Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Senator Larry Craig

Between innings of the Red Sox game (bunch of sorry-assed losers), I determined that the only news of the day as far as CNN was concerned was Sen. Craig. I caught James Carville saying that he has sympathy for Sen. Craig's family and professional associates, but has no sympathy for the Senator.

I don't entirely agree. I have about two percent sympathy for him. Many years ago I probably would have had more. Back in high school, we had to do senior projects, and a friend of mine, a hard core heterosexual, decided to make his an anthropological study of a "tea room," a public restroom in Pittsfield Massachusetts where men sought furtive and anonymous sex with each other. I was a bit surprised to hear that such a phenomenon existed, but on the other hand, it made perfect sense that men who had sex with men would do it furtively and probably under degrading conditions. You just couldn't be gay, there was no such thing. I have figured out that some of my schoolmates were gay, but it was definitely a secret at the time. It had to be.

The Stonewall uprising happened in 1969, before I got to college, and I remember being vaguely aware of it. While I was in college, I saw the very beginning of the coming out movement. One of my classmates pioneered it at Swarthmore with a letter to the student newspaper. I remember some of my friends being outraged and disgusted. Once again, I figured out later that some of my friends and acquaintances were gay, but they kept it buried deep. After Stonewall, things changed very slowly.

After graduating, I lived in Washington D.C. for a year or so on two occasions, a year apart. In both years, I was in charge of stage security for Washington's Gay Pride celebration. It is rather astonishing that a straight man with no particular engagement with the gay community would end up in that position, but it was because of my friendship with Bob Belanger, a pioneering gay activist. Bob was one of the early members of the Washington D.C. Mattachine Society, which was founded in 1961. It was a secret society, whose members were required -- not urged, but required -- to use aliases. It was named after a secret society of the Rennaisance, whose members wore masks.

I met Bob working on organizing various national demonstrations against U.S. intervention in Central America, nuclear power, etc. Sometimes we'd drink together in one of Dupont Circle's integrated gay/straight bars. Yup, they had 'em then. Dupont Circle was a separate universe. Bob always spoke reverently of D.C. Mattachine founder Frank Kameny, but in doing a little quick fact checking for this post, I discovered that Bob actually displaced Kameny as Mattachine president in 1964. I don't know what the issues were, but I suspect that Bob wanted to be less covert and more assertive.

Bob told me that they had mailed a copy of their newsletter to J. Edgard Hoover, and that Hoover responded with a personal letter simply asking them not to send him the newsletter and never to contact him again. Hoover and Roy Cohn were two well-known people of that era whose personal lives were unambiguously gay -- Hoover in a life-long committed relationship, Cohn an extravagantly promiscuous sybarite -- and whose public activities consisted largely of persecuting pinkos, homos, and in Hoover's case uppity negroes. Hoover was in a unique position to get away with it because of his immense power, and Cohn had powerful friends. But both men's lives were tissues of lies.

They are archetypes for the homosexual gay bashers who are heavily represented in the ranks of the Republican Party and the Christian right. Along with self-hatred, manifested in insistent, conspicuous public activism, comes hard-core ideological conservatism in every domain, and self-righteous sanctimony.

Since then, it has steadily become more and more possible for gay people to live honestly. Here in Massachusetts we have a gay member of Congress, gay legislators, and a gay man in a high position in state government, all out and even in some cases married.

The news obviously hasn't made it to Idaho yet, but Craig has spent the past two decades in Washington D.C. He has plenty of examples of gay men who can be themselves both privately and publicly and still succeed in the world and be accepted. That is not, however, consistent with being a Senator from Idaho, or at least Craig doesn't think it is and he is probably right. But he betrays himself, people like himself, and humanity by not only denying himself, but working aggressively and publicly to promote bigotry and discrimination, and force others into the closet with him. Fear, shame, self-loathing -- I'm sure he feels all of those. But there's only one way out, and that is the path of truth.

This recent epidemic of outing of this particular class of suffering hypocrites is obviously healthy. It may just set some of their followers to thinking about the matter anew, and help speed the day when gay bashing as a political strategy is a spent force. As for Sen. Craig, I doubt there is any hope for him, but he should consider that if he believes homosexuality is sinful, he knows that lying is as well. Two wrongs don't make a right, and maybe, just maybe, if he starts to live honestly, he'll realize that it isn't wrong after all.

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