Brandon Ambrosino is a young gay internet person who stirs up controversy everywhere he points his spoon. He tends to take a contrarian position on things that many LGBT individuals and their allies hold self-evident. You aren't a homophobe if you are against gay marriage (we need a new word, he says). People who called out Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson for saying the same vile things about gays that people have been saying since gay become a thing are the real bigots. Sit down, Ellen Page, you aren't so brave for coming out. Being gay is a choice. Jerry Falwell, founder of Ambrosino's Liberty U alma mater, was actually a good guy.
Naturally, when it was announced yesterday that Ambrosino had landed a gig at Ezra Klein's Vox...
...people lost their shit.
"Vox's Unbelievably Terrible New Hire," read Slate's headline on the matter.
"Hipster Homophobia: Ezra Klein's Vox hires Falwell-loving gay-bashing 'gay,'" blared AmericaBlog.
"Meet Brandon Ambrosino, Homophobes' Favorite Gay Writer And Vox's Newest Hire," chided Media Matters.
The general tone of these pieces is, "Whyyyy, God, whhhhhhyyyyyy?"
The clear answer is: because Abrosino is controversial. That is why he has been published in properties associated with Time, The Atlantic, and New Republic. He gets people talking. He gets people to write pieces about his inadequacy as a thinker and writer by separating himself from the group and attacking it under the guise of a more gentle, "subversive," Martin Luther King, Jr.-esque approach to gay activism (I mean, the guy literally compared himself to Martin Luther King, Jr.). I don't know how much of this he believes versus how much of it he just pretends to believe, knowing it behooves him to take on the memorable persona of house faggot. Accolades from Glenn Beck and Brietbart have followed.
Klein essentially confirmed that Ambrosino's hire was about his profile and clickbait potential—rather than, you know, actual skill—in an interview with the American Prospect's Gabriel Arana. Arana reports that Klein hadn't read Ambrosino's "pieces that had kicked up so much dust before bringing Ambrosino on" (i.e. all of them), but now that he has, he's totally in the clear, no worries, gay-straight alliances 4 life:
"I don't want to pretend that I have the context and the background to perfectly or authoritatively judge this debate," Klein said. "But when I read his pieces, I didn't come away with the impression that he holds an iota of homophobia." "Homophobia"—which activists too often use as shorthand to describe anti-gay views that don't necessarily stem from fear—may be the wrong word for it. But even a cursory read through Ambrosino's writings should raise red flags. Klein, though, seems mystified by the blowback. He acknowledges that he is new to the process of staffing an enterprise like Vox. "I gotta be honest," he said. "With a lot of this stuff, I'm trying to figure out what success means."
Maybe success in an economy of attention means commanding attention, by any means necessary (to invoke the words of a civil rights activist that Ambrosino would never deign to be associated with). In that case, this hire is to journalism what Somethin shitting on the floor of the Flavor of Love mansion was to reality TV. Remember Somethin? (She went on to do porn.)
Ambrosino is a young gay guy who apparently does not identify much with what gay culture offers him. That's OK! I can relate to that on a certain level. Looking, a show loved by many a gay, routinely bases its premises on this very phenomenon.
The way Ambrosino rejects gay culture, though, reads as hostile toward his people. He seems woefully lacking in knowledge of the culture he's rejecting: Anyone with any sense of the decimation that AIDS did to the gay community (full of people who helped open the doors that Ambrosino is breezing through) would keep his kind words about Jerry Falwell to himself. He once wrote the sentence, "After all, isn't trans activism fueled by the belief that the government has the responsibility to protect all of us regardless of our sexual choices?"
There's no palpable substance behind the shock-jock routine. The line about how he chose to be gay was a dramatic kicker, with no elaboration. I would love to read an essay from a guy who genuinely believes he chose to be gay. That's fascinating. Share your life. Show me how it happened and how that feels. Don't just toss it out there unexplained and expect me to swallow it without thinking, "Hey I think this guy might be saying that just to say it."
Many of his opinions seem wrapped up in unresolved personal issues: His defense of those who are against gay marriage includes the information that his own parents oppose it. You don't need an analyst's couch to detect the psychology happening there.
Still, it's important to keep a little perspective here. Ambrosino was hired as a "writing fellow," which basically amounts to paid intern at many publications. As for the fear that his work gives homophobes ammunition: Sure, he is. But he's only filling that market niche because it was already waiting to be filled.
The people who cite him as proof that some gay people are well behaved and know their subservient place (unlike those horrible equality-demanding bullies) are assholes who hated gay people before they read Ambrosino. They would have hated gay people without Ambrosino's point of view. He's a performer. A clown. He's an ambitious clown who may evolve and realize how shitty he's being to his community, but he's a clown. Sit back and watch the show (and make sure you have your Michael Jackson eating popcorn gif close at hand).
[Image via Getty]