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yvonne abraham

In defense of the yoga pants guy

 A group organized to parade past the Rhode Island house of a man who criticized women wearing yoga pants in public.
A group organized to parade past the Rhode Island house of a man who criticized women wearing yoga pants in public.Jim Davis/globe staff

I can’t believe I’m doing this, but: I’d like to defend the yoga pants guy.

Alan Sorrentino says he wrote his now-infamous letter to the editor of The Barrington Times, the one decrying the wearing of yoga pants by women over 20, as a joke. He’s written other funny letters, like the one complaining his beach was getting too crowded: “On smeltering days finding a parking space will be a reel haddock . . . Someone should call the carps. I feel so kelpless.”

Puntastic! He says he thought last week’s letter would make people laugh, too. “To all yoga pants wearers,” he wrote. “I struggle with my physicality as I age. I don’t want to struggle with yours.” Sorrentino said he was fed up with GOP nominee Donald Trump’s boorishness, and that he thought it would be funny to assume the character of somebody like him.

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His Rhode Island neighbors didn’t get the joke (and to be fair, the humor was hard to spot). Folks are extra touchy right now. Trump’s misogyny has women, and many men, incensed. They will not be told what to wear, or whether their looks are up to par. Sorrentino thought the mad extremes of this season made his letter amusing. His critics thought they made it anything but.

First came death threats. We know where you live, callers told Sorrentino, because the paper had printed his full address. Cars slowed down outside his house, and yoga-pantsed passers-by stopped to taunt him.

Barrington resident Jamie Burke, appalled at the letter, organized a protest for Sunday, setting a route that went right by Sorrentino’s house. The story was picked up by national and international outlets. The idea of hundreds of women (and their supporters) parading along in spandex seemed like a fun respite from the ugliness of this campaign — but it also spoke to its essence.

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Sorrentino wasn’t having fun, though. Here he was, a 63-year-old Democrat and Hillary Clinton supporter, and a gay one at that, being cast as a Trumpist neanderthal. His partner Charlie and his roommate were upset with him.

Sorrentino contacted John DePetro, a conservative local radio host who has gotten into hot water over his own attitudes toward women. DePetro railed against the violation of Sorrentino’s free speech rights. His critics saw the alliance as proof of Sorrentino’s malicious intent.

On the other side, organizer Jamie Burke said the parade wasn’t really about Sorrentino, and that she’d heard second-hand that he was even on board with the protest, until DePetro got involved. If the letter was really a joke, Burke said, “then he should have joined us. It would have gone so, so differently.” She called to invite him, but he angrily refused. Sorrentino hotly denies that he was ever in on the joke, saying he felt threatened all along. (A neighbor I spoke to backs him up.)

On Sunday morning, Sorrentino was out on the sidewalk, washing away chalk on the pavement directing protesters to his home. That afternoon, after putting up a sign that read “Free Speech,” he retreated to the back of the house and waited for it to be over.

The parade was delightful. The sight of spandex-clad legs of all ages and sizes roaming free was beautiful and empowering. But it would have been just as much so if they had not gone right by Sorrentino’s home.

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These are tense times. Our political differences have become personal. People make ugly attacks on those with whom they disagree, drawing their private lives into the debate; they broadcast the addresses and other personal details of people they find objectionable.

We ought to steer well clear of that abyss, no matter what side we’re on. Sorrentino should be able to say whatever he likes — even if it’s a lousy, offensive attempt at humor — without fear of protesters marching down his street.

To make that point, he says he’s penned another letter filled with unwelcome fashion advice for women. I urged him not to make it public, but he seems determined.

It’s a free country, after all.


Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com.