There Are Gays In Our Nation's Capital-- Straights Too

Personally, I was lucky with the gay thing-- everyone in my life was as accepting of it as I was: family, friends, God, colleagues... people who I worked for, people who worked for me. Once I figured out who I was in that sense-- easier because I lived in Amsterdam at the time-- it was never much of an issue. But that wasn't what was going on in the greater culture.

In the music business I sometimes counseled artists who were ambivalent about coming out. And in politics... oy. If you've followed DWT with any frequency over the past 16 years, you know it's a topic I write about with some regularity, sometimes even counseling politicians about what do about their own place on the spectrum. One congressman, a Republican who I helped out, asked me to come have dinner with him a few months after he was forced to resign from Congress and asked me if he could move to California and run for office in Hollywood. I mentioned that the district was represented by Adam Schiff who was very popular and that the district was so blue that there hadn't been a serious Republican running there in many decades. He said he wouldn't mind switching parties. The conversation got sillier and sillier from there.

Anyway, conservative journalist Jamie Kirchick has a new book coming out, Secret City-- The Hidden History Of Gay Washington, which I'd like to read. I never liked his writing and I don't think I ever knew he was gay himself but today The Atlantic excerpted part of his book, the story of Robert Waldron, an LBJ-era victim of the "Lavender Scare," and it was pretty good. "For nearly half a century," he wrote, "no graver sin existed in the black book of American politics than homosexuality. From World War II until the end of the Cold War, untold thousands of gay men and women were either purged from government service or denied employment altogether, solely because of their sexual orientation. At the same time, some of the most important prerequisites for success in the nation’s capital-- the ability to work long hours on a low government salary, a willingness to travel at a moment’s notice, prioritizing career over family-- are more easily attained by those without a family to support, a set of circumstances that made Washington an especially attractive place for gay people, gay men in particular. The city has long attracted the archetypical 'best little boy in the world,' the author Andrew Tobias’s term for a certain type of gay young man who diligently channels the adversity engendered by his secret into academic pursuits, so many of whom have made their way to Washington because of its peculiar appetite for the skills that secret bred."

A few days earlier, Alexandra Jacobs reviewed the 826 page book for the NY Times. She wrote that Secret City "is a sprawling and enthralling history of how the gay subculture in Washington, D.C., long in shadow, emerged into the klieg lights. But it’s also a whodunit to rival anything by Agatha Christie. How did so many promising men in government wind up dead before their time, by such variously violent means?"... [T]he very skills gay people had to develop to survive-- studiousness, compartmentalization, discretion, itinerancy-- made them uniquely skilled, Kirchick points out, to sensitive tasks like espionage or high-level advising. For a long time, everyone in D.C. seemed to be looking over his shoulder, seeking signals, codes and clues-- a 'slight mince'; a 'jelly hand shake'; a 'limp wrist' or just overzealous grooming. These must have been harrowing existences, but their retelling makes for very good and suspenseful, if occasionally ponderous, reading."

Kirchick's book covers the time period from FDR's presidency through Bill Clinton's. Coming out is still a problem for some in DC-- usually Republicans-- but not for Democrats. There's even a <>congressional LGBTQ Caucus<> now-- started in 2008 by Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin. There are scores of presumably straight gay-friendly members (almost every Democrat in the House) and a gay chair, David Cicilline (D-RI) and 9 gay co-chairs: Angie Craig (D-MN), Sharice Davids (D-KS), Mondaire Jones (D-NY), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), Ritchie Torres (D-NY), Mark Takano (D-CA), Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Chris Pappas (D-NH). Notorious closet case Charlie Crist (D-FL) is a Vice Chair. He's also the closest to a Republican-- having been one his whole life until a few years ago-- of anyone in the Caucus. Republicans don't join. Some-- like Marie Newman and Pramila Jayapal-- members have LGBTQ family members and some-- like Ted Lieu, Jimmy Gomez, Jerry Nadler, and Adam Schiff-- represent districts with big LGBTQ populations. But there are no Republicans. (Jeff Van Drew was a member but quit after becoming a Republican and Richard Hanna, Nan Hayworth, Chris Shays, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo were in the Caucus before leaving Congress.)

In a 2018 post, I asked, rhetorically, Who remembers Idaho Senator Larry Craig? He was elected to the House in 1980, was elected to the NRA's Board of Directors in 1983, the Senate in 1990, tried to seduce a humpy young undercover cop in a toilet in the Minneapolis Airport in 2007 and was forced to retire in 2009. Now he's a disgraced energy lobbyist. Craig was vehemently anti-gay but had spent his entire time in Washington orally copulating male prostitutes, many in public toilets, but some in his home. He likes rough trade. At the time, a new issue of Scientific American included a feature, Homophobes Might Be Hidden Homosexuals by Jeanna Bryner. "Homophobes," she wrote, "should consider a little self-reflection, suggests a new study finding those individuals who are most hostile toward gays and hold strong anti-gay views may themselves have same-sex desires, albeit undercover ones. The prejudice of homophobia may also stem from authoritarian parents, particularly those with homophobic views as well, the researchers added."

In 2012, Out columnist Mark Simpson interviewed David Halperin, who's new book, How To Be Gay, had just been released. A few questions and responses got me thinking about how the gay movement or LGBTQ community has changed so drastically since I started pondering why there were so many gay people in the 1970s punk rock revolution and how that had made me wonder if there had been an over-representation of gays in the French Revolution and Russian Revolution as well. You know, when you ain't not nothin', you ain't got nothin' to lose, so revolutions can look pretty attractive.

A cherished line of mine in your book is ‘Sometimes I think homosexuality is wasted on gay people.’ Why are gays these days so keen to out-bore the straights?
They’ve been bought off with promises of normality, and their social worlds have been destroyed, so they lack the context and the courage to claim their cultural heritage, to the genius of being queer. They still produce cultural breakthroughs of brilliance, but they aren’t comfortable taking credit for them.

Is it a paradox that the resurgence of biological explanations of homosexuality has coincided with the dominance of the line “gays are just like everyone else,” except even more boring?
It’s kind of weird that so much of the gay movement embraces that bogus gay science, because that’s the one area in which claims of gay difference are triumphing in a kind of return to Victorian notions about congenital abnormality. You would think gay people would prefer to think of themselves as culturally different rather than biologically different. But here you can measure the effect in the United States of religiously inspired homophobia: In order to dodge the implication that homosexuality is a sinful choice, gay people are willing to accept biological determinism.
Believing that you only suck cock because God made you do it is kinda kinky, though. Are you a bit of a gay chauvinist. Do you believe that being gay is better than being straight?
Yes, I am and I do. At least, I can’t imagine living any other way, or wanting to. I certainly think being gay is better than being a straight man. But then nobody really likes straight men, except for some misguided gay guys.