Closet cleaning

After the police read him his Miranda Rights, Senator Larry Craig immediately denies soliciting sex in a men’s room.

“I am not gay,” he insists. “I don’t do those things.”

Most of us — gay, straight or otherwise — don’t, if for no other reason than for fear of getting caught. So why would an elected official in Washington, D.C. — where image is all-important and even some of the most progressive politicians keep the GLBT movement at a carefully calculated distance — take such a risk? Documentarian Kirby Dick’s Outrage, probably in part because it begins from the assumptions 1. yes, Larry Craig (and other politicians with similar stories) is super gay no matter what he says, and 2. he so totally does do those things (“those things” being anonymous bathroom man-lovin’), never quite delves deep enough into Craig’s particular psyche to provide a specific answer, but the film does offer a surprisingly in-depth look at D.C.’s secret gayness on the way to its apparent objective: justifying the privacy violations inherent in ejecting the Larry Craigs and Mark Foleys from D.C.’s crowded closet.

The secret seems poorly concealed, considering most of the film’s subjects are busted by extremely poor discretion, but Outrage offers as an opening thesis statement that D.C.’s hidden homosexual side is a “brilliantly orchestrated conspiracy,” which “the media will not cover.”

Curiously, interview subject and former New Jersey governor James McGreevey, who came out of the closet and resigned at the same press conference after news broke that he’d had an affair with his recently appointed (male) homeland security adviser, never offers his take on that pesky lack of coverage of gay politicians’ sex lives, but Outrage does win a less extreme point. The mainstream press, whether due to heteronormative blinders or its own private hang-ups (Anderson Cooper was presumably extremely unavailable for comment), tends to botch these stories big-time by devoting too much attention to namedropping and leering tabloid speculation instead of exploring the widespread intolerance and hateful identity politics that create these self-hating closet cases.

The film attempts to provide more time for the allegedly overlooked works of closet raiders such as BlogActive founder Michael Rogers, but Outrage’s detractors will have very little trouble making the same “superficial and gossipy” criticism. The film is chockfull of testimony (much of it, somewhat ironically, given anonymously) detailing in traditional-boundary-crossing specificity the sexual proclivities of several conservative politicians and public figures, but the film argues those in power who take public stances against actions they privately practice have broken trust with the citizens they serve. And, taken as a defense of those who snuggle and snitch to expose the duplicity of America’s sexual politics, Outrage is an effective piece of agenda-driven filmmaking.

“It’s a right to privacy, not a right to hypocrisy,” explains openly gay Congressman Barney Frank (one of the few politicians discussed who managed to leave the closet and stay in office). Those who cry McCarthyism when activists out family-values-voting conservatives will catch definite whiffs of witch-burning from the obvious politics at play. For the guilty liberals uncomfortable with using some of the Religious Right’s own Smear the Queer schoolyard tactics against them, however, Outrage offers a more compelling argument — Craig’s voting record. The senator, arrested for lewd conduct in a Minneapolis airport men’s bathroom, voted 93 percent of the time against progressive “gay” legislation, including funding for AIDS research, and he even cast a deciding vote against a federal hate-crimes bill.

With that logic, Act Up’s Larry Kramer accuses a man who’d claimed to have an affair with New York City Mayor Ed Koch but kept silent even as Koch refused to address the city’s growing AIDS epidemic of “collusion with genocide.” The Hitler comparison is overdone, and the film’s quoting of Harvey Milk — “I hope that every professional gay will say ‘enough’, come forward and tell everybody, wear a sign, let the world know.” — seems misguided (those stepping forward in Milk’s footsteps did so voluntarily, after all). Outrage does make a powerful statement, however, by pointedly inserting AIDS statistics and news footage of
Matthew Shepard and other hate-crime victims into the debate. The squealed-on hatemongers aren’t the only ones who’ve been betrayed.

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