*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.