Right Wing Watch, which does the world the invaluable service of listening to loony far-right homophobes so you don’t have to, took a look at Tony Perkins’ daily Family Research Council e-mail of Tuesday, May 21. In it, Perkins notes that the new Pentagon study on sexual assault in the military estimated 26,000 new cases in 2012, up from an estimated 19,000 in 2011. 14,000 of the estimated victims were male, and 12,000 were female.
Perkins proceeds to flip right the hell out, but for all the wrong reasons, claiming that the problem here is that the assaults on men happened because of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
“How could this happen?” Perkins asks. “Well, for starters, the Obama administration ordered military leaders to embrace homosexuality—completely dismissing the concerns that it could be a problem to have people attracted to the same sex, living in close quarters.”
Can we talk about the layers of stupid and heinous here? It’s like a parfait of wrongheadedness.
First off, Perkins himself admits that the figures are extrapolated estimates — for those 26,000 estimated cases last year, there were only 3,374 actual reports. Because when you’re in the military, the person you report a sexual assault to is your boss. Can you see why that might be a problem?
Second, Perkins is ignoring proportions in his incorrect insinuation that sexual assault is suddenly a bigger problem for men in the military than women. Women make up about 15% of active-duty troops, but they accounted for more than 46% of the Pentagon’s estimated attacks. That’s an astonishingly huge problem. Put another way, the Pentagon estimates that 12,000 of the roughly 200,000 women on active duty were sexually assaulted last year. (That’s last year alone, by the way.) That’s about six out of every hundred women who are risking being sexually assaulted each year just by showing up to work. At their jobs where they may already be risking their lives to serve their country.
To be clear: I’m not suggesting that there is an acceptable rate of sexual assault for any gender identity, or that rape is anything other than horrific and traumatic. My point is that Perkins is so busy catapulting himself into a homophobic freakout that he leaves all sense and math behind. Yes, the Pentagon estimates that a higher raw number of men than women were sexually assaulted last year. Because there are a lot more men in the military.
Given the jaw-dropping reports of sexual assault from supervisors of military assault-prevention programs in just the last few weeks — including yesterday’s sickening new addition of a West Point staff advisor who was responsible for the health and welfare of cadets installing hidden cameras in the women’s showers and locker rooms — the speed at which Perkins tosses aside any concern at all for the shocking rates of sexual assault among women who risk their lives for his country is infuriating.
But of course, Perkins can’t think because his fear of The Gay seems to have started strangling his brain as soon as he read that first statistic.
Perkins, of course, also fails to realize that what the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell did was allow gays, lesbians, and bisexuals who were already in the military to serve openly. (Transfolk still cannot serve openly.) The repeal of DADT did not cause a sudden fabulous stampede at the recruiting office or magically turn 10 percent of the straight troops gay. Does Perkins really think that when the DADT repeal happened thousands of aspiring gay rapists signed up? I’m guessing that the jump in estimated sexual assaults might have a bit more to do with the recent media focus on the epidemic-level problems and a genuine — if slow, clumsy, and inadequate — attempt by the military to finally try to understand the level of the problem in their ranks and try to address it.
Perkins also knows nothing about sexual assault itself. He doesn’t understand the extent to which sexual violence is about power, not attraction, or that in a sexual assault involving a gay man and a straight man, the man who identifies as gay is often not the attacker. Or that in many male-on-male sexual assaults, all parties involved identify as straight.
And, as is common with his ilk, Perkins conflates any and all sexual behaviors he disapproves of. Much like Anita Bryant and Rick Santorum, who assume that people who are a part of loving consensual same-sex encounters must also be into pedophilia or bestiality, Perkins assumes that gays (he does not seem to concern himself with lesbians, because his raw fear is of scary gay men who want him want him want him) must automatically also be potential rapists. I trust we don’t need to go into how offensive that is here.
How about being appalled that so many men and women in our armed forces have to live in fear of sexual assault? How about reserving some of that outrage for a system and culture that results in such a small percentage of attacks ever being reported at all? Where is Perkins’ much-vaunted moral compass there?
I honestly do try to have compassion for people like Tony Perkins. The fact that he is entirely concerned with sexual assaults on men — because he immediately assumes that every single incident must involve gay men attacking straight men — is telling of his deepest fears. I understand that he finds change terrifying. I understand that Tony Perkins is so uneasy in his own masculinity that he needs all the outward signals and bulwarks he can get, and thus is distressed by world that no longer has solid, easy categories with mommies who only marry daddies and girls who only like dolls and boys who only like trucks.
I understand that Tony Perkins is frightened of his own stray thoughts that creep up and whisper to him on occasion that he might be one of the very sinners his rigid upbringing has taught him to hate so hard. I understand that Tony Perkins is afraid because in his world strong men do the penetrating, and weak women get penetrated and get precious little choice in the matter. I understand why Tony Perkins is afraid of being made what he thinks of as “the woman.” I’m afraid of being a woman in his world too.
I really do think it’s important to recognize that the kind of hateful lashing out Perkins does is the product of deep, roiling fears and to try to have compassion for that. If nothing else, it can help one understand why logic and facts seem to matter so little to people like him and his cronies at the Family Research Council. They can’t think because those parts of your brain shut down when you feel like you’re under attack and the adrenaline kicks in. And Perkins and his buddies do feel like they’re under siege. As crazy as it seems, every lovely color-splashed Pride parade and every new law that says you shouldn’t get fired or have hospital visitation rights taken away just because you’re LGBT makes them feel like they’re cornered and screeching for their lives, swatting at their attackers as best they can while the terrifying gays make their world a little less black-and-white and always a little more scary.
As I say, it’s important to have compassion for Perkins and his ilk and the churning chasms of terror they carry around inside.
But that doesn’t mean we should be so polite as to fail to call them on it when they say something appalling. And in this case, Mr. Perkins has said something so vile that it has taken me pages to unpack it and I still haven’t managed to do it properly.
Nor does having compassion for Tony Perkins and his anxiety-soaked colleagues mean that we have to let them deny us our full rights as citizens. And the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is yet another acknowledgement that more and more people agree with us.