Sunday, November 14, 2004

There's Something About Outing Mary

By Max Gordon
October 21, 2004

A woman standing next to me on the subway who was a Kerry supporter and a Democrat has decided that she will no longer vote for him because of “what he said about Dick Cheney’s daughter.” This is the third time I have heard this from Democrats and I am starting to worry. When her friend reminds her that what Kerry said was the same as what Edwards had said about Mary Cheney a week earlier, she shakes her head firmly and replies, “It’s just different somehow.”

Is it?

During the final presidential debate, Senator Kerry said, "If you were to talk to Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she's being who she was, she's being who she was born as." This followed his running-mate John Edwards's reference to Mary Cheney during the vice-presidential debate, during which he said, "And you can't have anything but respect for the fact that they're willing to talk about the fact that they have a gay daughter, the fact that they embrace her." The obvious difference, of course, is that Edwards called Cheney’s daughter gay, and Kerry referred to her as a lesbian. Besides the grammatical distinction between an adjective and a noun, the words evoke different images in the cultural psyche. The word gay still conjures an image of something celebratory, joyous and childlike. When applied to people, specifically female people, it might describe two women who happen to live together; who enjoy watching a baseball game at night or walking together in a park with their dog. A gay couple is unobtrusive, non-threatening, and ultimately sexless. While it can be applied to a woman, gay usually describes a man.

Lesbian doesn’t. There is no man in lesbian—unless he’s invited. A lesbian might choose to enjoy a man in her life—but he is there at her prerogative, not by definition. With the exception of the pornography that is intended to titillate straight men and that is called “lesbian porn,” the actually lesbian woman who resists the pornographic gaze is selfish; by not having male partners, she is greedy for keeping her pussy for herself. Derived from the Greek island of Lesbos and the 6th century BC communities of women there, the word lesbian suggests to some a woman whose sexuality may be isolated, separatist and subversive, but who, most dangerously, may derive her sensual and creative pleasure exclusively from other women. A woman who loves women as a political decision. Basically, a woman who fucks.

Whether any of this is true about any specific lesbian or gay woman doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the word has some voodoo power that stirs outrage in Republicans and Democrats alike. (Democrats are more embarrassed by their discomfort.) Like Janet Jackson’s breast proffered during the Superbowl and which we were made to look at against our will, we are also furious that we were forced to hear the word lesbian without any warning, and to have an image in our minds of the vice-president’s daughter’s being one, whether we support the issue of gay marriage or not. In the right-wing conservative view that predominates, however unspoken, a respectable woman doesn’t fuck, she is fucked, and a lesbian, (a woman who enjoys sex) is a strident, nasty thing to be.

The father of a gay woman, who happens to be the vice-president of the United States, can say that he loves and supports his daughter who is also director of operations for his re-election campaign, while he stands behind a president who proposes legislation that discriminates against his daughter, and that will work to create a constitutional amendment against her right as an American citizen to legally marry the person she loves. Somehow, with a “gay” daughter who is also daddy’s dutiful little campaign girl, the cruelty is reconcilable, the oppression friendly.

To the gatekeepers of patriarchy, however, a lesbian is a bandit who sabotages the American Family by her refusal to have one, at least as they define it, which means with a man. At a time when it has been reported that thirty states are poised to make abortion illegal within a year if the Supreme Court reverses Roe V. Wade, it is clear that any woman who isn’t “chipper” like Laura Bush, or “family-oriented” and “devoted” like Lynn Cheney, is in grave danger of losing her rights. Faggots are next.

Bottom line: Kerry’s use of the word lesbian ends the polite conversation about seemly non-political gay daughters who just happen to be running their fathers’ very political campaigns. The word lesbian becomes profane only when it makes us face the fact that Mary Cheney has sexual relationships with women, period. It forces us to examine the glaring hypocrisy of the Bush administration’s courting the Religious Right who must feel that Ms. Cheney is an abomination, unless they are simply willing to make an exception for a vice-president's daughter (while throwing their own gay children out of their homes and churches). A gay woman might be able to squeeze through the pearly gates, but a lesbian doesn’t stand a chance.

Personally, as a homosexual, I’m glad he used it. Whether he intended to or not, he smoked out of the hills the raging homophobia and heteroterrorism that George Bush will continue to perpetrate if given four more years. Kerry has revealed to all of us that despite the fact that we have more gay visibility in mainstream media than at any other time in history, gay people are still seen as cute and dispensable, like Chia pets. In the national mind, a gay person is still the sexless sidekick, the reliable best friend who goes home to a mysterious other life or Other Half who is kept in the shadows, someone who goes to her closet when she’s told. Gay people don’t have sex or an identity that intrudes or makes demands on a vice-presidential campaign. A lesbian might.

The website “” was created in response to this hypocrisy; the fact that Mary seems to accept this bastard status is a matter for her and her therapist. Would the Cheneys love her in quite the same way if she were more in the public eye? Many of us who have come out of the closet to our families’ deep shame and mortification know that to be public about our sexual identity may mean losing their love and approval for the rest of our lives. I will not presume to know what a day is like in the Cheney household, but it becomes very provocative when Mary Cheney doesn’t respond publicly to the president’s legislation of bigotry, but propagates it by empowering the Bush/Cheney ticket. Her conspicuous absence from all major media including the family hug at the Republican convention, further reveals the fact that this administration wants to be perceived as inclusive and inviting, while privately furthering agendas to drive American civil rights deeper underground.

With a daughter like Mary Cheney, and an accepting father like Dick Cheney, we homosexuals can be loved and love each other, however gaily, right into invisibility and political powerlessness.

No thanks.

© Max Gordon

This article can also be read at: