I confess that I do not know how it feels to be falsely accused of being gay.
Counting myself among the 5 percent of humanity (give or take) that finds itself drawn to members of the same sex, the only presumptions of homosexuality I have faced have been entirely correct.
On the other hand, I have considerable experience in attempting to convince the world that I am straight, and being rather terrified by the possibility that my efforts had failed.
Truth be told, a leading reason I finally came out was in order to ask my family and friends whether they suspected all along that I was gay and were simply being polite until I was ready to make it public. Whatever curiosity everyone else may have had about me was dwarfed by the curiosity I had about them.
Cory Booker apparently does not have this problem.
Booker, you may know, is the mayor of Newark, New Jersey and the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate in October’s special election to replace the late Frank Lautenberg.
He is also 44 years old and unmarried, and this week was subject to whisperings that his lifelong bachelorhood is due not to an open preoccupation with politics, but rather to a secret preoccupation with men.
These gay rumors themselves are not particularly newsworthy; Mayor Booker has faced them before. Indeed, the ruckus this week came about not by outside chatter, but by Booker himself, who in a Washington Post profile referred to past interest in his personal life in order to express his general thoughts on the matter.
What is newsworthy is precisely what Booker said, and, more compelling still, what he did not say.
In the Post feature, when the nature of his love life popped up, Booker remarked, “[P]eople who think I’m gay, some part of me thinks it’s wonderful. Because I want to challenge people on their homophobia. I love seeing on Twitter when someone says I’m gay, and I say, ‘So what does it matter if I am? So be it. I hope you are not voting for me because you are making the presumption that I’m straight.’”
Such a reaction is interesting for at least two reasons: First, for its jollity; second, for its deliberate ambiguity.
On the first point, we might concede that it has become de rigueur for any ambitious Democrat to go whole hog on all matters relating to homosexuality and gay rights—to make it plain that, in the year 2013, to be suspected of being gay should be taken, if not as a compliment, then at least not as the insult and provocation it used to be.
Then there is the matter of Mayor Booker’s own sexual preference, which he didn’t trouble himself to define one way or another. It should be noted that he has, in the past, identified as heterosexual and referred to having had relationships with women. This time, however, he did not.
He could have made himself clear. He could have said, “I don’t mind if people think I’m gay, even though I am actually straight,” rather than asserting the former without acknowledging the latter. There is no rule that an openly straight person cannot be an effective advocate for gay rights, which Booker evidently intends to be.
The fact is that Booker is attempting to have it both ways. He says that his sexual orientation is irrelevant to whether he would make a decent U.S. senator, yet he apparently does not trust the good folks of New Jersey enough to make it clear what his orientation is.
As an analogy: A candidate for office might insist that his religion should not determine whether one votes for him or not, but he would nonetheless feel no hesitation in saying to which church he belongs. It would be outright bizarre if he didn’t, and it would lead people to wonder whether he is withholding valuable information about his true self.
One’s sexual preference ought to be no different: It is part of the makeup of an individual’s identity, and something of which, according to Booker himself, one has no cause to be ashamed or evasive.
Accordingly, Booker should quit dancing around the issue and just be straight with us (so to speak). If he is confident that voters will not view his sexuality as a drawback, then he should have the nerve to give them an honest choice from which to prove him correct.
After all, while it might be wrong to withhold one’s vote on the suspicion that a candidate is gay, it is entirely reasonable to withhold one’s vote on the suspicion that a candidate is a liar.