A question for Masha – Talking Person 38


I just read Masha Gessen’s piece for the New Yorker titled ‘The Queer Opposition to Pete Buttigieg, Explained’ and boy, do people have feelings about it.

In summary, Gessen explained that because Pete Buttigieg was able to pass as straight before eventually coming out after becoming mayor of South Bend, Indiana, there is opposition from some members of the gay community who could not, or chose not to.

Buttigieg, the openly gay and married Democratic presidential primary contender, had the ability to hide his sexuality and pass as straight for much of his life and therefore didn’t necessarily experience the same treatment that other, more outwardly gay people experienced.

Gessen is careful to explain that this doesn’t necessarily mean that Buttigieg and people like him didn’t experience their own type of suffering.

Again, I am not saying that L.G.B.T. people who don’t pass are somehow morally superior to L.G.B.T. people who do.

But it means that Buttigieg probably doesn’t understand the perspective of people who ‘couldn’t pass’.

He references an open letter from Queers Against Pete which states

We are clear that LGBTQIA people are directly and disproportionately impacted by police violence, incarceration, unaffordable healthcare, homelessness, deportation, and economic inequality among other things.”

There is a sense of bitterness in Gessen’s article. Buttigieg was able to hide his sexuality throughout most of his life and was able to choose to come out only after America’s attitude toward homosexuality had become generally accepting. While Gessen never had the choice to come out. He had to deal with the discrimination that Buttigieg avoided.

Gessen’s most controversial line in the article probably comes at the end.

He is an old politician in a young man’s body, a straight politician in a gay man’s body.

It’s an unfortunately worded line, but it gets Gessen’s point across — Buttigieg isn’t gay in the same way that Gessen is and that affects the reaction that more outwardly gay people have towards him.

I am a Buttigieg supporter. I will vote blue no matter who, but Buttigieg is my first choice. So when I first saw the reactions to this article on Twitter, I was expecting a much more aggressive attack on Buttigieg for being ‘wrong kind of gay.’

That’s not what I read.

I think Gessen beautifully outlines the feelings he and many people who have shared his experience have about Buttigieg and gay people like him.

To me, that was the point of the article — to answer the question, why is there queer opposition to Pete.

But there’s another question that he left unanswered — is that opposition justified?

I’m a straight man. So obviously, I don’t share Gessen’s or Buttigieg’s experience. To some, this might make me unqualified to discuss this question at all. But maybe, because I’m outside of this, I can think about it dispassionately.

To me, Buttigieg’s sexuality is a non-issue. I support him because of his policies and his attitude — the way he speaks about unity and engaging Trump voters. So, it’s not that difficult for me to imagine his candidacy as a straight man.

If Buttigieg were straight, there obviously wouldn’t be this backlash from some members of the gay community. None of Buttigieg’s main policies or rhetoric directly addresses LGBT issues, so it’s not as though there is a specific issue that created this backlash.

This purely has to do with the fact that Buttigieg is close to this community — those who can’t easily pass as gay — but not in it.

So, is that fair? Is that reasonable? Should so much energy and opposition be directed at someone simply for being who he is?

Or would it be more reasonable to put his sexuality aside and judge him based on things such as his policies, his character and his achievements?

If you’ve been bullied, physically attacked and discriminated against because you are gay, it’s completely understandable that you’d be angry towards Pete Buttigieg and his political rise.

But if you can examine that anger and that resentment, ask yourself — is that something you should carry with you? Or should you put that down, accept that Buttigieg has had privileges that you didn’t (just like every other presidential contender) and look at him, not as ‘a straight politician in a gay man’s body’ but as a man who wants to do what he thinks is best for this country?

So my ultimate question for Gessen after reading his article is ‘Is it fair to judge Pete Buttigieg based on his sexuality?’

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