A Gay Old Time

Jim McGreevey has reinvented himself as a man liberated from the confines of the closet. Does that absolve him of his political foibles?

I was at lunch with a friend recently, one of those fancy New York editor types. I was stabbing at a haystack of field greens when he casually remarked, “I heard from Jim again yesterday.”
My eyes narrowed. “Jim?”

“McGreevey,” he replied blithely. “He wanted advice on what to wear for a television interview.”

This friend had interviewed the governor for a gay news magazine. Now McGreevey was constantly calling for advice. As I absorbed the rest of the story (my friend told him: no bright colors), it struck me just how cozy a niche our former governor has carved out for himself since his declaration that he is “a gay American.” Notice he didn’t say, “I’m gay,” but “I am a gay American”—the perfect mix of oppression and patriotism.

I am gay. And like all gay people, I vividly remember the coming-out process. Coming out basically requires that you fess up to a bunch of people you’ve been lying to, either a little or a lot. And I’ve known many guys like Jim McGreevey—the ones who hide longer, who marry, who have kids, and whose homosexuality becomes akin to an internal time bomb that periodically explodes, sending them scurrying to rest stops and disreputable bookstores to feed the salacious beast within before they return to their faux lives. It’s tragic but mercifully, I think, becoming less common. And I certainly empathize with his struggle. Still, Jim McGreevey’s new out-and-proud identity is not why he left Trenton.

McGreevey played the gay card, and that infuriates me. Indeed, victimhood has become a talisman to ward off accountability. “It’s not my fault,” people say. “I’m a minority/come from a broken home/was fired/am a one-eyed Druid/blah blah blah.” Personal responsibility has become a joke; nothing is anybody’s fault anymore. Get caught doing something you shouldn’t be? Check into rehab. Or blame the parish priest who leered at you when you were ten. Don’t accept the blame yourself when there are so many other people to do it for you.

McGreevey used this playbook, from the tell-all memoir to the calculated media blitz that followed, to create a smokescreen. Golan Cipel, whom McGreevey had no business naming director of Homeland Security was recast as a Jane Austen antihero, toying with our hero’s affections (unless you saw Cipel’s recent made-for-TV dramatization of what he termed McGreevey’s “sexual harassment”).

There is no room in the new, improved story of James McGreevey for a legacy of scandal, an alleged litany of influence peddling, bribes, and assorted other political machinations. Even in New Jersey, which produces political corruption the way Idaho produces potatoes, the alleged malfeasance was breathtaking in scope. But then the governor came out, and all the abuses of power were washed away in a Downy-scented pink undertow, leaving only an image of Jim and his hunky Australian financier boyfriend, Mark O’Donnell, embracing like Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster on the beach. Awwwww…

Or ick. It all offends me, because as someone who is also “a gay American,” my fight for equality—the right to get married, the right to spousal Social Security benefits—means that I also want crime among gay men and women to be considered just as heinous as it is among heteros. What we’ve gotten instead is a politician-turned-magician who’s wrapped himself in a rainbow flag—and now asks for fashion advice on how to accessorize it.

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