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.

9 Comments:

Blogger The Accidental Activist said...

Great, thoughtful post. I think Freud termed this "pathology" as Reaction Formation. It describes how we react to our own unacceptable impulses; an unconscious behavior designed to ward off uncomfortable feelings.

This makes your point for you. The problem for these homophobes is that they exist, operate and are supported by a deeply homophobic society. Until society changes, they can only self-hate - there is nowhere positive and welcoming to go. All they can do is spin faster and faster in a decaying orbit of hate, bile and self-hate, which just perpetuates more hate.

Their only hope of acceptance, as you note, might be the gay community itself. It would be interesting to see how Haggard, Foley et al would be treated if they walked into a LBGT support group - I suspect they would be surprised by the warmth and compassion. As you say, we've all been there to greater or lesser extents.

I think exposing hypocrisy is necessary and just, but I also agree it should be part of a wider drive to educate society into understanding that the gays are people's brothers, sisters, fathers, uncles, aunts and mothers. That we are just the same. That we are as Good As You. My question is... who leads on this? Who coordinates it? Can it be made to happen, or does it just happen of its own glacial accord? Will the distinction of gay/straight (itself an invention of the last century) simply disappear or collapse in the next century? Or do we need to be more Activist? Or in my case, be shocked into being Accidentally Active...

12:54 PM  
Blogger RIC said...

"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."
So nobody is to be punished by fostering homophobic convictions in society itself? Not even those who surely should know better? You put it in such terms, Bruce, that I cannot help thinking of those closeted gays as I think of paedophiles in general, i.e., that they're pathological cases, which in turn makes me wonder whether it is not a mistake after all to allow them to have a job where beliefs and convictions play such a preponderant role…
I understand that you want to understand, but (I'm sorry to admit it) my tolerance doesn't allow me to go that far. They belong in the western cultural paradigm of Judas. If they're truly sick people, they just should resign in order to be honest and to stay clean. "Sleeping with the enemy"?

6:05 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Hi Bruce, glad you are back. This is a very provocative post, and reminds me of many things. And of course we must go much farther in trying to understand the hypocrites among us.

First off, i have two words for you: internalized homophobia. This label was really in vogue 15 or so years ago, during the ActUp days, and I never hear anyone mention it anymore. Reading your post, and the first two comments, i'm struck by the absence of that lingo in our time now, however outdated or left behind (or just not in vogue) I guess it may be.

But before we leave it behind, it is a useful conceit. The self-loathers, they don't even allow themselves to exist. Haggard and his ilk, they can't even allow that they are homosexual. He blames it on the devil. He didn't do crystal and wild butt sex for hours and hours on end because he is gay, but because he was a sinner possessed by the devil. I Seriously can't believe my eyes, but this is what I've been reading those in his flock believe, and I think there is a good chance he does too.

I have to agree with Ric, it is pathology. To be such a control freak with yourself that you can't allow yourself to simply be; what a horrible place to inhabit, I remember.

It takes a lot of strength to overcome the initial feelings of isolation when coming to terms with one's homosexuality. I remember. It is hard to not become obsessed with who will think what if they find that out. And it spirals out of control sucking all the energy out of you. The invisibility leads to ever diminishing self worth. People like Haggard--trying to "pass"--who are involved with the terrible Christian right here, come to accept that they are evil, sick, deviant.

And, hence, we have internalized homophobia. Gays who are anti-gay. It really staggers the mind. I wonder if there are misogynistic women out there? Or fat Anglo-Saxon straight men who hate straight Anglo-Saxon men? I think the answer is yes, they do exist. But rarely, very rarely, and we all generally accept that they are insane, because they are revealed to us when caught in some horrible crime.

As a people, we gays have so much going for us. We are often extremely accomplished, energetic, and have a positive impact on the world out of proportion with our numbers. Yet most of us deal with our own internalized homophobia from time to time. Most of us face it less and less, and certainly with less intensity each time. But if we know anything, we gays know how to keep it real. I may have struggled with a bit of self-loathing in my confusion first coming out at the tender age of 19, but i do not struggle with it now. I am at ease letting myself be known to anyone, because i don't fear what anyone may or may not think.

And that is the problem with Haggard and your aptly-named "gay collaborators in the homophobic agenda." They can't get past the fear, the fear, in fact, consumes them. And by the way, in my mind, that is exactly the way religion in general seems to work, using fear to enforce, using guilt to restrict and cause unease, using a rigid view of morality to to foster and enable lying.

Thanks for prompting me to think about this, Bruce. I don't know that i've come to any useful conclusion here. But I do agree with your conclusion: we must stop being simplistic in our strategies for dealing with and coming to terms with the larger homophobic society that hatches the gay colloborator in homophobia. Sometimes the half measures do more harm than good. I'm intrigued by Accidental Activists provocative questions at the end of his comments too. Maybe the artificial divide between gay and straight will one day subside.

10:07 PM  
Blogger Ur-spo said...

another well written and thoughtful post; I concur to the pathology part.

1:30 PM  
Blogger Joshua said...

Hitler hated jews even though he was part Jewish.
I place Haggarty and Foley in this same schema - which is indeed pathological.
Generalizing that to the rest of gay aides and congress?
I don't know about all of that!

I believe that gay's should be outraged with the likes of Foley and Haggarty; and I don't believe that's an indication of our own homophobia - or support of a homophobic society. It seems that Supporting homophobia - would be to keep silent or to agree with their thoughts and actions - or to search for justifications for their acts!

Not sure why you feel so strongly about this issue. It seems you keep writing another take in the hopes that you're going to change the opinions of your commenters??? :)

I'm trying to understand your logic. Although I do agree that Foley and Haggarty do have a pathology going on.

If anything - I would think it would open the minds of non-gay or non-out people that homophobia truly is self-hate over one's own coflicting issues of THEIR OWN SEXUALITY.

My open-minded straight buds see this very clearly. They're the first to question homophobic comments and often reference that that person (whoever made the comment) obviously has issues with their own sexuality.

At any rate that's my 2 cents.

9:53 PM  
Blogger garnet david said...

Excellent, thoughtful ideas and writing, Bruce.

I never knew about the "Hofjüde" situation. It makes your point very clear. The dellusional pathology of self-hate becomes inseparable from the person.

6:00 PM  
Blogger The Gay Species said...

Consider, if you will, my observations under the header "Cheater Detection" on my blog (which I won't repeat here), dated 11/13. Some of us may have too provincial an approach to what is also a biological phenomenon. Perhaps, mostly a biological phenomenon.

12:17 PM  
Blogger farmboyz said...

Once again, it's a pleasure to read you, and I agree with your usage of the "pathology" folder as a place to put all these recent events. I am hesitant to agree with you only when you say

"Now that it has become common knowledge that the homophobic agenda in congress is staffed in large part by gays,"

Granted, the gays are becoming more visible, but the homophobic agenda is still primarily the franchise of straights who, by dint of shear numbers, own more of it, I suspect. Also, I wouldn't be so fast to undercut the gay staffers feelings of need to hold onto their current jobs. I don't think their mobility is as easy as you suspect.

I am in complete agreeement with you that Haggart should have sought absolution from the gay community. I doubt many of us would have kicked him while down, if we had a sense that he was sincere, and in need of help.

I am curious to know what you think about the bloggers who are organizing Paypal ways for people to send money to the meth-using hustler who outed him, Although I count one of those prominent bloggers as a friend, I have refrained from participating in this "thank you" for a number of reasons that I have so far kept to myself.

1:08 AM  
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5:59 PM  

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