Mike Huckabee, the Gay ’Ick’ Factor & the EDGE Article
In a lengthy New Yorker piece, posted online June 28, about 2012 presidential potential candidate Mike Huckabee, writer Ariel Levy notes several things about the Baptist preacher-turned-politician and ten-year governor of Arkansas: his articulate nature (Huckabee has written a number of books), his self-declared ability to depart from the GOP lockstep, and his cooler, more rational style, which stands in contrast to many of his fellow Fox News hosts.
Though polls indicate that Huckabee would enjoy strong conservative support, he does not have much money, relatively speaking, for a 2012 campaign, and he has not declared himself a presidential candidate for the race two years from now.
Several passages in the New Yorker article on Huckabee stood out with respect to GLBT Americans and their families that underlined what Levy referred to as Huckabee’s "paradoxical" character. On the one hand, Huckabee was quoted as saying that he is not especially hostile toward gays; he simply thinks that to be gay is a choice, and that being gay means living in sin. In one of his books, the article’s author noted, Huckabee writes, "Until recently, who would have dared to suggest that the practice [of homosexuality] should be accepted on equal footing with heterosexuality, to be thought of as a personal decision and nothing more?"
Another quote has Huckabee saying, "I’ve had people who worked for me who are homosexuals. And I don’t walk around thinking, Oh, I pity them so much. I accept them as who they are! It’s not like somehow their sin is so much worse than mine."
However, during an interview in Jerusalem, Huckabee also told the article’s author that, "I do believe that God created male and female and intended for marriage to be the relationship of the two opposite sexes." Added Huckabee, "Male and female are biologically compatible to have a relationship. We can get into the ick factor, but the fact is two men in a relationship, two women in a relationship, biologically, that doesn’t work the same."
By "ick factor," Huckabee was referring to the theory that rational arguments for LGBT equality are often trumped by queasiness on the part of heterosexuals when they contemplate the mechanics of gay sex--even though heterosexuals often engage in the same sexual behavior themselves, albeit with partners of the opposite gender.
It is the so-called "ick factor," some believe, that prompts straight voters to vote against gay individuals and their families at the ballot box. In voter initiatives such as California’s highly divisive 2008 battle over Proposition 8, which amended the state’s constitution and yanked existing marriage rights away from gays, proponents of the ban--and which narrowly passed after an expensive and highly charged campaign--the anti-gay side invariably seek to tie the issue of marriage equality with sexual pathologies such as incest, bestiality, and pedophilia. The arguments are not rational--marriage equality has nothing to do with any of those separate and distinct issues--but they operate on the same principle as the ick factor: they are designed to evoke unease, even horror, and to fuse those visceral responses with perceptions of gays and lesbians.
In an April 12 article on the phenomenon, EDGE contributor Joseph Erbentraut noted that the phrase originated with University of Chicago law school professor Dr. Martha Nussbaum, who told EDGE, ""I think [disgust] plays a part in lots of arguments against same-sex marriage," adding that this method of argument--taint by association, even though the topics being associated to the matter at hand lack any direct or credible bearing, is used by "those that use the idea that straight marriage will be ’defiled’ or ’tainted’ by the approval of gay marriage."
Nussbaum went on to note that the tactic was hardly new. Many social hegemonies have employed such disgust-driven arguments against less politically powerful social elements. "All societies known to us have subordinated some group or groups of people by ascribing disgusting properties to them," Nussbaum explained. "This is a key feature of misogyny, of anti-Semitism, of historical Indian caste prejudice, of American racism and so forth."
The politics of disgust have long been a weapon in the arsenal of anti-gay activists, as well: noted the EDGE article, "In 1992, campaign literature in the battle that led to the passage of Colorado’s Amendment 2, which barred communities from passing non-discrimination laws for sexual orientation, said gay men ate feces and drank blood."
Once rooted, such notions can be difficult to dispel. The EDGE article went on to note that, "Nussbaum’s theory of disgust brings up a number of negative stereotypes of the gay community that, interestingly, many activists and organizational leaders won’t come anywhere near. Several contacts within major LGBT organizations declined to comment for this story. That reluctance from some to confront vehemently anti-gay rhetoric is somewhat telling of both the current political climate--and perhaps the skittishness of LGBT leadership to confront the most fundamental issue of how much what we do in bed defines us, in whatever way the information is used."
"Easier to Nauseate Than Educate!"
As one leader of the religious right summarized it, "It’s easier to nauseate than educate." However, over time, the easy politics of disgust do start to wear thin and lose effectiveness, as the general population becomes better informed and as members of the group attacked by such political caricatures stand up and declare themselves. The April 12 EDGE article noted that, "in the past, black, Jewish and Italian men were portrayed as sex-crazed perverts." Even today, one may "Go to any rabidly anti-Semitic website and... find caricatures of hook-nosed Jews salivating after pure-white maidens whom they can torture or ’sodomize,’ " the article added. But over time, such artificial stereotypes, invented, hyped, and maintained with little respect to the reality of a given demographic, tend to fall increasingly to radical and extreme elements and to be disregarded by the vast majority of the general population.
The New Yorker article cited an incident from earlier this year in which Huckabee was interviewed by a student publication at The College of New Jersey. According to an Associated Press article from April 14, Huckabee told the student journalist that groups that depart from "the ideal" life or family structure do not necessarily deserve protections that are on par with those enjoyed by everyone else. "That would be like saying, well there’s there are a lot of people who like to use drugs so let’s go ahead and accommodate those who want to use drugs," Huckabee said. "There are some people who believe in incest, so we should accommodate them. There are people who believe in polygamy, should we accommodate them?" Having made the time-honored comparisons between marriage equality and utterly disparate--but socially horrifying--practices such as incest, Huckabee reiterated his attempt to connect marriage equality to polygamy, asking, "Why do you get to choose that two men are OK but one man and three women aren’t OK?"
The AP article noted that Huckabee had also, at various points, supported the ban on openly gay troops in the U.S., military ("I feel homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle") and objected to gay and lesbian couples taking in foster children ("Marriage has historically never meant anything other than a man and a woman. It has never meant two men, two women, a man and his pet, or a man and a whole herd of pets"). he also advocated for HIV positive people to be quarantined or interned, in order to prevent spread of the disease and referring to infected individuals as "carriers of this plague."
The New Yorker noted that the Huckabee attempted to spin the story of his comments to the New Jersey student publication as a matter of an attempt to "grossly distort" and "sensationalize" his comments; however, the article recalled, "The student publication then posted the audiotape of the interview online. Huckabee had not been misquoted."
But Huckabee was also shown in the New Yorker article as refusing a uniform ideological stamp, arguing that a concern for the "right to life" of children should extend to their existence after birth. Huckabee stated that children in need of medical care should not be neglected, even if government intervention were necessary.
And though Huckabee supports amending the United States constitution in a way that will single out gay and lesbian families for legal eradication, he also showed a sense of humor toward the issue in general. When Levy teased Huckabee about a nonexistent love affair with Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Huckabee replied, "The only thing worse than a torrid affair with sweet, sweet Nancy would be a torrid affair with Helen Thomas. If those were my only options, I’d probably be FOR same-sex marriage!"
Update: In a follow-up article on Politico, Huckabee specifically cited an article that appeared on EDGE back on April 12.
"My use of the phrase ’ick factor’ was as the established notion from within the Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, Transgender (GLBT) community," he said. "It was not an indication of personal aversion, but rather a reference to an established phrase used mostly from same-sex marriage advocates and militants - not one I created."
"Former colleague of then Professor Obama from the University of Chicago’s Law School, Dr. Martha Nussbaum, has often made reference to the ’ick factor’ in her professional writings and is credited with applying the phrase to the GLBT community," he continued. "This phrase is not new. This phrase is not mine. More over, the phrase ’ick factor’ was used as early as the late 1990’s and was just the subject of an entire article written on April 12 of this year by Joseph Erbentraut, and he even put ’Ick Factor’ in the title."
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.