• Gay BlogAds

  • Gay News Watch

  • Chris Tweets

  • « Our pecking order | Main | Kolbe finally finds his voice »

    December 29, 2006

    2006: The closet's swan song?

    Posted by: Chris

    Bladeyir2006 The Washington Blade and its sister publications came out with their Year in Review issues today, and their choice for the story of the year was, "Swan song from the closet: Politicians, performers made news in 2006 by coming out."  Using the closet to tie together the Mark Foley and Ted Haggard scandals, as well as the celebrities who decided to come out, the story draws some interesting conclusions about the status of the closet as we head into 2007:

    Having confined and defined much, if not most, of modern gay existence, "the closet" showed once again in 2006 that it is still a mighty force, albeit a shadow of its once powerful self. In fact, some believe the closet is steadily inching toward irrelevance, as successive generations of gay and lesbian youth settle into their sexual orientation without first surrounding it with four walls of angst, denial, duplicity and shame.

    Far from being a place that only harbors half-truths and paralyzing secrets, the 2006 version of the closet helped fuel best-selling memoirs and a breathtaking power shift in Congress. The closet opened its doors on the set of America's most popular prime-time television series and inside one of the nation's most influential megachurches. And whereas coming out of the closet was long considered social and professional suicide, in 2006 it proved anything but.

    That somewhat rosy assessment is backed up by examples like Lance Bass, the 'N-Sync alum, who revived his fame by coming out, and embattled politicians Mark Foley and James McGreevey, who tried using the closet as "an escape hatch" in the midst of scandal.  Their stories are contrasted with that of Haggard, who stuck to his anti-gay guns even after being outed by a gay escort.

    So we're left to conclude that the closet remains a problem mainly for conservative Republicans. "Outside of Republicans, [the closet] is going to recede as more and more people are going to be out from day one so it won't be an issue," the story quotes David Ehrenstein, author of "Open Secret: Gay Hollywood 1928-1998," as saying.

    "I think there were much larger issues than Mark Foley that influenced the elections, but with that said, I think both the Foley and Haggard scandals reinforced the perception of the right wing forces of the Republican Party as being cynical hypocrites," echoed Mark Foreman, of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force.

    Of course, official Washington is littered with closeted Democrats who defy such nice caricaturization,
    but the razor sharp political divide in the U.S. over the last decade or so makes black-and-white as popular with the left as it does the right.  That's how Ehrenstein can publicly praise the decline of the closet for all except Republicans while at the same time more discreetly cheer on efforts to involuntarily "out" even the most junior gay Republicans who work in the nation's capital.

    When outing activist-blogger Michael Rogers recently published embarrassing personal photos of a young, already-out student who worked as a lowly advance staffer for Vice President Dick Cheney, Ehrenstein cheered on the effort.  "You shouldn't have blacked-out the faces of the other guys," Ehrenstein wrote in a comment to Rogers, referring to the young staffers' friends, even though they had no apparent connection to Cheney. "They're collaborators," claimed Ehrenstein.

    When one commenter using "Sad" as a moniker took issue with the outing, Ehrenstein was quick to reply, with a reference to outed escort-conservative journalist Jeff Gannon (a.k.a. James Guckert).  "Don't be sad, 'Sad,'" wrote Ehrenstein. "Now go suck off Guckert like a good little KAPO."  Kapos, so you don't miss the reference, were concentration camp prisoners who worked for the Nazis in low-level administrative positions. 

    This is the world according to David Ehrenstein, and it's the other side of the closet that re-entered the debate this year, though it's not mentioned in the Blade review.  The Foley story, especially, raised anew questions about when it's justified to "out" someone in government, whether they're holding elective office or not.  For Ehrenstein and Rogers, there are no limits to be observed, no boundaries of personal privacy to be respected, and for Ehrenstein at least, dissent is tantamount to complicity.  The Task Force's Foreman, as well, though not dirtying his own hands with outings, has publicly said he supports them.

    Neilpatrickharris For most of the rest of us, 2006 was indeed a banner year in adjusting to the changing dynamics of the closet.  As each new public figure emerges, there remain fewer "firsts" like Ellen DeGeneres in prime time or Elton John in music or Martina Navratilova in sport, to grab the biggest headlines.  And so both Neil Patrick Harris ("Doogie Howser, M.D." and "How I Met Your Mother") and T.R. Knight ("Grey's Anatomy") continue to play sexually active heterosexual men in popular TV shows, despite coming out this year in People magazine.  As the Blade story notes, popular culture is once again miles ahead of politics.

    Tammybaldwin Because in politics, despite Ehrenstein's partisan assessment of the closet as a Republican problem, the U.S. Congress is a bipartisan, heteros-only club.  We must search back almost a decade to 1998 for the one and only time someone was elected for the first time to Congress despite being openly gay.  Despite all the pro-gay triumphs of November 2006, not a single openly gay non-incumbent even won a primary for the U.S. House or Senate.  And when the new Congress is sworn in next month, that same solitary member of Congress, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), will serve alongside Barney Frank (D-Mass.) as the only elected gays on the Hill.  So much for the closet's swan song.



    TrackBack URL for this entry:


    1. Alan on Dec 29, 2006 1:43:08 PM:

      As you well know Chris - these things take time. The basic premise of each successive generation of teenagers being openly gay ultimately leading to the closet's demise is true. Every poll about anti-gay sentiment demographically shows that the younger those polled the more likely they are to be gay friendly.

      Now I cannot say definitively that gay candidates on a national level will increase any time soon, but keep in mind that the number of successful female candidates, while increasing, still lags behind their percentage of the population - well beyond the heyday of the feminist movement.

      Chris, you're old enough and smart enough to know how much progress has already been made and forward looking enough to see the changes ahead.

      It may be frustrating to still have to be patient but we are, and probably always be, in line behind women and African-Americans when it comes to achieving full equality. And eventually all three groups and other minority groups will get their place at the table and share of the pie.

      Eventually America's apartheid political system of middle-aged, white, straight, married, Christian men will fall apart inasmuch as demographically they are no longer in the majority.

      In the words of the late bi-sexual songwriter Laura Nyro, "nothing cures like time and love."

    1. KJ on Dec 29, 2006 7:50:11 PM:

      The changes we've seen are huge, but not complete. Everytime I bump into nonsense regarding GLBT matters, I seldom get angry since I remember the greater hardships that those who preceded me underwent which make the current situation possible. I genuinely have little concern experiencing what needs to be experienced to make things better for those that follow.

      I am extremely opposed to outing, and am very concerned that "informants" are finding this to be their GLBT "duty" based on their PERCEPTION of who is a GLBT enemy and who is not, as determined by political or religious affiliation. The fact that such "outers" do not see how this diminishes their own dignity and the dignity of those they are targeting, baffles me.

      However, my view on this changes if a public individual is actively and publicly, politically and religiously anti-GLBT while "enjoying" the perks privately on the side. That individual has condemned him or herself. That criterion is not met just because someone is a Republican, works for Dick Cheney, or is a religious conservative.

    1. Tim on Dec 30, 2006 12:51:42 PM:

      things are changing I don't even like dating older gay men because of their mind sets. But I'm not sure society is changing as fast as it seems. give it another 10 or 15 years and depending on how the gays act and if there is a large social backlash against us for whatever reason (war, disease, poverty) we should be pretty well integrated into the american mindset. Hopefully in a positive and beneficial way. I think getting rid of DADT is the most important step.

    1. Alan on Dec 30, 2006 11:25:31 PM:

      Tim - I don't know if it is because I just finished watching the documentary Gay Sex In The 70's (which I missed while buried in the closet) or simply because I am 53 but I find your mindset about dating older guys to be offensive. My generation went through hell and lost a large percentage of our best and brightest to get your generation the limited rights that you take for granted and somehow assume are yours forever more. Same-sex marriage and DADT both prove that there's still a long way to go and that straight, close-minded Americans can and do vote against your "rights."

      I'm sorry if my generation still remembers the hard times and worry about their return and you find that a downer. Heck, most of my parents' families died in the concentration camps and silly as it sounds many Jews still worry about a reoccurrence - especially in a world where a President feels he can throttle the Constitution and put our freedoms in danger to support his ill-informed policies.

      As the cliche goes - those who ignore the past are doomed to relive it. Maybe your generation is blithely willing to risk it but us older guys have learned better - the hard way.

    1. Bufftuff on Jan 24, 2007 2:21:50 PM:

      Yes, Chris. Things they are a changing, for the better.

      And for 2007, hopefully more of the same. Whatever small gains are to be made in the advancement of gay marriage will be made, probably on the state level.

      Big hugs. Hoping you are well.

    The comments to this entry are closed.

    © Citizen Crain - All Rights Reserved | Design by E.Webscapes Design Studio | Powered by: TypePad