|Putin and his favourite mount. Only one of them needs Viagra.|
A quick look through the list of countries with anti-gay laws shows that most are from Africa and the Middle East, with a sizable number from the Caribbean. These anti-gay countries can be broadly defined as being either very poor or very religious, and sometimes both. But why this phobia about gay sex? For most countries the answer lies at the intersection of conservative social mores and religion, the place where minority groups traditionally get a thorough kicking for not being part of the herd. But three countries in particular, Russia, Nigeria and Iran, like to regard themselves as manly, hairy-chested, regional superpowers, but all three, it would seem, secretly recognize that their virile self-images do not match up to reality. These are the Viagra states.
This threesome is rich in oil and gas reserves, have strong military forces, and see themselves as regional, even global, leaders. Their reality is rather grimmer. Nigeria is a hot mess of corruption, gangsterism and low-grade civil war; Iran's economy is on the ropes, and it's being made to knuckle under on the nuclear front by a combination of diplomacy and economic sanctions; and Russia, once a true superpower, has been reduced to a shambolic kleptocracy presided over by Vladimir Putin, the poster boy for Viagra states with his narcissistic photo-ops showing him wrestling wild animals, practicing martial arts, and generally presenting himself as a Slavic Marlboro Man. These are countries with a fragile sense of self-esteem, and because their self-image is so infused with rugged masculinity, they get just a wee bit hysterical when the subject of homosexuality rears its head. This psychological explanation fits nicely because the number of gays in these nations, or any nation, is so very low. Most studies suggest homosexuals make up six percent or less of the population. The gay community, then, is one of the smallest of minorities, and yet it's attracting an extraordinary amount of abuse from the Viagra states. The reason for this situation, I'd argue, is that for states that are desperately seeking to project an image of strength and virility, anything that smacks of effeminacy is cause for panic.
At another level, anti-gay laws are simply a variation on anti-Semitism, in that they're a means to scapegoat a small and powerless minority. Much of the anti-gay rhetoric coming out of places like Uganda and Russia revolves around the idea of homosexuality being "unnatural" and "against nature." This is in addition to worries about gays "corrupting" and "infecting" society as a whole. This kind of twisted logic and cruel language is familiar from anti-Semitic screeds dating back to, well, go ahead and name your century--any will do. And like many examples of anti-Semitism, anti-gay rhetoric and laws are a way for brutish regimes to move attention away from their own shoddy governance, while at the same time taking a swipe at the West by claiming that homosexuality is a pernicious import. Iran's former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took this line when he famously said that there were no homosexuals in Iran.
What these Viagra states forget or don't realize is that the gay community, like Germany's Jews prior to World War Two, has a disproportionate number of the best and brightest minds, so any diaspora resulting from anti-gay laws will turn out to be detrimental to the intellectual health of these countries. But maybe that's the least they deserve.