Unfortunately for our sense of optimism that humanity has not yet reached the apex of its narrative parabola, we're all privy to the existence of Westboro Baptist Church leader (and possible lizard person) Fred Phelps. Among the many vile things we've learned about Phelps over his tenure as a hate-mongering demagogue who cloaks his bigoted rhetoric in biblical quotations, one tidbit that stands out in bas-relief is Phelps' virulent homophobia. He has for instance, uttered this dubious assertion: "Good hates fags." In other words, knowing Fred Phelps as we all surely do, we know that his primary stance as a spiritual leader has been that the omnipotent cosmic ruling of all things has taken a particular dislike to homosexuality. This is probably the only thing most people know about Phelps, and yet, is it possible that Fred Phelps' attitudes about gay people are a direct result of a homoerotic experience from his youth that he has since tried to bury under the rubble of Old Testament quotation and angry denial?
That's one of the claims former Westboro member Lauren Drain makes in her new book Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church. Drain had been a member of the Westboro Church until, according to the HuffPo's Cavan Sieczkowski, she fled after challenging (we assume unsuccessfully) the group's beliefs. In an interview with The Advocate about her memoir, Drain explained why she speculated about the source of Fred Phelps' aversion (to put it mildly) to homosexuality.
Drain, focusing primarily on Phelps' time surrounded by other young men first as a Boy Scout and later as a West Point cadet, says:
I never had a one-on-one conversation with him. He would tell the congregation, or I'd hear my father interview him. … [Phelps's] father raised him a Boy Scout, then he went to Eagle Scouts - he had all these honors. I think he graduated high school at, like, 17, ready to go to the military. … And then all of a sudden, he had a 360 and decided he wanted nothing to do with military. Instead, now he wanted to be a preacher at the young age of 17, and now he had this whole crusade against sexual immorality. … And it was after this event - I don't know what happened, I can't even say. All I know is that he said he went to West Point, then all of a sudden he had a religious experience, and now he wanted to preach against sexual immorality, preach against the military, and ever since then things have kind of progressed.
It's probably worth noting that we're in purely speculative territory right now. It's tempting to conclude that, "Oh, of course! Phelps is simply overcompensating for his own deeply-rooted sense of fear and self-loathing!" but this all feels a little too much like convenient pop-psychology. Still, Drain has direct insight into Phelps' preachings, as well as his behavior, which, she explains, would become especially agitated when someone would ask him why he had such a problem with the gay community:
I never understood why, when [the media asked him], "Why are you so against the homosexuals? Did you have a homosexual experience? Do you have homosexual tendencies?" And he would get so mad, he would shut down. And he'd be like, "I can't talk to this person anymore, they're stupid." His reaction to that was stronger than any other question you can ask him. So I always wondered that - why does he get so mad? If I'm not gay, I'll just say I'm not gay. And I'm not going to freak out, like, "Why are you calling me gay?" I always thought that was super strange. … I don't know what happened there, so [speculation] is all that I can leave it at. But something happened, and something made him change his mind about the military, and in turn have kind of a crusade against sexual immorality and homosexuals.
Sure, something might have happened, but there's no sense in wasting valuable empathy energy on such an inveterate, remorseless bigot like Fred Phelps. His cold, reptilian heart would hardly appreciate it.
Escaping Westboro [The Advocate]