Oliver Lee Bateman discusses tabloid “outings” and the need for reassuring either/or categories.
If Harvard PhD, unrepentant birther, and noted conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi had his way, Barack Obama would long ago have been driven from the closet and forced to declare his preference for the less-fairer sex:
I urge you to watch all 14 minutes of this. Corsi, perhaps the most eloquent and by-the-book purveyor of the modern “paranoid style,” explains that he has done all of this research about Barack Obama’s ring-wearing past not because he has any problems with homosexuals but because Obama’s failure to confess this past “marriage” to a Pakistani man suggests that he had an ulterior motive when he issued his personal endorsement of government-sanctioned gay marriage (“I’m for it in principle, but it’s up to the states“).
This, like most of Jerome Corsi’s work, is utter tommyrot, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that this claim has been borne out. If Barack Obama had a consensual homosexual relationship of some sort two decades ago, should this color any of his statements regarding gay rights? The answer, I think, turns on a distinction between “homosexual acts” and “homosexuality” that individuals such as Corsi are either unwilling to make or are simply incapable of making. For these individuals, engaging in a single transgressive act, whether it be a same-sex assignation or a mere extramarital hook-up, is sufficient to forever brand the “guilty” party. The act, then, becomes an entire category of being: he or she is not merely someone who did something, but someone who is something.
By this logic–the kind of reader logic that propels the views and sales of cheap tabloids specializing in this brand of muckraking into the stratosphere–everyone is merely a hair’s breadth away from being “outed” as a member of some genus of Not-Us. This is wholly in accord with human history, if brandings and maimings and ghettoization are any indication, yet it seems strange that these revelations retain such purchase in an era of putative openness with regard to everything from recreational drug use to consensual intimate activity.
And I suppose it is actually an era of openness, in the sense that you must always and everywhere be openly declaring who and what you are. Elements on the moral right and left both seem uneasy with those who refuse to declare their allegiances in uncertain terms: they want, in the words of Homer Simpson, “[their] beer cold, [their] TV loud, and [their] homosexuals flaming.” The hipster must be identifiable as such, as with the meathead, the airhead, the ethnic caricature, and other stock types. Multiple-camera sitcoms (and single-camera critical darling Modern Family, too) thrive on these stereotypes; subtlety and nuanced characterization rarely amount to gangbusters business in the marketplace of ideas.
I still recall Dylan Baker’s semi-sympathetic portrayal of a conflicted pedophile in Todd Solondz’s film Happiness with a certain degree of shock and horror. The pedophile, after all, is for most of us merely a classification, and a lowly and degraded one at that. The notion that such a creature could have normal feelings and engage in normal activities was repugnant to my teenage self—how could such an individual be anything more than an unflattering mug shot on the right side of the screen during a local news report?
On the subject of the Watergate break-ins, Jean Baudrillard writes: “[first], the task was to dissimulate scandal; today, the task is to conceal the fact that there is none.” In other words, the force of public opinion-making must be directed at assuring everyone that fiendish acts such as that are not in the normal order of D.C. politics. Thus, even as researchers into human sexual behaviors suggest that most of us would be amenable to any number of intimate activities, it falls to the likes of the National Enquirer and Jerome Corsi to reassure us that, no, far from it, these people are the homosexuals, these people are the adulterers—they are, as F. Scott Fitzgerald allegedly said of the rich, different than you and me. To which one must be reminded of Hemingway’s supposed riposte that “yes, they have more money.” Or, as alt-country performer Steve Earle put it in “The Truth”:
The truth is it doesn’t matter what you do
‘Til you gaze in that mirror with an eye that’s true
And admit that what scares you is the me in you.
What affrights Jerome Corsi and others like him, then, is not that Barack Obama (or Kerry Rhodes, or anybody else) is a “homosexual,” but rather that they themselves are a single homosexual act away from being similarly labeled. And so we are left with a weird situation in which almost all of the pundits, critics, and tastemakers are either proclaiming their hypocrisy (because they, like Ted Haggard, are only one bender away from “falling off” the str8 and narrow) or trumpeting their openness (lest we somehow forget that this is, at essence, who they are semper ubique et ab omnibus). Meanwhile, we members of the “general public,” that large and amorphous assumed audience for these line-in-the-sand drawing figures, continue to think in absolutes yet live in ways that utterly confound said absolutes. Of course, there’s nothing particularly appealing, at least from a marketing standpoint, about telling people that life is really freaking complicated.
So does it in fact matter if Barack Obama is gay? Of course it does, except not at all. Make of that what you will.
*Editor’s note: Barack Obama is NOT gay.