Of course, these homophobic jokes are themselves somewhat misogynistic. Trump is the butt of Colbert’s joke because he is the one performing oral sex on Putin, rather than the other way around. The indignity Trump suffers comes from being feminized, from assuming the role that a woman usually fills. Indeed, this is why many scholars and (more recently) courts have suggested that homophobia is rooted in sex discrimination: From an anti-gay perspective, by playing this “passive” role, a gay man betrays his place in the gender hierarchy by doing what a woman should do. Being assigned the female role comes with baggage — it means that Trump is incompetent, powerless and controlled by Putin.
Some might claim that the humor lies not in insinuating the two presidents’ homosexuality, but rather in their reaction to our insinuation. We can imagine that both of these men, who emphasize their machismo and who are no friends to the LGBT community, would object to being called gay. So what we’re laughing at is not the joke itself, but their imagined reaction to it. Rather than being homophobic ourselves, we’re laughing at the unenlightened homophobia of the jokes’ targets.
It’s difficult to take that defense at face value: The same behaviors that are deemed acceptable for gay men become the subject of nervous giggles and humorous discomfort when it comes to straight men, even among progressives who are otherwise fully supportive of gay relationships. Unless one fully identifies as gay, being even just a little too intimate with another guy as a straight dude raises eyebrows.