“If being gay is a choice, prove it. Choose it. Choose to be gay yourself. Show America how that’s done, Ben, show us how a man can choose to be gay. Suck my dick. Name the time and the place and I’ll bring my dick and a camera crew and you can suck me off and win the argument.”
—Columnist and gay rights advocate Dan Savage, responding to Dr. Ben Carson’s assertion on CNN that being gay is a choice, and that men choose to become gay as a result of prison experiences.
1. Savage works in shock rhetoric the way Rodin worked in marble. Yes, the response to Carson is uncivil and vulgar. As such, it is as good an example as one could find of the importance of not banning words, even the obscene, ugly and hurtful ones. They are certainly subject to abuse, like all words. Still, they have legitimate and valuable uses.
2. Unfortunately, because Savage’s own conduct in the gay rights wars has been unyieldingly abusive, contemptuous and hateful, he only amuses his own constituency, and persuades no one who needs persuading. Yet his comment deftly unmasks the absurdity and ignorance of Carson’s. If it had come from a critic who was regarded as objective and not habitually offensive for the sake of being so, Savage’s attack would have impact beyond those who already have made up their minds about Ben Carson.
3. Thus the lesson of Savage’s assault is that incivility’s effectiveness, like its justifiability, is inversely related to its rarity.
4. Carson, who in addition to his wretched apology for his statement, falsely claimed on Fox News that CNN had taken his quote out of context, deserves such a challenge. Not as tit for tat, but because he invited it. The shortest way to a target is a straight line, and Savage found and took it.
5. Mediaite inaccurately described Savage’s challenge as “Dan Savage Invites Ben Carson to ‘Suck My Dick’ and See If He Turns Gay.” That’s not what he wrote. But he should have: Mediaite’s version is better. Unfortunately, its ethical duty is to report what Savage said, not improve on it.