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03/02/2009

Overthinking your truth, Koch edition

by Jeremy Hooper

This is former NYC mayor Ed Koch, speaking to The New York Times:

Picture 1-241Mr. Koch, a lifelong bachelor, declines to say whether he is gay. 'I do not want to add to the acceptability of asking every candidate, ‘Are you straight or gay or lesbian?’ and make it a legitimate question, so I don’t submit to that question. I don’t care if people think I’m gay because I don’t answer it. I’m flattered that at 84 people are interested in my sex life — and, it’s quite limited.'
Koch Makes His Peace and Dares to Look Ahead [NY Times]
(H/t: Towle)

This is current NYC resident Jeremy Hooper, speaking to Good As You:

Picture 3-190Mr. Hooper, a bachelor for far too long due to laws that wouldn't allow him to marry, sees absolutely no controversy in saying he is gay. "Why would I use words like 'acceptability' when referring to the media's acknowledgement of my life? If I had a wife, it would be just another benign part of my bio. So why should I view it as 'submitting to a question' if/when a journalist asks me about my husband-to-be?! I don't care if people think I'm gay or straight because I wouldn't be ashamed or happy to be either -- it would just be me. But on the other hand, I am happy that at age 29 people are interested in hearing about my benign gay life as it is non-controversially lived -- my lack of hang ups will hopefully help to lift government limitations!"

Oh, and for the record: I would also gladly reveal that I'm right handed, have blue eyes, and attached ear lobes! My body's no biggies will never be treated otherwise.

****

*Note: This is not an attempt to out Mr. Koch. We don't out people here. The point is that whether he's hetero, homo, bi, or whatever, the conversation should not be a big drama for a grown adult who is so seemingly secure in every way.

See this post's comments section for much more.

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Your thoughts

Ed Koch is a geeze from another generation. Why would anyone care whether he's out, unless it's a chance to put the horn into old people by flaunting how liberated 29 year olds are. Thanks.

Posted by: Wilberforce | Mar 2, 2009 12:50:07 PM

I don't think what he said was a bad thing -- recently someone was asked what they thought of the whole Jessica Simpson weight 'controversy', and they said "that's an irresponsible question".

I think that's the right answer, or at least A right answer. It shouldn't matter a goddamned bit if JS is heavy or thin, and it shouldn't matter a goddamned bit if Koch is gay or straight. It's an irresponsible question to pry into the personal life of someone who hasn't offered it up.

Posted by: Laurie | Mar 2, 2009 4:24:43 PM

Laurie: It's not so much that what Koch said here is "bad," good, or whatever. It's just that this is what he has been doing for years, and it all comes across as so overthought.

Love life and partnership is a topic that just naturally comes up with public figures. You know their spouses. You know their families. It's just a benign part of life. And that's the point here: That regardless of his orientation, it doesn't need to be an inquisition or anything like that. It doesn't need a long explanation. It doesn't need to be any sort of "controversy. It just is what it is. So rhat's what I was trying to do: Present another option.

For the record, I wouldn't personally reveal that he's gay even if someone handed me a file of pictures filled with him smooching dudes. I don't out people -- so that's not my point, that he needs to be outed for any reason. I agree 100% that it's his story to tell on his own terms. However, it clearly came up in this NY Times piece, providing a perfect opportunity for him to make benign note of what I would hope, for his sake, is something that causes him no shame (whether gay, straight, bi, or whatever). But he didn't just acknowledge it the way he acknowledged other personal details (like health issues). He turned it into a deal by making his own political statement about "acceptability."

And I reject the comparison with the JS situation. In her case, it is an unfair controversy cooked up around the false ideal that women should be a certain size. But again, in Koch's case, there need not be any controversy except among those who see homosexuality as controversial. If people used his sexuality against him the way some of used JS's supposed weight gain against her, then that would be another story -- one we would reject. But that's not what's going on here.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Mar 2, 2009 4:39:22 PM

Wilberforce: I'm not seeing your point. It seems like you are once again implying that I'm taking a dig at older generations. If so, I really wish you would stop doing that. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As for caring if Koch is gay: It actually applies more to older generations anyway, with many during the onset of the AIDS crisis wondering if some sort of a closet might have exacerbated the disease's spread. Whether or not that is true is up for debate. However, there are many in the 50+ set who will talk your ear off about the topic if you get them started. Or just read some of Larry Kramer -- he has lots to say on the subject.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Mar 2, 2009 4:40:28 PM

Koch is of a generation that can't accept the fact that, in certain circles, asking someone, "Are you gay?" is about as controversial as asking, "Are you married?" It's just someone trying to figure out if they should try to fix you up with their single straight girl friends or their single gay guy friends. And for the record, I'm left handed, like 5 of our last 6 presidents (Dubya wasn't one of us).

Posted by: Derek in DC | Mar 2, 2009 4:42:03 PM

Thank you, Derek. That is exactly the point.

If he had been married to a female for the past fifty years, it would be a cute little kicker that he would surely be glad to include in any writeup about his life. All I'm saying is that whatever his truth, it is not some big drama. At least it shouldn't be.

I should also draw a distinction between this current conversation and past anti-gay nonsense that he faced in past political campaigns. That sort of gay-baiting, attempted outing, etc. makes for a whole other story -- a situation that I of course reject.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Mar 2, 2009 4:52:01 PM

In certain circles is the key phrase. In other circles, you might get treated a tad differently. And young people in general haven't experienced the kindness dished out to queers even 30 years ago, to say nothing of 40 or 50.
As for the closet causing the spread of aids. That's a stretch. It seems like we'll look anywhere to avoid looking at ourselves. Imho, promiscuous, unprotected humping spread aids. Period.
Kramer certainly does have much to say on the subject, as I do. And we've been saying the same thing for 30 years. Cool it. Be more careful. Stop treating each other like blow up dolls. And we got trashed for saying it.

Posted by: Wilberforce | Mar 2, 2009 5:08:32 PM

Wilberforce: No, no -- the conversation to which I'm referring is not about the closet in general causing AIDS. I'm saying one conversation among early AIDS activists (including Kramer) is that Koch's closet and fear of being found out let to inactivity.

Again, I'm not trying to out Koch or say that he is gay. But since you brought up an older generation vs. younger generation discussion, I was just noting that the Koch conversation more fully belongs to the former.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Mar 2, 2009 5:16:06 PM

I'm sorry GAY. But Mr Hooper's criticism seems clear to me. He wouldn't use words like 'acceptability' or 'submitting to a question'. And he hopes his lack of hang ups will help lift 'government limitations.' Well bully for him.
Again, it's a generational thing. We oldsters think it's wrong to criticize people for being in the closet. We haven't walked in their shoes.
I think it was Signorile who started outing. Used against enemies, it may be useful. But commentary on someone's private life is still in poor taste in my book.

Posted by: Wilberforce | Mar 2, 2009 5:23:21 PM

Wilberforce: I am Jeremy.

I am not criticizing Mr. Koch for being in the closet -- I'm not even saying he's in a queer closet. I'm saying that he's talking about his sexual orientation, whatever it is, as if it's an off-limits topic towards which a reporter who's been tasked with writing a personal piece is somehow out-of-line for bringing up. Now, keep in mind that this is a piece in which he talks about buying his own headstone and his health problems. But when it comes to a key component of his identity, one that is mentioned without even the blink of an eye by billions of heterosexuals (if not directly then by virtue of acknowledging their families, dating, etc.), he acts like the lines of acceptability have been breached.

So my main point is actually not even about homosexuality here, considering I have no clue where Mr. Koch is on that spectrum. My commentary is about sexuality in general, and how it's weird to me that it could ever be beyond the pale for a reporter to mention it during a personal interview (which is his implication). Again, maybe it won't be mentioned in terms of "ARE YOU GAY/ARE YOUR STRAIGHT?" -- but it's def. reasonable for a public person to assume that it will be mentioned in terms of "Are you married? Is there anyone special in your life? etc."

Also, I am merely commenting on something he put out to the world. If he really wanted zero discussion on the topic, he could have nodded his head no and not even acknowledged the reporter's question. Nobody can be forced to talk.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Mar 2, 2009 5:32:09 PM

I also want to say, getting back to the post itself: The primary idea was to present another side to a quip that Mr. Koch himself willingly gave to a reporter. Not really to chastise him for it or deny him the freedom to withhold a response -- just to say that here is another possibility.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Mar 2, 2009 6:07:50 PM

Eeeeewwwwwwww, you have attached earlobes? Just kidding. ;)

Posted by: Gavin | Mar 2, 2009 6:19:42 PM

GAY, I misunderstood. But even so. Blaming a closet case for spreading aids is too far out there to discuss.
Jeremy, I see your point. And it seems reasonable.
But there's a counter argument: the person being interviewed gets to decide which questions he'll answer and which are out of line. Not the journalist. Journalists ask a lot of stupid questions. Much of commerical media's job is to distract the public from serious issues. And it is everyone's responsibility to call journalists on their performance.
And Koch makes a decent point in putting the question off limits. Sure, it's normal to ask if someone is married. But in work situations, asking if someone is gay can be damaging. He could loose an election, or a promotion, or even humane treatment because of bigots in this world.
I still think my generation's call on this issue was the right one. We don't out anyone, unless it's someone doing real harm, because only he knows if it's safe to come out.

Posted by: Wilberforce | Mar 3, 2009 3:54:18 PM

Well again, Wilberforce: I don't out anyone either. I'm with you on that 100%.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Mar 3, 2009 4:07:25 PM

Thank you.

Posted by: Wilberforce | Mar 3, 2009 6:02:59 PM

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