I was reading Michael’s fine blog in my Google Reader, and his post intrigued me so much that I left the Reader, went to his site, and started to compose a reply.  Then my reply began to get so long that I decided to leave his blog, come to mine, and write a post about it.  This is why RSS hasn’t killed blog commenting.

Michael’s post, the one I’m responding to, is about the news that

Outrage, a film about politicians who actively work against the interests of queers yet allegedly have gay sex, premiered on Friday in a few cities.

In other words, the conservative Republicans who say and do horribly homophobic things, but who are actually engaging in the behavior they are claiming to revile.  Michael’s main concern is a simple question:

What does charging a supposedly closeted gay man with being a closeted gay man actually do? Perhaps my imagination is failing me, but it only seems to reinscribe the various tactics of discourse/power used against queers onto other potential queers.

I think I agree with Michael that such “outing” is deeply problematic, if for no other reason than that one can imagine these senators and congressmen being reviled by both queer activists and homophobes alike, perhaps in surprisingly similar ways… a disturbing thought.  More importantly, I like Michael’s focus on the pragmatic elements of this situation: what is it that we are actually doing by “outing” these men?  Is it really accomplishing anything besides feeding our need for justice, which maybe begins to look more like our need for revenge?

I think my answer is different than Michael’s, though I’m going to explain it in a pretty roundabout manner.

This whole thing reminds me of an episode of West Wing (I forget which one… I’m a bad fanboy).  I hope the comparison isn’t objectionable, but it was my immediate reaction, and I think it’s useful as part of the explanation.  In this episode, the president is about start pushing to repeal mandatory minimums in drug sentencing that disproportionately harm racial minorities (this is the crack versus powder cocaine deal.  Manditory minimums are higher for crack, more crack users are black, more powder users are white, the minimums are racist).  In preparation for the issue, Leo McGarry (the chief of staff, who himself has just admitted to having had a serious substance abuse problem in the past) calls in the aides of a number of Republican congressmen.  He points out that each of the congressmen that those aides report to has a relative of some sort (daughter, brother, spouse, etc.) who has been arrested on drug charges and has gotten off lightly, no doubt due in part to the influential men these aides work for.  He tells those aides that the White House is bringing up this issue for debate, and they want to have a lively debate, but that they will not stand for hypocrisy; those congressmen are free to discuss the issue, but if they engage in ad hominem attacks on Leo, or decide to start spouting accusations of the president being “soft on drugs,” the media will hear about how gently their relatives have been treated by the justice system.

Whew.  Ok.  That was a long story, huh?

Here’s the payoff, I hope: throughout the entire exchange, the character of Josh seems pretty amped up for the confrontation, while Leo seems resigned and a little sad about the whole thing.  Leo says something to the effect of “where do I get off lecturing anyone about…” etc.  He does it, though, because he sees it as a political necessity.  This, I think, is where I differ from Michael.  I agree that this kind of outing is distasteful, and there are definitely ways in which it does not serve to further the cause for queer rights.  The problem, though, is that it doesn’t end there.  As Michael asks,

What do we actually learn or do by attempting to out explicit homophobes as closeted gays? The Right is hypocritical, we can announce! But we already knew that!

Except that the people who already knew that are not the ones who need to be reached, are they?  I think that there is actually a real political necessity to pointing out that people who think homosexuality is unnatural, voluntary, and inexcusably wrong can indeed by gay themselves.  That is a powerful statement in favor of accepting that queer culture is not going to go away.  Sure, the good that exposing this hypocrisy does might be offset by the damage of such “outing” behavior, but that’s a “might” that I don’t feel qualified to judge.  And yes, I do think there is probably too much of a revenge feel to this sort of tactic.  It’s a particular kind of theater that is cathartic, and maybe a little disturbing.  But that’s why, even if some aspects of it are objectionable, I don’t think this kind of outing is going away any time soon.  Too many people love to hate the Larry Craigs and Ted Haggards of the world.