What Is Being Outed: the Illinois Representative’s Sexuality, or His Hypocrisy?
On Friday, January 3, former CBS reporter Itay Hod wrote a rant on his Facebook page that essentially outed Aaron Schock, the totally ripped, nattily dressed Representative from Illinois. (He doesn’t name him, but he might as well have: “What if you know a certain GOP congressman, let’s just say from Illinois, is gay.”) Hod is hardly the first to intimate that Schock is gay—there have been rumors since he took office in 2009—nor does he cite viable sources or offer hard evidence, um, so to speak. (“You know this because one of your friends, a journalist for a reputable network, told you in no uncertain terms that he caught that GOP congressman and his male roommate in the shower … together,” his post reads. “Now they could have been good friends just trying to conserve water. But there’s more. What if this congressman has also been caught by TMZ cameras trolling gay bars.”) Instead he offers Schock’s seven “gayest” Instagram posts of 2013 (the Illinois Rep has since locked his account, but you can see them here. They are pretty gay), and the fact that the Congressman follows on the social network newly out-bisexual Olympic diver Tom Daley.
The claims are circumstantial, even dubious, possibly slanderous—though a little digging around, and they probably wouldn’t be too difficult to substantiate. But why does Hod care? Why should any of us? Because Congressman Aaron Schock has an absolute abysmal voting record on gay issues: He opposes marriage equality and the repeal of DOMA; he opposed the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell”; and he voted against adding sexual orientation to federal hate crimes statutes. He’s the worst of the worst, and those who seek to expose him are driven by righteous rage. Because what’s being outed is not his sexuality, but his hypocrisy. The LGBT community certainly isn’t eager to welcome a person who goes out of his way to vote for such damaging, spiteful legislation. This is about publicly shaming him for being the vicious, self-loathing creature that he is.
Outing has often been used to expose hypocrisy, of course. But there was a time not long ago (and at times, even still) when activists, and then later gadfly (I’m being nice here) bloggers like Perez Hilton, would push an admired public figure to come out and represent when few high-profile people, if any, would take the initiative, the risk, to do so. During the AIDS crisis, President Reagan wouldn’t so much as utter the word gay, let alone AIDS or HIV. He’d absolutely refused to acknowledge the crisis—his administration treated it like a joke. The fast-growing pandemic outed a lot of people, either while they were sick, or in their obituaries, which were becoming all too numerous. Sure, they died of AIDS-related causes like meningitis and pneumonia, but we quickly came to know that men in their 20s, 30s, and 40s didn’t die of such things with such frequency, certainly not every day. Especially not after 1986, when Rock Hudson became the first high-profile AIDS death in Hollywood. Not that the death of a friend and former colleague sensitized Reagan much—he certainly didn’t change his views, and public figures were more scared than ever to come out of the closet.
One of the first major shame-outing, if you will, happened in 1989, by an activist named Michael Petrelis, who claimed that an Oregon lawmaker, Senator Mark Hatfield, was gay—Hatfield supported virulently homophobic bills initiated by North Carolina senator Jesse Helms. This was the beginning of a long campaign by activists and journalists to dog homophobic legislators and figures who were living on the down low. Michelangelo Signorile, now at Huffington Post and Sirius Radio, was an outing pioneer, founding the gay weekly, OutWeek, and famously exposed the gay life of publishing tycoon Malcolm Forbes. Many would follow his example; as a result, Idaho Senator Larry “Wide Stance” Craig, Virginia Congressman Edward Schrock, and Florida Congressman Mark Foley—all anti-gay-voting Republicans with secret gay lives—were unmasked, and saw their careers in various states of ruin.
But journalist Gabriel Rotello, a former editor of OutWeek, explained that outing was also often used as an equalizer. “What we have called ‘outing’ is a primarily journalistic movement to treat homosexuality as equal to heterosexuality in the media,” he said. “In 1990, many of us in the gay media announced that henceforth we would simply treat homosexuality and heterosexuality as equals. We were not going to wait for the perfect, utopian future to arrive before equalizing the two: We were going to do it now.” In 1990, Queer Nation and its offshoot, the Dyke Action Machine (DAM!), launched a visibility campaign called “Absolutely Queer,” modeled from Absolut Vodka ads, to celebrate gay celebrities—some were already out or obviously queer, like the androgynous Boy George; some were out but dead, like Gertrude Stein. And then, more controversially, some, like Jodie Foster, were being shoved out of the closet because we needed them to be our role models. Her Absolutely Queer poster read: “Oscar Winner. Yale Graduate. Ex-Disney Moppet. Dyke.”
I remember seeing those posters wheat-pasted around downtown Manhattan wherever I looked. Those didn’t elicit a declaration from her, though. They pissed her off. She was at the height of an already-long career that began when she was three years old. A lot of people in the LGBT community were angry that she was so reticent, but I remember thinking, This is a woman who was stalked by a guy during her freshman year in college, who sent her a bajillion creepy love letters, a guy who tried to kill the president to impress her. Yeah, I get it. Foster was always private about her life. Every aspect of it. She didn’t ask to get into showbiz. I was very out at the time, an activist, myself, and yet I found myself not only understanding her need to hold tight to her privacy, but also defending it. Of course, I really wanted her to come out because I, like so many of my friends, wanted her to be a role model. Or a girlfriend. Because she was smart. And hot. (I mean, after all, she was an Oscar winner. And a Yale graduate …) But she wasn’t the bad guy (this was before she started hanging out with that drunken racist anti-Semite Mel Gibson). So when she finally made her public declaration at the Golden Globes last January, she talked about how much she cleaved, and still cleaves to her privacy, and how she really never wanted to have to let go of it. This, I have to believe, was a dig at Queer Nation and DAM!
I have to admit, when I first watched it, I rolled my eyes. Get over it, nutty. But then I rewatched it today, and I reconsidered: She had already come out, in 2007, at a Hollywood Reporter function, thanking her then-partner, Cydney Bernard, declaring her love. That would have been enough—we’ve been throwing a virtual parade online for Robin Roberts, who made passing reference to her girlfriend of 10 years on a Facebook post. Instead, six years later, Jodie Foster made a public declaration when accepting a lifetime achievement award, the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes, to a community in which she’s lived for 48 of her 51 years, one that has hidden her open secret all this time. She didn’t necessarily want to, but she knew it was important to say the words. To be as clear as possible.
Because Jodie was never a hypocrite. I don’t believe in outing gays or lesbians or bis or gender-queers or trans people. I believe in outing hypocrites. Congressman Aaron Schock is just that guy. And there have been so many other closet-case, virulently anti-gay-voting legislators like him (though maybe none as good-looking or well-dressed!). There is no shame in sexuality. I would hope, as a society, we’ve moved well past that. But there will always be shame in hypocrisy, in betrayal, in hating yourself so much that you knowingly limit the human rights of others like you. Or of your fellow citizens at all. And that will always demand exposure.
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