You might remember Rod Dreher from a post I wrote almost 6 years ago now. (Where did the time go?) It was titled “The Sociopath”, and in it I recounted what a gross, awful, and bigoted person he was. (By the way, he still is.)
Dreher has been a blogger at The American Conservative since 2008. During that time, in addition to being gross, awful, and bigoted, he has also been weird. Very weird. Dreher’s writing exhibits a prurience, particularly for gay sex, that is often associated with deeply repressed or closeted conservatives. (I’m not suggesting that Dreher himself is closeted; there are plenty of straight homophobes.)
Dreher seems particularly enamored with the “conversion narrative”, where a gay man recognizes his promiscuous excesses, renounces them, and subsequently devotes himself to warning others away from his former lifestyle. But Dreher enjoys writing so much about the excesses that the conversion itself gets short shrift. In one post, Dreher quotes conservative Bethel McGrew, writing about a gay conservative blogger, Joseph Sciambra:
Joseph’s unvarnished memories were still a shock to my system. They were almost unreadable. They were horrific, and painful, and sad. And yes, at times, they were disgusting. By his own admission, they were disgusting. By his own admission, he and the other men in this lifestyle were degrading themselves on a daily basis. Sometimes they tortured each other. Sometimes they engaged in bestial role play, where they literally lowered themselves to the level of dogs and pigs. They did all this because, to quote gay journalist Randy Shilts, “there was nobody to say no.”
Dreher then quotes Sciambra at length, prefacing the excerpt with the following passage:
Sciambra, who is now in his early 50s, begins by talking about how he’s facing yet another surgery to repair his anus, which was so damaged from years of anal sex that he has trouble with continence. (On that topic, a friend recently told me that her mother, now a retired physician, told her once in passing that if you’ve had to deal with gay male patients condemned in early middle age to wearing diapers because of this, you cannot be sentimental about Pride and the rest.)
(I won’t quote Sciambra’s essay, but it’s called “Confessions of a Prolapsed Catholic”. Get it?)
It isn’t just this one blog post. Dreher seems so interested in gay men fucking you wonder why he hasn’t tried it himself yet. Some quotes, pulled at random:
“Douchie” is the cartoon helper named after the plastic bulb that gay men use to clean out their rectums before anal sex. Cute!
That’s a pretty horrible picture, innit? It’s a 40-year-old German monkeypox patient whose nose began to rot off after he caught the disease. Turns out that he was HIV-positive and didn’t know, plus was infected with advanced syphilis — also a surprise to him. He told doctors he had never been tested for a sexually transmitted infection. There he was, celebrating diversity like a champ, and now his nose is partially rotted off. Heaven knows who he passed along HIV, syphilis, and monkeypox to along the way.
I understand that Babe The Pig Boi has deleted that [Twitter] thread. I captured the whole thing, and am tempted to post it, just so you can see exactly what we’re dealing with here, but it would probably be too much for most readers. I think it’s important to say that this man brags in the thread about ingesting a large amount of human urine as part of his sexual exploits … but then goes on to say at the end that he doesn’t think it’s realistic to tell gay men not to have sex.
What is a “piggy party”? Well, a “pig,” in gay parlance, is someone who is hyper-focused on having sex, especially kinky sex.
During the height of the AIDS crisis, a New Orleans friend who is very liberal and pro-gay, though a heterosexual woman, told me a story about being out on the streets on Mardi Gras day. She said that she and her boyfriend were crossing lower Bourbon Street, the heart of the city’s gay community, when they saw a teenage boy, couldn’t have been a day over 17, staggering drunk (or drugged) and naked through the crowd of men. He had blood and feces running down his leg from his rectum. He had likely been raped. Nobody in the crowd was trying to help him. He was lost and wandering. He disappeared into the crowd of nearly-naked gay men partying in the street. My friend said the sight of that poor kid, who may well have been infected with HIV that day, upset her so much that she asked her boyfriend to take her home, that her day was done.
*“Bugchasing” is the act of seeking out HIV-infected partners so as to become infected yourself.*
Here is a fascinating, in a car-wreck sort of way, meditation by a promiscuous New York gay journalist who wrestles with his shame over whether or not he is being unfair to HIV-positive potential sex partners for not wanting to have sex with them. The language can be pretty rough, just so you know. The mentality is what fascinates me.
(Sure, it’s the “mentality” that fascinated you. Whatever you have to tell yourself.)
It turns out that I’m not the only one who doesn’t want to read Dreher’s “lurid musings on anal sex”, as a writer for Vanity Fair put it. I didn’t realize this, but Dreher is employed at The American Conservative only because he has a wealthy backer: Howard Ahmanson, Jr.
Ahmanson, Jr. is the son of Howard Ahmanson, Sr., owner of one of the largest thrifts in the U.S. in the 20th century. Both father and son were large donors to Republican and conservative causes. But, in one of those typical ironies of history, Home Savings and Loan, Ahmanson, Sr.’s thrift, became wildly profitable during the post-World War II housing boom in Southern California, issuing mortgages backed by the federal government.
According to the Vanity Fair,
Ahmanson had apparently long admired the work of Dreher, who has authored numerous conservative books and previously wrote for the Beliefnet blog and The Dallas Morning News. But according to the two sources, Ahmanson began to sour on his beneficiary in 2021, when Dreher, in a blog post debating circumcision, wrote the following: “All us boys wanted to stare at his primitive root wiener when we were at the urinal during recess, because it was monstrous. Nobody told us that wieners could look like that.” Incredibly, that was the “first red flag” for Ahmanson, one source told me, adding that the rift had been building for about a year.
Some of Dreher’s commentary on the gay and transgender communities also proved off-putting to Ahmanson, such as his lurid musings on anal sex, rectal bleeding, and the “partially rotted off” nose of a gay man who contracted monkeypox. “At some point, he basically decided, ‘This is too weird,’” the source, paraphrasing Ahmanson, explained to me. “‘I don’t want to read this or pay for this anymore.’”
There’s a lot that can be said about this passage, especially the incredible claim that Dreher’s writing became this bizarre only in 2021. But what I want to focus on is that last line: “I don’t want to read this or pay for this anymore.”
Because Dreher was working for The American Conservative at Ahmanson’s behest, he was also forced to stop working at his behest. Dreher announced his resignation recently and mentioned he would take up writing on Substack instead.
It is remarkable how much speech in America is bankrolled by a small number of millionaires and billionaires. By the same token, of course, such speech can also disappear if those patrons abandon their beneficiaries. (You might call that “cancel culture”, if you were talking about a liberal.) There is a market for speech like there is a market for anything that relies on attention. There are only so many people willing to read conservative bloggers, only so many conservative magazines, and only so many writers that can be employed by those magazines. These factors serve to constrain the growth of conservative speech, or, in other words, they serve to elevate the importance of those conservative writers lucky or good enough to be anointed to such positions. Dreher has talents as a writer, to be sure, but it is almost certain he would not have lasted as long as he did at The American Conservative, writing about “primitive root wieners” and god knows what else, if he did not have a wealthy benefactor. And, conversely, if his benefactor had caught on a bit sooner, we might not have had so many pieces about Brother Rod in The New Yorker.
To try to express the idea differently, this quirk of history — the relationship between two men, one an “intellectual” and the other his rich admirer — matters, even though we might like to believe in a more meritocratic system of doling out attention. At its peak, Dreher’s blog received more than a million page views each month. Dreher helped “fuel the political rise of J.D. Vance”, who is now a U.S. Senator from Ohio — Dreher’s “interview with Mr. Vance for The American Conservative in July 2016 was so popular it briefly crashed the magazine’s website”. More recently, Dreher has played a key role in bringing together European and American conservatives.
[Dreher] decided that the television host Tucker Carlson —“the most important conservative figure in America,” in Dreher’s estimation—should come to Budapest as soon as possible and see it for himself. He texted Carlson and told him so; Carlson wrote back and said that he’d been meaning to come over, but the effort had become tangled in Hungarian red tape. Dreher made a point of telling government ministers that it would be good for Hungary if this important American journalist could come. Eventually, in July, the red tape evaporated, and Carlson spent a week in Hungary, taping episodes of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” in which he visited and praised a chain-link fence across Hungary’s southern border and conducted an interview with Orbán himself. “If you live in the United States, it is bitter to see the contrast between, say, Budapest and New York City,” Carlson told his audience, from a set that looked out over a gorgeous expanse of Habsburg rooftops. In New York, he said, it was “common” to hire armed guards to protect you if you had conservative views, but in Hungary everyone was free to express themselves. In New York, a maelstrom ensued. From Budapest, Dreher tweeted a picture of a relaxed Carlson addressing a group of laughing Hungarian dignitaries on a pretty stone patio at a formal dinner, Rod Dreher himself among them.
(The last time The New Yorker wrote about Dreher, it was about his book, “The Benedict Option”. Its thesis was that religious conservatives should “embrace exile from the mainstream culture and construct a resilient counterculture.” Good thing Fox News and Viktor Orbán are fighting the man, I guess?)
One of the underrated ways in which money and, more specifically, wealth inequality warp and degrade our political culture is through these “intellectual” channels. Any billionaire can have a personally appointed weirdo to write for their own edification or, more likely, amusement, and this person might help launch the career of the next U.S. Senator, or bring together crypto-fascists from around the globe. I have read dozens of Rod Dreher columns at this point, which is dozens more than I would have liked to, and it is in part because the heir to a fortune made from government money took a shine to him? It’s almost enough to make you think that the marketplace of ideas has never really existed.