Since the moment I first starting publicly dealing with my sexuality, I have experienced the narrow-minded attitude of many gays toward Republicans. It seems some believe it’s a rite of passage in coming out for those who were once Republicans not merely to change their partisan affiliation, but also to prove that by becoming viciously anti-Republican.
When I hinted to some of my undergraduate friends about my feelings for men, they told me that I had become a Republican to cover up being gay. They pressed me both to come out publicly and to publicly renounce my partisan affiliation. Instead of helping me open the proverbial closet door, their words led to my slamming it ever more tightly shut.
As an undergraduate, I had discovered conservative and libertarian ideas and read widely, strengthening the intellectual foundation of my political views. And I had grown to love the then-incumbent President of the United States, Ronald Wilson Reagan, coming to appreciate his noble vision. That my friends could tell me I was a Republican to hide my sexuality indicated that they dismissed the very basis of my commitment to the GOP — and the time I had taken to develop my mind.
With that experience in mind, I gain a greater appreciation for all that Andrew Sullivan went through in the 1990s. As the first openly gay “public intellectual” to challenge the gay orthodoxy, he was subject to a level of abuse that makes his latest rants against the president seem tame by comparison. Not only did gay writers attack him viciously in print, but other activists threw drinks at him at bars and I’ve even heard that one person spit in his face at a dance club.
As I was about to read his article “When Plagues End” in the New York Times magazine in November 1996, an acquaintance told me the piece was filled with “self-hatred.” So I set the magazine aside, only to find no self-hatred when I read a revised version of that article (in Andrew’s book Love Undetectable : Notes on Friendship, Sex, and Survival). Indded, so captivating did I find the article that I bought the book. (I had picked up the book in a bookstore and began reading it there.)
Similarly, I meet gay men and women who tell me how Mary Cheney is also full of self-hatred and is in denial about the “reality of her father.” I ask those who level such accusations if they have read her book, Now It’s My Turn : A Daughter’s Chronicle of Political Life. And while most haven’t, they still proceed to dismiss it, largely based not upon the book, but upon what they have read it in the gay press. It seems that where gay reviewers actually read the book, they used their reviews not to consider Mary as the woman she is, but instead as the activist they believe she should have become.
As I work on a gay film romance featuring a gay Republican, I wonder if the gay media will react similarly to this positive portrayal of a flawed, but decent individual. That is, will they dismiss the movie out of hand merely because of this positive portrayal of a gay Republican? Perhaps the filmmakers chose to make such a caricature of the gay Republican in The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green because they assumed that if they made him a more sympathetic character, that would have guaranteed the film got bad reviews in the gay press.
Ever since I read the (revised version of) Andrew’s essay, “When Plagues End,” I wondered if my acquaintance had even read it, but was merely judging the work not by its content but by his (or the public gay) perception of its author.
There are times when I feel relieved that I did not publish my novel when I completed it in the 1990s. Because there is a gay Republican in the book, it would likely have received a similar reaction to that which Mary and Andrew received to their books (and in, Andrew’s case, other writings). Back then, I would certainly not have been prepared for a barrage of mean-spirited criticism in the gay media.
Just as we need more positive portrayals of gay people in the mainstream media, so do we need more positive portrayals of gay Republicans in the gay media. To that end, gay cultural commentators must overcome their animus toward Republicans and address the merits of gay conservative arguments. Similarly, they should not dismiss a movie (or television program) merely because it offers a positive portrayal of gay Republicans. We cannot let dishonest media representations of gay Republicans define our image.
It’s time that those serious about accurately portraying gay people on stage, screen and in the pages of our journals and magazines — and not just gay conservatives — join me in challenging the narrow-stereotyping of gay Republicans that has become all too commonplace in our culture. Not only will this promote greater understanding of gay Republicans, but it will also show the straight world that gay people are just as diverse as they are.
Let’s hope the new leader of Log Cabin makes it a top priority to improve the perception of Republicans in that community. Should he (or she) develop an initiative to that end, I would be delighted to do whatever I can to help the organization succeed in that endeavor.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com