Outrage, a film about politicians who actively work against the interests of queers yet allegedly have gay sex, premiered on Friday in a few cities. It’s playing in Philadelphia, and I really want to go see it, but can’t really afford the drive to Philly at this point.
Mostly, I’m less interested in what the film has to say, and more interested in how it goes about saying it. I’m deeply troubled by the idea that there is some kind of retribution or justice in outing a supposedly closeted gay man, even if he actively works against queers. In The Use of Pleasure, Foucault discusses what he calls the hermeneutics of desire, which Lee Quinby describes in Anti-Apocalypse: Exercises in Genealogical Criticism:
The predominant mode of morality practiced in the United States today is a hermeneutics of desire. As Foucault defined it, this is a hermeneutics through which interiorized desire is deciphered. According to this system of morality, the attainment of the truth of one’s being involves bringing to light the shadowy impulses of one’s innermost self. Only in making one’s inner truth visible can the snares of desire be suppressed or regulated into normality. (69)
While Quinby’s discussion after this passage largely revolves around the compulsion to confess one’s innermost desires, there’s also the reverse to confession: rooting out others’ innermost desires. There is a compulsion to know another’s sexuality (played out in our everyday lives, when we wonder is s/he straight or gay).
As if gay and straight are ahistorical inner truths, as if same-sex desire necessitates a gay positionality, as if only closeted queers exhibit shame and internalized homophobia, as if hypocrisy were a charge of the highest order.
What does charging a supposedly closeted gay man with being a closeted gay man actually do? Perhaps my imagination is failing me, but it only seems to reinscribe the various tactics of discourse/power used against queers onto other potential queers. It seems like we have replaced the high school, where the queers are rooted out and ridiculed, with the political realm, where queers root out the closeted homophobes and ridicule them. And to elevate the stable gay and lesbian out identity as superior and wash this identity of any shame: To be out is to be mature and have escaped a society of shame; to be closeted is shameful, to be rooted out. It seems like a politics of ressentiment with little fruitful effects for queers. (And I’m not necessarily against ressentiment politics.)
What do we actually learn or do by attempting to out explicit homophobes as closeted gays? The Right is hypocritical, we can announce! But we already knew that! (Sedgwick might be useful here in her critique of the hermeneutics of suspicion, a hermeneutics that offers tautological arguments: the conclusion is already known.)
I’m not saying one’s intimate life should be protected as private, but I’m really struggling to finding political effects in such a “witch hunt” that are useful for combating an anti-queer society.
POST-SCRIPT: See Ta-Nehisi Coates’s thoughts here.
PPS: See Matt’s response to my post.