Peter Tatchell, Whitney Houston, Malcolm X, and race remixed

I hear dead people (© Max Sparber)

Madcap Briton Peter Tatchell enjoys ventriloquism. It’s a skill he’s probably been practicing since childhood; and anyway, he knows what people should be saying, even if they don’t.  Dead folks are easy marks as dummies, since they’ve got nothing to say for themselves. And Tatchell’s talent at taking on the voices of dead Iranians is notorious.

Tatchell also has a driving concern with black people. Look at his recurrent need to speak about and for Africans, even when Africans are doing a perfectly fine job of speaking for themselves. Or his peculiar way of attaching to himself a few tokenized black folks from time to time in his advocacy– as if he draws deep pleasure from their dependency, but knows they have an authority he wants to pirate somehow. He seems to think, one might say, that black people are less sexually civilized than he, yet need him to enlighten them: a form of self-flattery magnified at continental scale. Plenty of Africans haven’t forgotten, after all, how in his unwanted intervention on Nigeria’s anti-homosexuality bill in 2006 , his key description of the legislation was: “savage.”  (That Tatchell’s political deputy for years was the weirdly obsessed Brett Lock — known for defending what in the US we call the “n-word” as merely an inoffensive derivation from the Latin – further suggests his odd attitudes.)

Brett Lock of OutRage! discusses race and discourse: Hurryupharry.org

Most interesting, though, is his periodic expropriation of the sexualities of dead black icons. Tatchell appoints himself posthumous press agent, and sets up a dynamic where anyone who objects to a white guy doing this is simply proving that black people can’t stand gays.

He did this most famously with Malcolm X: branding Malcolm GAY!, then brandishing the outraged response as evidence of black homophobia. When Manning Marable devoted one page of his brilliant, magisterial, 576-page biography to Malcolm’s sexual relations with white men early in his career in Boston, Tatchell read and responded to that page alone, proclaiming to the world he’d been right all along. Marable himself was dead by then too, making Tatchell’s man-grab easier and more fun. (Fellow grave-robber Doug Ireland did the same; to read these necroerotic  writers’ reviews of Marable, you’d think the biography was the long-lost, mixed-race episode of Will and Grace.)

Marable’s sensitive account makes it clear that the principal relationship  in question had nothing to do with identity, but rather with – mutual — exploitation. Malcolm was hustling: using somebody for money and power, and being used for sex in the process. What Tatchell reads, blindly, as a story of love and identity was in fact an episode in African-Americans’ ways of confronting subjugation. Tatchell can’t grasp that the interaction, however much one of exchange, was founded on the partners’ inequality. Its contribution  to Malcolm’s ideology, if it had one, surely was to deepen his awareness of how intimate both exploitation and resistance were, how they shaped experience at all levels. In taking the relationship as equal affection,  Tatchell erases African-Americans’ historical passage. A white man has no right to do that. But this is one rights issue Tatchell greets with indifference.

No surprise, then, that Tatchell himself hustled to latch on to Whitney Houston. Nothing like milking a dead celebrity for publicity! Within six hours of her death Tatchell was tweeting about her “#lesbian partner in 1980s”! He parlayed this into plenty of press, and a slightly creepy piece in the Daily Mail.  None of his story quite checks out. It’s strange, for one thing, that a deeply closeted celebrity would meet the most famous practioner of outing in the UK, and say to him, “Hello, Mr. Tatchell! This is my lesbian partner!” But hey: it upped the Lexis-Nexis count.

Two, though, can play ventriloquist. The blog Racism Remixed has decided to tell us what Tatchell really meant. Their reconstruction is here – and reblogged below:

Whitney Houston- The Unofficial Inside Story – By PETER TATCHELL

Peter Tatchell grave robber

Tatchell has taken Whitney Houston’s death as an opportunity to ‘out’ another black person. It appears that ‘Whitney’s REAL tragedy was giving up her greatest love of all – her female partner Robyn Crawford’ http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2103164/Whitney-Houstons-REAL-tragedy-giving-female-partner-Robyn-Crawford.html

NOTE:PETEY LOVES ADDING CREATIVELY TO OTHER PEOPLE’S HISTORIES AND BIOGRAPHIES, SO WE THOUGHT WE MIGHT, TOO.

I met Whitney and her female partner at the Reach Out & Touch HIV vigil in London in 1991.

Whitney spoke movingly in support of people with HIV, at a time when many other stars kept their distance. Her support was much valued.

She advocated the welfare and human rights of people with HIV. It was a commendable stand.

I have, in the past, declined to name Whitney’s female partner EVEN THOUGH YOU KNOW HOW I LOVE A GOOD OUTING, AND HAVE FOR A WHILE BEEN FASCINATED IN THE INTIMATE LIVES OF BLACK PEOPLE MOST OF WHOM YOU KNOW ARE ON THE DL OR MSM, I MEAN WSW (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2009/oct/20/malcolm-x-bisexual-black-history). SEE I AM NOT AS SEXIST AS PEOPLE SAY I AM, AND I DO CARE ABOUT LESBIANS, EVEN WHEN THEY ARE BLACK. MOST of the media DO TOO, AND have since named her PARTNER as Robyn Crawford, SO HERE GOES. WHITNEY’S FEMALE PARTNER WAS NONE OTHER THAN ROBYN CRAWFORD. 

When I met them, it was obvious they were madly in love. Their intimacy and affection was so sweet and romantic. LESBIANS ARE ADORABLE AND MATE FOR LIFE.

They held hands in the back of the car like teenage sweethearts. Clearly more than just friends, BECAUSE WHEN LESBIANS HOLD HANDS IT BASICALLY MEANS THE SAME AS WHEN WE ARE HAVING SEX, AND WOMEN WHO ARE NOT HAVING SEX WITH EACH OTHER NEVER HOLD HANDS, they were a gorgeous couple, EVEN I COULD SEE THAT AND I’M WHITE, I MEAN, AND I’M GAY, and so happy together. To see their love was infectious and uplifting. BLACK PEOPLE, FINALLY UPLIFTED IN MY EYES, AFTER CENTURIES OF TRYING ON THEIR OWN. I WAS CERTAINLY UPLIFTED. I FELT LIKE I WAS WALKING ON AIR. IT WAS AMAZING. 

Whitney was happiest and at the peak of her career when she was with Robyn. I KNOW THIS BECAUSE WE WERE CLOSE FRIENDS AND TALKED ON THE PHONE EVERY NIGHT ABOUT MATTERS OF THE HEART. AND EVEN IF WE DIDN’T, I KNOW TRUE LOVE BETWEEN BLACK PEOPLE WHEN I SEE IT. Sadly, she suffered BLACK family and BLACK church pressure to end her greatest love of all.

She was fearful of the effects that lesbian rumours might have on her family, reputation and career. SHE TOLD ME THIS ON MYSPACE. AND EVEN IF SHE DIDN’T, I KNEW IT ANYWAY BECAUSE I’M A JOURNALIST. KIND OF. WELL I WRITE FOR THE GUARDIAN A LOT. AND WHEN THE GUARDIAN DOESN’T WANT ME I’M HAPPY TO GO TO THE DAILY MAIL GIVEN THEIR GREAT RECORD ON GAY RIGHTS REPORTING. Eventually she succumbed. The result? A surprise marriage to Bobby Brown.

The marriage was a disaster. Bad boy Bobby was never her true soul mate. I KNOW THIS BECAUSE SHE TOLD ME ON MSN MESSENGER. Giving up Robyn – they’d been inseparable for years – must have been emotionally traumatic.

Whitney’s life started going downhill soon afterwards. Previously wholesome AND AS PURE AS THE DRIVEN SNOW EXCEPT THAT SHE WAS BLACK and clean-living, she went on drink-and-drug binges – evidence of a troubled personal life and much unhappiness.

I’M NO PSYCHOLOGIST, PERSONAL FRIEND OF WHITNEY’S OR EXPERT ON ADDICTION, BUT it seems likely that the split with Robyn contributed to her substance abuse and decline. There is a known correlation between denial of one’s sexuality and a propensity to self-destructive behaviour. DAN SAVAGE SAYS SO TOO, AND YOU KNOW THERE’S A LOT OF MONEY IN THAT NOW. Homophobia undoubtedly added to the pressures on Whitney and hastened her demise.

Soon after her very sad death, I was quoted as saying that Whitney was happiest when she loved a woman. Some fans accused me of ‘insulting’ and ‘smearing’ her. (SMEARING IS ONE OF MY FAVOURITE WORDS EVER, AS MY FANS AND REGULAR READERS MAY KNOW). BUT ACTUALLY THE MOST INSULTING THING I’VE EVER SAID ABOUT WHITNEY HOUSTON IS THE TITLE OF THIS ARTICLE, IMPLYING THAT HER SUPPOSED BREAK UP FROM HER SUPPOSED SOUL MATE IS MORE TRAGIC THAN HER ACTUAL UNTIMELY DEATH. SORRY FRIENDS AND FAMILY, BUT AN OVERDOSE IS NEVER AS SAD AS WHEN TWO SUPPOSED LESBIANS PART WAYS.

But there is nothing shameful about a woman loving a woman. It’s not dirty or sordid and shouldn’t be kept hidden. FORGET ALL THE JOKES ABOUT FISH SMELL AND CARPET MUNCHING YOU HAVE HEARD GAY MEN SAY.

PEOPLE WHO DO KEEP IT HIDDEN ARE BLACK. I MEAN CLOSETED. OR IS IT HOMOPHOBIC? SELF-HATING? ANYWAY, DON’T KEEP IT HIDDEN FOLKS, BE PROUD AND WEAR A RAINBOW.

I did not out her as lesbian/ bisexual. APART FROM WITH THIS ARTICLE, BUT SHE’S ALREADY DEAD, SO. She semi-outed herself by dedicating her albums to Robyn. NO WOMAN EVER DEDICATES HER ALBUM TO ANOTHER WOMAN UNLESS SHE’S HAVING HAND HOLDING SEX WITH THEM. EXCEPT FOR WHEN SOME FEMALE ARTISTS DEDICATE THEIR ALBUMS TO THEIR MOTHERS. BUT EVEN THEN, YOU GOTTA WONDER, RIGHT?

Years ago, she was outed by Bobby’s sister, Tina, and by her former bodyguard, Kevin Ammons. THEY DID IT FIRST FOLKS! 

Bobby Brown hinted in his autobiography that she married him to dispel lesbian rumours: ‘I believe her agenda was to clean up her image … The media was accusing her of having a bisexual relationship with her assistant, Robin [sic] Crawford … that didn’t go too well with her image. In Whitney’s situation, the only solution was to get married … [to] kill all speculation.’ AND IF ANYONE KNOWS THE TRUTH OF WHITNEY HOUSTON’S HEART, IT’S BOBBY NOT-HOUSTON’S-SOULMATE BROWN. 

Telling the truth does not besmirch Whitney’s memory. It honours the most important relationship she ever had. I KNOW IT WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT RELATIONSHIP SHE EVER HAD BECAUSE SHE TOLD ME ON FACEBOOK. APOLOGIES TO WHITNEY’S FAMILY MEMBERS – YOU GUYS DIDN’T MAKE THE LIST. BUT DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY – LESBIANS ARE OBSESSED WITH ROMANCE AND DENOUNCE ALL OTHER INTERACTIONS AS INSIGNIFICANT AND MEANINGLESS. THE LGBT PSYCHIATRIST WHO’S NOW PART OF MY CAMPAIGN SAYS IT’S CALLED CODEPENDENCE.

What’s wrong is ignoring or denying the one love that made her truly happy, NOT OUTING PEOPLE AND BELITTLING THEIR DEATHS.

Homophobia contributed to Whitney’s fall.

I want to see a more tolerant society where people don’t feel the need to marry – UNLESS IT’S A GAY MARRIAGE – to deflect rumours of homosexuality, and where they are not driven to self-destruction because of their inability to accept and express their love for a person of the same sex AND I ALSO WANT MORE FAMOUS BLACK PEOPLE TO DIE SO I CAN WRITE ABOUT HOW THEY WERE REALLY GAY LIKE I DID WITH MALCOLM X.

Achieving this goal would be a fitting tribute to Whitney Houston AND TO MY SAVINGS ACCOUNT: sort code – 8-5-E 18-R 15-O  account number – 19-S 1-A 22-V 9-15-O 21-U 18-R


Rick Perry’s hot manmeat makes me cream my jeans, and other fallacies: Thoughts about outing

Happy New Year! Here’s some gossip. Did you know that two extremely homophobic men who served, in the last decade, as prime ministers of their respective European nations were actually gay? So was the son of a dictator lately deposed in the Arab Spring – as well as two of the old tyrant’s cabinet ministers, which practically makes a harem quorum. Then there are the two Middle Eastern monarchs (why do these all seem to come in pairs?) who are, you know, queens of the male gender. And there’s the immensely famous Hollywood actor – not Tom Cruise, maybe twenty years older – who shows up at supersecret elite gay parties featuring ultradiscreet hustlers for the closeted and fabulously wealthy. But don’t forget the internationally known gay rights activist who’s actually straight; he’s never even slept with a man; his nice “lesbian” roommate is his girlfriend.

Now! All those stories are true except one – one I made up, to keep it interesting. They’re true, I mean, in the sense that with that lone exception I was truly told them, by people who seemed to be in some position to know; true, therefore, in the same sense most truths you share with other people are “true.” (I can’t prove airplanes are held up by air currents, rather than elves living under the wings; but folks who say so are reputed to be expert.) I know the names of those sneaky closet types, too; but I’m not going to tell you, because I’m a mean bastard. But you’d love to hear, wouldn’t you?  I bet you’re already guessing. Which one do you want to find out the most? The least?

Rebozo, Nixon, and Henry Kissinger: Fetch Cambodia, Henry! Fetch!

Two pieces of news got me off on this kick this holiday season. One is about the dead. Did you know Richard Nixon was gay? A new book, Nixon’s Darkest Secrets: The Inside Story of America’s Most Troubled President, by Don Folsom, says as much. A White House reporter dropped some silverware at an official dinner, and, bending to retrieve it, saw the President and longtime buddy Bebe Rebozo holding hands under the table. There’s plenty of equally ironclad proof; the men’s peculiar intimacy even aroused curiosity in the much more reticent press of the time, since an thick odor of crookedness hung round Rebozo, hardly making him explicable compadre material for the leader of the free world. No one seems happy about this revelation. Rick Santorum must now realize the homosexual jihadists have ruled the roost for more decades than he imagined, since they had their talons so long ago in the Defender of the West. Larry Kramer must feel he was a very bad boy this year. He wanted Abraham Lincoln; instead, he got this lump of coal.

Since I came to this story late, I assume the Tricky Dick jokes are all taken. But then there’s Ricky’s Tricks. Rick Perry, the slavering right-wing governor of Texas and presidential candidate, the one with the hair, is gay. So says Glen Maxey, the first openly gay member of the Texas state legislature, in a new self-published book, Head Figure Head: The Search for the Hidden Life of Rick Perry.

a caption really would be pointless, don’t you think?

I haven’t read it. I don’t know if it’s true. Ace reporter Doug Ireland is hawking its veracity on Facebook, which offers strong if not conclusive evidence that it’s humbug. A review on Gawker says Maxey’s investigation “was conducted, oddly, mostly through Facebook messages and chats,” which jibes  with Doug’s mode of carrying out human rights research in his living room. Anyone who knows Doug’s creative oeuvre can hear his voice in the following lament:

Maxey can be a little naïve about why The Huffington Post spiked the story [about his findings]. He complains almost relentlessly about how much work went into it—at least two months … —as if this alone should give HuffPo the impetus to publish his account. He doesn’t seem to understand what hearsay is, and when confronted about this, says simply, “I’m not a journalist.”

Fellow Texan rumormonger John R. Selig has put an interview with the author online in three long, long podcasts. That’s three hours of two Texans talking about sex! I couldn’t listen.

The quotes on Gawker do make the book sound like a great trashfest.

“He jerked down his shorts,” [James said], “It lasted about a minute. He had a little dick. It was the worst fuck of my life. And on top of it all he stunk because he had been jogging. He then pulled up his shorts and put the used condom in his pocket. … Oh my God,” thought James. “I just got fucked by Rick Perry!”

There is also a rumor that in 2004 Perry’s wife caught him screwing the Secretary of State (not Colin Powell; Texas has its own Secretary of State, it seems). I’m happy to know that these days Texas officials are mating with each other, rather than with humankind. The last Texans in high authority who were unqualified members of homo sapiens, and entitled to intercourse with the rest of us without an intervention from the SPCA, were Jim Hightower (whom Rick Perry unseated as Agriculture Commissioner in 1990) and the late, great Ann Richards (undone by the simian George W Bush four years later). Since then, each quadrennial parade of successful candidates has been a clear explanation of why Texans rightly disbelieve in evolution. If these lower beasts copulated regularly with humans, it would prove that other virtuous Rick — Santorum — right: legalize homosexuality and next thing you know you have man on dog, man on box turtle, man on Rick Perry. Or worse, if possible.

All these torrents of truth, though, have made me think about something I haven’t for a long while: Outing. What are the ethical implications? Is it ever right?  Ever wrong? What liberty do we have to hypocrisy, and what obligations to others’ privacy?   As Marlene Dietrich groans at the end of Touch of Evil –another film about a Texas politician — “What can you ever say about anybody?”  Right on, Marlene!

I’ll start with an earlier question.  Who, among those closet cases, excited your curiosity the most? The Hollywood actor, right? I mean politicians are well and good. But stars … they’re all publicity, all surface. The burnished sheen of the broadcast image is so overpowering that it creates its own counter-hunger to find out what’s beneath it. Every role they act and every photoshoot they grace breeds the tabloid story or the probing paparazzi purporting to tell what’s really true. (The private lives of genuine actors, who aspire to be humanity in its frail diversity rather than icons of the ideal, are so much less interesting than the stars’. Who cares that Cherry Jones is a lesbian? Who wouldn’t care if Angelina Jolie were?) And of course, if the truth unearthed diminishes them, all the better. Knock them off that pedestal!  Prove the hetero sex god is a pushy bottom! We want the secret, and we want it dirty.

Which leads to the one you’re surely least interested in: the gay rights activist. Who cares about activists? There’s nothing fun about their lives, believe me. But there’s another aspect. What is scandalous about someone being … normal? The sole thing remarkable is that there’d be a reason to hide it. It could only raise eyebrows if the guy pretended to be ex-gay and sold out to the conversion crowd. (Attention, Exodus International: I am taking offers at my private e-mail.) Outing is not a two-way street. The scandal comes when the ordinary is stripped off to reveal the strange: not the other way round.

The leper principle: one touch makes you gay

Moreover, not only does homosexuality derive its interest from being non-normative, abnormal, it is actually more powerful than the normal. We accord it the infectious quality of a pathology: of a disease. So if the “gay” activist were to come out as straight, a lot of us simply wouldn’t believe it. Of course he’s really gay! You don’t spend a life’s work on homosexuality without there being something there. At a minimum, someone would tell you the activist is “performatively” queer: in a universe of roles, he’s acted this out with success. Again, it is intriguing that this only works in one direction. To play the part of queerness even once gives you an identity that amounts to ontic. When Rick Perry (1 wife, 3 kids) or Ted Haggard (1 to 5), or Larry Craig (1, 3 adopted) is caught in man-sex, or reported to be caught, or caught trying, the story is not that they’re performatively straight with a short lapse from character, or bisexual, or questioning, or experimenting: they’re gay, enough said. Hundreds of episodes of uncontroversial heterosexual copulation can’t erase the identifying force of that one abortive time in the bathroom. Heterosexuals would tend to agree with the gays on this one; but most of the gays are absolute in their certainty. As Larry Kramer explained about his obsession with Lincoln (1 wife, 4 kids) — based on his sharing a bed with a man, no further elaboration:

“There’s no question in my mind he was a gay man and a totally gay man … It wasn’t just a period, but something that went on his whole life.”

No Texan ever descanted of the Rapture with more conviction.

This assumption that one act makes you gay cements homosexual desire as the mark of minority status. It’s opposed to the insight –equally the property of Freudian and feminist theory — that it’s a subversive potential in most people, a power thrumming under the bland meadows of compulsory heterosexuality like a postponed earthquake or a patient geyser. That is a limiting, constricting vision of what our desires are able to do.

The main point I want to make, though, is this. As activists,  we devise plenty of excuses for outing. But the strength that drives it is still shame.

In outing,  the closet speaks through us. (And by “us,” I mean all my fellow queers to some degree, not just the activists.) The act reflects our own insecurity that homosexuality is non-normal. Even the certainty with which we assert that one gay incident makes you gay for life involves no actual dynamics of identity or sexuality, but stigma: the belief that a single transgression marks you permanently as endless reiterations of rightness never can. It’s consonant with the racist faith that one drop of “inferior” blood corrupts generations of offspring, that a Gentile woman’s hour-long dalliance with a Jew renders her a pariah to the Volk.  It’s the hatred instilled inside us that drives our obsession with the “truth.”

Outing is still explicitly a tool of hate. It’s still used by homophobes to undermine those they dislike. The US right has mustered rumors of homosexuality against Ann Richards, Hillary Clinton, Janet Reno, Pat Schroeder, and many more. (It’s interesting how right-wing murmurs seem to target women, while gay activists mostly out the men. Are there no closeted conservative lesbians to stalk? Do you really believe Condi Rice is dating Jack Donaghy?) It’s almost subterranean, but there is persistent buzz in Tea Party circles that Barack Obama is gay.  Why else would Rush Limbaugh repeatedly demand that his former girlfriends  “come forward”? The implication is they don’t exist:  among the many lies of the Kenyan-in-chief is his masculinity, while Michelle – with that fabled, telltale musculature – is a convenient beard.

But how exactly are gays’ outings of right-wing homophobes, as a tactic meant to discredit, so different?

To be sure, there are plenty of good rationales for outing. Take Blogactive.com: the site of activist Mike Rogers, who devotes his enviable energies to flaying lying politicians he considers homophobes. He’s found plenty of stuff: he posted audio of a Republican congressman talking on a gay chat line, and the fundamentalist schmuck resigned. The website offers what’s now the standard two-step explanation: preemptive apology, then justification.

People are entitled to privacy and the exposure of someone’s sexual orientation without their permission is unacceptable to me. Reporting on the hypocrisy of those who represent us in government? That’s an entirely different matter.

The just-retribution-for-hypocrisy argument is widely used. But look whose pictures are up on Rogers’ site right now. (Admittedly, their outing wasn’t Rogers’ own work, but they suggest standards he applies.) They include:

  • The GOP mayor of Medford, NJ , who resigned after an anonymous male escort claimed on the net the man paid him for sex. I don’t see any indication the mayor was especially homophobic –just married, and Republican. (Looking elsewhere, though, I notice l the mayor had actually opposed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.)
  • The GOP former sheriff of Arapahoe County, AZ,  who went to jail for allegedly offering meth to a man in exchange for sex. The hypocrisy on drugs is clear, but I don’t see evidence he was hypocritical about gays. Another website claims he was a “major contributor” to Marilyn Musgrave, a congresswoman who sponsored a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. But this seems to have been someone with the same name, a urologist in Greeley.

Hmm.

Doug Ireland offered a slightly sharper-toothed criterion in outing David Dreier, a closeted Republican House member. First the apology—“I have always taken the view that outing a gay person should be approached with caution”— but then Ireland added that hypocrisy had to be harmful:

… in doing so one should strictly adhere to the Barney Frank Rule. As articulated by the openly gay Massachusetts congressman …when Frank threatened to out a number of gay-baiting Republican fellow congressmen, the rule insists that outing is only acceptable when a person uses their power or notoriety to hurt gay people. [emphasis added]

(Barney himself dismissed Dreier rather nicely. When asked if the man lost a Republican leadership post because he was too moderate, Frank replied, “Yes, in the sense that I marched in the moderate pride parade last summer and went to a moderate bar.”)

But the problem is how you define “hurt.”  This brings to mind one of my tussles with Peter Tatchell on a queer listserve, when I said I disliked outing and he evinced outrage. “There is no human right to hypocrisy,” Tatchell intoned. I answered, of course there is. It’s called the right to privacy, and it’s enshrined in most of the international treaties.   Privacy protects not just your right to keep a sphere of your life secret, but to keep it different; to lie about what is going on there if you’re so inclined; to defend yourself against prigs who insist that your public face and your existence behind four walls align exactly in ideology, practices, and values; to contradict yourself, and contain multitudes who don’t necessarily get along. The main moral limit is that you not conceal what hurts people. The right to privacy has been the first principle on which courts have overturned sodomy laws, worldwide.

It is, in fact, a weak right in international law. The covenants allow states to infringe it, to protect (among other reasons) “public morals.”   One of the arguments proponents of sodomy laws mount has been that private homosexual conduct does hurt people. It threatens public morals – reasoning that’s resonated with publics from Houston to Harare.   Opponents have countered this not only by contending no, it doesn’t, but by going at the meaning of the “morals” exception – trying to devise a less sweeping, more specific definition of harm.

A couple of years ago, my colleague Ali Miller and I worked on a brief for the European Court of Human Rights, in a Turkish censorship case. We maintained that, to demonstrate harm to public morals, governments needed not just to allege some general damage, but to identify particular victims and prove the hurt.  We wrote:

“[P]ublic morality” arguments are acceptable only where some real and specific harm to society can be shown. … Authorities may not criminalise and confiscate publications without demonstrating what harm it causes to what part of the “public,” when, and where, and tailor any restrictions to any specific harm. Authorities cannot evade that responsibility by postulating a “public” and its hypothetical values as a pre-emptive and dangerously free-floating excuse … Laws are moving away from 19th century ideas of the protection of “public morality” and toward a more limited purpose of addressing instances of specific harm. The broad justifications that supported [these] laws when they developed are insupportable in a modern legal regime of rights.

That’s a criterion in law – here applied to obscenity, but equally applicable to cases where the state proposes to punish private acts. But I contend a version should apply in personal, ethical decisions about when an individual (or a website or a TV show) can intrude in someone else’s privacy.

It’s not enough to posit that their public acts were “harmful.” You need to think through whom they harmed and how; whether the harm was directed and intended, or simply the byproduct of a comparatively innocent action or association – mere belonging to a political party, say, or a church; and, most importantly, whether the outing will stop the harm. Will it succor the victims? Will it shut the speakers up? Or will hate carry on? — in which case the outing has no aim but vengeance.

The sheriff and the mayor don’t qualify, in my book. Outing Republicans just because they are Republicans is similarly not kosher; or Catholics because they are Catholics; or Muslims – you get the point. Peter Tatchell himself spent part of the 90s sending odd letters to MPs and Church of England bishops whom he suspected of being gay.  The missives flirted with the legal definition of blackmail:

“Although Outrage! had been passed a lot of detailed information about your personal life which would have enabled us to confidently name you…we chose not to do so.”

One MP keeled over dead. A bishop, David Hope, went public with the letter, accusing Tatchell of intimidation in a “profoundly disturbing campaign.” One wonders about the rationale here as well. Is mere membership in a Church hierarchy that, as a whole, regards homosexuality as a sin sufficient to convict one of “hypocrisy”?  Can’t one have a genuine religious faith without agreeing with all the Church’s stances? Can’t one even regard oneself sincerely as a sinner — and in addition to shame and penitence, perhaps derive compassion from the fact?

And then there’s Rick Perry. The man has been steadfast in his misbehavior. His longtime defense of Texas’s sodomy law was bad.  His recent ad about his struggle against the homosexual agenda was … well, bad too. If there’s actual evidence, outing him would be justified.

Perry: I remember I screwed a third guy, too, and his name was … uh … oops. The EPA?

But his campaign’s over. Today’s Iowa caucuses will probably mark the end. For someone touted five months ago as inevitable, he’s been a bigger flop than Ishtar. Do his miserable, halting performances have something to do with his fear of exposure, his seizing up in the glare of scrutiny? If so, he’s punished himself out of contention. A few days ago, asked about Lawrence v Texas – the sodomy case he took to the Supreme Court – he stammered, whitening, that he didn’t know what it was. That feels like a pitiable giveaway. I’d say, at this point: leave him alone.

Any impetus to outing should be an occasion for self-examination. We need to parse our aims. There’s the practical goal of defanging and disarming those who inflict harm. But there’s the moralistic one of inflicting, as judge and jury, punishment. Do we want to take the sting out of their arguments by showing they’re false — or demolish them personally, using the very shame they attach to homosexual conduct as a weapon? Activists don’t run courts, and shouldn’t carry out executions. The first aim is reasonable. The second is not just destructive but, to the extent it mobilizes homophobia, self-destructive.

Still, I believe, revenge remains the most common if unacknowledged motive for outing. And the yen for revenge is undiscriminating. The desire extends to anyone who’s hidden. It reaches beyond the errant politicians; it takes in the obscure but grapples for the famous, all those who haven’t hurt anybody, just failed to be the selves we think we know. At heart, I’m afraid, we remember hiding, and we want, as payback, to humiliate those who hide.

Plenty of us are still the closet’s victims. It’s conspicuous how the outers, and the people who’ve leaped on the Perry story, are folks my age and older – Ireland, John Selig, others. We’re the generation for whom self-concealment was a dark reality for too long a time.  My own emergence from the closet was halting, stilted, fraught with fear and bad examples. When I was seventeen — how well I recall! — Robert Bauman, a conservative Republican politician, was caught cruising. Disgraced, defeated for re-election, he disappeared, career crushed. That outing hardly provided me with an inspiring role model (another argument once adduced in favor of dragging famous figures out of their closets kicking and screaming). It scared the hell out of me.

At eighteen, I finally came out to myself, in an agonized diary entry, scrawled in red ink as though I had extracted blood: it took me five pages of circumlocution to say, finally, “I am gay.” It was six months more till I first had sex with a man, an experience that led in the longer run to love, in the short term to vomiting. And not for another four years, after slowly coming out to friends (and making new ones) did I tell my father — who almost immediately cut me out of his life for the next quarter century, until he died.

No wonder that, having lived so long behind a fake façade, I spend so much time wondering what lies and lives underlie others’ fronts and faces.

But the closet is only one way of constructing sexuality,  enclosing one side of it with secrets. It’s not universal; nor is it immovable. The peculiar complex of secrecy, shame, and curiosity it encompasses can be done away with. In the US, it’s changing. New cohorts have moved beyond what our dying generations had to offer, our obsessions and our songs. I meet kids at fourteen who are out to their parents; kids whose families encourage truth. The closet has by no means vanished  (and in other countries, different forms cling to different power); but sexuality is way less “private.” Not because people have been outed. Because they came out themselves.

Privacy is not just constructed by what we want to hide. It’s also built round what we fear other people want to know. There’s a dialectic; privacy depends on intrusion to define itself. People defend their sexualities from prying eyes because the eyes are interested. And, by the same token, as long as sexuality – especially difference in sexuality – stays shameful, we’ll keep longing to know about the movie star, the dictator’s son, the sultan. But as sexuality becomes less fearful, less shameful, it will also be less interesting. Younger folks, I’ve found, had a more mature attitude to Perry than many of their elders. His dumb ad attracted more dislikes than any video ever on YouTube: but they focused on substance, not hypocrisy. The disgrace was what he said, not any contradiction in saying it. It will be a happy day when homophobia is treated as equally disgraceful even if the homophobes are straight.

Of course, as homosexual desire becomes more normal, less interesting, we lose something too. It becomes less powerful and subversive.  It’s less a quantity you can frighten the oppressor with – the oppressor is moving on — less something you can assert an arrogant uniqueness around and through: but less something you can learn from, too, less that protean skill at shape-changing that doesn’t abridge an inner integrity, less that Archimedean lever hung in space from which an introverted adolescent imagines she’ll move the world.

I confess I’ve clung to that capacity for subversion, which is also – by paradox – the memory of the closetedness and pain. So have many others. Listen to queers on the left talk about how their early insight into their own difference made them question revealed truth and really existing society, doubt hierarchies and privileges, feel their critical separation from the world as it was. That distance was loss, but it was also freedom. It gave loneliness, but it also offered knowledge. The less you have to overcome shame, the less you’ll understand how wrong it is; the less injustice overshadows your youth, the less you’ll recognize it in later years. A subtle apprehension of how the life we’re endowed with is ailing will be denied you.

But what can you do? As long as there’s something to fight, there must be the little battlefields where people learn resistance. Your own ephemeral gift of difference may lose its meaning, but difference itself remains. The quicksilver, elusive  capacity for subversion will move on, you hope, will settle in some other locus now despised and rejected, some other quirk or quality, indifferent in itself, that injustice in its irrationality targets. It had better. The world needs subverting.

An apology to Paul Canning, II

we give support to refugees, and we give them something to seek refuge from

Back in February 2011, our readers will remember, the chronically inaccurate episodically accurate blogger Paul Canning — of the episodically biased chronically unopinionated website LGBT Asylum News — published the following false only intermittently true information:

Amongst the crowds protesting the 30 year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarek in Egypt are many lesbians and gay men. …  Yesterday, one of them, the well-known blogger and activist SandMonkey (the website was taken down by repeated attacks but is now back up) who is gay was arrested, beaten up and later freed.

Most of that is true! We apologize in advance for having to point out that some of it was not. Specifically, the phrase “who is gay” attached to Sandmonkey was not true. Sandmonkey, a dissident blogger known throughout the region, was and is not gay. It’s impossible to say what led the careless occasionally cautious Canning to think he was; but Sandmonkey took offense at those three words, coming as they did in the middle of a revolution where a brutal regime was looking for any reason to jail and discredit opponents. He wrote to the arrogant modest-on-alternate-days Canning:

Dear Paul/Editor of this sight,

You published an article claiming I am gay. While a supporter of gay rights, I am not gay. I have no idea where u got this info, and its totally unverified. Please retract and remove the article, since you must be very well aware what happens to people suspected of being gay in Egypt. You are putting my life in danger.

The editor of San Diego Gay and Lesbian News, which carries Paul’s ill-researched carefully spelled column, wrote back:

We have deleted @sandmonkey from the story without consulting with Mr. Canning, who is the author of the story. SDGLN did not originate this story, which came from LGBT Asylum News in the U.K.

That must have infuriated the temperamental unevenly evenhanded Canning, who always likes to be consulted. It was particularly exasperating in that, even if one counts only the 43 words of the passage we cited (more if we hadn’t inserted that discriminatory ellipsis!) rather than the 800+ words of the whole piece, not more than three were in fact lies less true than they could have been. That means that the passage was, as an absolute maximum, only 6.9767% inaccurate. If you take the falsehoods near-misses at accuracy as a percentage of the whole column, the proportion falls to less than four-tenths of one percent, a completely nugatory figure.  It takes real cheek for Sandmonkey to write to the blinkered presbyscopically observant Canning that “You are putting my life in danger!”  At most only one part in thirteen of his life was danger, and more likely it was less than one-two hundredth. If Voldemort could live with large parts of his soul destroyed, why can’t an Egyptian blogger? The scope of mathematical ignorance is astounding. Obviously, few Egyptians can count. Sandmonkey should learn statistics, and the entire country should be handed back to Lord Cromer and the British to revamp its education system. (A tip to LGBT Asylum News: Evelyn Baring, Lord Cromer, Britain’s proconsul in Cairo from 1883 to 1907, is alive and well and, with his boyfriend Norman Tebbit, working as a cage dancer Saturdays at Heaven.  He’s available. If you start a campaign now to have the British occupation reinstated, NATO might be able to start bombing by Christmas.)

I take note of this because I learned on arriving in Egypt that Sandmonkey — under his real name, Mahmoud Salem — is running for the lower house of Parliament in today’s elections. His campaign blog and program (mostly in Arabic) are here. (And he’s still tweeting at @Sandmonkey.) He’s a secularist, an environmentalist, a progressive — just the kind of candidate Paul Canning ought to like; except I suspect Paul Canning doesn’t like him anymore.

There’s still a lot that LGBT Asylum news can do, though.  They could out the heterosexual alleged, although to date unproven, homosexual Mahmoud Salem again!  There are still at least twelve hours before the polls close, and people in Heliopolis, where’s he’s running, wake late. Canning’s little-noticed sporadically influential blog deserves the chance to intervene in a world-historical occasion. Alternatively, Canning can out other progressive Egyptians. Dissidents, feminists, and human rights activists here are regularly attacked for supposed sexual perversion; these aspersions sometimes fall flat, and evidence from abroad is needed; it seems unreasonable that the pleasures of outing should be alienated from the heroic activists like Peter Tatchell who originated the tactic, and handed over to Islamist riffraff and demoted Mubarakite bureaucrats who are all too hamhanded in their exposures. Let the task of invading privacy be given back to those who do it best!  Only those who had a closet can appreciate what it means to be torn forcibly out of one — particularly out of one that never existed at all.