So in case you haven't heard the news Ken Mehlman (pictured) came out of the closet the other day. Who's Ken Mehlman you ask? That was my question when Ben sent me a text message announcing him 'Out'. And that he now wanted to help the Gay Community. Quite a change of heart if you ask me because at one time Mehlman was the Chairman of the Republican National Committee and was George Bush II's campaign manager during the 2004 election season.
To be quite honest I didn't know that he was chairman and probably wouldn't have cared (another Republican guy caught with a dick in his mouth, ho-hum) but the most curious aspect about the whole story is that it turns out Mehlman was one of the most virulently anti-gay policy-wonks of all time.
Ben framed it this way: "So now after leading a campaign to destroy the lives of gays and lesbians all over the United States with gay marriage bans in 2004 we're just supposed to graciously welcome him to the gay community with open arms? I don't think so". Ben poses an interesting dilemma. At what point has someone done so much damage to himself and others that he can no longer be redeemed? Religious fundamentalists will tell you that even the worst murderer can be saved if he asks Jesus for forgiveness. Now that may be, but Jesus is probably more forgiving than the Gay community at large.
It may cement in your mind how much of a geek I am but I was watching an episode of Degrassi High which dealt with this exact issue the morning that the Mehlman story broke. The character of Riley Stavross (right) is just such an individual. Closeted, fearful of being outed, and disgusted by other students who are "out and proud". Degrassi may be a silly teen drama (and Ben please, no teasing, you read books about teenage vampires...I've seen them) BUT it drives home a point about internalized Homophobia - it often causes the extremely closeted self-hating gay person to lash out and seek to cause harm to those who are not in the closet. AND I think the fundamental reason for this is resentment on the part of the homophobe. They used to call Homosexuality a mental disorder but I think that the person with extreme internalized homophobia is a much more obvious candidate for psychotherapy.
In a twisted sort of way it makes sense. Very often people are most critical of the "flaws" they see in others when they realize they themselves suffer the same flaw. Usually every gay person experiences a certain degree of internalized homophobia. I did when I was a teenager and in my early 20's. It is a reaction to external expectations about your sexual orientation that deep down you know you can never meet. The reasons vary from person to person. Sometimes you grew up in a fundamentalist church where the worst thing you could be was a homosexual. Sometimes your family has expectations that you'll "settle down with some nice gal and pop out the grand kids", or you live in a community were open homosexuals are persecuted. I grew up under these three circumstances.
Whatever the reason though internalized homophobia is the little anti-gay conscience that says, "you know, the guys on the football team would never accept you if they found out you were gay. You should probably beat up those faggy drama class geeks to show them how you don't secretly have a hopeless crush on the guy playing Romeo in the class play". Unfortunately this kind of high-school mentality seems to have been carried over into the Republican party, the military, professional sports, and a host of other public institutions.
The reason Ken Mehlman worked so hard to crush his fellow gay and lesbian's rights is precisely because his self imposed rigidly heterosexual persona was threatened by them and that turned him into the bitter old hack he is today. You see the homophobe's self-identity becomes consumed by an almost neurotic need to demonstrate to others that they are not homosexual. But the effect is two-fold as the homophobe's neurosis eventually progresses to the point where they have to "prove" to themselves that they are not homosexual in order to maintain their self-deceptive identity. The homophobe buys into the mistaken belief that he cannot be happy and self-fulfilled if he has homosexual desires and tendencies (since "normal" people don't have them and I have to be "normal" to be accepted and happy) and this is of course reinforced by observing intolerant classmates, family members and clergy being abusive of homosexuals.
These self-hating gays almost always give in to "temptation" (so to speak) at some point and this creates quite the emotional dilemma. The human desire for physical and emotional intimacy with another is undeniably powerful even for self-denying homosexuals. Despite the claims of the Anti-gay Conservative Christian lobby homosexual desires (like heterosexual and bisexual desires) are innate and immutable. So the self-hater comes to realize (even if its only a nagging suspicion in the back of his mind) that even if he is able to successfully mate with a female she can never satisfy that desire for physical and emotional intimacy like his trysts with men can, regardless of how brief or anonymous they may be.
It infuriates people like Ken Mehlman to see stable, happy same-sex couples because upon reflection they realize they've made the wrong choice. Rather than praise said same-sex couples for making the right choice Mehlman chose to punish them with same-sex marriage bans because they had the audacity to shatter his misconceptions about his own sexuality.
Can Ken Mehlman be redeemed and become a positive force for Gay Rights? I tend to disagree with Ben on this idea; that's right, same-sex couples have disagreements just like opposite-sex couples. Ben thinks its too late, the damage is done, and what-more Mehlman seems to think that just because he's out now he deserves our unconditional support.
Granted it is irksome when some self-important bigot suddenly expects to be your friend just because he changed his mind. But, Ted Olson was arguably no friend to gays when he argued before the Supreme Court and ultimately succeeded in electing George Bush in 2000. He however had a change of heart and succeeded in overturning Prop 8 and is fully committed to overturning all same-sex marriage bans in all 50 states. He may turn out to be the most important straight ally we've ever had.
So at the risk of tarnishing my image as a natural born cynic I'm going to say you never know who might do the right thing in the end. It will take a lot of hard work for Ken Mehlman to undo the damage he's already done and he may never succeed. I give him credit for this much at least: He came out publicly. Once you're out of the closet you can never go back in.