An American politician named Louie Gohmert just told a lie. It’s an important lie because it reveals a lot about his mindset and how he and his tribe think, and so it’s one I want to examine today. People’s lies can reveal a lot about the people telling them–including stuff that they shouldn’t, under any circumstances, want us to know.
Louie Gohmert’s lie is like that.
The Anatomy of a Lie.
Louie Gohmert is a Republican House Representative from Texas. That right there ought to tell you that he’s going to be pretty wacky even by Republican standards: almost certainly he’ll be some brand of ultra-right-wing Christian, he’ll at least pay lip service to the persecution fantasy that his party’s lone voting bloc believes, and you know he’ll be such a happy member of Team Rape and Disenfranchisement that there’s no deed or ambition his party could have that’d be so grotesquely inhuman and regressive that he wouldn’t speak up in defense of it.
In an interview with hate group leader Tony Perkins, Rep. Gohmert said something about North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” (which I covered in great detail last time) that should be shocking even by his party’s standards:
“When it comes to this current legislation where — in most of the world, in most of the religions, the major religions, you have men and you have women, and there are some abnormalities but for heaven’s sake, I was as good a kid as you can have growing up, I never drank alcohol till I was legal, never to, still, use an illegal drug, but in the seventh grade if the law had been that all I had to do was say, ‘I’m a girl,’ and I got to go into the girls’ restroom, I don’t know if I could’ve withstood the temptation just to get educated back in those days,” he said.”
That’s a lot of awful stuff all packed into one repulsive paragraph! Let’s look at it together, shall we?
1. Most religions “have men and . . . women, and there are some abnormalities.”
Uh, being transgender is no more an “abnormality” than being male or female. In fact, a lot of babies are born with ambiguous genitalia and have to be shoehorned into one category or the other. The fact that most religions don’t recognize how common it is to be born outside the gender binary of male or female is a mark against those religions, not a mark in favor of Rep. Gohmert’s religious or moral worldview.
And that he thinks that being transgender is some kind of abnormality tells me everything I need to know about where he sees his own gender.
Transgender people are, in his eyes, “abnormal,” which makes his status as someone cisgender (that’s the opposite of transgender; it means someone who identifies as the sex they were assigned at birth–so I’m a cisgender woman, while Caitlyn Jenner is a transgender woman) the normal one. His cisgender status is the default by which Rep. Gohmert defines and measures every other option.
One might even say that being cisgender is the option that, to him, is superior and morally right–because he certainly seems to be saying exactly this. There really isn’t much of a leap from “abnormal” to “broken,” “inferior,” and “morally wrong” in Christians’ eyes, and that’s all the permission they need to try to control, regulate, and “fix” whatever it is they view in that way–whether their victims want that kind of help or not.
2. He was “as good a kid as you can have growing up” because he refrained from using alcohol and drugs.
I think of being a good kid as being a lot more than just avoiding illegal or contraband substances. And I’ve known some really good kids who got caught up in that stuff but were still the sweetest, nicest kids you could hope to know. He regards “goodness” as something measured by what he didn’t do, not what he did do. If I were going to describe myself as a child and teen, then sure, I’d call myself a good kid–because I tried to be helpful and kind, I did my chores, I was respectful to my parents and other adults, did well in school, and kept myself busy. Yes, I also refrained from abusing substances. But that’s not even a data-point on my radar when it comes to being good. A “good kid” also doesn’t murder people, but nobody except someone with extremely low standards for themselves would include that data in their assessment.
What he said reminds me of how Nice Guys™ describe themselves as “nice” because they don’t abuse or sexually assault women; not for nothing do Christians often remind me of them. We could probably spend a whole post about why “not doing something evil” qualifies a Christian in their own mind at least as “good,” but for now I’ll just say that it’s a piss-poor definition of goodness and makes me deeply distrust the rest of this particular Christian’s moral pronouncements.
3. When he was a teenager, he’d have lied about being a girl to get into girls’ bathrooms; the temptation to tell such a lie would have been so intense that he wouldn’t have been able to keep his mind on his studies.
See what I mean? I genuinely was a good kid, because it wouldn’t have occurred to me to lie or to invade other people’s spaces without their permission and consent. But Louie Gohmert, a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ who says he was a “good kid,” a Christian who proudly details on his biography page his Sunday-School teacher and deacon positions at his church, his work with Boy Scouts, and all the church speaking engagements that he does, immediately goes to this scenario as the reason why he supports North Carolina’s reprehensible new law.
This part here is the actual lie. The other stuff was just him being a delusional and hypocritical bigot-for-Jesus. This third bit, though, this is the part he’s actually lying about.
It’s not even a good lie, because it’s very obviously untrue, and anybody who even thinks twice about the matter would realize that.
Here’s Why It’s a Lie.
1. Louie Gohmert absolutely, positively would not have lied about being a girl.
Last year I wrote a series of posts about “Male Shame.” One of the posts, “The Lost Boys,” detailed how men–especially in deeply patriarchal, male-dominated cultures–define themselves by how not-female they are. Boys who are even a tiny bit too “girlie” get teased, bullied, shamed, and even physically attacked (and in extreme cases, sexually assaulted). And it’s other boys who are committing the bulk of this abuse. They have to keep the whole tribe in lockstep, after all. They can’t have one boy off doing his own thing and giving the rest of the tribe ideas about becoming their own people with their own ideas. (If you just thought of that old Calvin & Hobbes strip about the boy joining his school’s baseball team against his will, then you’re supposed to; it’s very much what I’m talking about.)
That’s one of the reasons why right-wing Christianity is so panicky about LGBTQ rights and women’s rights, and why those two culture wars are their hills to die on. I mean, it doesn’t even make sense that they’ve staked out those areas, does it? At least, it doesn’t make sense till you think about it a little. Then it makes absolutely perfect sense.
Those two subjects concern themselves chiefly with how men and women ought to behave, and with the marked lines between being male and female, straight and LGBTQ. If someone rejects the fundagelical life script about gender and orientation in such a fundamental way, then chances are they will see little reason to accept other fundagelical demands about how they ought to handle other parts of life (like childrearing and relationships), and worst of all will likely reject the hierarchical social structures that that culture insists are divine law–and which coincidentally maintain its power structure and organizational schemes of churches and denominations.
I’m not even going to try to say that women’s rights and LGBTQ rights aren’t a danger to fundagelical Christianity. To the contrary, I think that they are a big part of its coming fall into total irrelevance–and its leaders and most fervent adherents are very familiar with this fact already. They knew it 40 years ago, and they know it even better now. That is why they are clamping down as hard as they are on their children and trying to indoctrinate other people’s children, and also why they are trying harder than ever to restrict their female adherents and chain them to a version of repressed womanhood that even I, as a Pentecostal, would have found extreme and abusive. Last, it’s why they are trying so hard to push an extreme vision of hyper-masculinity onto all men, even men who aren’t even in their religion, that is as not-female as they can possibly manage.
So no. Louie Gohmert wouldn’t have pretended to be a girl to get into girls’ bathrooms. His culture wouldn’t have allowed it. As much as he might have wanted to spy on girls without their consent when he was 13, he would have had to have declared himself a girl to do it.
Would a Christian man make such a declaration nowadays, in modern Christianity’s polarized and aggressive climate? Sure, and I really wouldn’t be that surprised. Their idea of consent has been getting more and more shaky over the years, and their belligerence and pugnacity are getting so out of hand that abortion clinics are facing a huge surge in threats since fundagelicals began freaking out over imaginary stuff they thought those clinics were doing. Moreover, people who even try to speak out against their overreach or even declare themselves non-Christian routinely endure abuse, threats, ostracism, and vandalism.
Christians in Louie Gohmert’s tribe think that any abuse is okay if it proves some kind of point, even if that point exists only in their own minds. And when they’re reached some kind of stopping-place after having abused, vandalized the stuff of, threatened, insulted, and hurt whoever it is they were eagerly victimizing, they’ll turn away thinking that they just fought the good fight for Jesus and “planted a seed” that will “make people think.” (And it will, just not the way they intend.) So yes, I can see a Christian doing such a thing in today’s climate.
But Louie Gohmert, a Baptist kid who was born and raised in the 1950s in a tiny town you have never heard of in Texas, did not exist in that same polarized environment. If he wanted to spy on girls without their consent, he would have done it in a way that his culture would have found more acceptable. Which brings us to the next part of his lie.
2. If he’d wanted to spy on people, he could have easily done it without lying about being a girl. It’s not like people just like him weren’t spying on people.
The one single most obvious reason that we know that he wouldn’t have lied about being a girl to spy on girls is that he (apparently) did not actually do so.
Doubtless he saw girls going into their bathroom. Doubtless he realized that only girls could go into the bathroom marked “girls.” It wouldn’t have taken a rocket surgeon to figure out that if he looked like a girl, he could totally go into that bathroom and see all the rows of closed stall doors and completely non-sexual primping that goes on at the mirrors in such sacred chambers.
It seriously sounds like he thinks that when women go to the bathroom they strip to their unmentionables and have pillow fights and make-out sessions. I’m suddenly wondering just what’s in this guy’s porn folder, because it’s like his entire conceptualization of young people was acquired through watching Porky’s and Revenge of the Nerds 600 times each. I mean FFS, that first movie even had a movie poster depicting a young man spying on women through a peephole!
Of course, if he had watched those venerable old teen sex romps, he’d know that if he had really wanted to spy on people, there were lots of ways of doing it that were totally acceptable to his culture. And these methods were known even in small towns of Texas in the 1950s and 1960s. Spying on women in their vulnerable moments wasn’t unheard-of in his day, by any stretch.
It’s like he seriously thinks that young men (and older ones) in his culture never spied on people before, but suddenly trans rights will open those floodgates and release the Krakens across a thousand, thousand small towns all over America.
Once he finishes lying, he launches into his next salvo, a pair of the usual threats we see out of Christians nowadays.
The First Threat: Oh Noes! The CHILDREN!
He’s using the time-tested Christian threat “Won’t someone think of the children?!?” but not in the way you might imagine.
Christians do love to shriek “WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!?” like that character on The Simpsons, and Louie Gohmert can’t resist the tactic here in his lie. It’s been part of their playbook of tactics to deploy against hated groups for decades. It’s just too effective to pass up.
But he’s not using it quite in the way his group normally does.
He’s not talking about saving good, godly Christian virgins and wives from being spied on by actual trans women. He’s actually talking about saving them from all those nasty, lying cisgender teens like he was who will seize their opportunity if trans people are allowed to pee in gender-appropriate bathrooms. He’s actually thinking of himself here as a young man, which is why he specifically uses himself as the example: if he’d only known he could lie about being a girl, why, he wouldn’t have been able to study as hard because he’d have been stewing so much about the temptation to do it! He assumes that other young men are like himself, and that they only refrained because it was illegal at the time–so that if it becomes legal, they will start running wild.
Because HE can’t respect women’s boundaries, and because HE didn’t/doesn’t care about sexual consent, and because HE would lie in a heartbeat if it meant getting to spy on women, LGBTQ people cannot be given the same rights he has.
Sounds to me like he’s the one with the problem here, and like he’s the one who needs to address this issue within himself without making others pay the price for his shoddy upbringing.
I’ll mention again that he’s totally proud of being a Sunday School teacher. This guy works with children. He’s an authority figure at a fundagelical church.
Doesn’t that make you feel warm inside? It sure does make me feel–oh, that’s anger. Sorry. Never mind.
The Second Threat: THEY’RE GONNA GET RAPED.
His second threat spins around from himself to the women he’s ostensibly trying to protect: If trans people are given rights, then nice, proper, cisgender women will be sexually assaulted and spied on by cisgender men lying about their real gender.
It’s called “bathroom panic,” and it has been at the center of almost every single fundagelical campaign against trans rights so far: threats of the horrible things that would happen if trans people were allowed to pee in whatever bathroom fits their gender without fear of harassment.
At its heart, this threat is a lurid folk-Christian fantasy about what would happen if people like Louie Gohmert and his fine, upstanding tribe were no longer allowed to harass, humiliate, and persecute a group of people who they don’t like–and he is issuing that threat in the scariest way he can to his tribemates by invoking a group that they feel is one of their most vulnerable: their womenfolk, especially their daughters.
As long as Christians have sought to limit other people’s freedoms, they’ve invoked the specter of women’s safety. They are very quick to spring to threats of widespread sexual assault and rape whenever their stranglehold on culture feels challenged. Rep. Gohmert’s current boogeyman is cis men pretending to be trans women, but oppressors have relied for years on similar threats to keep people afraid of black people and immigrants–both groups that right-wing Christians are still demonizing even today with these same threats.
Threats of rape are a common and easy way for Christians to provoke proper, upstanding godly Christian men into feeling protective of “their” women and from there angry and inflamed against those Others, those monsters, those demons who would gleefully hurt what is “theirs” if given even half a chance, those enemies who must be stopped, those evil interlopers who want to take what correctly belongs to them.
Allowing these Others to roam unfettered and uncontrolled by their superiors will cause them to rise up in bloodlust and fury to vent their natural, animal urges on the beautiful, virtuous cisgender (or white, or Christian, or American) women that those Others desire above all their own women. And all that stands in the way of this orgy of rape are the good, godly cisgender (or white, or Christian, or American) men who refuse to let it happen.
Right-wing Christian men like to imagine themselves as the protectors of the women under their control, a protection that women outside their culture don’t enjoy (and don’t deserve), though there is no indication whatsoever that there’s any real truth to this idea–and more than a little indication that this “protection” brings along with it a license for men to abuse those women even more than one sees outside their culture. Such men imagine themselves as the owners, in a very real sense, of everyone in their power, holding their protection over those more vulnerable heads like an umbrella. So invoking danger to those under a right-wing Christian man’s imagined “protection” is a good way to get that man riled up.
You’ll notice, however, that the same exact men feel free to abuse and harass women who they think don’t have that protection, which is why Donald Trump and his supporters routinely say incredibly misogynistic, abusive, threatening, and demeaning things to women who they don’t like.
I will remind you that Louie Gohmert considers himself a TRUE CHRISTIAN™, and routinely makes decisions that affect thousands, if not millions, of people every year in his capacity as a lawmaker for his state. Many of those people are not part of his tribe. Some of them are not even cisgender. But he seems very unconcerned with their safety.
Bathroom panic is beyond ludicrous, and a number of states have thoroughly dismantled these examples of TRUE CHRISTIAN™ fearmongering and pandering as they researched the issue of trans rights. But one can’t really accuse fundagelicals of caring about stuff like science and facts. They’ve got The Truth, and when someone has a big-T Truth, they stop caring about little-f facts. Once they become enraged and terrorized, they stop listening to anything but that which confirms and validates their anger and fear.
What Happened to Christianity Making Believers Better People Than Non-Believers?
Tell me again, Christians, why this religion makes y’all better people and gives you a moral compass that non-Christians simply cannot access? Because from where I’m sitting, Rep. Gohmert isn’t actually moral at all. He obeys because disobedience would cost him something, because he fears punishment for disobedience. And his rhetoric about trans people is inexcusable. It’s not only a false fear he’s waving like a red flag in front of the fundagelical bull in the ring, but he’s actually saying that the real person to fear is cisgender straight men who want to prey on all those godly, virtuous Christian wives and daughters he imagines are in so much danger.
In other words, he’s saying that the real menace to society is a man just like him, a tribe just like his, a culture like the one his tribe created, and the view of gender that his religion endorses.
I don’t think it’s okay to deny other people their basic human and civil rights simply because Christians like him have so much trouble behaving in moral ways. If the only way to get him to behave himself in a civil and ethical manner is to restrict other people’s rights, then something’s seriously wrong with him, not them. That’s not how a progressive, freedom-loving society operates. That’s how a regressive patriarchal theocracy operates: it restricts every other group little by little until they are totally hemmed in, all because their dominant group is incapable of behaving like civilized adults unless they are totally in control of the whole world and have shrink-wrapped it all to the point where nobody can move without their permission.
And even then, it won’t be enough. It never is, to controllers and abusers.
LGBTQ people are going to have their rights soon. More to the point, they’re going to have every single right that non-LGBTQ people have. Human and civil rights are a genie that is not going back into the bottle.
And Louie Gohmert knows it. He knows this fight is lost; he can’t be so dense that he thinks otherwise. All he’s doing is swinging hard enough to make his fans happy so they’ll vote for him again.
Otherwise he’d have to find a real job, and I doubt that teaching Sunday School would be able to finance the lifestyle to which he’s become accustomed.
See you this weekend! We’ve still got some stuff to finish up about evangelical churn, and I’m finishing up that apologetics book so we can dive into that. It’s going to be busy around here for a few days.
H/t to the delightful and irrepressible Ed Brayton.
Also, if you want some brain-bleach, this was a really sweet article about a Christian’s response to the “bathroom bill.”