Friday, February 28, 2003
Atrios links to this article by Michelangelo Signorile on the Koufax matter and his comments section has a very lively debate going on the subject.
I think that Signorile and some of the commentors are dancing around another issue, but I'll get to that.
First, I don't agree with whole "public figure" aspect of this argument at all. If somebody makes an issue of their sex lives, then it becomes an open topic. Similarly, if you make public pronouncements about other people's sex lives then you have opened up your own for scrutiny. But, if you are just living your life, (as a long retired athlete, for instance) you have a right to have keep your sex life private, period. The issue with the media is sexual privacy no matter what the gossip item refers to, whether it has to do with being gay or having blow jobs in the oval office.
Tabloids are exploitive, lying, piece of shit rags that feed the base nature of everybody who reads them and as much as I believe in free speech I can't say that I wouldn't feel gleeful at the sight of a pile of New York Posts going up in flames. They are a destructive force in our culture and if you don't believe me then just turn on
television news for 10 minutes and you'll understand what I'm talking about. It is no coincidence that Bill "Enemy of the State" O'Reilly came from that bastion of respectable journalism, "Inside Edition." It is a pervasive influence in our politics and has been instrumental in the dumbing down of our national media and the trivializing of our political system to such a degree that an ignorant sock-puppet could be elected President because the news media were obsessed with the superficialities of the candidates to the exclusion of everything substantive.
The argument should not be about whether there exists a double standard, but why there aren't more standards to begin with.
But, with the case at hand, there is more to it than that, isn't there? From what I can tell, people are dismayed that the issue was blown up because of the nature of the "charge" --- that is that he was accused of being gay and it was treated as if he had been a "child molester." This is true. But, there's a little Claude Raines action going on here, too. It is wholly unsurprising that in the macho world of sports that an item like this would gain attention and approbation. But, it's not fair to say that the sportwriters across the board find it "contemptible" that someone would be accused of being gay. After all, they didn't react to the original blind item at the time and the reaction to the Mike Piazza rumor was far less energetic.
Part of what they are reacting to (and I don't doubt that there is quite a bit of homophobia involved as well) is that this is Sandy Koufax, a legend and notoriously private man, who has been falsely accused of making a deal with an author contingent upon her not revealing that he is gay. It's not just the gay thing, it's also the idea that he was portrayed as an underhanded liar. A lot of people admire Sandy Koufax, for more reasons than his pitching arm, and that hurt. But, to be fair, they also reacted strongly when Koufax quit the organization and a lot of them said that it was "wrong" for him to be accused of being gay by using rather obtuse language.
Which brings us to the heart of the matter. In some of the commentors's arguments the idea is bubbling that because there is nothing wrong with being gay, that a public figure of integrity should not object to being called gay, whether he is or not. One could correct the record for accuracy's sake, but it really shouldn't be much of a concern because, after all, there's nothing wrong with being gay so what's wrong with people thinking you are?
This is a fatal error, I think, because it supposes that people, gay or straight, should not mind if others misrepresent their sexual orientation. If it is not ok to force gay people to publicly live as if they are straight, is it really much different to ask straight people to behave as if it doesn't matter if they are perceived as being gay?
I realize that there are many people who have an ambiguous sexual orientation and that is a perfectly natural state for them. But, for many others, sexual orientation is an intrinsic part of who they are and it is fundamental to their identity. To assume that it should not matter to people how they are perceived in that way is asking to change something very basic in human nature. This seems to me to be the very essence of the gay rights movement. It's not just about being who you are --- after all, you have no choice in the matter --- it's about being seen and accepted for who you are.
Sandy Koufax, rightly or wrongly, will now be the Hall of Fame pitcher who will be known for his blazing fastball and also the guy about whom it will be said "he was gay." The truth or untruth of that is certainly not relevant to his standing as a legendary athlete. But, to him, as a person it might matter a great deal if it is not true, not because he finds being gay "contemptible" but because it is a fundamental misrepresentation of who he really is.
One should not have to be willing to have the world believe one is gay, in order to be completely open and accepting of homosexuality. I don't think we can ask people to live a lie, or to acquiesce to lies told about them, no matter what cause it purports to serve. Nothing good can come of it.
(For the record, I've been called gay by wing-nuts in comments sections and in e-mail many, many times. When idiots call someone "gay" on the internet, it is so stupid that one can only laugh in return. I don't consider morons hurling "gay" as an epithet the same as normal people misperceiving someone as being gay when they are not. A fine distinction, but a distinction nonetheless.)
In retrospect, I think I was unfair in categorizing Signorle as one who thinks people should accept a designation of gay to further the cause. He clearly states in his article an admiration of the way Mike Piazza handled the situation, which was to deny that he was gay and shrug it off while offering support to gay players. And, he further stated clearly that he thought one of the issues that needed tending was the sensitivity of athletes. To that I can only agree, but one couldn't confine it to the gay issue. Jocks are about the most insensitive humans on earth. It's a big job.
digby 2/28/2003 11:18:00 AM