Mouse rant blog vent mouse.

Friday, August 13, 2004

The closet

Steve kicks McGreevey's ass for being such a closet case and screwing things up for so many people. I have to admit that what he says here pretty much echoes my thoughts when I first heard all this go down, that if McGreevey hadn't been so hell-bent on wielding the force of the closet to further his political career, none of this would have happened. But then I just moved on from that thought and onto how angry I am that people's sex lives have officially become source material for smear campaigns in the wake of Clinton's $50 million blow job.

But this post got me to thinking about the good old closet all over again. Now that huge numbers of us boring old straight people are aligning ourselves with the cause of gay rights, even if only by supporting them, the dynamics of the closet seem to be changing. Gay rights are not perceived as a special interest thing at all anymore, but are part of the larger dialogue of liberal values on sexual matters and civil rights. The recent push to out congressional staffers who were gay but working for politicians who were fighting gay marriage caused a lot of confusion. The common wisdom that advises against outing the closeted against their will clashed with the growing realization that we must hold accountable those hypocrites who wield sexual "morality" for political gain while indulging in the forbidden sexual behaviors. (This applies to straight people as well, of course. Witness the shaking down of the long list of Republicans who like to unwind after a long day of chastising liberals for lack of family values by indulging in a bit of adultery or humiliating the wife by demanding public sex.)

To add to the confusion, a lot of well-meaning people who aren't familiar with the complexities of the closet couldn't understand why, say, a person can pose for a gay magazine and still be considered closeted at work. Believe me--many well-meaning boring straight people think the closet is something you are in or out of and maybe haven't considered at all that for gays and lesbians it's a constant issue. After all, straight is the standard; people are assumed to be straight until they prove otherwise. For someone who is homosexual, every new person has to be felt out a little before revealing any telling details. There's no reason to provoke a spittle-throwing homophobe if you can help it. I realize that there will always be those who think that it's downright immoral not to constantly advance the cause of gay rights by being out to everyone, immediately. But in the real world, everyone holds back at times, if only to preserve his or her sanity, but usually for even bigger reasons, like keeping a job or not getting into it with a scary person.

To add even more confusion to the dynamics of the closet, like so many other bigotries, homophobia has gotten a spit-shine. For everyone bug-eyed homophobe screaming about sodomy and going to hell and whatnot, there are probably 10 homophobes who claim that they don't have a problem with gay people, oh no. They just wish that "they wouldn't rub my face in it". It's a nice-sounding rhetorical device. They aren't asking gays to skulk in the closet like shamefaced perverts. Oh no, this is about sexual privacy, which is something we can all agree is a good thing, right? You don't invite the neighbors over to watch your love-making, after all. (Unless you are a Republican married to a TV star, of course.) It all sounds good and sweet until you start pestering the "don't rub my face in it" people about what exactly they consider "rubbing their face in it". And then the list comes out--talking about a same-sex partner in familiar terms or at all, calling a partner by a name like husband, boyfriend, partner, exhibiting what the speaker thinks is an over-the-top gay mannerism which is often usually nothing noteworthy at all to the less paranoid, etc. Basically, anything at all that might remind the homophobe that the person he/she is speaking to is gay. Which is a long, roundabout way of telling people they need to go back into the closet.

(I usually handle people who make this annoying "don't rub my face in it" argument by pointing out the myriad of tells about them that show their straightness. Everything from wallet pictures to a wedding ring are good things to point to.)

All this is a long way of saying that despite the rapid growth of tolerance in our society, gays and lesbians are still in an untenable position with regards to the closet in so many ways. There is constant pressure from most straight people to stay in the closet in one way or another. On top of that, there is still a good chance that homosexuality will be an impediment to career movement. And of course, there are still tons of insecure thugs out there who cruise around looking for an opportunity to gay-bash. On the other hand, the pro-gay rights side is quickly losing any tolerance at all for the closet cases. Admit it; closet cases are irritating. Anyone who's had a friend who lingers in the closet, especially one who dates members of the opposite sex, knows that it's intensely frustrating. I've seen a couple people draw out fraudulent hetero relationships for years before coming out.

But I've never been really angry about it, and it's not because I'm a big ol' PC-er. If there was no money issues or marriage or children, it's pretty easy to just blame the closet altogether and get on with it. But I've also had friends who were dumped by someone who decided to come out after the marriage, money or children and that is harder to justify. Yes, society is homophobic and you are the victim of it and you have all my sympathy. But there's just not an excuse good enough to justify dragging more people into an ugly situation.

After carefully thinking about it, though, it becomes clear that pointing fingers and ranking which closet case is more despicable than another is a waste of time. Yes, someone like McGreevey did the wrong thing by marrying and having children when it was all a big lie and he shouldn't hide behind liberal sympathy for gays to dodge responsibility for his actions. That doesn't change the fact that people like him wouldn't be hiding in the closet and causing trouble for themselves and everyone around them if there wasn't a closet to begin with. Hopefully this whole situation will illustrate to people around the country who might not have been fully aware of what the closet really is and how it destroys lives. I fully intend to make that part of everything I say to people when this subject comes up--that as long as there is a closet, this is bound to happen. Maybe some more of those boring straight people who don't quite get it will begin to see how much damage it causes when you ask people to put on a facade.

53 Comments:

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was a wonderful essay.

I am not in the position to opine about the state of McGreevey's soul, and I don't know the circumstances of his marriages.

In this culture that says that you can be ex-gay if only you try hard enough and pray hard enough, it can be pretty hard to reject the hope that you can be cured with the right opposite-sex relationship. It can be pretty hard to accept that being gay is good enough in God's eyes, let alone in anyone else's eyes. You can hide in marriage and/or overachieve at work to avoid coming to home truths.

It's possible that McGreevey is a cynical jerk. It's possible that he's never been able to accept being gay without a sense of shame, never been able to look at his life with clarity. We don't know.

8/14/2004

 
Blogger Mary Garth said...

I'm not sure it's fair to say that "McGreevey did the wrong thing by marrying and having children when it was all a big lie..."

Sexual orientation isn't necessarily either-or--he may well have been attracted to his wives as well as to men, he may have wanted those children and may be a very good father to them, and at least one thing I've read on the story suggested that the current wife knew that he was gay and so--with her, at least if that is true--there was no big lie and the arrangement (whatever it was) was consensual (although he may still have been out of bounds in having an affair, if that wasn't part of their agreement).

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