In an interview with The Irish Independent this weekend anti-gay Irish journalist John Waters said he is now fearful for his personal safety after he was awarded about $55,000 by Irish state television after being mentioned in a discussion about homophobia by Irish drag performer Panti Bliss during a nationally televised show.
"I won't go into Dublin city center at night,” a visibly agitated Waters told the Irish Independent. “When you have that kind of toxicity generated out of nothing, what are you going to do? It's not worth it."
"I was walking down the street and a guy on a bicycle shouted 'you f***ing homophobe' at me before cycling on. I was in a coffee shop on another occasion and a woman waddled over to me with a pram and told me I should be ashamed of myself before walking off. They are cowards, they shout something and keep walking, they don't want to engage.”
Well, I can sympathize with Waters' newfound isolation – although he is clearly so busy sympathizing with himself it might be redundant – but I take issue with his claim that what he’s experiencing has been “generated out of nothing.”
I can sympathize with Waters because I grew up gay in Ireland in the 1980’s. I learned first hand what it was like to be afraid to sometimes walk your own streets, to literally fear for your life at night. I remember the gauntlet of hatred that my friends often had to run at school, or on the streets, or in the pubs and clubs, sometimes even in the police searches.
So although the experience of being menaced and marked for who you are might be new to John Waters, it is not at all to Ireland’s gay community, and one might have hoped it would have taught Waters a little compassion.
It might also have taught him a little solidarity with the routinely oppressed, who have lived that way their entire adult lives because of a climate of enduring hostility that his own publicly expressed opinions have helped to foster.
But Waters' empathy this weekend began and ended with himself. In fact, he clearly believes he is the real victim of his anti-gay attacks.
"I was frightened almost in a metaphysical way, that people could be so full of hatred,” he told the Independent. “That, in accusing me of hatred, they could manifest a hatred infinitely greater than anything I could possibly imagine."
I personally don’t have to imagine what an “infinitely greater” hatred looks like, having been on the business end of it more than once growing up in Ireland. Since he’s unaware of what that looked like I’d like to tell him there’s no hatred like a legally, religiously and socially sanctioned one. Just ask the terrorized gays of Putin’s modern Russia, or the gays that grew up in the 1980’s in his own nation. They remember in their sometimes broken bones.
So there’s a terrific irony at work in Waters' fall from grace that he isn’t yet conscious of himself. Firstly, he is the author of it. Gays did not invite him to comment on their private lives, he invited himself.
Secondly, after offering his blistering attacks, Waters says he was stunned to discover he had become a social pariah. After that his friends in the media drifted away, and people side-eyed him on the streets he said.
From being a very well paid and respected Irish journalist he was shocked to discover himself becoming socially radioactive. Overnight, all of his previous assumptions about how Irish society worked were turned on their head. Now he’s living in Sligo and muttering about the media elites in Dublin versus the plain people of rural Ireland who apparently have much more time for nuanced homophobia. For Waters it’s all a complete inversion, if you will, of how things used to be.
Well I don’t know what world he was living in all these years but it sounds like an enviably comfortable one. That’s probably why there have been some important social changes he might have missed. If you speak out against interracial marriage now you can expect most people to in the world to take umbrage with you. Likewise if you speak out about interfaith marriage you can also expect instant push back.
But there are still many thoughtful people like Waters in the world who are shocked to discover how their deeply held belief in the inferiority of gay relationships or “satire” they call gay marriage deeply appalls their friends and colleagues.
Waters continued: “There is something fundamentally wrong to go off then and to come up with a peripheral issue, which gay marriage is in my view, and to deal with that first, when the raw bloody core of our family law and our family life in this country . . . that is satire. It is a mockery of reality to actually deal with something so peripheral and marginal, when there is such a wound at the heart of our culture. So I make no apologies for calling it a satire. It is satirical."
It would be hard to invent a more complacent and entitled religiously conservative heterosexual Irish male, so I’m glad John Waters exists to mansplain to us all how “peripheral” and “marginal” gay Irish lives are, how completely undeserving of the nation's notice.
Irish gays must put up and shut up because Irish heterosexuals are “bloody” and “wounded,” Waters contends. Just take a number – and we’ll get back to you – in – I don’t know – how does – never – sound?
Waters now claims he has been marginalized and silenced but in the next breath he requests that prominent critics like Madonna and Irish Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte should mind their own business regarding the controversy his anti-gay comments created.
What surprises me is that a man this lacking in self-awareness scaled the heights of Irish journalism for as long as he did.