Early today, Buzzfeed posted a blind item outing GOP Congressman Aaron Schock, substantiated by what essentially reads like one of Perez Hilton’s cattier blog posts. Schock has long been known for his well-kempt appearance, rockin’ bod, and “colorful” fashion sense (I’m pretty sure if you stare at that outfit and then look at a white wall, you can still see it on your retinas.) And obviously, since any stylish, fit man can be nothing else but a 100% grade A American homosexual, these physical attributes have led many to “assume the worst.”
As if this were not enough, the “report” cites a source who says:
“here’s a hypothetical: what if you know a certain GOP congressman, let’s just say from Illinois, is gay… and you know this because one of your friends, a journalist for a reputable network, told you in no uncertain terms that he caught that GOP congressman and his male roommate in the shower… together. now they could have been good friends just trying to conserve water. but there’s more. what if this congressman has also been caught by tmz cameras trolling gay bars. now what if you know that this very same guy, the darling of the gop, has also voted against repeal of don’t ask don’t tell, opposed the repeal of doma, is against gay marriage; and for the federal marriage amendment, which would add language to the us constitution banning gay marriage and would likely strike down every gay rights law and ordinance in the country?
Are we still not allowed to out him?” (lack of respect for capitalization in the original)
Before we discuss whether we are “allowed to out him,” there are a couple things that I think are equally worth debating.
First, the main reason anybody thinks Aaron Schock is gay is because he has the nerve to dress stylishly (and occasionally blindingly) and he takes care of his body. While I admit that, creature of the culture that I am, I would probably also see this man’s appearance as evidence that we might be on the same team, that doesn’t make it OK. By stating publicly that by virtue of his very appearance we can tell that he’s gay, we’re not only grossly overgeneralizing about a diverse and varied community, we’re actually oppressing that very community. What this does is reify that there is only one way to “look” gay. This serves to deprive the vast majority of gay men on this planet who do not look like Mr. Schock (myself very much included) of an identity that many of us are working very hard to defend. It is also reinforces the same messages of body-shaming and economic stratification with which we are already bombarded by voices from within our own community.
Secondly, the assumption that even if Mr. Schock were having sex with men (which I do not claim to know) he would necessarily be gay reinforces a hetero/homosexual binary that completely erases the real and lived experiences of bisexual and queer identified people, as well as MSMs, the hetero- or homo-flexible, and the bicurious. Mr. Schock’s case is not unique. In the past year we’ve witnessed the public comings out of Frank Ocean, Robin Roberts, Maria Bello, and Tom Daley, none of whom said “I’m gay.” They all simply said that they were currently in relationships with partners of the same gender. Nonetheless, the media has persisted in labeling each and everyone one of them as gay.
At the root of the hetero/homo binary are two main problems. First, as Shane Phelan has theorized:
“The threat of bisexuality has always been choice. Bisexuality seems to call inescapably for choices about whom and how to love. For lesbian-feminists, the threat is that bisexuals will choose a man. For heterosexuals, the threat is that bisexuals will choose a same-sex lover. For lesbians and gays, the threat is that bisexuals belie the claim that we can’t help our desire.” (Sexual Strangers, pgs. 127-128)
Second, bisexuality (especially for men) is always spoken about as a “phase.” Nobody wants to believe that man can be bisexual. This has nothing to with the nature of some inherent male trait and everything to do with the way our society defines masculinity. The male bisexual threatens the ideal of the “phallic” or impenetrable male because he refuses to conform entirely to a societally sanctioned sexual role.
This definition of masculinity is so engrained in our society that it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, producing evidence of itself in the innumerable young men who have taken their first step out of the closet as bisexual, only to eventually admit their “true” homosexuality (once again, me!). Except there’s no such thing as your “true” sexuality outside the bounds of how society makes you define it. It’s not difficult to conceptualize that a society that refuses to allow men to be sexually flexible is going to produce men who feel they may only identify within a binary. Once again, I don’t know what happens in Mr. Schock’s head, pants, or bed, but for the purposes of this argument that’s not really the point.
Now, are we “allowed to out him?” I will admit that there is a tiny angry queer in my brain that says “Yes, out them, out them all!” It’s hard not to feel that, given Mr. Schock’s voting record, a little vengeance isn’t justified. And yet, I have been outed. I have been outed in places where it was very, very dangerous for that to happen, and in fact illegal for me to be gay. I know what it is to feel you have to hide your sexuality, whatever that may be, and the powerlessness of knowing you can’t ever get that cat back in the bag. I understand the impulse to out, but I also understand the consequences. So, I don’t know.
What I do know is that we can’t out him as gay, or bi, or whatever. Only he can do that. Gay, and bi, and even queer, are labels that describe us only when we in some way accept them. This is not to imply that this is a free or rational choice. The decision to identify as a sexual minority is necessarily influenced by societal factors totally beyond our control. Nonetheless, the process of coming out is, in a way, our assuming a given label that will partially define and shape our respective experiences.
Finally, I don’t think it’s necessary to out Mr. Schock. Sure, if he is having sex with men, his voting record is unarguably hypocritical. But even if he’s not, his voting record is disgusting. Instead of focusing our political energies and media attention on outing this one politician, shouldn’t we be focusing our energies on making sure he’s not a politician anymore?
Mr. Schock’s orientation, whatever it may be, is not what should appall us about his voting record. It should appall us that we’re not appalled by the voting records of the rest of the homo/bi/trans-phobic lawmakers in this country. What does it say that we only expect people to vote for human rights when they have a personal stake in the issue? Instead, we should be reacting to the general climate of bigotry that reigns in our country and its government under the guise of religion and “family values.” So don’t waste your time “outing” this guy, if that’s even a thing. Write him a letter, write the GOP a letter, sign every petition you can find, and work to elect somebody you can agree with to his, and other, positions.
So. Are we “allowed” to out him? Certainly. But why waste your energy? Use it for something infinitely greater.
On a personal note, I’m loving how engaged you all on my Facebook posts. But can I ask you to do it in the “Comment” section here instead/also? I’d love to open up these discussions to people who might not be my Facebook friends! THANKS!