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March 17, 2007 | 32 Comments

Ordinarily I don't like to use this space to talk about my newspaper column but the most recent column aroused such angry reactions that I thought I should reply. The column was done tongue-in-cheek, always a risky thing, and was meant to be funny, another risky thing these days, and two sentences about gay people lit a fire in some readers and sent them racing to their computers to fire off some jagged e-mails. That's okay. But the underlying cause of the trouble is rather simple.

I live in a small world — the world of entertainment, musicians, writers — in which gayness is as common as having brown eyes. Ever since I was in college, gay men and women have been friends, associates, heroes, adversaries, and in that small world, we talk openly and we kid each other and think nothing of it. But in the larger world, gayness is controversial. In almost every state, gay marriage would be voted down if put on a ballot. Gay men and women have been targeted by the right wing as a hot-button issue. And so gay people out in the larger world feel besieged to some degree. In the small world I live in, they feel accepted and cherished as individuals, but in the larger world they may feel like Types. My column spoke as we would speak in my small world and it was read by people in the larger world and thus the misunderstanding. And for that, I am sorry. Gay people who set out to be parents can be just as good parents as anybody else, and they know that, and so do I.


32 Comments


"The column was done tongue-in-cheek, always a risky thing, and was meant to be funny, another risky thing these days, and two sentences about gay people lit a fire in some readers and sent them racing to their computers to fire off some jagged e-mails. That's okay."

This is dismissive and creepy. I know you're not a bad man, but you gotta do better than that. The whole article was creepy on a number of levels. Wasn't two sentences. Wasn't stupid fags not understanding irony.


GK-
I appreciate both your recent column and your response-
Several years ago, I was involved with a "Gay" community- in my case it was show horses and the "Hunter/Jumper" world. There were not questions of children, nor marriage, at that time- although several partners were certainly long-term.
I learned a lot from my associations- most especially, what intelligence and imagination my friends had and, undoubtedly, still have today.
It is very sad to hear critical comments today from people who have no idea of what is true.
Keep the "Blue Side Up" and Thanks


Garrison, I just want you to know that I never doubted you. I'm terribly disappointed at how a group of people who really do not know you felt the need to create a firestorm because they could not read between the lines of your column.

I am a gay man in my mid-twenties living in a conservative state where gay marriage was voted down on a ballot. Even the liberal politicians in my state are too spineless to stand up for gay rights. Those are the sort of people who deserve shaming and public outrage. I have been a huge fan of yours since I discovered public radio and your work in my teens. I remain a loyal fan today.

Yours,
Wayne


Greetings,
It is with great consternation that I read your response regarding comments to your Salon.com article. I am in fact one of the individuals who wrote you "...a rather jagged email." Your present comments are tantamount to saying, "Why, some of my best friends are gay people." And it amazes me to think that you think you know the "underlying cause" and you feel it's so simple.

The truth is GLBTQ individuals in your "small world" are likely far less "...accepted and cherished..." than you imagine. This is a ruse. One "accepts and cherishes" only so far. The external homophobic world informs the "small world". Homophobia is lived with internally even in GLBTQ individuals themselves. I highly doubt your own circle is free of that problem. What I find in many so-called progressive circles is that being kind and accepting to GLBTQ individuals is seen as a good idea, but it usually stops there. I would take this opportunity to challenge you to see just how accepting and cherished we are in your own midst. I've seen this too many times before to know that saying it is one thing, living it is another.

What you wrote is not satirical nor witty. It's just another endless use of GLBTQ individuals as fodder for yet another media activity. You have to accept yourself as a part of that huge machination called media. We are used daily in its endless processing of humans.

Another word for "small world" is "myopic". You cannot simply wade into this mire irresponsibly by saying "in my small world." Before you start using us yet again as the basis for anything, please think twice. It would be a darned nice thing to hear just how kind we are, how good we are with our kids, and how much we work in our communities-- not just including us in some kind of veiled writing affecting satire. Maybe then we'd feel more "accepted and cherished."

Sincerely,
Frank Brannon
Birmingham, Alabama


I read, then re-read the article as it appears in Salon.

I'm sorry, but how was I to know this was tongue-in-cheek? In the current world of Fox News your column seems tame, and I believe one requirement of satire is that the intended audience be able to reasonably identify the work as such.

Perhaps if you had mentioned your own multiple marriages I would have gotten the joke. The way the piece read it just seemed like you had turned into Andy Rooney, complaining about the rock and or roll turning the kids into hooligans.

Please, if you're going to indulge in swiftian satire, for all our sakes, try to be more...well, swift!


Oh, for Pete's (and Pete's life partner, Phil's) Sake. If this country doesn't gain it's sense of humor back soon and throw out all this P.C. crappola, we are on the well-traveled road to you know where...didn't some wise person once say " Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand" ?


I'm curious about how this squares with your column from June, 2005 when you said "I favor marriage between people whose body parts are not similar. Iím sorry, but same-sex marriage seems timid, an attempt to save on wardrobe and accessories. Marrying somebody from your team."
Was that also "tongue in cheek" that I'm just missing because I am besieged out here in the larger world?
And, by the way, saying that some of your best friends are gay is still a silly thing to do.


Alex B. --

He did apologize for his comments. He said he's sorry. Is there something else you want, or do you just want to keep yelling at someone who made some untoward comments about gays but nevertheless publicly acknowledges our rights and families?

Mr. Keillor, thanks for the apology.


Dear Garrison:

I'm a lesbian, a poet, a photographer, a writer, a US Navy vet, and a mother.

Your work has inspired me, delighted me, educated me, and entertained me. Until that article on Salon.com.

I miss that gentle voice that drew me into the town of Lake Wobegon, made me follow along with glee at your "lie" of hitting your sister in the butt with a rotten tomato, and raised the hairs on the back of my neck in "Hog Slaughter".

You just don't do carmudgeonly old coot very well, sir, and I'll ask you to reconsider writing with that voice ever again. It was jarring, discordant, and came off as mean-spirited and low-minded. Of course, if that was your intent, well, congratulations, but I'd much prefer you didn't write like that any more.

BTW, "Homegrown Democrat" helped me cut my political teeth. Thank you for writing it.

Sincerely,
Edie


Sorry, but why did you think those stereotypes were funny in the first place?

When you start actively campaigning for gay marriage, that's when I'll know you're not just covering your ass now.


The man was merely stating in a general way, related to both heterosexual and homosexual families at the same time, the disturbingly increasing tendency of individuals in our society to focus only on our own immediate gratification. We also tend to want to have the light shine only on us, and not others- such as our children. He is perceptive and simply citing examples from his past to illustrate,and in the same way attempting to admonish everyone- gay and straight alike- to create a more stable family. Anyone who knows his work knows he's the farthest thing from a bigot. Lighten up, or take the time machine back to Salem and join the real witch hunt.


Apology not accepted, Mr. Keillor. At the risk of paying you a compliment, however backhanded, I think you are simply too smart to have written what you did and missed the bigotry it embodied. I'm tired of my own generation paying lip service to tolerance and I'm exceedingly tired of yours.

Enough. Enough, you tired anachronism. The damage from ordinary people just like you who "accidentally" demean good people through the shield of humor cannot be measured. Even if I were to accept your "tongue in cheek" defense, such pain, as you must know, has been caused in the name of "just jokes." In the good old days of yore, any number of horribles were perpetrated upon the innocent, and pining for them can only take one so far, morally.

And so, I pledge here and now that I am done with you and every book and broadcast you create. As a life-long NPR fan, I will admit that it pains me to even telegraph my disappointment--but I refuse to support someone like you, Mr. Keillor. If I won't deign to tolerate the bigotry of my own generation, I certainly won't do so for the generation that harbors even worse offenders, such as yours. Good day.


I went to the performance of your show tonight (3-17-07), and I saw someone outside encouraging people to boycott your show. He had copies of an excerpt from the article, and the moment I read it, my only reaction was, "He's joking!" I know what you mean about living in the small world of "creative" people. I am sorry people took it the wrong way, and I hope others will read this explanation as well.

P.S. People need to lighten up!


Dan Savage thinks you were mocking him, a gay dad with "a small, weird dog", in particular. He's a writer who doesn't seem to be part of your little world, even though he appeared on your show just the week before your noisome little column. So, basically, yeah, I agree with Alex B.

All nostalgia-based entertainers, like Reagan and you, are basically reactionary.


Thanks for putting out this statement. There were many gay people, including myself, who understood that your column was ironic and appreciated your insight. I posted about it here at Bilerico, and you can see from the comments that there were quite a few people who agreed.

While it was necessary because of the eruption to explain that it was ironic, you really have about as much 'splaining to do as Stephen Colbert does.


GK:

I knew you had your tongue firmly in your cheek when writing that piece, but thanks for the clarification anyway.

God bless,

Dave Hernandez
Englewood, New Jersey


Man alive. I'm sorry you've been receiving such hateful comments. The satirical intent of the piece was clear. The venom comes from people who are not familiar with your style.


ok, i couldn't let a GK-hater have the last word tonight, and it looks like no one else is going to step up, so...

GK, you rock. seriously. i swear, half the time, people are just looking for an excuse to not like you, and your whole deal. and more than half the time, those people are people who have never spent more than a week in the upper midwest. so really, they just don't get it. and nothing grates on a person who thinks they're clever than feeling like they're not getting something, especially when that something is coming out of someplace as un-clever as minnesota.

so, ignore the alex bittermans (bitter-man? really? jesus, could he be more appropriately named?) of the world. anyone who hasn't understood, after your explanation above, is simply choosing not to.


I still don't think you grasp how offensive your comments were--the offensiveness goes beyond two sentences. This was an extremely clumsy instance of your trademark humor, and it doesn't get redeemed by imagining it in a relatively non-homophobic context. Have you checked with any of your "accepted and cherished" associates about what they think of your column? Trafficking in stereotypes of a group you don't belong to will offend a lot of people, especially when you're joking about denying them basic civil rights. Your defense sounds a lot like, "Some of my best friends are gay." I don't believe it.


In your Lake Wobegon youth, gay people existed, too. Often times, though, they lived lives of quiet isolation or misery. They may have been that old spinster lady or bachelor you saw at church. They may have been that uncle or aunt, married with kids, who just didn't seem to enjoy life or more particularly, their marraige. Maybe they were that drunken, depressed, or suicidal relative, doing their best to hide their secret. Opon further review, your idyllic world of Lake Wobegon is truly a wonderful place, if you don't have anything to hide. I'd rather spend my time in a world where people actually care enough about you to figure out who you are and what to call you. I'll steer clear of your passive-aggressive world, with politely spoken, but biting and hurtful comments that have forced so many into lives of quiet misery.


When a friend of mine sent me the link to your column I thought I was going to cry. I am teased all the time (in a very loving way) for being one of your biggest fans. As an African American Lesbian living in a liberal city, I do not take my small world for granted. Being irreverant can be funny, but this is still America and when we step outside of our small worlds where everyone knows us and our hearts, we have to remember that others are not so fortunate and oppression is still very real. Thanks for the apology. I have to believe it is sincere otherwise hopelessness will set in.--t


I thank you for your clarification. It is truly appreciated. However, knowing that Gay people are besieged in this country, I respectfully submit that dredging up (and thus validating) old, negative stereotypes was neither the wisest nor the most compassionate of moves. Especially coming from a man most of us have always thought of as both wise and compassionate.

Additionally, I too work in the "small world" of the entertainment industry here in Manhattan and I can say with some certainty that your comments didn't fly very well there, either.

You're quite right; tongue-in-cheek is both a risky and a difficult thing to pull off on paper. Therefore, it probably shouldn't be applied to hot-button issues. Unless, of course, your aim is to push those buttons and initiate a fire storm of angry controversy and it doesn't seem as though you set out to do that.

Whatever the case, I'm glad to read your explanation and, again, I thank you for posting it.


Oh for pete's sake. The guy said something insensitive. Big deal. He's human. What important to me is that he said he's sorry.

Garrison, as a gay man, I accept your apology. It's rare that someone in the public eye has the grace and guts to admit when they were wrong, but you did it.


Mr. Keillor, thanks for these comments regarding the article. I hope it helps to clear the air. Quite a few people, and Dan Savage especially, got very worked up based on an incomplete first impression of the piece. I'm sorry to hear that you received some hateful email as a result of all of this.


I was shocked when I read the actual column that has spawned this frenzy. I so rarely get to quote Shakespeare, but Much Ado About Nothing is my take on things, particularly after the apology.

Where was the outrage over GK's previous column that made reference to "rapacious Canadians?"

Please, my much-beloved gay friends, don't be drawn into pilloring a person who pokes far more fun at your oppressors than he does at you. Or perhaps the pillorists are targeted projectiles with a purpose?

If someone could have stopped MY mother and father from dressing up as a clown and a ringmaster to chaperone my prom, I'd have said thanks.

Meredith


In response to Meredith's comment above, the reason that making fun of "rapacious Canadians" is different than Keillor's odd rant against gays is that Canadians are not systematically discriminated against on a daily basis. No one gets beat up, or loses his health care benefits and/or job, or gets his civil rights put to a popular vote because he is Canadian. So, you will forgive me if I don't "lighten up" when I see an outdated stereotype being put forth, even in the spirit of Keillor's lame attempt at humor. Minstrel shows, also, were harmless fun, right? Maybe we should just "lighten up" and accept those as well.


I am the oldest of eight children. Twelve years of Catholic school. I'm French-Creole. My wife is Jewish. My sister-in-laws are Irish, Italian, Mexican, Belizean, and my brother-in-law is Creole. I was a dance major in college. I have plenty of close gay and lesbian friends. They are DA's, surgeons, musicians, directors. and other professional positions. (and most of them surf) Some have adopted children; some have conceived and delivered through artificial insemination. They are wonderful parents. All of this is to say that I know diversity. I live it. And I know the gay culture. It's no different from me in all of the important ways. AND I live in Los Angeles, not a small town. And I'm under fifty and listen to PHC and the Writers Almanac (and support my local PBS stations). The article was funny. Everybody I talk to thinks it was funny. It was suppose to be. It's called humor. Some people don't get it. That's ok. Keep it up Mr. Keillor. We thinking (for our selves) people get it and appreciate it. Here is a test for the uninitiated: There are two penguins, and they're sitting on an ice floe, and one says to the other, "You look like you're wearing a tuxedo," and the other penguin says, "Who says I'm not?" . . .


Wow. I guess I read the wrong article. Anyway, I found a cute little story about the importance Nature places on children and the folly it really is to be an adult. Not big news, but a truth it probably is. When I was a child, I was tormented for being something called a toe-head. I had no idea what that meant but the label hurt just the same, especially when a teacher called me one. I suffered in silence and learned to cope with the bigotry of big folks. Years later I grew to understand their
accusations as the false arrows flung by the jealous. Grown women were jealous of my toeheadedness, and grown men were jealous that the women were jealous. The vicious cycle finally repeats itself as a grown person jealous of youth I now visit the abuse I suffered on any toeheaded kid I can find. Garrison couldn't be more correct, it is folly to be big.


When I read Keillor's column, I heard the same gentle humor with with which he lampoons everyone, himself included. (Doesn't he always make the best fun of things he loves?) When I read the negative, mean-spirited responses to his column, I see an arrogance and presumption that deserves more than a little lampooning.

Much of the negative reaction I see here represents what I dislike the most about liberals (and, disclaimer, I'm one of 'em): the lack of ability to laugh at ourselves and the absurdity of life.

Keillor was poking mild fun at some of the stereotypes of gays. Right after he poked fun at the "serial monogamy" of heterosexuals which has broken up the traditional family structure. All without condemning it--in fact, he supports these freedoms, we all know that. He didn't question anyone's ability or freedom to do anything--and said that, as with all the other changes to rigid American culture we've faced, we'll get used to it and cherish the resulting richness.

Anyone who can't see that message, and who is so full of themselves to not accept an apology from someone who is on their side, is acting foolish and uncivil. Be concerned, be vigilant, share your concern, but get off your high horse and be kind.


I think this was a case of lazy writing, of not tying up loose ends; more and more, Mr. Keillor's Salon articles have presented ideas and metaphors that are delightful, but not necessarily connected. Is he too busy to double-check his words, to make sure his meaning will be understood? I recognize that he is successful, and talented--a national treasure, a treasure to me especially--but surely, he could have an objective reader go over his work once to make sure all ideas have been chiseled out of the stone as clearly (and humorously) as possible.


Mr. Keillor,
I get the impression that you're hesitant to respond/apologize to angry members of the gay community who misinterpret what you've written. In my opinion (as a gay man), there's no need for a response, much less an apology.

I appreciate your unique writing style and your sense of humor.


I've been mounting a vigorous defense of this piece on Alternet and a couple of blogs.

I think G.K. hit it on the head: there are people out in the larger world who don't understand that there is a loving and accepting soul behind the article. They are accustomed (perhaps) to being mocked, so that they see mockery where there is none.

The sentences that so angered people were preceeded by an acknowledgement that they presented a stereotype. What the paragraph said was basically: "America has accepted this outrageous stereotype; now if they would see gays as people of substance we could stop worrying about this nonsense and move on."

Most people are not skilled critical readers, and the reaction to this piece bears that out. As a write myself, I hope those who were offended will take the opportunity to consider a new, more careful, way of approaching text.

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