The Pet Shop Boys once recorded a bizarrely beautiful song titled, “Violence.” Full of irony and contradictions and lush analog synth, it is memorable mostly for its spoken mantra, “violence breeds violence.” This should be as self-evident a statement as any. It is also true that bullying breeds bullying.
For decades, gays in America have been bullied — by churches, by opportunistic politicians, by the military and even their own families. The fight was not so much about repressing our gayness; rather, all of that bullying was an attempt to repress our being open about who we are, our actions as well as our beliefs. They didn’t demand that we delete our Twitter account. They wanted to delete our First Amendment rights. They wanted to ignore us.
They wanted us to self-edit, to silence ourselves.
Which brings us to Mike Pence’s night at the theater. Having (and this is a lowball guess) paid in excess of one thousand dollars for two tickets to Hamilton, the vice president-elect was reportedly booed at the beginning, middle and end of the performance, which had to be stopped at several points where the booing became so pronounced that the (amplified) performers could not be heard above the audience.
Mr. Pence (and his companion) gamely endured the abuse, but even this was not enough for the Hamilton cast, which had done nothing at all to defend him — to say nothing of the other theatergoers whose nights were ruined, probably forever, since tickets are notoriously hard to come by and mostly unaffordable to the 99 percent anyway, even without the cost of traveling to New York City for the privilege. Having listened to Lin Manuel Miranda’s political philosophy for three hours or so — and paid four figures for the privilege! — Pence was finally subjected to a lecture on, of all things, the First Amendment and minority rights — by, it is being widely reported, an HIV-positive gay man. The irony of the first is obvious. To understand the preciousness of the latter, you would have to know that Hamilton is one of the only musicals that casts by race.
Pence’s maltreatment will probably be quickly forgotten, one more attempt to continue the failed narrative of the Hillary Clinton campaign, whose message never wavered from an assertion that Mr. Pence and his running mate were akin to Hitler, Mussolini or any past Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Take your pick. The theatrical ambush will also be remembered as a misfire, the rhetorical equivalent of W’s invasion of Iraq. After all, the two most prominent evidences of Mr. Pence’s homophobia — his support of the Defense of Marriage Act and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell — are defenses of policies signed into law by Bill Clinton and vigorously supported by then first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who not long ago used Hamilton for a very expensive fundraiser by the way. I think it’s worth pointing out that while Pence paid four figures for the privilege of seeing Hamilton, Clinton’s campaign raked in hundreds of thousands from doing the same fucking thing. And the Democratic nominee got to enjoy the show. Afterwards, she was showered with hyperbole, not catcalls, and photo ops with the smitten cast.
Unless the cast was aggravated by Pence’s personal beliefs, his only other political transgression, as far as I know, was to sign a law that attempted to protect fundamentalist Christians from being sued by gays if the Christians, say, refused to provide a cake or flowers at a gay wedding — in other words, from being bullied. I understand that there is vigorous debate about the bigotry of such laws, as well there should be. But, for me at least, they do not rise to the same level as, say, signing a law that implies that marriage must be “defended” from gay people or lecturing those who serve their country that being permanently consigned to the closet is an honorable (or even a realistic) compromise or giving a speech in the well of the Senate calling marriage a “sacred bond between a man and a woman.”
With bullying, our enemies are not primarily people who strongly state their beliefs. Those minds can — and should be changed. That they choose to come into our theaters to hear our point of view should be celebrated, not discouraged. It is those who stand by and do nothing or even reinforce the bullies’ behavior — for political expediency or simply fear of personal harm — that we should boo. Cowards, in other words. People who would stand up on a stage and allow a man below to be bullied — and do nothing.
Maya Angelou used to say that of all the virtues we may possess, courage is the most important, and the rarest. Let’s be brave.