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    The circle will come around / You’re gonna put yourself / In my place

    Mrs. du Toit asked a question in a comment the other day:

    [Jim McGreevey] cheated on his wife, committed fraud against the people he took an oath to protect and represent, lied about the lover because he was going to blow the whistle on him (making him the scapegoat for his fraud), and I’m supposed to be happy for the guy because he “came out”?

    The question was rhetorical, but a friend (who has to remain nameless) obligingly sent a message that constitutes a reply, anyway:

    The McGreevey mess illustrates classic tribalism at work. He is GAY, so he must be GOOD. The fact that he offends people (not necessarily because he’s gay) gives him that kewl countercultural cachet that is a must for an icon.

    Well, that’s not the only issue, at least for the gay press. Coming out–being a private decision that, when added to those of others, can have a cumulative public effect–is an ethically thorny subject. The attempt to understand why other gays live differently is laudable, but it often devolves into the making of ethical allowances the same commentator wouldn’t under other circumstances.

    It’s all very well to point out that the social changes of the last three decades were not in effect when men and women who are now around 50 and over were coming of age. Anyone who remembers how to subtract is aware of that. But an important component of personal liberty is self-criticism and self-awareness. It would be nice to see it also pointed out, occasionally, that gay liberation did not happen on some planet that guys like McGreevey haven’t traveled to.

    I don’t fault people who believe their homosexuality is sinful, and try not to act on it, for keeping it hidden. Nor do I think there’s anything wrong with being gay but thinking your sexuality is your own private business and not something you discuss. It’s safe to say, however, that people who think in those ways are not the ones who end up coming out in front of a press conference and expecting everyone to read it as bravery.

    And while I’m on the subject of coming-out-related lameness: another group that routinely drives me around the bend is the “I would come out to my parents if only…” crowd. These are not people who are on the fence about their sexuality. These are not people who have fathers who threatened to get out the shotgun if one of their sons turned out to be a faggot. These are not people who have mothers who are dying of cancer and can’t take any shocks. These are people who know they’re gay, who never have any intention of being anything but gay, and who take advantage of all the conveniences of urban gay life.

    Trust me–it’s not as if I were the type to ask whether and why someone isn’t out to his parents. It’s not any of my business. But if you’re going to volunteer that you’re still closeted and justify it with some face-saving rationalization, try to choose one that actually saves face for you. Hint: “See, my parents still give me some of the money I live on, and I’m afraid they’ll cut me off if they find out I’m gay” does not save face for you. My primarily straight readership may be interested to know that I hear that one constantly, from people around or even over my age, in complete expectation that I’ll be all understanding.

    Well, sorry. Just as being perpetually broke and living on your friends’ couches makes you charmingly raffish at 20 and a loser at 50–even though there’s no single point on the gradient in between when you clearly stop being one and start being the other–not coming out is perfectly understandable when you’ve only known you’re gay for a few years and ridiculous when you’ve known you’re gay for a decade. Once again, I’m not talking about those who treat their sexuality, consistently in word and deed, as a private matter. I’m talking about the ones who bitch about how our activists are handling the marriage issue, who complain about places where domestic partner benefits are lacking, and who expect friends to recognize their relationships. These are people who clearly think they should be out but also want to wait until it’s risk-free.

    “But,” I’m sometimes told, “it’s easy for you, because your parents are understanding.” Uh, yeah, and do you know how I found out my parents are understanding? By coming out at 23 and dealing with the consequences. I was actually close to 100% convinced that they’d disown me–not because they’re nasty but because they’re strictly religious, and I assumed they’d feel obliged not to countenance a way of life they thought was a sin. No longer getting them to supplement my grad school stipend was not the thing I was most worried about, but it did cross my mind. My plan if they withdrew their support, which I persist in thinking was rather clever, was to spend less money.*

    Getting back to the McGreevey case, it’s possible that his wife decided that, while their daughter needs her father around, she herself doesn’t want to be married to a man who isn’t bonded to her as she thought he was. It doesn’t strike me as the most likely of the possible scenarios, but it’s not unlikely, either. In any case, people who are initially sorry only about getting caught often do, if they have a conscience, learn to be genuinely remorseful about what they’ve done to themselves and those around them. (Screwing over an entire state of 10 million people is, of course, in a very special class of doings.) Putting McGreevey in a position of giving other people guidance seems to me not to be getting the order quite right, though.

    * I suppose a truly honest account here would include the information that I didn’t manage my credit cards so hot while I was in my mid-20’s, but I paid everything off in a few years and don’t carry any debt now besides a little left on my student loans.

    11 Responses to “The circle will come around / You’re gonna put yourself / In my place”

    1. I don’t remember my brother “coming out” but I suspect he must have made some sort of official declaration at some point. I do remember him being surprised that I knew (I was about 12 or 13). He was even more surprised that it didn’t affect me at all. I think a lot of this fear exists in the person’s head.
      I know, only from hindsight, that it was at first an issue for my mother, but not for any of the stereotypical reasons. She was concerned that she’d never get grand children!
      That said, and this comes back to a point you and I have have discussed a number of times, is that it is crazy to have one set of standards for one group, and another “well it must be tough to be gay” so we’ll cut you some slack on standards.
      It’s a form of bigotry. Gay people are perfectly capable of being moral, upstanding citizens. If McGreedy had an affair with a woman, putting her on the payroll and cheating on his wife, I’d have the EXACT same reaction.
      I do not… cannot get… that we should treat McGreedy differently because he’s gay. He was a selfish, irresponsible prick who found it convenient to have a wife to hide the fact that he was gay, couldn’t live up to the agreement he’d made to his wife so had affairs, but he could advance a career in government by looking like the perfect husband. He used everyone around him, not caring one iota that he was living a lie. Classic narcissist who has no business in public service.
      That fact that gay activists would choose this charlatan as a spokesman does not surprise me one bit. Maintain the lie that gay people are incapable of living up to standards and they remain perpetual victims of society and the group maintains their membership.

    2. Nathan says:

      All good and interesting thoughts, but my main reaction as I’m reading this was that, despite being a homophobe who wants to throw homosexuals into concentration camps where we beastly straights will still ban gay marriage, I can’t imagine ever making any portion or expression of my love for my children be contingent on any aspect of their sexuality. It’s such a weird idea, it almost strikes me as a non-sequitor.

    3. Mrs. du Toit says:

      I can sort of understand it, Nathan, but I agree with your sentiments on principle.
      We found out my son had “special needs” when he was about three years old. It wasn’t that I loved him any less–nothing could change how much I love him. But it was about concern for how he’d get through life with this difficulty. It was not going to make life easy for him and in many respects he became an outcast in some circles. Even now that he’s 14 and the problems are difficult to spot (unless you’re keenly aware of autism’s symptoms) it is very difficult for him to make friends with kids his own age.
      It’s made life a little complicated and a little lonely for him. I would have *wished* otherwise for him.
      Parents want their kids to be happy, have as easy a life as possible (“easy” not lazy), have a wonderful relationship, good friends, and fit in without being a sell out.
      Finding out that a child is gay or lesbian would take some getting used to–expectations and your picture of what their life could be would change with time, but love them less? Impossible. Some parents just need a little time to adjust to a future they hadn’t pictured.

    4. Sean Kinsell says:

      I guess I should clarify this before I end up inadvertently slandering my parents, who are two of my favorite people: I didn’t expect them to stop loving me. But I grew up in the kind of church in which disfellowship (or even excommunication in extreme cases) was used fairly frequently for people who stopped living in accordance with doctrine. It was also the sort of religion into which most people weren’t born; members tended, like my parents and their friends, to be converts, and in many cases, converting had caused family rifts.
      What I’m trying to say is, my use of the word disown probably wasn’t very well-advised; I meant more that I figured they’d feel the need to stop being in steady contact with me because choosing the church over your biological family wasn’t uncommon.

    5. Kris says:

      While I agree with both of you – the guy’s a proven liar (not just socially, but politically, which has more weight with me) with enormously bad judgement, I do have to say that personally I can forgive some failings as long as they are wholly within the private realm. McG’s big scandal, to me, is that he brought his guy-pal onto the public rolls. If he’d just been fooling around with some private citizen and come clean, I’d say it was none of our business.
      Oh, and being upset your son is gay because you won’t have grandkids, while a natural reaction, is actually also cliche.
      Some of my other favorite cliches:
      “So I suppose you want to be a woman now?”
      “I’m just sad because I don’t want you to live a lonely life/you’ll die alone/you’ll never find a companion”
      “Maybe you just haven’t found the right girl”
      And when I told her, my Mom hit them all. She always was an over-achiever.

    6. Mrs. du Toit says:

      heh I won’t say it, but I thought it.

    7. Nathan says:

      I don’t know. Maybe it was because the first realization for me that my sister was gay (awkward tense: she still is, but I’m talking about the past realization. Sheesh!) I just got back from visiting her. She had a female roommate. While at her place, I had been talking about some girls I had been thinking about dating, one of my other sisters was pregnant, and so I asked her about family and kids. She said, yeah, sure, but it wasn’t worth the compromises of personality. Fine.
      So I’m telling a college friend (who incidentally was an old family friend from WAY back) about that conversation, and in the middle of the conversation it hits me: single woman in her 30s, never dates guys, has a female roommate who moved from Montana to Texas with her…bingbingbingbing! I have a lesbian sister. I blink, tell my friend, shrug, and then continue with my conversation about the great weekend I had with my sis.
      It just didn’t matter. Being the youngest, my older siblings were monolithic presences in my life. I could no more question her decisions of sexuality than I could question why California had become a state or Krakatoa had erupted.
      Had I found out in a different way, maybe it would have made a difference.
      It certainly helped me be much more matter-of-fact when different guys used some fairly crude methods to try to hit on me.
      So I’d say my views on homosexuality pretty much mirror what you expressed, Mrs. du Toit.
      Maybe the biggest difference: I’m still convinced it’s a conscious or unconscious choice…at worst, the delayed manifestation of years of choices made both by the individual and others who may have a deliberate or accidental effect on the individual’s sexual development.
      For what it’s worth, anyway…

    8. Sean Kinsell says:

      So when guys come on to you, do you matter-of-factly tell them you’re going to get your dyke sister to beat them up?

    9. Maria says:

      Oh, how very interesting, Nathan… Perhaps that explains why my parents seemed kind of weird about me helping my friend, Anne, move from Minneapolis to Tucson several years ago. It was strictly a platonic relationship, with both of us being happy heterosexuals. Of which, I still am. Were my parents concerned that we were lovers? We were both 26. Both of us were/are liberal progressives with gay friends… So, I helped Anne drive her U-haul trailer at the end of December through the mountains to Tucson, and she paid for me to fly home. I was a poor undergrad at the time. Is that really so weird? My parents never said anything negative to me about it. But, I was used to them being more supportive about my adventures with my friends. We made an unexpected stop at the Grand Canyon, which was a surprise that Anne gave me, but it was just a gift from a good friend. Who knows? My parents, and anyone else for that matter, can think what they want. I know who I am. So, I tend to get real close to both my male and female friends. But, that doesn’t mean I’m having sex, or wanting to have sex, with them… Whatever.

    10. Nathan says:

      Um, I was unclear: they lived together in Montana, then they both sought and found jobs in Texas and moved there together.
      There’s more I didn’t tell you, like, my sister didn’t date a male from age 19 to age 34 at that point; about waking up with the phone ringing and seeing my sister’s friend sit up in their bed without a shirt or bra on (she was in her 40s and it wasn’t a titillating experience for me [pun intended]); the fact that my sister brought her friend to all family get-togethers…I’m sure I was the last person in the family to realize it, but once I realized it, it was far more than a suspicion, it fit all the facts that I had never put together.
      …the most interesting part is that while she still considers herself gay, it would probably be more accurate to characterize her as merely “not-heterosexual”, in that she apparently has decided that a homosexual relationship is not healthy for her, and so lives alone. I can’t say “non-sexual”, but she seems to have rejected homosexuality with nearly the same totality as she rejected heterosexuality.
      Obviously, things like this have had profound impacts on my view of homosexuality.
      Nah, while my sister wasn’t a lipstick lesbian, she also could never be considered a dyke.
      Another point I’d like to make, Sean, is that you are the first openly homosexual friend who hasn’t incessantly and persistently tried to flirt. I’ve had to end every homosexual friendship I’ve had before, because they couldn’t resist making me feel uncomfortable with constant overt sexual references and flirting. Which is one of the reasons I’ve always had a lot of sympathy for sexual harassment claims…

    11. Sean Kinsell says:

      What’s funny about that, Nathan, is that my reputation is for flirting with everything that’s not nailed down. (There’s probably a better way to put that, but I trust you know what I mean.) Obviously, I’d never say anything I thought there was a danger of your interpreting as a serious sexual advance; is that what you mean by “flirting”? I only ask because I don’t think I tease you any less than I do other friends.
      And since you brought it up–I hope I can put this in an inoffensive way–I think a lot of straight guys like to be easy-going and accommodating toward their gay friends in a way that can backfire. So some gay guy hits on them, and they’re like, “Dude, you know, I’m really flattered that you find me attractive…and I think it’s great that you’ve found your sexual identity and stuff, and, you know, I can kind of see sometimes, like, you see a guy who’s really got magnetism, and you think, heh, yeah, I could probably do him! You know? But I mean, I’m straight, right? So just…I’m sorry, I just…but anyway, you know I’m here for you if you need me for anything–anything at all. Right, pal?” Straight Friend thinks he’s found the nicest possible way to say, “I will never sleep with you.” But to Gay Guy, it comes out more like, “Keep pushing! I’m malleable!”
      To be clear here, I have no idea whether any of this applies to Nathan. Additionally, it’s as caddish for a gay man as for a straight man to keep hitting on someone who’s made it clear he’s not interested. But maybe because hetero guys aren’t used to being the ones who get hit on, a lot of them don’t seem to know how to refuse politely but decisively. They end up sounding coy and looking confused, which is the worst idea imaginable.
      So Nathan, if you haven’t sworn off off-line gay friends entirely, you might consider doing what we do. If someone you’re not interested in comes on to you, you say, “No, thank you,” levelly, but with a look of slightly molten regret (to indicate that you don’t just think you’re too hot to bother with him). If there’s a hand on your knee, you grasp it from behind the palm (to avoid looking as if you were taking his hand in yours) and lay it on his own thigh. Then you change the subject. If he persists, or if the method of hitting-on was skeevy to begin with, you say, “Sorry, not interested.” Your expression is one of those deals where you smile regretfully with your mouth, but your eyes have a very vaguely quizzical, distasteful look, as if you’d just noticed a cockroach crawling across the bar but didn’t want to embarrass anyone by pointing it out. And if he keeps at you, the next step is a good shove while saying, “Look, buddy, I already told you!” I’ve never been in a situation when it got worse from there, though I’ve pushed a few drunk, horny idiots hard enough to knock them off balance. Anyway, the important thing is, by this point, you have to stop acting even the slightest bit apologetic, even–maybe especially–if it’s a long-time friend. We have to remember that not every radiantly sexy guy is available for a romp just as assuredly as straight men have to remember the same about women in lace camisoles and micro-minis.