David M. Ortmann
SPECIAL TO THINK & ASK
Dear Governor McGreevey:
The late Audre Lorde once said,
|"When I dare to be powerful - to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid."|
I hope these words can be a source of strength for you in the days ahead. Although I live in San Francisco and work as a psychotherapist and a writer, you and I have more in common than the fact that we are both gay men.
We were born not far from one another in New Jersey. Before you were Governor, you were the Mayor of my home township. Like you, I was raised Irish Catholic and I was an altar boy. Also, I knew that I was different and, although I wasn’t quite sure how or why, I knew that being "different" must be very bad and very wrong. I was called “faggot” before I even knew was the word meant, and was beaten-up so often that my parents enrolled me in karate classes.
At thirteen I was sexually assaulted, which shoved me deeper into a closet of shame. Later, as a high school freshman, my Chemistry teacher called me a faggot in front of my classmates. I didn’t tell anyone at home. I hid. I was afraid. I felt imprisoned and crippled.
You came out last week. I never had that chance. I guess I was outed by my Chemistry teacher. I was outed by my college friends the very day after I had my first consensual experience with another man. I was outed by my family at age 22 when they “found” a picture of my first boyfriend and I embraced in a kiss; a picture that I had kept securely hidden, face-down, in the pencil case of my dayplanner.
I felt robbed of my coming out experience because it was either forced upon me or taken from me. I guess that’s why I am so open about being a proud gay man today. Some people say I flaunt it. I say fuck-em. It feels powerful to finally claim the right to say and be who I am without reservation.
You did the same thing last week, and I thank you for your dignified public announcement, which embodied the sprit of Audre Lorde’s words I quote. Rather than succumb to the pressures of blackmail, you chose instead to be honest. I know for a fact that your administration could have handled the circumstances facing you quietly, efficiently, and effectively. You could have avoided disclosure and continued your life and career without interruption. Instead, you chose to come out. I have tremendous respect for that choice. I only wish you chose to remain governor. But that is your choice. I do hope you will remain in office, despite pressure, until the date of your scheduled step down.
Thank you for not attaching shame to your sexual orientation. You did attach feelings of shame to your hiding and lying, but not to your orientation. This is an important distinction and I thank you for making it clear.
You also expressed shame and regret for betraying your marital union, and this has been a source of some criticism. The American public has no way of knowing what kind of a relationship you and Dina have, nor should they; though I find it difficult to believe that you and she didn’t have some kind of understanding or arrangement. I do know that to admit to a negotiated open marriage is nearly impossible for any politician. Even President Clinton, during the [Monica] Lewinsky scandal, couldn’t say it, although it was probably true. That said, it is no one’s business what type of marriage you and Dina have. I am heartened that she supports you, especially now, and I wish her well as I do you.
I understand the church is praying for you. Don’t take too much solace in that. The Catholic Church’s position on homosexuality is, at best, “love the sinner, hate the sin.” The operative word being hate. Your God made you in His image, or that’s what your religion teaches. Logic follows that he loves you as you are. Your church is not synonymous with God. Remember this church that is now praying for you, is the same church that condemned you when you and your first wife divorced. Mixed messages anyone?
You are the subject of criticism now. Will reactionary, conservative religious forces use your actions to smear the gay community? Probably, but that is not your fault. Some members of the gay community are criticizing you as well, arguing that you were “forced” to come out and are somehow casting a pall over gays everywhere. Whatever. Between you and me, I think these people may have forgotten exactly how hard it is to come out and how many excruciating years of pain, denial, self-hatred and darkness precede it.
In coming out to the nation as “a Gay American,” a phrase you repeated throughout your public address, as opposed to a “gay man” or “gay person” you subtly underlined the oft-forgotten fact that gay people are, indeed, Americans, and entitled to the same civil liberties, rights, and freedoms.
You also said that you are “blessed to live in the greatest nation with the greatest tradition of civil liberties in the world.” Beautiful words, though I am sure you would be the first to recognize that the liberties to which you refer are not available to so many people in our country—the poor, sexual, and racial minorities come immediately to my mind. Though you are a long-standing supporter of domestic partnership, indeed you are one of the reasons New Jersey has domestic partnership laws, I do expect you to change—based on your commitment to civil liberties—your political stance against same sex marriages.
I am glad that you have found your truth. I had to leave New Jersey to find, and embrace, my truth as a proud, unapologetic, gay, American man. I hope that your actions help to pave the way for a more embracing and accepting world. Perhaps gay men and women in the future will not have to leave New Jersey, or wherever their homes may be, to live their lives in truth, dignity, and integrity..
I wish you well, Governor, and I hope that your political career is far from over.
And before I forget, may I say, with pride, “Welcome Jim.”
David M. Ortmann
San Francisco, California