Last spring, I wrote about a two-day New York City gay house party blithely held during the height of the city’s initial battle with COVID-19. Partiers were skewered and scorned on social media, socially shamed for their shameful socializing and bragging about it.
Last summer, I took revelers partying on Fire Island to task for ignoring COVID-19 New York State orders, including social distancing and mask-wearing. Speedo-clad hunks selfishly unprotected, crammed together, putting themselves, their friends and their families at risk for the virus. Equally, the attendees were lambasted for their inconsiderate behavior and being verbose about it.
Now, here we stand, the virus exploding across the country, new mutations developing, vaccines stalled, hospitals’ ICUs overflowing, health care workers on the brink of collapse, morgues overrun, untold suffering, inexplicable loss — over 350,000 of our fellow Americans have perished, warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and other prominent physicians and government officials against traveling during the holidays and attending large gatherings since these get-togethers would be super-spreader events unleashing the virus once travelers returned to their communities.
Do you think that stopped haughty gay circuit partiers from congregating during the holidays? No, because their ship sailed to a country in similar dire straits, Mexico, and sank. A boat carrying some 60 gay partiers off the coast of Puerto Vallarta took a nosedive into the ocean. The men on the boat swaggered about the mishap, comparing it to the sinking of the Titanic. Really? Seriously?
Everyone survived, unlike in the Titanic disaster that killed nearly 1,500 people, and presumably everyone survived — at least for the moment — a pseudo-White Party, the New Year’s Eve circuit party held in Jalisco, Mexico, all while flouting that country’s COVID-19 regulations.
We’ve all probably had it with these egomaniacal, egocentric, egregious partygoers, and I hate to waste column space talking about them as much as I hate wasting it with Donald Trump, because they’re just like him, all about themselves, yearning for attention and adulation, boasting obnoxiously about being obnoxious, and then complaining when people start pointing fingers.
A report that aired on ABC's Good Morning America this week talked about the proliferation of COVID vigilante sites, primarily on Instagram. These image-centric pages and accounts offer snapshots and videos of those who are willfully disregarding the public ordinances and protocols designed to protect communities from COVID-19. It’s not just the gays, of course. There are many. However, the ABC report featured the boat capsizing in Mexico, without mentioning that it was full of maskless gay swashbucklers.
Even The New York Times is being called out by a gay couple for linking to a photo of the duo at what is sure to be a super-spreader, the New Year’s Eve bash at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago. The maskless men are shown almost suffocating Trump sycophant Rudy Giuliani in a photo that was posted to one of the pair’s public Instagram page and to a public Facebook account. The men claim to have had threats to their lives as a result of the Times linking the story to the public accounts.
But once this couple returned to New York, might they have been in the process of infecting others by their throw-caution-to-the-wind behavior at Mar-a-Lago? Their right to party unabated and unmasked putting their friends and neighbors at risk? Are they just as guilty as Trump and the gay gang in Mexico? Why are they posting these incriminating pictures to a public account? They were flaunting their whereabouts, gasping for attention and adulation, lapping it up — literally — with Giuliani, all in a vain attempt to say “Look at me, look at me, look at me!”
The fact of the matter is that most of us might be guilty of promoting ourselves on social media. Pictures with your kids, nieces and nephews, dogs and friends are fine, but a line is definitely crossed when you’re doing so while engaging in risky — or illegal — behavior.
And in the case of the Mar-a-Lago couple, was the ridicule they encountered more about the company they were keeping and less about the rules they were flouting? Trump and his associates are mostly persona non grata in the LGBTQ+ community, and being immodest about an association with that crowd — and doing so without wearing a mask — is a double cardinal sin.
But do these carousers even care that we don’t care for their behavior? Does this prompt another reckoning with the pros and cons of social shaming? Is calling out these violators only giving them the attention that they seek and crave? Will it change their attitudes and make them less about “me and I” and more about “us and we”? Probably not, but maybe there’s hope on the horizon.
Perhaps one thing we can wish for this year about Trump and his ilk — that includes the boastful couple and the gay merrymakers — is that their selfish turns in the spotlight become less relevant and looked at as more grotesque and passé. Will having a sense of decency become the predominant boast during 2021? Trends of kindness and gentleness in the age of COVID-19?
Selfish people will always be among us, and perhaps Trump did bring out the worst in them through his behavior, which others loathsomely felt free to mimic during these last four years. But could he have also laid the table for the downfall of the arrogant? When he disappears, will shirking masks, giving the finger to social distancing, caring only about yourself and being braggadocious about all of it be seen as vulgar? Will thinking about the greater good, exuding humbleness, and showing compassion be the order of the day?
We have a new administration coming soon, led by Joe Biden, who by all accounts is a noble individual, with a history of empathy and honesty, and who will begin to not only fix a broken country but set the tone on how we behave. But it shouldn’t be all on Biden’s shoulders to get people to change. It’s on all of us.
Perhaps it was only fitting that while we await the hopefulness of Biden’s swearing-in, we hear the final, selfless message of the late Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek, whose last episodes will air this week. The beloved Trebek, who knew his days were numbered, poignantly said, "I'd like you to open up your hands and open up your heart to those who are still suffering because of COVID-19. People who are suffering through no fault of their own. We're trying to build a gentler, kinder society. And if we all pitch in, just a little bit, we're gonna get there."
John Casey is editor at large for The Advocate.