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Out Rage

I was at the Kitty Kelley book party last week--don't ask--and an unpleasant character sidled up to me, with clammy hands and Gollum eyes, and asked, "So I hear you've got the goods on...?" It was one Michael Rogers, the new Robespierre of the gay rights movement, moving in on his latest attempt to "out" some traitor or other to the gay cause. I demurred. The only goods I have are on myself, and I have become a little difficult to "out" over the years, mainly because every conceivable part of my private and public life has already been exposed and attacked by the very gay activists who now want to enlist my collusion against others. Sorry, Michael. No deal.

And so we are back to the 1990s, or the '50s, depending on whether it is J. Edgar Hoover or remnants of ACT UP destroying what's left of gay men's privacy. Each time the flurry of exposure occurs, it is because some new moment in gay politics has arrived, and, in the eyes of the enforcers of gay orthodoxy, hypocrisy requires instant punishment. In the '90s, it was AIDS--a crisis that was indeed a crisis, when lives were not merely rhetorically at stake. Now it is the Federal Marriage Amendment and a Republican Party leadership that has become more ferociously hostile to gay relationships than in recent memory.

And on the face of it, the obvious hypocrisy of a few does seem to merit accountability. If Congressman Ed Schrock is seeking gay sex on phone lines in Virginia, it's probably hypocritical for him to be calling for stringent enforcement of the military's ban on openly gay servicemembers, or for banning marriage rights to his fellow homosexuals. But the key word there is: probably. There is an obvious disjunction between Schrock's public statements and his private alleged actions. But is it hypocrisy?

Anyone who knows the psychological torment of gay men in their fifties or sixties must surely understand that things are often a little more complicated than that. Gay men who have lived their lives in shame and deception may not have come to terms in any profound way with the inner conflicts that are propelling their outward actions. They may be in such acute denial that they are barely aware of their deceptions. They may have split their psyches in so many different ways that their super-ego is scarcely aware of what their id is up to. Or they may somehow believe they are not gay; or they are doing the minimum necessary to keep their lives in one dysfunctional piece; or they may be fully aware they are gay inside while cynically advancing their political self-interest at the expense of other gay people.

Take your pick. But my point is that, from the outside, it is impossible to know which psycho-sexual malfunction is really operating. Is an Ed Schrock a monster or a coward? Is he in denial or in deep cover? Do his two lives represent a conscious choice for self-advancement--or a coping mechanism for helpless internal conflict? I do not know. But what I do know is that forcing this man to cope with all of this in public, as an exercise in public humiliation and disgrace, is simply and manifestly cruel. And if the gay rights movement is about anything, it should be about the abatement of cruelty. Especially when directed by one gay man toward another.

For all this, I am regarded as terminally naïve, an enabler of treachery. I'd rather argue that malice can only beget malice; that outing Schrock's cruelty doesn't end the cycle; it perpetuates it. Is Ed Schrock now an advocate of gay rights? Is his successor in his Virginia district likely to be any better? All we know now is that a) some gay men are so screwed up that they happily persecute other gays and b) other gay men are happy to persecute them as well. Has this advanced the argument for equal marriage rights? Has it made the story of gay people more understandable and accessible to the straight people we need to persuade? Hardly.

The truth is that in every movement for social change there are bound to be cowards and traitors. Some are merely afraid; others may decide to disagree or take convenient cover; others still may cash in their integrity for advancement. But all these people live in their own private hells, hells which the gay movement is trying, however fitfully, to bring light into. The point is not the hell, but the exit. And every moment we spend obsessing about the enemy within is one moment not spent spreading the message without. The thrill of exposure, the momentary feeling of self-righteousness and power that outing brings, may often surpass in excitement the daily grind of changing minds and witnessing to the truth. But only the grind moves us forward. And everything else ultimately takes us back.

Andrew Sullivan is a contributing editor atand the author of The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back(HarperCollins)

By Andrew Sullivan