Don’t Call George Rekers ‘Gay’
In recent decades, the Academic Left has successfully propagated the notion that people are free to define their own identities. Thus, on the campus of any elite American institution of higher education, a person born anatomically female is perfectly free to “identify as male.” Likewise, people are free to call themselves “gay,” “lesbian,” or the more encompassing (and irritating) term, “queer.” The right to self-fashioning extends to race, as well. When our President identified himself as “black” on this year’s census form – (thus “disowning his white grandmother,” not to mention his white grandfather, and white mother) – the Left could barely muster a collective yawn. After all, the logic goes, who are we to tell anyone how they should identify themselves?
This approach is quite appealing. After all, it represents an attempt to extend the sphere of personal rights: if a man can can disown his penis and identify as female, what can’t he do? Indeed, the concept of self-fashioning and self-identification is rooted in one of the Academic Left’s more admirable traits: its belief in the sanctity of personal rights.
Why, then, is George Rekers not extended the same courtesy?
You’ve probably heard that Rekers, a founder of the conservative Family Research council, is embroiled in a bit of a scandal. As the Huffington Post characterized it, “George Alan Rekers, a prominent anti-gay activist who co-founded the conservative Family Research Council, was caught returning from a 10-day trip to Europe with a male escort he found on Rentboy.com, which is exactly what it sounds like.” The article then goes on to report that the escort “says Rekers is indeed gay.” (Whatever happened to “what happens in Madrid?”)
This news has occasioned undisguised glee among many. Yet again, an anti-gay activist has been caught engaging in homosexual liaisons! The claim centers around the fact that Rekers is clearly a hypocrite, because we now know that he is “gay.” Rachel Maddow has said that “it’s big news that Rekers is gay.” Talking Points Memo celebrated the fact that Rekers is “homosexual.” And True/Slant’s Laurie Essig cheered that, “Family Research Council co-founder [is] a big fag.” We’ve seen this same story play out multiple times previously with the likes of Ted Haggard, Larry Craig, and others.
Granted, it may turn out to be true that Rekers engaged in homosexual sex with the young “rentboy.” But that does not mean that Rekers is in any sense “gay.” When people like Maddow and Essig charge that Rekers is “gay” or a “fag,” they are engaging in a form of identity-imperialism that they typically detest.
It is important to disaggregate the two separate concepts at play here: a predilection for homosexual sex, and the fashioning of a full gay identity. These are two distinct things. The self-identification of “gay” amounts to much more than a lust for homosexual sex: as the gay marriage lobby points out time and again, gay people want to have life-long, romantic, meaningful relationships with one another. They are looking for romantic partnerships with members of their own gender – not just sex. After all, that’s what the whole argument for gay marriage is about, isn’t it? People like Rekers, Craig, and Haggard, on the other hand, seem only interested in homosexual sexual liaisons. They aren’t looking for romantic partnerships with members of their own gender. In other words, they are not “gay.” A predilection for homosexual behavior is not equivalent to a gay identity. Indeed, the whole notion of gayness as an identity instead of a behavior is fairly recent construct. Yet they remain two distinct phenomena.
The inconsistency is particularly rankling here. If Obama is allowed to call himself “black,” and Terri O’Connell is allowed to call herself a “woman,” why isn’t Rekers allowed to identify as straight? Taking a page out of Maddow et al.’s books, I’ll identify them as something that they would not call themselves: “hypocrites.”