Much is being made of the fact that Ezra Klein has announced that he hired professional contrarian and parroter of anti-gay talking points Brandon Ambrosino as a writing fellow for Vox, his new journalistic venture. Six weeks ago, I published a piece called “Who The Hell Is Brandon Ambrosino And Why Do People Continue To Publish Him?” In that piece, I quoted from pieces Brandon has written that have seemed designed to serve as purely contrarian clickbait — pretty much all of them — and summed it up like this:
As I’ve written this piece, I’ve found myself in a vortex of wrongness, with each possible escape leading to another open tab in my browser where Brandon expounds on yet another stupid, contrarian statement he’s made in a previous column, and frankly, it’s become cumbersome. So I’m cutting myself off so that I can focus on better, smarter things. As I said above, and as we have seen, Brandon isn’t a particularly talented writer, so these publications must be giving him space simply because he’s a contrarian and they want to be a part of some pot-stirring zeitgeist, but the trouble is that there is no “there” there. Brandon Ambrosino simply exists to be trotted out by anti-gay wingnuts as “the gay author they like,” and in lending credence to his words, these publications do real harm to the LGBT community’s struggle for justice. Brandon reminds me of another hack writer, one who is cited often by the anti-gay, anti-woman segments of society, one who created a career for herself simply by being consistently wrong and obnoxious, seemingly for the sake of being consistently wrong and obnoxious. In the late great Molly Ivins’ timeless smackdown of Camille Paglia, Molly filled a column with citations of Paglia’s wrongness, but at the end was able to sum up Camille with four simple words: “Sheesh. What an asshole.”
So we’ll just leave it there.
Unfortunately, due to the fact that Ezra Klein has hired him — apparently without reading his work — writers are feeling compelled to waste time on him again. For the record, Brandon’s work over the last year has consisted of chiding gays for saying you can’t choose your sexuality; explaining to gay activists far more accomplished than he that we need to learn from Martin Luther King, Jr., to whom Brandon compares himself (!!!) and learn to be nicer to the homophobes; and explaining to us that the people who are against LGBT rights aren’t homophobes, and really, again, we should be so much nicer to them. Won’t somebody think of the bigots? In that last piece, we learn that his parents are against marriage equality but they’re not haters, Q.E.D., the end. As Rich Juzwiak wrote at Gawker, “you don’t need an analyst’s couch to detect the psychology happening there.” Ambrosino even accepts the premise that there are secular arguments against marriage equality and that they’re valid. The fact that the great majority of judges, whether appointed by Democrats or Republicans, hear those “secular arguments” and rule them “complete bullshit” apparently doesn’t register with Brandon. Maybe if only we all listened a bit more to homophobes explaining why their deeply held religious beliefs should deter the LGBT population from wanting to be treated as first-class citizens, we could touch the tip of Brandon’s brilliance.
Look, I spent hours weeks ago in the vortex of contrarian stupid that is Brandon’s work, and I don’t need to do it again. For any interested in a longer explanation of why he is such a bad hire, check my earlier work and Gabriel Arana’s latest, where he explains that we’re not dealing with a journalistic decision here, but rather clickbait contrarianism at its worst:
The problem with hiring Ambrosino is not that Klein isn’t entitled to bring someone on board whose views the gay community finds distasteful. It’s that Ambrosino’s quick rise to notoriety—and now, his ticket aboard the profession’s hottest new upstart—is an object lesson in the way new media equates click-bait contrarianism with serious thought and gives hacks a platform in the name of ideological balance.
Gay intellectuals like Andrew Sullivan or Jonathan Rauch may occasionally ruffle queer folks’ feathers for going against the grain when it comes to hate-crime laws, say, or the right of for-profit businesses to turn away gay customers. But Ambrosino should not be thought of in this mold. Whereas Sullivan’s and Rauch’s positions are thoughtfully staked out and stem from nuanced views about the role of government, Ambrosino’s iconoclasm amounts to heedless self-promotion. His gross distortions of mainstream gay views and stunning lack of fluency in the basic language of gay equality reveals him to be little but a feckless provocateur. His mischaracterization of 20th-century philosopher Michel Foucault—Ambrosino warps the philosopher’s idea that sexuality is a “social construct” to justify his view that gays choose their sexuality—has gotten him called out by academics. But his use of nonsensical phrases like “intersexed crossdressers” (intersexuality, a medical condition, has nothing to do with cross-dressing) and penchant for referring to transsexualism as a “sexual choice” (it’s not about sexuality) show that his lack of familiarity with his subject matter runs even deeper.
Ambrosino fits a mold the bright new media loves: He’s a nerdy white kid whose contrarian views stir the pot. There is no question, especially given the sketchy quality of Ambrosino’s work, that the allure of having someone gay parrot anti-gay views has led editors to look at him and think, “interesting.” His formula is tired, if effective: He throws bombs into the gay community, and his editors call the explosion a debate. It’s disappointing, to say the least, that a journalism venture with the tremendous promise and resources of Vox Media is relying on that cheap trick.
A cheap trick, indeed, and an increasingly popular one. The good news is that a “writing fellowship” isn’t as fancy as it may sound to those outside the writing world. “Glorified internship” might be a better phrase to describe it.
And I agree with Gabriel Arana when he says that the problem isn’t that the mainstream LGBT community finds Ambrosino’s views to be somewhere between just plain wrong and gross. It’s important to have intellectual diversity, both for growth and for sharpening our abilities to defend what we believe. But as Rich Juzwiak points out, that’s not exactly what’s at play here. Ambrosino isn’t just wrong, but seemingly hostile, a likely vestige of his indoctrination at Liberty University and before:
Ambrosino is a young 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.”
Those of us who spend the better parts of our weeks writing and analyzing politics and the fight for LGBT equality welcome the voices of intellectual heavyweights who challenge us in our beliefs and assumptions. What we don’t appreciate is hacks with undeveloped ideas who help our opponents by playing the role of “the gay writer the bigots love the most.” So, in the interest of fighting back against the clickbait contrarianism that seems to be the only thing Brandon knows how to do, I’d suggest we all just make a habit of clicking “close tab” whenever we stumble across his name.