Posted on 2/21/13 03:51 PM
Worth Contemplating, but Never Proves Its Thesis
In general, I have serious problems with "outing" people. In general, I don't think it's anyone's business who you're sleeping with, provided you're both consenting adults. I understand the impulse here, but I'm still uncomfortable with it. I really do think there's a slippery slope, though I also think it's important for hypocrisy to be revealed. It is certainly true that the film presents several people with hypocritical voting records. They were caught, you know, propositioning undercover cops in airport bathrooms or whatever, and they still have a voting record that's, say, eight percent positive on gay rights issues. (It should also be noted that I do not consider AIDS funding to be strictly a gay issue.) I mean, I totally understand why you'd want to reveal that, though of course none of these people are out of the closet, so in order to reveal their hypocrisy, you have to reveal their homosexuality.
The film posits that there is a giant conspiracy to prevent gays and lesbians from being open in politics. To demonstrate this, it prevents the litany of politicians, mostly Republicans, who were vehemently anti-gay--the best gay issues voting record stands at twenty-eight percent--who are or probably are gay. In many cases, specific and detailed cases of ex-lovers are described. Some are even interviewed. How these closeted people--mostly men--have harmed gay people all over the country is examined; they voted against gay marriage, against gay adoption rights, against anti-discrimination legislation, against gays in the military, against, against, against. They married; some of the wives probably knew and others probably didn't. One has an ex-wife who herself ended up in a relationship with a woman later. And, of course, the media only talks about all of this when they, say, turn out to have a page on a gay dating website, because it's all covered under privacy.
I still don't think any of this is evidence of some grand conspiracy. In fact, if the movie hadn't posited that it is at the beginning, I would give it a higher rating. A thing can be terrible and wrong and pervasive without being the result of a vast media conspiracy. It is easier to run for office while holding certain principles if you're a Republican, but it is nigh impossible to run for office as a Republican if you're openly gay. I mean, you can do it, but I wouldn't count on winning. However, if we're going to call it a vast media conspiracy, we have to explain a few people who appear in the film. Yes, several of the out people in it are now former whatevers, but you know, Tammy Baldwin is now a Senator, and several of the formers served openly for some time, most notably Barney Frank. A couple of them were even, contrary to expectations, elected as gay Republicans! Clearly, it's possible to be an openly gay elected official.
Does the media conspire to keep the secrets? That's a more complicated issue. There's a clip of Bill Maher on Larry King included in the documentary where he mentions that he'd be sued if he were the first person to reveal that certain people were gay. Part of me suspects that it's harder to get a verdict of defamation over an outing now than it used to be, that being called gay is less of an insult than it was the first time people started suggesting that maybe Larry Craig is gay. (Five years before Barney Frank came out!) And in general, it's a lot harder to get that judgement if the person who outs you can provide actual evidence. Certainly I am not going to claim that the news outlets are too busy putting out real news, because that's obviously not true. If anything, though, I think there's a certain amount of inertia involved; yes, the journalists would be more likely to win those suits now, but the fear of them still holds people back. And anyway the legal bills would probably give a lot of people pause.
This film has not convinced me that outing is ever a good idea, no matter the circumstances. I'm still extremely uncomfortable with the whole thing. I would like to reach the point where no one cares, and certainly we're closer there than we are with any other "abnormal" sexuality. (The clip they show of Matt Lauer asking Larry Craig if maybe he's bi is one of the only times I've ever heard bisexuality mentioned as a possible place on the spectrum.) In a Q&A included on the DVD, various people involved with the film (including Oscar nominees Tony Kushner and director Kirby Dick, both of whom might win on Sunday), they talk about the difference between outing public and private figures. I can see the argument, but I'm still not entirely comfortable with it. Unhappy though it makes me, there are still dangers in being outed, still a lot of losses possible. Sometimes, I think it's kind of what people get for the position you've taken, but I still, at heart, don't think who anyone sleeps with is my business unless they're sleeping with me.