It’s only a few months into Donald Trump’s presidency, and we’re already getting lazy in our resistance. So lazy, in fact, that we’ve started to rely on gay jokes as the ultimate power play to take on Trump and his administration.
From murals of Trump kissing Russian President Vladimir Putin popping up around the world, to Saturday Night Live‘s Press Secretary Sean Spicer locking lips with Trump in the latest episode, jabs at the president’s sexuality have infiltrated the fight against the administration.
But these jokes aren’t funny. They’re dangerous, perpetuating the myth that queerness is a fatal flaw in a person. And if you’re laughing at them, you’re part of the problem.
Activists and everyday citizens are critical of Trump’s policies and rhetoric, most of which target marginalized groups like the LGBTQ community. Yet these same people are using “comedy” that suggests Trump is gay as a resistance tool.
A gay joke hinges on one simple idea: that queer identity is so undesirable and so shameful that it’s the ultimate insult.
“This administration is trying to undo every protection LGBTQ people have enjoyed over the last eight years,” says Russell Roybal, deputy executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force. “What’s unfortunate is that the resistance is jumping on that bandwagon, continuing to exploit queer people — and queer men — in a similar way to take on the administration.”
Gay jokes depend on the expectation that an audience believes queer sexuality is ridiculous and repulsive, and that the love between two men isn’t as worthy of respect as the love between a man and a woman. These exploitive jabs are only funny if you believe one of the worst things a man could do is desire another man. They suggest being gay means you have failed as a man, void of masculinity and the power that comes with it.
The LGBTQ community, a group whose rights are already under attack by the Trump administration, deserves more. That’s why gay jokes have no part in the resistance — or in any situation.
How did we get here?
Gay jokes about Trump began during his 2016 presidential campaign, when his constant talk of Putin revealed his seeming idolization of the controversial leader. This led many to suggest, satirically, that the two men were entangled in a torrid love affair.
But the gay joke went into hyperdrive after a street mural of the two kissing was displayed in Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania. The erotic imagery of the two men, equally obsessed with masculinity and power, quickly spread around the world as a “hilarious” artistic stunt.
Protest signs featuring the two kissing even proved popular at anti-Trump protests across the U.S., joining the mass of anti-Trump slogans.
The message was clear: the quickest way to threaten Trump — and Putin’s — power was to threaten their masculinity. And the easiest way to do that was to rely on the tired stereotype of queer men as feminine, and therefore not deserving of respect or authority.
“Even if they were both queer and they were kissing, what’s the big deal?”
“Even if they were both queer and they were kissing, what’s the big deal?” Roybal says. “In 2017, seeing two men kiss should not be a big deal anymore. But we know that that’s not the case.”
The messaging didn’t stop there. In fact, it got more daring.
On Valentine’s Day earlier this year, a projection of a pregnant Trump cuddled by Putin appeared in New York City, courtesy of the dating app Hater. The illustration, according to the company, was to “make people laugh” because “through humor, hate can turn into love.”
But this tactic for taking down Trump centered around shaming a group already subject to bias, discrimination, and, yes, hate. Where’s the love in that?
As time went on, suggesting Trump was gay became the definitive way to mock the president. But when we really dissect zingers like these, it’s clear they aren’t truly threatening Trump’s character or policies. Instead, they’re threatening queer people, calling on a history that names them less-than and vile.
The anatomy of a gay joke
A gay joke hinges on one simple idea: that queer identity is so undesirable and shameful that it’s the ultimate insult. The greatest offense — the “trump card,” if you will — is that the power-hungry president of the U.S. could like men. And if he likes men, he is powerless.
So when Stephen Colbert recently asserted his masculinity by saying he was “man enough” to trade insults with the president in a monologue for The Late Show, he relied on queerness as the pinnacle of humiliation.
“The only thing your mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s cock holster,” Colbert said.
It worked. The joke, just one of many in a minute-long rant, received the loudest laughs and cheers from the crowd of any of Colbert’s insults — so much so that his next insult was drowned out by the audience’s reaction.
Meanwhile, Saturday Night Live, which has become the comedic gold standard for the resistance, recently made Press Secretary Sean Spicer the newest part of the Trump gay joke.
At the end of a particularly hilarious skit, Melissa McCarthy’s love-scorned Spicer passionately locked lips with Alec Baldwin’s Trump. In this moment, SNL resorted to a gay joke as a final punch to Trump and Spicer’s egos. The skit, like the slew of similar comedic gestures to come before it, was welcomed with thunderous applause and laughter.
But when Baldwin peeled off his wig as the cameras stopped rolling, he was able to celebrate taking down Trump in that single moment. The queer community, however, can’t escape the impact of the gay joke — and all the bigotry embedded into the punchline.
After all, it isn’t a joke. It’s our lives.
“But it’s just a joke!”
If you’re still inclined to say it’s “just a joke,” you’re missing the point. A gay joke is more than just a joke. It’s homophobia masquerading as comedy. It’s bias for laughs. It’s plain discrimination.
A gay joke is more than just a joke. It’s homophobia masquerading as comedy.
Suggesting Trump is gay reveals more about how society sees queerness than how it sees Trump.The main thing these gay jokes reveal is how not OK the majority of people are with LGBTQ identities. Because if they truly accepted queer sexualities as normal and natural, there would be nothing to joke about. An SNL skit of Trump kissing adviser Kellyanne Conway, for example, will get a fraction of the laughs of a skit featuring Trump kissing Spicer.
The gay joke suggests that no matter what you do as a man, there’s nothing worse than kissing another man. But there are, of course, many things that are worse. Taking away trans people’s rights to access public facilities. Separating immigrants from their families. Desecrating Indigenous land for oil.
Trump has done all of these things — and no gay joke has stopped him yet.
There’s a truth about queerness every gay joke misses entirely. Being queer is about beautiful community, glittering otherness, and unapologetic love. Expressions of same-sex desire are anything but shameful. They’re raw and real and brave in a society that tells you your love is a joke.
Queerness is pure power, not the antithesis to power. Imagine how much strength it takes to simply exist when Trump and his administration don’t make it easy to.
So how do we take down Trump without gay jokes? Roybal suggests we simply point out all the destructive, ludicrous things the president does almost daily. In the end, he says, Trump provides enough material on his own.
So, please, continue to resist Trump for the LGBTQ community. Just don’t use us as your punchline.