Let's Out The Dogs of War?
Chris Geidner writes a piece which, although he later backpedals a bit, does seem rather more positive on the politics of 'outing' gay politicians and their employees than I would have expected. It's personal and emotional, which makes for compelling reading, but in the end it seems fundamentally dissatisfying. To illustrate why I would say this, let me lead with a wholly heterosexual vignette.
When I was working at a large Japanese firm in Osaka, I was seconded into one of their various departments, and was only on my first or second day when a minor scandal erupted. A young man in the department had presented the Department Chief with a letter, was doing much formal bowing, and the Department Chief was making some rather shocked, then angry, then flustered statements.
The letter in question was a wedding invitation. It turns out that the young man had been dating the woman who sat across from him--one of the section secretaries--for more than a year. Company policy would have been for the woman to be moved to another division to avoid any potential conflicts. Because they enjoyed working together, they concocted a rather elaborate scheme of bickering with one another, making rude comments, and keeping a certain distance. Strange as such behavior might seem, I gather that it worked: only one member of their workgroup, a close friend, knew of the engagement before the announcement.
I mention this because it was a beautiful and strangely affecting scene. The Chief was both happy and frustrated--he was supposed to know what was going on, wasn't he? The young man was alternately nervous, repentant, and I think just a little bit smug that they'd managed to pull it off. And the woman was... well, let's just say she had the most beautiful eyes when she looked at him.
Now, suppose I had known about the relationship before I arrived, because I'd happened to see this couple emerging from a Sakuranomiya love hotel. (The ways in which couples can carry on clandestine affairs in Japan is itself a wonderful topic for another day.) Most of the arguments for outing would come into play: obviously, their workgroup may have a right to know because others might suspect the groom-to-be of playing favorites in assigning his lover her work. Outing would have been in line with policy. I'm sure someone could come up with a scenario in which, as a member of the Administrative Division, I would have been ethically obliged to reveal their relationship. Heck, my section was probably the one that made the rule.
It would also have been deeply, deeply ugly.
I'm quite happy to say I oppose outing not because of any particular discrimination between homosexuals and heterosexuals, but because announcing someone's romantic preferences to the world is in general a reprehensible act. That counts for same-sex relationships just as much as heterosexual ones. Indeed, I've been worried ever since I first mentioned the occasional happy discussion of my romantic life. Were my relationships to be 'outed' I would not take it kindly. And were it to be done without my ever mentioning a lady in question? I hope Chris would not find it in his heart to sanction that.
But of course, even Chris admits that kindness is the only factor involved in such things:
Then, there's the anger. Outing helps right a fundamental unfairness placed upon the shoulders of a large segment of the LGBT population that is avoided by some who choose to avoid the sticky areas in which their sexuality might raise "issues." Through their positions of privilege or ability to be "straight-acting" (please, don't get me started), these people will go to the bars (as Pete Williams had) and enjoy many of the benefits of "gay living" -- all the while living a straight-laced life (with all its benefits) amongst anti-gay individuals (or even by advancing anti-gay causes).
But this is the 'with us or against us' attitude common to so many activists of however many stripes which quickly becomes a thinly-veiled excuse for hurting individuals. Suppose that we have the worst-case scenario: a homosexual Legislative Assistant (LA) working for Senator Homophobe on his bill to introduce the FMA. What, precisely, does this LA owe to someone who is also homosexual? While his sexuality may define who it is he loves, it certainly doesn't paint him with some obligation to some arbitrary community with which he may or may not choose to identify.
Indeed, the entire concept of outing seems based on the idea that one's sexuality must define one's opinions: "I am gay, and thus I must oppose the FMA and support ACTUP." Otherwise the implicit charge of hypocrisy wouldn't be worth making in the first place: if you don't think there's 'right' view for one to hold, it would be as useful as 'outing' Phil Gramm as a Republican. But despite Chris' protestations otherwise, there's nothing inherently contradictory about supporting the FMA and being homosexual: such a position would be non-standard, but is hardly logically indefensible. Indeed, what if the person in question were just to answer back, "I didn't consider it an anti-gay issue, whatever that may be"? What the heck was all of this "rights" stuff about if it wasn't about the right to individual opinions? And if one has a right to those, are there certain opinions that mean one gives up one's ability to conduct romantic affairs in private?
"But I am suffering, and he is not, and this is unfair." I suppose it's a point of view, and one suitable to one who is angry, but not one that elicits much sympathy from me. Such unfairness is certainly not 'fundamental,' unless one posits that one's point of view is the fundamental center from which such things must be judged.
The above should be the end of the article, and unless you're worried about a particular detail, quit reading here. But I'm sure that someone will chime in, and quickly, with something about our former president's peccadillos with a charming White House intern, and how this proves that all Republicans are hypocrits or some other such, and I feel the need to nip that in the bud.
There are two points which distinguish Clinton from the discussion of outing above. First of all, nothing I say above should be taken to apply within the realms of a lawsuit. Bill Clinton's sex life came out in the context of a sexual harassment lawsuit, and that makes a world of difference.
Now, I'm on record from years ago as stating that the best thing Republicans could have done with the whole Lewinsky affair would have been to use the political capital it gave us to reform sexual harassment law, instead of poking a wounded but undying bear. Paula Jones should not have had the right to trawl through Clinton's entire sexual history as a part of her discovery process, and I would love to see federal and state law amended to prevent that. But so long as it was part of a lawsuit, and Congress or a state legislature has ordained that such things are part of a public record, then so be it. We can change those laws, after all.
So I suppose if those wishing to 'out' public figures had wished to charge them with sodomy--if they were in jurisdictions where they could be charged--I'd have no major objection, although I'd question their tactics. (After all, accusing a single individual of sodomy after a night at a gay bar exposes a lot of other folks to a potential dragnet.) Nonetheless, post-Lawrence that option seems foreclosed.
Secondly, Clinton's travails came within the context of adultery. (Well, OK, it depends on how your adultery statute is defined and where exactly he was sticking his 'cigar,' but you get my drift.) Chris is fond of a looser, less traditional definition of marriage than I am, even outside of the sexuality issues involved: I, for instance, think love is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for legal marriage, while his website happily proclaims "marriage is love." Nonetheless, we both would agree that marriage is a public institution entered into in the full light of the law. Adultery can be brought to light in divorce proceedings and become, as a certain Illinois senate candidate now knows, public knowledge. But so long as homosexuals are not getting married, that reasoning simply doesn't apply. I suppose outing a married politician may be seen differently.
All in all, I'd be happier if Clinton's sex life hadn't become public. Nonetheless, there are different issues here than are involved with the standard 'outing': a lawsuit, marriage, what have you. In cases where those two factors are implicated, I suppose it's fair game. Otherwise, I simply don't think that anger is a sufficient justification.