Last Thursday, my day started at 8 o'clock in the morning speaking together with New Jersey Sen. Jon Corzine at a breakfast sponsored by ANGLE -- an organization consisting of the gay and lesbian leadership of Southern California and a magnet for political candidates running for office and raising funds. A couple of hours after I had left the breakfast, where I had been surrounded by successful gay men and women -- businesspeople, politicians, accountants, even a priest -- my phone started ringing off the hook. New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey had just resigned and announced that he is gay, and it seemed as if the bookers from every television talk show in America -- from CNN's American Morning to ABC's Nightline -- had simultaneously had the exact same thought: "Let's get Arianna Huffington." I was the proverbial two birds being killed with one stone -- a political commentator whose ex-husband had come out as gay.
As the day progressed, it became clear that the story was unfolding on so many levels only a Shakespearean drama or a Verdi opera could do justice to it. There was the personal, the political, possibly the legal, and who knows what else to be revealed by the time we get to Act 5.
McGreevey's resignation announcement, a true nexus of the personal and the political, was undoubtedly the best speech he's ever made. It was powerful, compelling, emotional and in sharp contrast to the pre-packaged speechifying we are so accustomed to hearing from politicians. At this profound crisis point in his political and personal lives, he sounded almost liberated. It's hard to resist playing armchair psychoanalyst and wondering: Did McGreevey unconsciously make certain choices -- like putting his lover on the government payroll in a high-profile position he was not qualified for -- in order to force upon himself Thursday's public announcement: "I am a gay American"?
We can't, of course, know what was going on in McGreevey's psyche, but hiring his lover, Golan Cipel -- an Israeli foreign national unable to obtain a federal security clearance to be the homeland security czar of New Jersey (and at a salary of $110,000 a year, no less) -- is the height of recklessness, and only makes sense as a taxpayer-funded cry for help. Clearly no good could come of such an appointment, unless the governor was unconsciously hoping that the appointment would eventually force his hand. Otherwise, he would not have flaunted his closeness to Cipel, leading him to self-destructive acts such as accompanying Cipel and a realtor on a walk-through of a townhouse the newly arrived Israeli was about to rent a short distance from McGreevey's house. It's textbook human behavior: The harder you try to suppress the truth, the more inevitable it is that it will find a way to come out.
"Thinking that I was doing the right thing," he said, "I forced what I thought was an acceptable reality onto myself, a reality which is layered and layered with all the, quote, 'good things,' and all the, quote, 'right things' of typical adolescent and adult behavior." It's worth noting that McGreevey made this statement on the same day that the California Supreme Court annulled the state's 4,000 same-sex marriages, raising the question: What if the world were a more welcoming place where gay people could have in their lives all the "good things" and the "right things" without having to pretend they're straight? After all, does anyone doubt that it's exponentially harder to attain elective office if you're openly gay? How else do you explain that we have no gay senators, only three gay members of Congress, and an openly gay governor of New Jersey only until Nov. 15?
But even if Jim McGreevey did not want to hold public office, if he just wanted a marriage and children -- natural urges, perhaps as powerful as the sexual one -- the easiest (and indeed the only legal way) to do so remains opting for a heterosexual relationship. So the human costs we only got a glimpse of last Thursday -- a shattered marriage, the anguish inflicted on his parents, his wife, his daughters -- are not just the result of his personal choices but of the roadblocks society continues to place in the path of the complete acceptance of gay men and women.
By the time the curtain comes up on this drama's final act, we could be at the heart of a devastating political scandal. It looks increasingly likely that McGreevey may well be forced to step down even before Nov. 15. But regardless of the political outcome, is it possible we might end up looking not at a tortured politician whose secret drained away precious energy, but at a free man fully -- and finally -- accepting himself? Whether his is a story of political destruction or personal resurrection, McGreevey had to practically drive the car right off the cliff in order to put himself on the road to last Thursday's declaration. And that's an indictment of our society and our political culture wars.
So until the final curtain falls, let's seize the moment to reaffirm, loudly and without reservation, that to be gay is to be normal -- whether you're a governor or a gardener, a public figure or a very private one.
Arianna Huffington, a nationally syndicated columnist, was married to California businessman and politician Michael Huffington, a staunch Republican who came out as gay in 1998.
Publication date: 08/19/04