Tuesday, June 14, 2011

On outing and hypocrisy*

*In which we expose our own hypocrisy by outing others

Okay, so it's so common it's not even a funny cliche anymore: a legislator who uses his virulently anti-gay leanings to mask his own homosexual proclivities. Most recently, it's New York State Senator Carl Kruger, who railed against gay marriage during the day and entertained a male lover by night (and who has since changed his vote on gay marriage). Previous offenders have included Larry "Wide Stance" Craig, Ted "Sexual Immorality" Haggard, and Mark "Pageboy" Foley.

Now, in the wake of Kruger's outing, Salon ponders whether "outing" someone is okay as long as it's a conservative, closeted politician--"… reporting on a politician's sexual orientation serves the public interest," says column author Alex Pareene. I couldn't agree less.

I'm unequivocally opposed to outing anyone--even schmuck bastard bigoted closeted politicians. Sexual orientation is something personal and private, not something you do but something you are, and the exposure or concealment of said orientation is no one else's business. We talk about homosexuality as being natural and nothing to be afraid or ashamed of, but we're frequently comfortable using it as a weapon against political opponents--when we say we're trying to "expose their hypocrisy," usually what we mean is we're trying to punish them, using the secret shame that any other day we'd insist shouldn't be secretive or shameful.

Note to us: Either homosexuality is shameful or it isn't. If it isn't, we shouldn't be using it as a weapon. We'd never justify the outing of a gay teenager or adult to settle a score, so it doesn't make sense to arbitrarily justify it for a closeted congressman--even an anti-gay hypocrite--who's obviously keeping his sexual orientation secret for a reason.

It's not even a matter of a politician's right to a private life. It's well established that the things a public figure does in his or her private life--taking money from private interests, hiding secret second families, covering up children's youthful crimes--do have some relevance in the public sphere. An elected official whose personal interests conflict with the best interests of their constituency, or who tries to place him or herself above the law, is of questionable character. But if we're going to insist that homosexuality isn't a deviance on par with those other things, we can't then pull it out to score political points.

While the aforementioned public figures could stop doing what they're doing--come clean about their interactions with lobbyists, confess to their hidden families and stay faithful to their marriage vows, step back and allow justice to run its course--our rhetorical Senator Gay can't just stop being gay. And while it would be nice if he would, like Carl Kruger or Ted Haggard, eventually find peace with it and stop advocating for hurtful and hateful legislation, that's a lot to overcome for someone steeped so deeply in evangelical Christian dogma.

Does that make it okay for such people to continue their anti-gay crusades? Of course not. That can't continue. But it does lead us to question his motivations: What would make one gay man push legislation and social policy that directly persecute all gay people?

Let's say our Senator Gay isn't just wide-stance gay, he's the worst kind of gay--the kind who actually falls in love and has a deep emotional connection with another man. Why would he try to limit the rights of other people like him? Well, we can guess he doesn't expect to ever be revealed and that he isn't planning to ever come out of the closet himself--otherwise, he wouldn't be salting the earth of a community he hoped to someday join. His rabidity in pursuing an anti-gay agenda could be a way of taking out his personal shame and self-hatred on the people he sees who share his "sin"; an effort to assure people of his purported straightness by gay-bashing; or other; or both and other.

What does he have to lose if he lets go of the guilt and the shame and the lies to open himself up to his constituency? His job, for one--if he's not convincingly straight, his constituents will turn on him and he'll lose the lifestyle to which he's become accustomed. And then fuck him, right? I mean that sincerely--if he's putting his leased Mercedes M-Class above the very lives of more than a million gay Americans, fuck him directly in the ear.

But it could be more than that. (For most people, it would be at least a little more than just that.) He's probably got a wife--maybe someone he loves, even if he doesn't love her that way--and kids. An extended family, a church community. Religious conservatives tend to cocoon themselves with other religious conservatives, so chances are good that his outside connections don't extend much further than his secret boyfriend, leaving him with pretty much no support system if his people abandon him--which is likely to happen if he doesn't convince everyone around him that he's straight.

I'm not saying that Senator Gay has more to lose than any other closeted gay person--obviously, he doesn't. And I'm not saying he deserves even as much sympathy as any other closeted gay person, because most closeted gay people manage to deal with their feelings without fomenting persecution of an entire section of society. And I'm not saying that the loss he faces is anything compared to the loss he's trying to impose on so many other people. I'm just saying that when I see that kind of thing happening with a conservative lawmaker, I think about how I would feel if it were happening to a friend of mine, and then I wonder why it's supposed to be okay when it happens to this guy.

If using a person's sexual orientation to punish them is okay, then it's okay, and if it isn't, then it isn't. We can't allow ourselves to start denying basic human dignities to people based on who we think deserves punishment, and we can't use them to make a statement to the public without their consent. The only way to send the message that homosexuality really isn't shameful is to stop using it to shame people.


JoeSchmofromKokomo said...

It's not their sexual orientation we wish to expose, it's their hypocrisy.

ECR said...

But the closeted gay elected official (or the vocal anti-choicer who wants credit for her "choice" while denying it to others, or the representative who votes to slash insurance for children but then bitches about having to wait 30 days to get on the House's insurance) who is vocally anti-gay rights AND voting that way is also saying that homosexuality is worthy of punishment. They're displaying the very essence of the "do as I say, not as I do" mentality. Not to mention the fact that either he didn't give a shit, or he and his boyfriend are in such a position that the benefits of marriage wouldn't really pertain to them (unlike couples with children or shared property or who have unsupportive families and would need to legally protect the other's right to make decisions if one was incapacitated). That's a position of privilege--one that this man, by essence of his previous work blocking attempts to legalize gay marriage--apparently felt justified denying others.

The other thing, and this is the linchpin with me, like I said, is that elected officials by virtue of their position and our inexplicable comfort with letting politicians rule our private lives, make decisions that affect the personal lives of millions of people. We're supposed to tolerate their interference with what we may do, but at the same time not expose their hypocrisy when their private lives belie their public stances? I just can't get around that. This particular guy used his live-in boyfriend's mother as his beard. He wasn't out because he was married or couldn't accept his sexuality--he wasn't out because he was afraid he wouldn't get elected.

I'm also not really seeing this as a "punishment" thing. The man is gay; a fact that was apparently a well-known secret for years, which led some to wonder why he was so forceful in pursuing an anti-gay agenda. I wonder the same thing about elected officials. Hell, Pink wonders the same thing ("what kind of father would take his own daughters' rights away?")! Based on the facts, a case was presented that this man was in a long-term relationship with another man, living together even, and the question was raised why he was then so vehemently against gays getting married. I think the only reason "punishment" comes in is because he asserted that he was changing his vote. If he'd said "yeah, I dig dudes and I'm in a committed relationship but I still think marriage is between a man and a woman," people would have shaken their heads and felt confused, but what the hell, women walk in marches with the sole purpose to deny themselves rights to decisions about their own bodies, so what's one gay man saying he doesn't believe in gay marriage?

ACG said...

In cases like Carl Kruger, I definitely see where his sexual orientation comes into play. The man was living more or less like an out gay man, comfortably and without censure, while at the same time pushing repeatedly against legitimizing that same lifestyle for other gay people. Not knowing the situation intimately, I'm guessing using Dorothy Turano as a beard was largely ceremonial, and that he easily could have been open about his relationship with Michael Turano if it wouldn't have interfered with his scam.

I may be working from a different or more specific definition of "outing" as other people. To me, if Kruger's relationship is exposed during the course of his criminal investigation, it's fair game. It's evidence. It's germane. I see "outing" as exposing someone's sexual orientation absent other circumstances, because we've found something salacious that casts his political activities in a different light.

And that's where my objection comes in. If you're a conservative senator and you're saying that homosexuality is immoral and aberrant and worthy of punishment, and that gay people are going to hell, and then restraining your own acts to anonymous encounters in airport bathrooms and BJs from your meth dealer, that strikes me as a different situation--hating other people as much as you hate yourself isn't necessarily hypocritical. To me, it's the hatred, not the secret life, that's so unspeakably harmful.

But then, I tend to give people more credit than not-credit, and it's not unlikely that these people are simply unmitigated assholes and I'm trying my damnedest to find something redeemable. I'm that kind of person. It makes life hard sometimes.

Nicole Abdou said...

Love this! :-) Well said.
PS - Great meeting you today! I just knew your blog would be good!