The real problem with cancel culture

Bex Heimbrock, Opinion Editor

Cancel culture is not a popular actor losing employment opportunities due to misconduct; rather, it is Colorado Springs Pulse Nightclub and Matthew Shepard. This is the logic of cancellation – out of sight, out of mind. Right-wing extremist groups are propagating this in a concerted campaign to ‘cancel’ queers; choosing, as their battlegrounds, public and civic spaces where queerness is being celebrated. They are often hurling charges such as “groomer” and “pedophile” at attendees of such events. These attempts to undermine the strength of public, civic, queer-friendly spaces are the Right’s first step in reasserting Christo-fascist puritanism and patriarchy into public structures; by making it impossible for ‘others’ to exist, they thus experience validity in the public eye. 

Heterosexuality, as a hegemonic norm, is threatened as a legitimate institution by those who deviate from it. As Michael Warner and Lauren Berlant put it, “Queer social practices like sex and theory try to unsettle the garbled but powerful norms supporting that privilege…” Practices that unsettle these norms elicit feelings of disgust from cis-het people.

Consider the common pejorative refrain, “It really does not matter to me that some people are gay, until they shove it in my face.” There is an inherent demand for queer people’s invisibility in this bigoted line of thought – a discomfort felt due to the “unsettling” of norms by the queer subject. Proud Boys and other Christo-fascist groups exist as enforcers of this hegemony. 

Huffington Post reporter and author Andy Campbell compiled an ongoing thread documenting the Proud Boys’ violence at civic events. The first event to appear on this thread is from Frisco, Texas. Proud Boys showed up to a community event recognizing Pride Month for the first time in city history. They – predictably – called attendees ‘pedophiles’. 

To date, the thread documents seven instances of Proud Boys terrorizing drag and LGBTQ-themed events – most of them “storytimes” at public civic spaces. In Arlington, Texas, Proud Boys mobilized against a “Disney drag brunch”; in Indiana, six Proud Boys walked into a public library demanding an LGBTQ storytime be shut down; the list goes on. 

Assemblies by Proud Boys in public spaces are explicit invitations for violence and intimidation. What makes their campaigns of terror in civic spaces so notable, however, is the Proud Boy’s positionality as replacements for LGBTQ persons and ‘defenders’ of children’s liberty. By physically entering the civic space that queer people are positioned in as leaders (via inhabiting the role of “teacher” in storytimes and “entertainment” in drag brunches), and demanding their excision from said roles, Proud Boys are then poised to become the next authority figure. This authority propagates heteronormativity – one can only imagine what books the Proud Boys would read during storytimes: “The Normal Fish” or “The Little Proud Boy,” perhaps. 

The cultural panic about queer pedophiles and groomers is working as intended. A Tallahassee school board recently mandated that schools “notify parents – by form – if a student who is ‘open about their gender identity’ is in a physical education class or on an overnight field trip.” “Students open about their gender identity” does not refer to students who fit comfortably into the hegemony; this rule will be used to single out queer children and punish them – lest they groom their classmates into becoming queer as well. 

We must recognize that the actions of those propagating Christo-fascist ideals pose an existential threat to queer livelihood. By utilizing the logic of progressive cancel culture, one is posing some sort of existential threat to progress. Proud Boys are well on their way to forcing LGBTQ+ people back into the shadows.