It's almost rhythmic, the frequency with which public, polemical homophobes expose themselves as hypocrites. The most recent in this surely endless stream of bigots is a politician who was caught drunkenly driving away form a gay club with another man in my lovely hometown of Sacramento. The narrative is so well established that even moderates have begun to suspect that most outspoken bigots are compensating for their own self-loathing, that they are closet cases.
And there is something appealing about that story, about the source of extreme bigotry being in fact bigotry itself; there is something human about these angry rabble-rousers being the the primary target of their own hatred. It quite neatly gives some meaning to their hatred--they are expressing their own fear of who they are in a society that makes of them something vile--and it allows us to sympathize with and humanize our enemies. Indeed, they may not even know what they do, so deeply can we suppress our unwanted desires.
And perhaps it's true, perhaps it isn't. Clearly it explains some people well enough, and we do well to temper our condemnation of their hatred with sympathy for their situation; after all they more than anyone know how much they are despised by the bigoted for their sexual orientation.
What troubles me is the kind of moral outrage and mockery that accompanies these outings. And I'm concerned not on righteous or ethical grounds, but on pragmatic grounds. What concerns me is how these sorts of events are constituted as wrong. The wrong here, unambiguously, is the rhetoric that brought these individuals into the public arena to begin with. What they have done wrong is established a career as hatemongers and bigots; they have garnered support with homophobia as their platform, and they have incited others to the same violent sort of hatred they themselves have practiced.
What they have not done wrong--from the standpoint of ethical imperatives--is sleep with another man, or hook up in an airport bathroom, or frequent a gay club. Too often these stories focus on the homosexual act itself, which in fact we ought to applaud these repressed, fearful men for committing. Of course, there is the problem of marriage infidelity--and that is a serious problem--but even this issue tends to take a backseat in the press to the homosexual act.
I'm not saying that it shouldn't be reported. To some limited extent, events such as Ashburn's arrest serve to undermine the public support of outspoken bigots. But too the type of publicity these stories accumulate does as much to reinforce homophobia as the outing of bigots does to undermine it. Instead of emphasizing the corrosive rhetoric, they focus on the contradicting behavior; homosexuality, or more specifically the homosexual act, becomes the negative element, not the bigotry. Instead of a career of hatred being seen as Ashburn's shame, the story is a fall from grace, into the depravity of gay sex.
We're telling the wrong story, and by doing that we're ensuring that we'll get to tell this story over and over again.