Tuesday, January 30, 2007

McGreevey: The Confession, and Bauman: The Gentleman from Maryland

James McGreevy: The Confession (Regan, 2006, ISBN 0-06-089862-3, 369 pages) and Robert Bauman: The Gentleman from Maryland: The Conscience of a Gay Conservative (Arbor House, 1986, 0-87795-686-3, 276 pages)
Both of these books are autobiographies authored by gay men who tried to live up to societies expectations by marrying and having children. And both men succeeded in politics in a conventional way by (after schmoozing to raise money in partisan games) getting elected to office – an accomplish that seems real and necessary before many people will respect you as “accomplished” in the political affairs of the world. The narrative style in each book is straightforward and tends to stay away from pontification, although Bauman tends to get out of sequence. Bauman’s book dates back to 1986 but it still provides a valuable example.
There are some major differences in their stories. Bauman was brought down when the FBI investigated his trysts while he was married, an investigation that clearly motivated by the politics of the 1980 election. McGreevy would have appeared to have misused his office (as governor of New Jersey) to give a critical post to an intimate associate. But what is more important is the underlying motive. Bauman was actually a congressional page, an observation interesting today in light of the Mark Foley scandal in 2006.
There is a tendency for boys with introverted, artistic, or less obviously competitive temperaments (whether because of genetics – probable – or environment) to focus attention upon their own developmental needs. Society tends to react by trying to force them to address the needs of others, especially family members. This gets to be elaborated into religious and moral ideas about family values and family blood loyalty, which are less persistent in today’s pluralistic culture than they were a few decades ago. After all, given the inequities of the outside world, the survival of a weaker family member can depend upon the almost compulsory deferential loyalty of not just parents but also siblings and children. Family socialization is viewed by many as a prerequisite for the ability to make a lifelong marital sexual commitment. Another way to looking at this is to realize that society tends to make people who are "different" compete according to majoritarian norms of "public morality": here, that men must prove that they can provide for women and children before they do anything else. Ironically, gay male "upward affiliation" seems to follow societal expectations of men in trying to confirm what is "good" or aesthetically beautiful in others.
Getting married, fathering children, and proving that you can protect and provide for a family gets perceived to be the “moral” justification for having more than other people have because of birth circumstances. Or, for poor people, it family domain gets to be the one thing a young man has to live for, and he will not take cultural threats to it (or suggestions from others that he is less than adequate to become an ancestor himself) lightly.
Both authors heeded these pressures, which are, as they experienced them, related to the notion of competitive personal success in a meritocratic world. Both even experienced some genuine heterosexual passion and love of their wives. Why, then, did they need homosexual contacts or relationships? In the Bauman case, particularly, there seems to be the idea that these liaisons would help him “recharge his batteries” so that he could experience his conventional family and political life – something that others would recognize as legitimate – fully. Marriage was a way of paying his dues.
It is common today to find middle aged men who divorced because of coming to terms with homosexuality. Media outlets like ABC 20/20 say “it happens to millions.” These men usually have children and visitation rights (and more often than one would think, custody). Child support is often a considerable financial burden. Yet, having been parents and family men does make these men seem more real. In today’s world, an increasing portion of jobs involve interacting with minors, the elderly, or people who are not fully intact as “normal” adults in a business context. Having been a parent for a while, even if it ended in a divorce, does not mean failure; it may become a prerequisite.
The idea that marriage and fatherhood should be mandatory for acceptable social standing, common in many more authoritarian cultures, does not seem to be good for marriage in the long run. Yet it sounds reasonable to wonder if "the measure of a man" (or of a woman) could include proving that one can provide for someone else during the course of a life. Is that notion a moral common denominator?
Both of these books could make good TV movies.

A blog about Mrs. McGreevey's book "Silent Partner" appears here.

Detailed reviews here.

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