Thursday, November 09, 2006

Gays who promote the homophobic agenda

In the weeks following the breaking of the Foley affair, many of us, including myself, have been shocked to discover the significant role gay men have played in fostering the homophobic agenda in the US. We learned first of Foley, then of the numerous gay congressional aides, some very powerful, and now of Ted Haggard, a leading Evangelical minister and a nationally influential homophobe. We in the gay community have been rightly shocked by their hypocrisy and have engaged in discussions of the ethical and political ramifications of “outing” such people. During these past weeks I have begun to wonder, however, whether framing this discourse in ethical terms is really helpful.

It has become evident that we in the gay community should be dealing with the issue of gay collaboration in the homophobic agenda; in order to deal with the phenomenon, however, we have to understand it, and it is not at all clear that we have come very far in this regard. In such cases ethical labeling, such as designating certain actions as hypocritical may be, while accurate, ultimately counterproductive in that such labeling tends to deflect our interest away from gaining a deeper understanding of the matter. We tend simply to say, “They are hypocrites; do we need to go any farther?” I’m afraid we do.

What the revelations of the past weeks have taught us is that those gay men who have fostered the homophobic agenda are not all deeply closeted, secretive homosexuals; some, like Haggard, fit that profile; others, such as Foley, are not particularly careful about disguising their sexual preference, although they still officially deny their homosexuality as long as they can; yet others, such as some very powerful congressional aides, are in partnerships and are quite open to their bosses, colleagues, and congressional associates concerning their sexual orientation.

Despite the important differences in the degree to which these men were “out” before their homosexuality received public attention, they all reacted in essentially similar ways when the spotlight of public attention was focused on them: not one of them in any way repudiated his support of the homophobic agenda. Haggard and Foley retreated under versions of the claim: “The Devil made me do it.” The congressional aides scurried to show that they were not part of the Foley cover up, while still depending upon the protection of the homophobic power structure of the Republican Party.

At this point we may very well ask why these men still persist in cringingly seeking the support of the homophobes and thereby supporting, albeit indirectly, the homophobic agenda. After all, now they have nothing to loose by trying to come to terms with their sexual orientation. Haggard and Foley’s careers are, for all intents and purposes, over. They are now “out” to their families. There is, however, no indication that they intend to rebuild their lives with anything resembling a positive attitude toward their homosexuality.

In like fashion, those gay congressional aides whose homophobic bosses have not been kicked out of office by the recent election continue to work in an atmosphere that is now even more likely to turn against them now that attention has been drawn to them as gay men. Now that it has become common knowledge that the homophobic agenda in congress is staffed in large part by gays, those gay men remaining in service to homophobic congressmen will naturally be called upon to prove even more actively their allegiance to that agenda. Nevertheless, it seems that the large majority of these men will continue to stay and work for the interests and policies of their gay hating bosses.

It’s not as if they don’t have a choice. It is quite common for congressional aides to move from one congressman to another, and not all Republican congressmen are fostering the anti gay agenda. Moreover, having been a congressional aide is one of the most useful resumé entries one can have in Washington; there are plenty of job opportunities, in and out of government, for a fiscally conservative gay man with congressional experience. Despite these possibilities for a professionally fulfilling life in which their situation as gay men would not be compromised, they prefer to remain within a context that fosters homophobia.

As Frank Rich said in his article I reprinted in this blog some weeks ago, the situation goes beyond hypocrisy; it really smacks of pathology. These men are betraying themselves and their fellow gay men not because of opportunism involving political, social, or financial gain; opportunism may have been the initial motivation for their hypocritical behavior, but it clearly can no longer be the case. There can be no possible advantage, either practical or psychological, to these men in staying in the homophobic camp. What seems to be the case is that these men really believe, at least to a certain extent, in the homophobic agenda.

It isn’t as bizarre as it sounds. As I have mentioned before, it is a well documented phenomenon that people subject to torture or long- term severe persecution eventually believe that their tormentors are justified in persecuting them and even collaborate in their own torment. This seems to be the case with Haggard and Foley.

The situation of the openly gay congressional aides who work for homophobic congressmen is, in fact, almost parallel to that of the “Hofjüde” or court Jew in anti-Semitic central European courts in the XVIII and XIX centuries: The “Hofjüde,” who was openly Jewish but secularized, educated and therefore well received at court, collaborated with the anti-Semitic authorities in exploiting the Jewish community. No one was tempted by economic or social advantage to become a “Hofjüde.” There were plenty of economic and social opportunities for the few highly educated, secularized Jews in XVIII an XIX century Europe; one became a “Hofjüde” because of deeply ambivalent feelings about being Jewish. The “Hofjüde” was thus both a product and victim of, and a perpetrator of, anti-Semitism. So the case with gay men who foster the homophobic agenda.

Like most of us, I was thrilled with Haggard’s unmasking and humiliation. But we should remember that Haggard was as much a victim as he was a demon. According to reports, he is now in a retreat, praying for forgiveness. The problem is that he’s asking for pardon from the wrong sources. God? God made you gay, honey, so why should you ask for forgiveness from him? The Evangelical community? Well, you lied to them, but they forced you into the lie by making you deny who you are. They’ll only forgive you if you continue in that denial.

Haggart’s only hope for absolution is to turn to us, the gay community. His homophobic rants certainly give us a lot to forgive him for. But only we as gay men are in a position to understand the torment to which he was subjected by a pitiless, bigoted, and cruel society who denied his very humanity. Almost all of us, especially those of us who grew up before Stonewall, to one extent or another have been in his shoes. Most of us have had enough courage, however, not to allow society’s homophobia to take root within us and fester into self hate to the extent it has with Haggard and the other gay men discussed here. But is unreasonable to expect courage from everyone.

So, branding such men as hypocrites and anathematizing them is, of course, understandable, but it doesn’t really get to the heart of the matter. They have betrayed us not because they are especially evil or even because they are opportunistic. It is, in fact, pathology. A homophobic society has infected them with self- hate.

They are as much victims as they are perpetrators. They do a great deal of harm, and that harm must be stopped, but they are not the real enemy. Gay homophobes are indeed a problem, but the more serious problem is the homophobic society itself.