronged over the years, who recited these injustices. Today, another hoary dotard, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, is reportedly haunted by specters of a similar kind: the ghosts of all the people that Fox has demonized and lied about under his watch. Ailes’ growing paranoia is documented by Jonathan Alter of NBC News in his new book, The Center Holds: Obama And His Enemies. Ailes’ enemies include Muslims, homosexuals, and the U.S. government, all of which are suspected to have agents out there intent on doing him harm. Thus, for example, he was “convinced that the whole News Corp. building was bugged,” so he worked out of a supply closet one day. He’s been known to have “Arab-looking” workers thrown out of the building. And he once “tried to order bombproof glass for his office because he thought homosexuals outside News Corp. headquarters on Sixth Avenue might shoot at him.” Now there’s a guy with a guilty conscience. But at least it’s an honest conscience. Ailes knows very well whom he’s harmed over the years, and these are the people whose ghosts are now stalking him night and day.