We Need to Talk About Texas

I don’t want to have this talk.

This afternoon, I’m heading to one of my favorite barbecue restaurants, out in the Texas Hill Country, where I’ll have a cold Shiner Bock (or three) and gorge myself on beef brisket, ribs, and blackberry cobbler. Yes, I said blackberry cobbler. I might not eat again until Tuesday.

In case it’s not clear, I love my home state. In fact, I kind of consider myself a one-man, volunteer visitors’ bureau. If you’ve got a question about Texas music, or Texas cuisine, or film, or literature, I’m your guy.

But, as Ta-Nehisi Coates points out, celebrating the good stuff in your home while forgetting its faults is “patriotism a la carte.” So, while it thrilled me to post this, and publicize this survey, being a good Texan means I can’t ignore the ugliness my state has produced recently.

And in the past couple of weeks, oh man, have we backslid.

1. A greasy spoon in East Texas (mistakenly described in reports as a barbecue joint) kicked out a gay couple for, apparently, “touching legs.” And the restaurant used a slur while doing it. It seems that Big Earl’s Bait House and Galley Café in Pittsburg, has a “house rule” that says ““Here at Big Earl’s we like for men to act like men and for ladies to act like ladies,” and the couple ran afoul of that.

Raw Story reports that when asked about the rule, the restaurant’s owner elaborated:

“You’re welcome to come and eat, but a man act like a man and a woman act like a woman,” he said. “Dress appropriately and act appropriately when you’re in a public place.”

A reporter from KLTV-TV asked the restaurant owner to specify how men and women should behave in his restaurant.

“The same thing it says,” Cheney said. “That a man’s supposed to stand up and be a leader. He’s not supposed to be a woman. He’s not supposed to come in here in a dress.”

That quote, and the restaurant’s whole approach really, shows such head-pounding ignorance and idiocy that I don’t have to do anything here but point it out.

But I will say this: I’m only half-joking when I equate eating barbecue with Texas citizenship. Of course Texans can be vegans and vegans can be Texans. But food is one of the real ways that a community identifies itself. And so refusing to serve a class of people a meal is one of the surest ways to tell those people that they are not part of the community.

2. Governor Perry compared homosexuality to alcoholism. According to Box Turtle Bulletin, Perry was asked whether he thinks homosexuality is a disorder.

“Whether or not you feel compelled to follow a particular lifestyle or not, you have the ability to decide not to do that,” Perry said. “I may have the genetic coding that I’m inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that, and I look at the homosexual issue the same way.”

The alcoholism/homosexuality analogy is one of those things that shows you how far apart the two sides of this issue really are. For Perry, and the people I regularly engage on this blog, it’s a totally logical, reasonable comparison. For the rest of us, it’s both repellent and illogical, since alcoholism is inherently self-damaging—in fact, it’s largely defined as continuing to drink when drinking is causing serious problems in your life. Homosexuality, in contrast, does not necessarily cause problems, as anyone with a healthy, happy gay loved one can attest. Perry’s comparison sounds nuts to anyone who has seen both 1) the destruction that alcoholism can cause and 2) the happiness that gay relationships can bring. Which is part of why his side is losing this argument. In fact, one of the commenters on Box Turtle Bulletin noted that Perry’s comments were met with a a murmur of disbelief.

3. Perry’s statement came in response to a question about the Texas Republican Party’s inclusion of a statement in favor of “reparative therapy” in its party platform. As Mary Elizabeth Williams points out in Salon, reparative therapy has been condemned by the APA since 2009, and has been banned as harmful in two states. It rests on the assumption that gays can be (in some way) fixed, and it furthers the notion that they need to be.

Full disclosure: I went to high school with the writer of that plank, who is going publically by the name Jeremy Joel. I saw him mention something about it on facebook last week, but didn’t think anything of it until, on Thursday morning, his face was plastered on the front page of several of the major news sites I regularly read.

For the record, I know Jeremy as a smart, sincere guy, and I fully believe him when he says he “never meant it as a state endorsement or requirement,” and that he opposes the therapy being conducted against patients’ wills (say, in the case of teenagers who might be sent to these therapists by their parents). Jeremy says he got value from these treatments, and he doesn’t want to see them banned. That’s his motivation.

I don’t know whether Jeremy has thought about the ways these therapies might be harmful to other gays, especially younger ones. But I also have to concede that I know less about these programs than he does.

I can say, though, that while I disagree with Jeremy’s position, the accusations of opportunism that are being lobbed at him in the comment sections of various sites ring totally false to me. From what I can tell, Jeremy is fairly anguished about the whole thing and would have liked to remain behind the scenes in this affair.

I might write more about this soon. I also have to do my Walker Percy posts, and I’m not sure I’m done with the whole Kevin Williamson thing.

But for now, I’m off to get some brisket. And cobbler.

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3 thoughts on “We Need to Talk About Texas

  1. The alcohol slur and the “reparative therapy” thing are intrically linked: both rest on the assumption of some kind of disease. I have a degree of sympathy for those people who may be so anguished between their sexual orientation and their religious beliefs that they want some way to deal with it, and that may require some help with behaviour change. I’m quite certain that there are guys out there who have been helped by such services (but also very many who have been damaged).

    My objection is to the terminology. What’s not broke can’t be fixed, what’s not diseased can’t be healed. If you need religious counselling to deal with your problem, that’s up to you. If you want to offer religious counselling to those who are troubled, you should be free to offer it : but call it by an honest name, “counselling”.

    To call it “therapy”, or to suggest that the process can turn a gay man into an “ex – gay” is misleading advertising, and should be prohibited on those grounds alone.

  2. On a lighter note, I love reading your take on Texas – a state that, with all it’s contradictions, fascinates me. (I have a suspicion, untested, that it has quite a lot in common with South Africa)

  3. Thanks, Terry. You’ve articulated exactly what I think about the situation. I’m in no position to judge Jeremy’s happiness or well-being, and I understand why he might be afraid that these types of services might be banned. On the other hand, I’ve seen these services be used as a club against gay people (i.e.–family members telling a gay loved one that they can be fixed and should try), and I’ve seen them make impossible claims… you know all the problems, I don’t have to list them all to you.

    I’m glad you like my writing about Texas! I sometimes worry it will put readers off, but, what can I say, it’s who I am.

    Thanks for reading!

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