Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Let's Talk About Outing...

There's an interesting article on feministing called The Politics of Outing, where Ann talks about her feelings on the outing of politicians in the wake of the Larry Craig case.

It's a pretty interesting and well thought out post, and the comments seem relatively divided, which suggests that this is an issue worth talking about for a minute. This is the sort of issue that I think some people give very little thought to, while others can't help but think about in a major way, because it effects them so intimately.

Generally speaking, I'm pretty opposed to outing other people, regardless of the reasons for the outing. It's one thing to report on a scandal that involves criminal activity- sexually harassing your employees or rape, for example. In a case like that, the outing becomes an almost unavoidable side-effect of reporting on criminal activity. If you're being accused of sexual harassment by a male employee, and you're a male politician... well, people might draw conclusions, there.

But, in some cases, politicians are outed even when there's nothing criminal or unethical about their sexual activity. They're out because of the perception of hypocrisy in engaging in sexual activity with someone of the same sex, while opposing gay rights like marriage or adoption. In these cases, the person is outed to prove a point or to gain political capital.

Cases like that, I'm very much opposed to. While stinking hypocrisy often makes me want to scream and/or throw things, I can't condone outing a person in those cases, for a number of reasons.

First, and least important, is that the impression of hypocrisy is not necessarily hypocrisy. It's completely possible to have sex with someone of the same sex without thinking that same sex couples ought to be allowed to marry or adopt children. Do I find that attitude confusing or troubling? I do. But, it's not necessarily inconsistent.

Just frustrating.

Oh, and wrong.

Still, it's not hypocritical anymore than it's hypocritical to support gun control laws but still enjoy shooting skeet. You might support the notion that people should be allowed to rent rifles from licensed dealers in order to shoot skeet, and you might think that homosexual sex is okay, but not marriage. Or you might think that homosexuality is a sin, but that you're a sinner. That makes you a jerk, not necessarily a hypocrit.

More importantly, though, is that I see this kind of outing as being exactly the kind of thing that many of us work against. That is, the use of a person's sexuality as a weapon against that person. As I see it, that's one of the problems with sexual slurs. When people use the term "fag" as an insult, they're using homosexuality as a weapon to tear down and insult another person. The goal there is to use sexuality in such a way as to harm another person.

The effect, though, goes beyond the person using the insult and the person being insulted- the use of slurs like that has a chilling effect, I think, on the community at large. When we tolerate the use of slurs like that, we send a message that homosexuality is demeaning. That there's something wrong with being gay. To some degree, I think that public outings have a similar impact.

Elizabeth Schmitz, one of the commenters in that feministing thread, said:
I am somewhat conflicted about the tactics of Rogers. The process of accepting and disclosing one’s gayness is very stressful and scary–you have to worry about rejection from the people you care about the most, and begin to deal with the changes that come with being identified as a gay American. When someone else outs you, you loose control over this very difficult process, and it adds to the emotional turmoil.

What’s more, Rogers’ tactics create a new sort of McCarthyism targeting gays. It makes me somewhat uncomfortable to see again this kind of a witch hunt going on within the walls of our government.


Even though we come to different conclusions, I think that Elizabeth's comment is a pretty accurate description of what happens. I think that it goes further, though. It's not just the politician that is harmed by this, it seems to me that it probably has a bigger effect. The goal might be to expose perceived hypocrisy, but the result is that it gives credit to the perception that there's something wrong with being gay.

These scandals don't prove the hypocrisy of the anti-gay movement, they create the sense that these politicians should be ashamed of engaging in homosexual acts. I don't see how that can be good for creating the sense that it's okay to be gay or engage in same-sex acts and relationships.

Discussions of other people's sexuality often leave me feeling a bit uncomfortable. I think I discussed my discomfort with talking about how so-and-so must be closeted gay because sie is so vocally opposed to homosexuality on here, before, and I think that it's related, here too. It just seems like it's a little bit too much like using sex as a weapon, which, ultimately, seems really harmful, regardless of the pleasure I take in seeing asshole bigots get put under the spotlight and taken to task.

Which, ultimately, I think is the point. Their choice to have sex with someone of the same sex isn't the problem, and their choice to keep that activity out of the public eye isn't a problem either. The real problem is that they're trying to pass bigotted legislation. I'd much rather see them taken to task over being asshole bigots than being raked over the coals for knocking boots with other men.

6 comments:

Stupendousness said...

I whole-heartedly agree with you.

What really gets me is all the people who say they wanted Craig to resign -- because, in their eyes, he's a hypocrite. They're okay with the bigoted legislation, as long as it's not from a hypocrite.

I'll take inconsistencies in logic over limits of people's freedoms any day.

Elizabeth Schmitz said...

from Schmitz Blitz: schmitzblitz.wordpress.com

I am somewhat conflicted about the tactics of Rogers. The process of accepting and disclosing one’s gayness is very stressful and scary–you have to worry about rejection from the people you care about the most, and begin to deal with the changes that come with being identified as a gay American. When someone else outs you, you loose control over this very difficult process, and it adds to the emotional turmoil.

What’s more, Rogers’ tactics create a new sort of McCarthyism targeting gays. It makes me somewhat uncomfortable to see again this kind of a witch hunt going on within the walls of our government.

Those concerns noted, I ultimately support the outing of anti-gay politicians. These politicians take their own shame and self-hatred over being gay out on open gays who just want to live their lives with dignity (as opposed to finding sexual fulfillment through secret trysts in public restrooms and parks). To me, using your democratically elected office as a closet is an abuse of power, and we need people like Rogers to expose that.

Jaclyn said...

I don't know. You make a strong argument, but I can't help but think (feel?) that while any particular outing of an anti-gay politician doesn't accomplish much in the way of civil rights (and does have some nasty side-effects), the overall effect of the continuous outing of anti-gay politicians has an effect on "middle-America," conveying the correct impression that these men are self-loathing liars who can't be trusted.

Instilling in swing voters suspicion of the right-wing is a public good in my book. Does it outweigh the costs you outlined? I'm still working that one out...

Autumn Harvest said...

I have mixed feelings about the whole Craig affair. On the one hand, Craig is just being held to the same standards that he wanted to impose on others, so it's hard not to feel a little gleeful about the whole thing, even if the outing is wrong and counterproductive.

On the other hand, the reaction to Craig's outing is pretty disturbing. It's wrong---and, well, hypocritical---for politicans who claim to be gay-friendly not to publicly and forcefully emphasize that Craig has done nothing worthy of an ethics investigation, let along resignation. It's pretty clear that Craig is being pressured to resign for being gay, not for pleading guilty to a misdemeanor. Craig may be a hypocrite, but we don't normally force politicians to resign for being hypocrites; if we did, there wouldn't be many politicians left in any party.

I don't think that the continuous outing of anti-gay politicians will really improve anything, or make middle America more suspicious of anti-gay politicians. If anything, it will probably just make homophobic voters more vigilant about rooting out possible gayness in politicians, and make homophobic politicians feel a greater need to prove their non-gayness.

assembling words to armory, she waits... said...

These scandals don't prove the hypocrisy of the anti-gay movement, they create the sense that these politicians should be ashamed of engaging in homosexual acts.

yes. and that SOCIETY should be ashamed of them, admonishing them for their exposed acts. so we're watching, reading, eat up the press, shaking our heads and wagging our fingers at the fiends' deeds, shaming them for wrongdoings... but for what are we shaming? THAT to me is the real question each of us should be asking. conservatives and liberals alike are angry with craig, but for very different reasons. what does that say about us as a whole? yet again, our nation is sending very mixed messages. so i'll say it: IT'S OKAY TO BE GAY, IT'S NOT OKAY TO BE A HYPOCRITICAL A-HOLE. great post, roy :)

DaisyDeadhead said...

I've written a lot about this, too: Local Right wing lowlifes on parade

Also, it is likely my senator, (Lindsey Graham, will be the next senator outed.

The anti-gay hypocrisy is important... it is a type of extortion. The right-wing taunts someone like Graham, and the taunting is rewarded with ever more right-wing, anti-gay legislation, as Graham tries to prove himself to them.

Right wing gay politicians end up OWNED in a way the other straight right wingers are not...Graham's whole career is an exercise in that behavior.