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Sexual Congress

Outrage explores the politics of the closet



The gayest place in America, according to Kirby Dick's documentary Outrage, isn't San Francisco, Manhattan or Fire Island. It's Washington, D.C. — the "most gay, most closeted place" in the U.S. Among the movie's revelations is that Capitol Hill is "packed with gay staffers." Gay men, presumably because they have fewer family obligations, work around the clock to keep the nation's capital running on time.

Outrage is about outing — the public exposure of the secret gay lives of public figures — and rage, the deep anger among gay activists over the hypocrisy and betrayal of the closet. It's a gutsy piece of advocacy, boldly detailing the private peccadilloes of closeted politicians, many of them "family values" Republicans.

The politicians are well-practiced in deflecting rumors about their sexuality. "I am not gay. I have never been gay," protests Larry Craig, the Idaho Republican senator after his arrest for soliciting an undercover officer in an airport restroom. It's quite likely Craig believes what he says, despite the movie's ample, tawdry evidence of his subterranean sex life.

Among those interviewed are Michelangelo Signorile, the erstwhile gossip columnist who launched the "outing" trend in the '80s with exposés of closeted celebrities; former New Jersey governor James McGreevey, who resigned after admitting an affair with an adviser; gay congress members Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin; bloggers and journalists working to expose closeted politicians; and activist Larry Kramer, who calls living in the closet "collusion with genocide."

While exposing private sexual behavior is an uncomfortable business, Outrage makes a strong case for transparency, arguing that when it comes to human rights, the private is public. The issue isn't homosexuality but hypocrisy: The targeted legislators have solid records of "no" votes on issues like AIDS funding, same-sex marriage and hate-crimes legislation. Frank articulately explains that honest self-acceptance is a matter of fairness: "People who make the law need to be subject to the law."

Why do these men condemn in public what they do in private? Denial, self-hatred and an inclination to avoid vulnerability by aligning with aggressors. Signorile calls it "bashing other gay people to prove they're not gay."

Its revelations are sensational and occasionally gratuitous, but Outrage works as a searing examination of the pernicious effects of the closet. More interestingly, it lifts the curtain on the costumed pageant of politics and media. "Politics is like a Broadway show," one interview subject explains. "Everything is scripted."

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