All Worked Up about the Closet


I’m glad I’m not gay.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being gay. I’ve been advocating for gay rights and marriage equality both in my personal life and ever since I started this column back when we were chiseling our email messages onto stone tablets.

It’s not as if there haven’t been suspicions, either. More than one of my critics have accused me of being secretly gay, since I’m so obviously a “gay lover” by my writings. I suppose that should be a compliment to my persuasive skills. For that matter, I was called “faggot” a lot when I was a kid, because I was smaller and not as athletic as the other kids, and naturally that’s a tell-tale sign of latent homosexuality. Seriously. Focus On The Family’s website offers a test to allow worried parents to determine whether their children might be gay. Signs include whether a boy is more prone to be bullied than to be a bully, whether a boy is more likely to read books than be athletic, and whether a boy is quiet and studious. I once took that test and I must say I passed (or failed, as it may be), it with flying colors. One might even say it was a “rainbow” of colors, as it were.

The only thing that keeps me from completely embracing my homosexuality is the fact that I only want to have sex with women. Notwithstanding the opinions of James Dobson and several assorted punk bullies at Park Street Elementary School, I have to say that I’m reasonably certain I’m not gay, and I’m happy about that fact for two reasons.

First is the obvious fact that I love women. I mean, I LOVE everything about women. Eyes, hair, bodies, voices, skin, breasts, butts, vaginas, all of it.

Second, and more seriously, I think I’d have a hard time living with a very critical element of being homosexual, namely “The Closet.”

“The Closet” is, of course, a metaphor for the choice homosexuals have to make about their sexual identities. They can either be “out” of the closet and openly gay to their friends, families and the world in general and therefore risk ostracism, bigotry and homophobic violence from self-righteous assholes who can’t mind their own business, or they can be “in” the closet, deny their homosexuality, be safe from persecution by those bigots, and basically live a lie.

If I were gay, I don’t relish the prospect of having to make that choice. In or out? Paint a big red-and-blue gay-bashing target on my back or deny something fundamental about myself and my sexuality? I’m glad that, as a straight person, I don’t have to make that tough call. My life is complicated enough as it is; I don’t need one more thing like that to worry about.

Of course, gays and bisexuals are not so lucky. Sexual preference might be only one element of their lives, but that one element completely identifies them to the exclusion of everything else, if they choose to be “out” about their sexuality. Take, for example, a gutsy young lady named Constance McMillen, an 18-year old high school student from Fulton, Mississippi. Ms. McMillen, who is openly gay, asked permission from school authorities to dress in a tuxedo and take her girlfriend to her senior prom. School authorities had a collective shit-fit at the prospect of a girl-girl couple having the same sort of fun as boy-girl couples might have, and cancelled the prom in response. As of this writing, Ms. McMillen has sicced the dogs of the ACLU on her school district, and she’s gained national attention for her cause. Lost in the shuffle is the fact that Ms McMillen has a loving father who supports her, ample scholarship opportunities, and a 3.86 grade point average. For the rest of her life, Ms. McMillen will be tagged as “the gay Mississippi teen who wanted to go to prom with her girlfriend.”

It could be worse. At the other end of the spectrum, consider the case of California State Senator Roy Ashburn, a Republican from Bakersfield. State Senator Ashburn’s career is noted for some virulently anti-homosexual legislative positions, including opposition to a day commemorating the life of openly gay slain San Francisco Assemblyman Harvey Milk.

So, a funny thing happened to Senator Ashburn last month. He was pulled over late one night for Driving Under The Influence. While leaving a gay bar. With another man in the passenger seat. In the face of overwhelming evidence, this married father of four said, a few days later, “I’m gay. Those are the words that have been so difficult for me for so long.” State Senator Ashburn then joined the ever-growing Fraternity Of Gay Politicians Who Live In The Closet But Get Busted Doing Something Stupid Instead Of Just Admitting Who They Are. Said fraternity’s other members include Senator Larry “Wide Stance” Craig of Idaho, former Florida Congressman Mark “Love Those Interns” Foley, and former New Jersey Governor Jim “Being Gay Is The Least Of My Problems Because I’m From New Jersey” McGreevy.

There seems to be a closet (pardon the pun) industry centering around politicians who take anti-gay positions on virtually everything, but who nevertheless turn out to be homosexuals. I highly recommend the documentary “Outrage,” written and directed by Kirby Dick. In Mr. Dick’s own words, “This film is about politicians who live in the closet, those who have escaped it, and the people who work to end its tyranny.” The film documents the work of journalists like Michael Rogers, founder of BlogActive, Bob Norman of the Broward-Palm Beach New Times, and Michelangelo Signorile of the Sirius/XM radio show “OutQ” among others, who have made careers out of tracking down rumors, interviewing witnesses, and outing closeted gay politicians, particularly those who have made careers out of using homophobia to sabotage gay rights.

Some of the politicians and movers and shakers featured in the documentary include the aforementioned Sen. Craig (who still denies being gay), former Governor McGreevy, (who admits it), and other politicians including former Congressman Ed Schrock, (R-VA), Congressman Jim McCrery (R-LA), Congressman David Dreier, (R-CA), Ken Mehlman, Manager of the Bush/Cheney 2004 re-election campaign, and Governor Charlie Crist (R-FL) who’s currently in the battle of his political life in a race for the U.S. Senate. All of the aforementioned politicians deny being gay, some of whom do so in light of compelling evidence otherwise, but all of them also are known for some virulently anti-gay rights political stances, including not only opposing gay marriage and adoptions, but funding for AIDS research and education and anti-discrimination statutes.

Many gay rights activists oppose these involuntary outings as invasions of privacy. However, many others endorse them. To quote Rodger McFarlane, former Executive Director of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis organization, “That closet can kill other people, and it has…before AIDS, we were concerned with privacy. After AIDS, that was collusion with genocide. Being silent, being invisible, …particularly being an elected or appointed official whose responsibility it is to respond to this health crisis, and they didn’t because they were closeted gays…My personal experience of the good activist is it is all driven by rage—righteous indignation. People are suffering and dying because some self-promoting asshole is telling a lie.”

Upon reflection, I think I’d like to retract the first sentence of this month’s column. Rather than say, “I’m glad I’m not gay,” I think it’d be more appropriate to say, “I’m glad I’m not a closeted gay politician.” Life in or out of the closet would be one kettle of fish, but I think it’d be another to be in the closet while simultaneously taking political positions that harmed my own rights and those of people like me. That sort of personal anguish would, I can only guess, turn my stomach inside out.

Then, of course, there’s Karl Rove. You know the guy. The mastermind behind the political success of former President George W. Bush. The puppeteer who manipulated the worst elements of human nature, exploiting homophobia and bigotry to depths hitherto unseen in American politics. In Rove’s new memoir, “Courage and Consequence,” Rove addresses a persistent rumor of his family history, when his stepfather divorced his mother and moved to California. “Could Dad (Rove’s stepfather) have been gay?…To this day, I have no idea if my father was gay. And, frankly, I don’t care. He was my father, with whom I had a wonderful relationship and whom I loved deeply.”

As can be expected from anything coming out of Mr. Rove’s mouth, there’s his version of events, and then there’s the truth. According to James Moore, author of “The Architect,” another biography of Rove, “He (Karl) was obviously hurt by the divorce. It’s just absurd when he says, ‘I had no idea what the problems were with my parents and their marriage.’ He knew damned good and well what was going on. His father had decided to come out of the closet. In fact, according to Louis Rove’s best friend Joe Koons, Rove not only knew his father’s sexual orientation but also was comfortable with it and had accepted his father’s honesty.”

I must therefore retract my earlier retraction. It’d be one thing to be gay and live in the closet. It’d be another thing to be a gay politician and live in the closet while at the same time exploiting homophobic fears for the advancement of my own career while at the same time undergoing personal anguish about my own identity.

It’d be another thing completely to be gay, come out of the closet and cause my family personal anguish, and then to have one of my children accept my homosexuality and have a good relationship with me while at the same time exploiting homophobic bigotry to advance the agenda of one of the most virulently anti-gay political movements in Western Civilization.

I’m glad I’m not Karl Rove’s father.

J.T. Benjamin
April 2010

P.S. If you want to show your support for Constance McMillen, feel free to join the Facebook page, “Let Constance Take Her Girlfriend To Prom,” and sex columnist Dan Savage has graciously provided updates and contact information. I’m sure they’d love to hear what ERWA readers think of their position. Additionally, the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition and the ACLU LGBT Project, are working to ensure the safety of gay teenagers across the country. They’d be happy to accept monetary donations.

“All Worked Up” © 2010 J.T. Benjamin. All rights reserved.

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