You know, working behind enemy lines or something?
This story has been passed around a lot this morning, and it got me thinking. Mostly about self-respect, principles and compassion.
Long story short: California Senator Roy Ashburn has long been an opponent of gay rights, especially same-sex marriage. He has be vociferous in his opposition, which made his DUI arrest a couple of weeks ago all the more interesting. He was with another gentleman, and they were both coming home from a well-known Sacramento gay bar. Finally he has come out and admitted that he was gay.
My first thought was, “Serves you right, you lying Republican scum,” but that’s sort of my default response. I’d think the same thing if Orrin Hatch got a paper cut. But there is a certain amount of satisfaction to be taken when someone who has been so openly and vocally against homosexuality turns out to have been a Double-Secret Gay the whole time. The fact that he has a wife and kids just makes it all the worse – not only has he been lying to his constituents, but to the people who should be most important to him.
I marvel at it, too. How much self-loathing does it take to maintain a lie of this caliber for so long? I mean, it’s bad enough if you’re just trying to keep your gayness a secret – millions of men have had to do that throughout history, but they at least had the excuse that revealing themselves could have resulted in ostracism, injury or death. Ashburn doesn’t have that excuse, seeing as how he lives in California. But still, if you want to keep it a secret because you think it’s something that is dangerous to you, okay. Just try not to hurt anyone else in the process.
Well, Ashburn has failed at that. He has a wife and kids who have been lied to. He has supporters and staff who have been lied to. He has lovers who have been lied to. And the worst part is that his lie, in this day and age, is pretty much unnecessary. He doesn’t need to lie about who he is, and I’m pretty sure he knows it.
That being said, I feel bad for him.
In a radio interview, he said “I’m gay. Those are the words that have been so difficult for me for so long.” You see, I was lucky. I was extraordinarily lucky that I had friends and family who were loving and accepting of who I was. I was never insulted or cursed by anyone I came out to, never rejected or ostracized. I never felt that I was at risk of losing someone I loved by coming out. In short, my circumstances were about as good as they can possibly get for someone who is coming out gay. Even so, actually saying the words to these wonderful people and telling them what, in many cases, they had already figured out for themselves, was amazingly difficult. It often required alcohol.
So if it was that hard for me, and I was basically in the best possible position to come out, how hard must it be for someone like Ashburn? Not just because he risks losing his career and his marriage and kids, or that he’s now facing nationwide public scorn and will have to pay a pretty hard penance to get back into the good graces of the people he loves and respects. By saying those words, he is confessing to years of lies and initiating the destruction of an identity that he has built over an entire lifetime. My coming out, as difficult as it was for me, was nothing compared to this.
And so I feel compassion for the poor bastard. If he does it right, he will be able to build a new life, one in which he can be honest to himself and those he loves. He may even be able to continue in politics, if he plays his cards right. I understand he says he’ll keep voting on an anti-gay platform because that’s what his constituents would want, but I think that’s just the cognitive dissonance talking. If he follows through on this, he’ll soon be forced to reconcile his vote with his sexuality, and will realize that “it’s what my constituents want” is just another lie to be done away with.
All of my compassion for him, of course, is predicated on his continuing to be honest with himself and behaving in a manner consistent with his newfound honesty. If he strays from that path, well, may his suffering be endless.