Monday, May 03, 2010

The Confession

by James E. McGreevey

It doesn't matter that I read this memoir by former Mayor McGay of New Jersey several years after his scandalous — and simultaneously, strangely, inspirational — coming out and resignation. I didn't want to read it for salacious gossip and voyeuristic thrills. What fascinated me, and what McGreevey's done a great job of expressing, is the phenomenon of closetedness. In this particular case, the author's political career, public persona and accompanying media attention lend an emphasis or increased contrast to the psychological drama, but the dynamics of denial and self-loathing, of craving and indulgence and shame, are the same as for any person living a life at odds with an essential part of his or her identity.

Kids today publicly self-identify as queer at younger ages than did gays and lesbians of even one generation earlier. Despite newsworthy examples to the contrary, they are more frequently and more easily accepted by their peer groups. My own coming out experience wasn't particularly traumatizing or dramatic, in part because my understanding of my orientation and all its implications was gradual rather than sudden. I don't remember consciously feeling closeted or ashamed, and no one rejected me, but some of what McGreevey has written has cast new light on certain faded recollections. In any case, it's hard enough for me, just 16 years younger than the author, to imagine the difficulties of being homosexual in an earlier era, the fear of being outcast and the temptation of clinging to conformity. Imagine how much harder it is, and will continue to become, for younger homos who ever more readily find acceptance. The experience of the closet is an important part of social history and collective remembrance, and Jim McGreevey's eloquent and honest memoir is a significant contribution to its preservation.

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