What I Wish Rachel Maddow Would Say to David Vitter

***TRIGGER WARNING: Descriptions of homophobic and transphobic violence***

It’s come to light that noted misogynist David Vitter, the Senator who protected his women’s rights staffer after he slashed his girlfriend with a knife and threatened to kill her and who doesn’t think abortion is a “women’s issue,” is also a raging homophobe. I know, I was shocked too – I’ll give you a minute to pick your jaw up off the floor.

This episode of “Saw That Coming From 100 Miles Away” involves Vitter’s comments on a right-wing radio show this morning about MSNBC host Rachel Maddow and her high school yearbook photo, which has been making the rounds on the internet. Vitter commented the photo “must have been a long time ago” because Maddow was then “looking like a woman.”

All the mainstream media I’ve seen on the incident shies away from using the “H-word” (HOMOPHOBIA), instead taking the cowardly route of assuming their readers will know why this is wrong and worthy of comment. This is shameful.

I’d bet the first journalist in the MSM to take this on will be Rachel Maddow herself, who has a history of taking on ridiculous criticism with humor and grace and at the same time, packing a powerful political punch. I’m a huge fan of Rachel Maddow and have devoted hours of my life wishing I could write for her show. If I did, here’s what she would say to Senator Vitter:

“It’s come to my attention that Senator David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, made a funny on the radio by suggesting that my high school yearbook photo must have been taken a long time ago because in it, I look like a woman. I can only assume he’s referring to my short haircut and business suits, which don’t fit into his personal idea of what a woman should look like. Senator Vitter, I’m not one to make this accusation lightly but your comment on the radio was an attempt to get a cheap laugh on the fact that I am a lesbian. It was a political play to your constituents, who you evidently believe vote based on hate and bigotry. This, I think, is incredibly disrespectful to the good folks of Louisiana.

I think I’ve proved on this show that I have a sense of humor but this time I’m not laughing. For many people in this country and around the world, failing to fit into a random individual’s profile of what a man or woman should look like is no joke. For many, it is the difference between getting a job or not, the difference between getting into and remaining at their educational institution of choice or not, the difference between being able to safely use a public bathroom or not. For many, not fitting neatly into a gender category is a matter of life and death.

Senator Vitter, I’d like to tell you a story about a young woman named Sakia Gunn. Like me, Sakia Gunn had short hair and dressed in a more masculine way than, inferring from your comment, you’d think is appropriate for a woman. In 2005, fifteen year-old Sakia and her friends were waiting for a bus in Newark, New Jersey when they were approached by a group of men who made sexual advances toward them. When the women refused, stating they were lesbians, the men pulled out knives and started yelling homophobic slurs. Sakia was stabbed in the chest and she bled to death, in the arms of her best friend, in the middle of the street.

Let me tell you another story, Senator, about an eighteen year-old transgender woman named Angie Zapata. Again inferring from your comment, Angie Zapata, with her long hair and form-fitting clothes, fit the bill in terms of what you think a woman should look like. At her murder trial, Allen Ray Andrade’s lawyers claimed that since Angie looked like a woman their client just couldn’t help beating her to death with a fire extinguisher when it was revealed she was born biologically male. Angie Zapata wasn’t brutally killed because she looked like a woman; she was a woman. No, she was savagely beaten to death because of the type of hate you’re peddling, the kind that says a person’s gender expression, how they choose to dress and present themselves, and by extension, a person’s gender identity, how they choose to identify regardless of their gender at birth, are reasons to see someone as less deserving of respect, as less than human.

Senator Vitter, I’m not addressing you personally tonight because I was offended by your joke. I’m addressing you because your type of hate impacts the lives of thousands of Americans who do not, without regard to their sexual orientation or gender identity, fit into capricious standards of what it means to look “male” or “female.” It’s time to toss these standards out the window because they are meaningless, destructive and sometimes, deadly. Moreover, it’s time to legislate against the hate bred by these standards by passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, known as ENDA and currently proposed in the Senate, that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, which includes appearance, or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, with or without regard to the individual’s designated sex at birth.

I received your apology this afternoon, Senator, and your explanation that you were simply joining in on a joke made by the radio hosts. I accept your apology, sir, but not your excuse: you are a United States Senator and as such you have a responsibility to stand up and correct anyone making bigoted slurs against American citizens. It’s to the American public, not me, sir, that you still owe an apology – and actions that make good on it.”

**This post was edited by the author on July 17th to add a trigger warning for depictions of homophobic and transphobic violence.

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22 comments for “What I Wish Rachel Maddow Would Say to David Vitter

  1. PrettyAmiable
    July 16, 2010 at 6:08 pm

    If I wrote the article on what I wish Rachel Maddow would say to David Vitter, it would just say, “Go fuck yourself.”

    I’m probably a little less classy than you and Maddow, however.

    PS, super kudos on pointing out that if this is pandering to his constituency, it’s because he thinks they vote on hate and bigotry. Very true. Love this point.

  2. Hausfrau
    July 16, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    Or maybe instead of playing into Vitter’s gendered binaries, Maddow should just point out that she does look like a “woman.” Since, you know, there’s no homogeneity to what women actually look like. We’re diverse like that. She shouldn’t end with Vitter-the radio hosts with whom he was speaking with are part of the problem as well. The right wing media has too long been the fuel the the fire of hatred and bigotry.

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  4. Samson
    July 16, 2010 at 10:54 pm

    Could you not compare shaming of cis women for stylistic choices and “tomboyishness” to transphobia?

    It’s erasing of the differences between transphobia and femininity-policing, and appropriates experiences of trans women.

    I may “read” as queer, but I still have cis privilege that INCLUDES my relative level of safety, no matter how masculine I’m dressing. My lived experience of gender policing is very different from that of trans folk.

  5. July 16, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    What happened to HONOR? Certainly it has been trampled by Senator David Vitter of my home state, Louisiana. Family Values do not include cheating on your wife and supporting prostitutes!!!!

    David Vitter can never have the honor that Rachel Maddow shows each and everyday because he is tarnished beyond recovery!

    Long live women like Rachel, and my descent lady friends in Louisiana and I am sorry all of you ladies have to be dishonored by this creep.

  6. July 17, 2010 at 12:11 am

    Wow, way to hit it right out of the park. *applause* I hope Rachel picks this up somehow and says it word for word.

  7. Ducky
    July 17, 2010 at 3:57 am

    I could totally hear every word of that coming out of Rachel Maddow’s mouth. Altogether, great job!

  8. sonia
    July 17, 2010 at 6:31 am

    Given Vitter’s predilections a simple answer could be “That photograph of yours has to be recent, because you look like a baby with a poopy diaper”

  9. Mark Adams
    July 17, 2010 at 8:32 am

    Exactly the kind of response I would expect from Rachel. Are you sure you don’t write for her?

  10. GrrrlRomeo
    July 17, 2010 at 10:06 am

    I actually don’t expect Rachel Maddow to even mention it beyond where she accepted his apology. She may say something sarcastic in pass on her show where only the people who already know about it would get it. And I absolutely understand if she doesn’t want to make her appearance a topic. It’s annoying to have my gender expression picked at by people around me…it must be worse to get be picked by thousands of people on the Internet plus a Senator.

    I would hope folks know the difference between “tomboyishness” and butch, or “fashion” and gender expression.

  11. Butch Fatale
    July 17, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    A trigger warning for descriptions of homophobic & transphobic violence would be appropriate for this post.

  12. July 17, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    I think, for some, there will always be a belief that seeing gender in anything less than sharp distinctions is the quickest route towards complete anarchic chaos. And it’s easy for those who don’t understand to think in these terms. But if these people were honest with themselves, they’d recognize that they don’t fit neatly into the boxes that they insist everyone else must, either.

  13. July 17, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    I feel like making a snarky comment about it being a long time since Vitter acted like an adult, but I doubt that he ever did.

  14. July 17, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    As Ducky said, it has Maddow’s rhythm and sound perfectly. Brava, Shelby.

  15. FYouMudFlaps
    July 17, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    Wow this was nice. I totally pictured her saying this. I’m forwarding it to her facebook for you.

  16. July 17, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    I agree with GrrrlRomeo that Rachel will ignore it and move on. Though I would think that is not because she has a thin skin and doesn’t want to ‘make her appearance a topic,’ rather that David Vitter is a thoroughly unpleasant individual and she would like to have as little interaction as possible with him.

    Also, she has more to lose than we do- I agree with all of Shelby’s sentiments and more people should be criticizing Vitter’s coimments in that vein. However, unfortunately if Rachel says something similar, she looks like she’s being biased against someone who joked about her.

    Believe me, she WILL have the last laugh, as he will soon do something that will cause him to lose his job. He’s too much of a dick not to.

  17. Elinore
    July 17, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    Coming out of lurk to echo the sentiments of Samson and Butch Fatale. Not warning was wrong, cis-entitlment showing, etc.

    Very effective, though, and well written! I hope she sees it.

  18. Shelby Knox
    July 17, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    @Butch Fatale: Agreed and apologies for this oversight. A trigger warning has now been added.

  19. sophonisba
    July 18, 2010 at 12:57 am

    Could you not compare shaming of cis women for stylistic choices and “tomboyishness” to transphobia?

    I don’t think she’s making a comparison so much as an identification — I don’t think it’s mistaken, either. Bigots are frequently wrong or confused about the identity of their victims, but that doesn’t change their the reason for their hatred. Like when straight women who dress in a certain way get beaten up by homophobes who assume they’re lesbians — doesn’t mean they’re not still straight with all the attendant privileges and assumptions, but it’s still homophobia motivating the outrage.

    People like Vitter make a very direct mental equation between lesbian = looks like a man = wants to be a man. They don’t understand trans men to exist outside of that imaginary construct; if anything they think they’re the logical end of that straight line. So I don’t think it’s really possible to disentangle the sexism from the homophobia from the transphobia and pretend that only one or two of them is at play here.

    If Vitter didn’t think there was something risible and wrong with having someone’s physical appearance depart in any way from the norms associated with their stated gender identification, his comment wouldn’t have made sense either as a joke or as an insult. Gender theorists and feminists might be able to note a subtle distinction between that kind of gender policing and flat-out transphobia — but I would bet money David Vitter couldn’t. Noticing what he’s doing isn’t appropriation — he’s the one who can’t be bothered to properly calibrate his bigotry to the identity of his target.

  20. Ostien
    July 18, 2010 at 11:10 am

    (OP please disregard/remove my last post attempt)

    I think OP nailed it. The conception that trans folk are somehow just “super gay,” a conception that allowed for this “joke” to be internally consistent, is very prevalent and needs to be challenged on both the grounds of homophobia and transphobia. I see OPs statements to be a positive opening of this discussion, if it is to continue or just fade away.

    I would like to point out that Samson’s concerns are valid and would wish for any such discussion to include these distinctions and varied experiences. However, trans can include experiences other then trans-women and trans-men, trans is also often used inclusively with genderqueer and other gender variant identifications. Thus any gender vareint presentation can fall under transphobia and as sophonisba pointed out violence against it can still be motivated by a misplaced homophobia because it is conflated. So both transphobia and femininity policing along with homophobia can fall into the same overall discussion because of the context it is viewed with by many.

    But I think that OP is full aware of that:


  21. Ostien
    July 18, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    humm I tried to post this as a quote to the end but I screwed up:

    “I’m addressing you because your type of hate impacts the lives of thousands of Americans who do not, without regard to their sexual orientation or gender identity, fit into capricious standards of what it means to look “male” or “female.” It’s time to toss these standards out the window because they are meaningless, destructive and sometimes, deadly.”

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