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October 11th, 2009

Boogey(wo)men

When I was a kid/teen, I had three personal demons, individuals whom I loathed for the reasons described:

1) LBJ - because I saw him on the evening news lifting his dog by the ears. I've since realized that he was a shrewd politician and the man who we owe some of our best public programs to, so I've recanted this view slightly...but he still should not have been lifting those pooches by the ears.

2) The crazy neighbor who told me not to spy on him when I made my little 8mm home movies in the backyard. Self-explanatory.

3) Anita Bryant - because of her homophobic rants.

Number 3 was the worst of the worst for me. Anita Bryant infuriated me, terrified me, and fascinated me. Her anti-gay rhetoric was so impossibly nonsensical that it was difficult to believe it could come from anyone with more than a first grade education. The fact that she'd been a minor pop star and beauty pageant winner mystified me no end - how could an attractive exterior hide such inner ugliness? While she sold orange juice and sang insipid ballads, she was spouting utterly ghastly crap like, "As a mother, I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children", which even as a child myself I knew was silly beyond comprehension.

I began to hate oranges and orange juice because of her. The fact that she often tried to tie God into her inequities certainly didn't help my budding dislike of religion.

And yet there she was on my television screen (such as it was in 1977), always perfectly coiffed and groomed. How was it possible, I'd wonder, that such attention to hygiene could belie the monster beneath?

Thirty years after Bryant, you'd think we would have finally moved beyond both her words and her physical type. After all, the white supremacists of the early '60s who shouted and stomped their feet against civil rights have been exiled to the outer corners of our culture, where they squawk like wounded rats and are laughed at by the rest.

But witness Elaine Donnelly.

Ms. Donnelly is the latest incarnation of Bryant - a coutured and cultured matron espousing the same gospel of hate, disguised under the ludicrous name of the "Center for Military Readiness". Unlike those rock-crawling racists, she's receiving national news coverage. Perhaps the only indication that we've made any progress in the three decades since Bryant is that Donnelly is not (yet) a household name.

But they could be sisters (and would undoubtedly consider themselves "soul sisters"). There's the same upper-middle-class bearing, the perfect clothes and hair, the knowing sneer directed at anyone who doesn't share her sexual orientation. She's the 21st-century face of the monster, and I'm desperately trying to understand how she can exist at all.

I think Anita Bryant was a huge reason I eventually wrote horror. Much of what I write is an attempt to understand the human monster, be it the murderer, the homophobe, the neurotic, the animal killer, the greed-driven capitalist or the merely envious. Sometimes I feel like I'm getting close, that maybe one more story will reveal some long-hidden truth from me and the human monsters will be flayed and laid open for my examination. Other times I think they're surely gone, that there's really no point in probing old wounds anymore.

Then another Elaine Donnelly appears, and I realize they're still here. They'll always be here, I suppose, and I'll never understand them.

And ultimately I can only tell myself that's a good thing.