Friday, September 14, 2007

McGreevey's Confession

A friend had my television on and was watching the news while I was shaving. I heard something about "New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey's 'shocking' announcement." I knew my friend had always thought McGreevey was "sexy" for some reason, so I came out of the bathroom and joked: "Hey, I bet he's going to say he's gay." Little did I realize.
I finally got around to reading his book.

I confess I have mixed emotions about James E. McGreevey's autobiography The Confession. First, I found former Governor and future priest McGreevey's religiosity to be oppressive (Let me reiterate that I was raised as a Protestant but consider myself Jewish in the racial sense because my mother was Jewish. I am not in any way religious). In truth, I didn't learn much I didn't already know about the closeted lives of married homosexuals and the way they use women as beards. He talks about the shame he felt having homosexual feelings, and the power it gave him to know he could interest, date, and have sexual relations with women. He would invite male friends to his hotel room just in time to catch some gal waltzing out of the bedroom tugging on her dress. (Of course, a lot of straight guys do exactly the same.)

The portrait of McGreevey etched by the former governor and his co-author David France (whose name does not appear on the cover) is that of a self-absorbed little prick who only came out when it suited him and when he faced exposure. I don't envy his new lover, and I'm not sure what to make of Golan Cipel, his former male lover. McGreevey sort of tries to paint him as a hustler and opportunist -- even suggesting that for all he knows Cipel could be straight (more on that later) -- and Cipel's public denial of his homosexuality and consensual relations with McGreevey hardly make him a candidate for Gay of the Year any more than McGreevey. But is it possible that Cipel really loved McGreevey, and became just another in a long line of gay men who are exploited by married homosexuals and then dumped when it's convenient -- or rather when their affair becomes inconvenient? While I don't necessarily see Cipel as a victim, I wonder which of the two men was the real opportunist.

McGreevey -- or France -- tries to debunk a few gay stereotypes in the book, which is fine. However ... At the opening of McGreevey's "coming out" speech he says one has to look deeply into the mirror of one's soul and decide one's unique truth in the world, not as we may want to see it or hope to see it, but as it is. And so my truth is that I am a gay American. Let's take another look at that phrase: "Not as we may want to see it or hope to see it" eh? Even when he was supposedly coming out with pride, McGreevey was still sending the message that it is not okay to be gay.

McGreevey began his affair with Cipel just when his second wife Dina was giving birth to his second daughter. Yes, the affair began practically at the start of their marriage and lasted for quite a long time. McGreevey can talk about how conflicted he was, but he also knew -- and admits -- that he could go further professionally with a family. So his two wives merely functioned as decorative beards and little else. McGreevey says little about Dina in his book, giving a sort of half-hearted apology at one point. He very much tacitly tries to make it sound as if Dina knew about his true interests to a certain extent and stayed with him for her own social and political purposes. Whether this is true or not, it doesn't excuse his exploitation of women (he's careful to say what a supposedly great relationship he has with his daughters, one of whom lives with him and his lover). I suspect neither of his wives knew McGreevey was a full-fledged homosexual nor about his numerous "furtive" encounters with males.

To paraphrase an old quote "When the Devil wants absolution, the Devil a monk would be." Well, McGreevey was hardly the Devil -- not even the Jersey Devil -- but he seems to want to be absolved of his guilt over his early anonymous sexual pursuits by suggesting that good, healthy gays are thoroughly domesticated like he is with his new post-Cipel lover Mark O'Donnell. From the closeted slut and adulterer to the Perfect Gay with the house husband, the 1.5 children, and no doubt a house with a white picket fence to boot. Give me a break! As if this jerk should be the Poster Boy for Gay Male America!

As for Cipel being "straight" -- well, it's highly unlikely that a totally hetero man would repeatedly sleep with another guy just because he wanted to supposedly use him. (And I don't believe any male prostitutes are 100% hetero either.) McGreevey wonders if Cipel's affair with him was similar to his "crossing over" to marry two women and live a supposedly straight life. Hardly. With McGreevey it was all about image and power and his shame over being homosexual. In a world that helps foster such attitudes, it's unlikely a heterosexual man (who has no compulsion to have sex with other men) would sleep with a guy when there was no societal pressure to do so, no matter what the "rewards" of the relationship might have been. With his "crush" on Cipel, McGreevey might have showered him with favors, attention, and inapprorpriate positions (no pun intended) even if the Israeli had never slept with him, so if Cipel were "straight" -- or had lousy sex with McGreevey -- he really was as big a loser as the governor, no?

The book got good reviews from liberal critics who responded, and were sympathetic, to McGreevey's tale of the tortures of being in the closet (McGreevey's chief "torture" was his fear of exposure). Being in the closet can indeed be a terrible, oppressive thing. But since McGreevey only married to further his political ambitions, the fact that his marriage was an utter sham was probably not as much of an anguish to him as it can be to other married homosexuals. Besides, McGreevey is in no way a hero. The activists who led the way both before and after Stonewall, all the gay people who live Out and Proud lives and don't use members of the opposite sex to hide behind, they are the heroes.
Borrow this from the library if you'd like to know more about married homosexuals. Otherwise, it is in no way an essential read.
You can read my reaction to Dina Matos McGreevey's book Silent Partner here.

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