Published in: September-October 2010 issue.

Some of My Best Friends…  A recent survey showed a surprising uptick in the percentage of American men who now find homosexuality to be “morally acceptable”—a rise from around 40% for men of all ages in 2006 to around 55% today (and well over 60% for men under fifty). The story received an op-ed comment in the Times from Charles Blow, who offered three hypotheses for the shift: increased contact between gay and straight people; a more egalitarian ethic among men in general; and reaction to the many, many scandals involving homophobic politicians and religious leaders who’ve been busted as gay in recent years. Of the three, only the third seems capable of explaining so drastic a shift in such a short period of time. Plus, it makes the most sense psychologically. All those rabid homophobes turning out to be gay has put the fear of Liberace into insecure straight guys who thought they could shore up their hetero bona fides by advertising their homophobia. Wrong! Turns out, far from protecting your little secret, that over-compensation stuff just gives you away; so straight guys are cool with the gay thing all of a sudden. Having hit them like a bolt out of the blue, this revelation is the kind of thing that could bring around those 15% of American men in just four years. So what if the underlying motive is self-serving rather than enlightened? It seems these guys are already getting used to the idea of seeing themselves as tolerant straight dudes with nothing to prove.

When Men Go Into Hiding 
Another issue, another scandal arising from the “ex-gay” movement (thanks to the reporting of Wayne Besen), each one tugging back the curtain on this secretive little franchise of the Christian Right. The latest involves a pair of “ex-gay” clients, Ben Unger and Chaim Levin, who came out of treatment and reported that one “life coach,” Alan Downing, would make them undress in front of a mirror and touch their bodies while a therapist looked on. In Unger’s words: “He was encouraging me, ‘it’s okay Ben, you can take your shirt off’ … At that point, I was just staring at a mirror with my shirt off and he was right behind me staring at the mirror with me at my body. Then telling me to look at my body and feel my body. It was weird.” Added Levin: “While I was standing there without my clothes on, he asked me to touch my genitals … he was like, you know, ‘just feel yourself. Just feel it for a second. So you can grasp your masculinity physically.’” Oh, here’s a BTW: Downing admits on his website that he’s still attracted to men.

Others have reported that there’s lots of hugging and caressing between a student and his coach in the “cuddle room” during “reparative therapy” sessions, all on the theory that what gay youths need is lots of lovin’ from an older man to make up for a distant or absent father figure. Hmm… The more we learn from ex-gay refugees about what goes on at these places, the more it starts to sound like they function essentially as gay meeting spots for the terminally closeted and guilt-ridden, a cultish all-male order that intersects at various junctures with the Catholic priesthood and the old YMCA (the Boy Scouts, anyone?)—organizations that have all found ways to indulge the very behavior that they officially condemned. More charitably, maybe they’re just acting on Oscar Wilde’s famous dictum: “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.”

Those Elegant Germans  Michael Becker, agent to top English footballer Michael Ballack, made sports headlines in Germany after an interview was published in which he attributed the elegant style of the German World Cup team to the fact that a number of its players were gay. “Becker attributed the new adroit, lighter, elegant style of play that has become a trademark of trainer Joachim Löw’s players to their homosexuality, in contrast to the typically more aggressive and offensive German style of past years,” reported TPM Muckraker. The claim is interesting because it reverses the usual logic of such accusations. One could imagine a British footballer noticing a faintly flamboyant or fey style of dress or play and turning this into a taunt: “Poofter Fritz!” or the like. But Becker seems to be more interested in explaining why those German players are so darn refined than in bad-mouthing their sexual choices. And if he expected others to run with the insult, he later reported that fellow journalists failed to “prick up” on hearing the news and “only nodded placidly.” It seems everyone knew about the German team already, or didn’t care, and so the reason for the team’s elegance was presumably obvious all along.

Ballad of the Sad Wal-Mart 
Here’s a sad story with no redeeming twist. An employee at a Wal-Mart in Las Vegas was pressured into revealing his (gay) sexual orientation by his boss, who in turn stripped the worker of all responsibilities and forced him to wear a yellow vest at work. The employee, Fernando Gallardo, noted in a statement that the punishment echoed practices in Nazi Germany whereby Jews and gays were forced to wear identifying symbols of their status. But the treatment was more atavistic still. In time, Gallardo discovered that no one would talk to him and he was shunned completely, like a heretic or an adulterer in darker times that we thought we’d left behind.

Wait Until Dark  It is a truism of the “born again” movement that it attracts people with a history who literally want to be “reborn” so as to erase their past life of crime or substance abuse or just plain failure. Churches have always been involved in “harvesting lost souls,” but they’ve never quite admitted that they’re appealing to criminals, drug addicts, and wife beaters for whom this form of rebirth is a neat way to escape one’s sordid past. But along comes fallen evangelical minister Ted Haggard, former head of the New Life Church, who’s made this connection the basis for a new ministry that he’s founded just for drug addicts, homosexuals, alcoholics, ex-cons, and all those who’ve “hit rock bottom” for whatever reason. Haggard, it will be remembered, was brought down when his three-year, meth-stoked affair with hustler Mike Jones came to light. But before that, ah, back in Colorado, Haggard’s New Life services were said to rival Broadway musicals, complete with hunky musicians and multimedia effects. No word on the liturgy of the new ministry, but with this cast of characters in the pews, things could get a little narly. Vespers and midnight services are sure to be a big hit!