Although I wrote that this event was not outwardly “mean-spirited”, I believe it was downright dangerous, particularly for youth.
When I was a young person struggling with same-sex attractions, I often tried to decode behavior around me. How did normal guys operate? How did they greet each other? How did they walk, laugh, dress and how could I copy them?
If I were my queer youth self sitting in the Mr. Hetero audience, here are some of the messages that I would have heard.
The Best Use of Duct Tape
Highlights: men demonstrated how they used duct tape to remove lint from their clothing, trim down unsightly body hair and clean the gunk out of their belly buttons.
What I learned: Straight men value self grooming albeit in a primitive fashion.
Name the Food Where blindfolded straight men identified different junk foods by tasting them.
Highlight: When Jimmy identified the first item to be Lays Original Potato Chips, Pastor Tom Crouse was not going to let that past. As a literalist, he wanted to hear Lays Classic. The crowd pressured him into relenting.
What I learned Straight men value junk food and have leanings towards being literal when it comes to written texts.
Wedding Proposal Where men demonstrated how they proposed to their wives or how they will propose to prospective wife.
Highlight: After hearing some pretty lame and self-centered proposals (and cute ones too) contestant Pat, stole the show. He hopped off the stage, knelt before his wife seated in the front row and proposed to her anew thanking her for being so patient with him then he expressed his commitment to a partnership where they help each other grow in life, love and faith. A stunning moment of healthy relating. Many women in the audience (oh and me too) dabbed the tears away from our eyes.
What I learned Most straight men don’t know how to talk to women yet somehow stumble along, but some may genuinely care about healthy, loving partnerships. (Hey so do I!)
Highlight: The crowd went wild when Jimmy belted out a 1980’s rock anthem. Lots of other performances, some less than noteworthy, but all done with heart.
What I learned Straight men can be goofy and even play with queer themes, but only as part of an act.
Strength (or tearing up Oprah’s O magazine). Tom Crouse totally backpeddled on this one. He said he didn’t understand what the fuss was about in the press. He claims he chose Oprah’s magazine simply because it was the thickest one. Lame, lame, lame and it sounded like a lie. This event wasn’t about strength, if it were, then why did each man get just one magazine to tear up? It was a symbolic gesture. (yes and they also tore up one Sports Illustrated, but not the coveted swimsuit issue).
This event was NOT about strenth. It was about power and the fear that power is being lost to folks who shouldn’t have it.
The entire audience was white, except for the young Black minister imported from Springfield, MA who endorsed the event with an opening prayer.
I’ve heard white folks talk with derision about Oprah for years. Why? I reckon it is because she is a strong, independent, successful, unmarried rich Black woman who gets women to talk to each other about the issues and their lives (oh, and gets lots of folks to read books). But Tom Crouse cannot say this from the platform or behind the mic (and perhaps he hasn’t even articulated it for himself yet but lives with a vague disdain for Oprah without ever investigating what it is all about).
What I learned some straight white men choose to do something that is offensive, doggedly stick to it,then think they can get away with a thoughtless and disingenuous explanation about it,(and most often they do).
That’s just the FUN stuff. The real danger that was preached to us (and put on the big screen and t-shirts) is that heterosexuality is designed by God, and in effect everything else is deformed, defective and demonic.
Hearing that message explicitly and implicitly, it is no wonder that 22-year-old Jonathan, raised in the church with a preacher father, lived a double life for years, hiding his same-sex attractions. Imported from a Bible school many hundreds of miles away, Jonathan shared his testimony with us of how he repented of homosexuality.
I have no doubt that he has repented, but I feel pretty sure that like the hundreds former “ex-gays” and handful of current “ex-gays” I know, he still struggles with same-sex attractions. But he knows that to survive in his heteronormative Christian family, church and college, he has to live free of homosexuality or at least proclaim that he is free.
Sadly when he slips up one too many times or even begins to questions things, he will most likely find himself on the outside, maybe even homeless. (yes, it happens all the time in good Christian homes and many queer Christian youth end up taking their own lives).
I love speaking with teens and 20-somethings. I appreciate their insights, honesty and creativity. But I felt shock when I spoke with some young people after the Mr. Hetero event. I told them that I am a gay Christian. I instantly got challenges in the form of questions. “What do you mean by Christian? Don’t you know that the Bible says that homosexuality is a sin?”
I attempted to tell them a little of my story, how I spent 17 years seeking God, reading the scriptures, doing everything in my power to change into a heterosexual (since I too had believed it was designed by God), but I had to come to new conclusions and work even more years to integrate my faith into my life. They would have none of it. They wouldn’t even let me tell my story. They literally shut me down.
As a friend reminded me afterwards, they couldn’t hear my story. It was too threatening. They had to stick with the party-line because to take in anything else might undermine their whole world view.
So sad to hear young people parrot back what they have been told without being able to at least listen to the history of someone who grappled with these issues for over 20 years. I value their opinions, but I tried to explain that I have heard what they had to say all before (I used to preach it myself) but they have yet to hear me and stories like mine.
But that is the dangerous part of all. I walked away from Mr. Hetero with the understanding that there is only ONE valid story that Tom Crouse and men like him want to have told. Not Oprah’s story, not a non-Christian’s story, not a queer Christian story, not a lesbian’s story or a bisexual’s story or a transsexual’s story or a gay man’s story.
Tom Crouse will claim that it is the Bible story he wants told, but even with the sermon he inserted in the middle of the event, I didn’t hear the Bible story, I heard the story of territorial rights, the story of hanging onto every bit of power and privilege some folks have enjoyed for centuries, the story of oppressing others so that one group can come out on top.
That is a violent story and a dangerous story and one that has been told far too many times already.