Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
October 12, 2004

Over and out
By Bruce Vilanch

Where were you when Jim McGreevey came out? Ok, so it’s not 9/11 or JFK or the O.J. verdict, but it still was something of a television event. Here was a sitting governor—it’s difficult to resist a joke about what he was sitting on, but let’s try to be adult for just a few paragraphs—a sitting governor of a state treasured the world over by fans of gangsterism, announcing that he was engaged in an activity so heinous he would be forced to resign. This sounded almost as good as a very special episode of Joey, and I mean very special.

What was the activity? Black-market baby mills, polluting the state’s water supply, declaring Polish the official language? No, it turns out the gov is gay. But wait, there’s more: He’s been having an affair. With a man. There’s more than that, of course, but that’s all we were allowed to find out in the initial announcement, which started as a heartfelt recitation of the pain and suffering gay people go through when they deny the essential truth about themselves and wound up being a confession of adultery, which wound up being the reason he had to resign.

Being an adulterer, and especially a gay adulterer, evidently compromises one’s ability to govern a state. Well, sure. We all see how being accused of sexual harassment has gotten in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s way, or how being implicated in voter fraud has stripped Jeb Bush of power and popularity. Being a gay adulterer has got to be much worse than those things, doesn’t it?

Well, I guess it’s not all that bad unless you’ve put your boyfriend on the public payroll, like the straight guys do with their bimbos. Because that would—you mean he put his boyfriend on the payroll too? Of course he did—we’re talkin’ New Jersey here! And with a bunch of other corruption charges flying around the governor’s head (again—please, please resist), it appears that stepping down because of a specific moral failing that could make a perpetrator look more like a victim was a far easier course for McGreevey than battling it out.

The announcement could not have been more theatrical. The wife and the mother by his side—a gorgeous wife, by the way, and she’s a second one, and he had kids with both—and his head held high, the governor cannily eased his way out of office, timing his actual date of resignation so the loyal opposition could not take advantage of his dilemma. McGreevey’s announcement was startling for several reasons. It was the first time I can remember that a major politician used his homosexuality as a plea for sympathy without making himself seem like a hopeless case. The description of what gay people go through was accurate and stated with some degree of pride, even as it was being used to mask some other unpleasantnesses. People who knew nothing else of McGreevey’s case had to be impressed. Any public official who willingly puts a human face on his gayness can’t help but influence those people who still insist they know nobody gay.

No matter what details subsequently emerge on McGreevey’s political dealings, there will still be millions of people who will primarily remember a good-looking young man going on television and outing himself. They will also note that he flushed his political career into the Jersey meadowlands, but there are issues bigger than career that James McGreevey has to deal with, and only the dullest fool watching his announcement would not realize that.

As gay people we’re not supposed to be very happy with McGreevey, but he’s not Barney Frank or Tammy Baldwin, and he never would have been. I think his disgrace plays to a deep wish-fulfillment part of our psyche. We always want the good-looking leading man to be gay. Here comes one who turns out to be just what we always dreamed, but we can’t use him. He’s damaged goods. Not just a career has been wasted but a damn fine fantasy.