Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


Against politicizing love and relationships

posted by Rod Dreher

Ricky Martin’s self-outing has Megan McArdle thinking:

Why do we think that our love lives are such a central part of our existence that we cannot be perfectly whole unless we’ve shared the major details with the world? I’m not arguing that Ricky Martin should stay in the closet–I’m glad he’s out and proud, and hope that it makes life easier for other gay people.
Rather, I wonder why the sex lives of public figures are so central to their appeal. Frankly, I know nothing about the love lives of virtually any movie star or musician: not gender, age, hair color, or names. And it doesn’t hamper my enjoyment of their work. Why should it matter whether Ricky Martin–or Anderson Cooper–comes out?

One answer: because it’s politically helpful in advancing the cause of equal treatment under law for gay people. Please note that I don’t want to start an argument over that; I mean that not as a criticism, just a description. If I were a gay activist, I would want as many closeted gays as possible to come out, to help normalize homosexuality in the mind of the public, and to make it easier for people like me to live as everybody else does. How can you blame a gay person for wanting that to happen? Forcing somebody out of the closet is a different matter.
On another Atlantic blog, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about the politics of black men dating white women, and how dehumanizing thinking about the love lives of individuals in the collective is:

One thing I’ve come to understand, through my own relationship, is that for people who are really working at commitment, a relationship quickly ceases to be a political statement. There is certainly part of me that feels my partnership with a black woman says something about me. But I vacillate on precisely what. The problem is that no committed person goes to bed with black spouse or a white spouse. They go to bed with someone who does, or doesn’t, think it’s a bad idea to blow the rent-check on school clothes. They go to bed with someone who does, or doesn’t, think it’s a priority to keep the living room clean. They go to be bed with someone who does, or doesn’t, want children. In other words, they go to bed with an individual who (hopefully) has very specific idea about their life that go beyond whether the revolution will be televised, or not.
I’m a black dude hooked up with a black woman–but I don’t sleep with “black people.” “Black people” don’t pay half of my rent. “Black people” didn’t take my son to tennis lessons this week. “Black people” didn’t support me while I was trying to make it a writer. An individual, with her own specific hopes, dreams and problems, did those things. Now it’s true that she’s black. But the qualities that allowed her to do those things–compassion, commitment, vision–are not “black” qualities.
Again, I’m not trying to demean my folks. But we often take this abstract, hazy view of an institution that, like anything else worthwhile, is mostly about dirt, work and tedium. Relationships are not (anymore, at least) a collectivist act. They really come down to two individuals doing business in ways that we will never be privy to.

Like Sabina in “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” I think there’s something kind of monstrous about people who turn the intimate details of their private lives over to the public, even if (especially if!) it is to serve politically useful ends.



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Peter

posted March 31, 2010 at 2:56 pm


Of course, being gay is more about ones sex life. Think about how often you mention your wife. Are you talking about your sex life or the intimate details of your life by mentioning her? No, you are talking about a key part of your life.
It’s the same for Ricky Martin and other gay people. Being gay isn’t about the sex, it’s about who you are. If Ricky can’t talk about his partner the same way you talk about your life, he is robbed and the public is robbed.



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hlvanburen

posted March 31, 2010 at 3:14 pm


“One answer: because it’s politically helpful in advancing the cause of equal treatment under law for gay people.”
OK…let’s say he didn’t have a press conference to announce this. Let’s say that, instead, he simply decided one night after a concert to go out for drinks with his boyfriend, just like anyone else might do. Let’s say that while out they danced a bit, and maybe even held hands, like you might do on a date with your wife.
And then let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that some photographer got photos of this and published them. Do you think it would make news? Would it inspire commentary, for and against, regarding his actions?
Would you eventually blog about it as part of your ongoing discussion about society and the direction it is going?
The fact is that when a gay or lesbian couple goes out for a nice dinner and maybe a dance or a movie, people notice. They don’t pay attention to the ten or so other heterosexual couples around them, but they somehow always notice the same sex couple, especially if they hold hands or share a peck on the cheek.
Was it wise of Martin to out himself this way? I’m not sure. But I am certain that, however people found out for sure that he was gay, it would be viewed as political by many folks.
So maybe it was better for him to grab the bull by the horns and deal with it like this.
What do you think he should have done?



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J.Random

posted March 31, 2010 at 3:47 pm


Why do black people have to be so political and public about their race?
Why do women have to be so political and public about their sex?
Why do gays have to be so political and public about their attractions?
Such questions are asked from a position of privilege. The group in power doesn’t understand why the less-powerful won’t just be quiet and conform to the status quo.



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John E - Agn Stoic

posted March 31, 2010 at 3:50 pm


Like Sabina in “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” I think there’s something kind of monstrous about people who turn the intimate details of their private lives over to the public, even if (especially if!) it is to serve politically useful ends.
But did Ricky Martin, in fact, do this? He didn’t turn over any details, just confirmed something that has been speculated on for a while – his sexual orientation. He didn’t give blow-by-blow details.
Rod, for example, has always been out and open about his heterosexual orientation. How is this any different?



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Your Name

posted March 31, 2010 at 3:57 pm


Years and years ago, Jonah Goldberg posted something about how he was irritated by how often Andrew Sullivan mentioned his boyfriend in passing–Jonah felt it was some sort of political statement being thrust in the face of conservatives. Sully gently pointed out that Goldberg mentioned his wife and daughter just as often, and that wasn’t any sort of politics involved. Goldberg conceded the point and suggested they should both talk about their dogs instead. Commenters in the McArdle post rightfully mention that her upcoming wedding to Peter Suderman has been a regular subject of posts for the past several months.
To the eternal dismay of the “rationally prejudiced” everywhere, gay people exist, are normal citizens, and let’s be honest, in an era when people are still successfully rewriting state constitutions to limit the rights of gays (not just marriage, but also adoption, workplace harassment laws, etc.), it’s still a tough choice to come out of the closet. But you’ll see a lot more of this in the future. George Takei? James Randi? Nobody was really surprised, or cared. The future is Dick Cheney’s daughter, not thousands of closeted men cheating on their wives and having a career-destroying meltdown when caught.
I find myself a bit curious as to what George W. Bush thinks, since Martin performed at his inauguration and the two briefly danced together:
http://politicalhumor.about.com/library/images/blbushloca.htm



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Kit Stolz

posted March 31, 2010 at 4:07 pm


I’d like to hear the quote from Sabina. I think it’s interesting because she was famously sexy and bold; if she doesn’t want to talk about her love life in public, that means much more than a similar thought coming from a shyer person.
Is talking about one’s love life in public “monstrous” because it’s a display of egoism? Because it’s showing off? Because it’s inherently demeaning to a loved one to talk about what really should be private?
I don’t know, and would like to hear more on why you think this is wrong. I suspect I agree, although the matter becomes much more complicated when you start factoring in celebrity behavior (in which one’s career can depend on a celebrity’s willingness and ability, if you will, to show off).



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BobSF

posted March 31, 2010 at 4:17 pm


I think there’s something kind of monstrous about people who turn the intimate details of their private lives over to the public, even if (especially if!) it is to serve politically useful ends.
But it’s perfectly OK to use the imagined intimate details of people’s private lives to move the public in political campaigns…
I really am astounded.



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Rod Dreher

posted March 31, 2010 at 4:18 pm


John E.: But did Ricky Martin, in fact, do this? He didn’t turn over any details, just confirmed something that has been speculated on for a while – his sexual orientation. He didn’t give blow-by-blow details.
Um, care to rephrase that last line, John?
Look, you guys misunderstand my point. It’s not talking about one’s relationship that I find problematic — and notice that Megan said she’s happy Ricky Martin is out of the closet, and she wishes him well. She used that as a stepping-off point to discuss why we care so much about the private sex lives of celebrities. And I used that, plus TNC’s point, simply to voice an objection to people forcing something as private and particular as one’s intimate relationship into a political/professional box. When you talk too much about your private business, you put it in the public domain, and it somehow becomes the public’s business (this is something I have to watch out for as a blogger). Megan was actually taking Ricky Martin’s side, if you read her whole item, by defending him when he said that he has not told “my whole truth.” Megan said how come he should feel like he’s done something wrong by not telling his “whole” truth? I agree. What right do we have to know his, or anybody’s, “whole truth”?
This is connected to TNC’s point in that he’s criticizing the idea that black men who date white women are making some sort of statement about race. Is it really just, or decent, to characterize something like a romantic relationship as politically relevant? His point is not a legal one, but one having to do with cultural mores. If y’all want to have an argument about gay marriage, go right ahead, but you’ll do so without me. I’m more interested in why we feel entitled to know about the sex lives of famous people.
Kit, as I recall from the novel, Sabina thought that only by keeping a wall between one’s public persona and one’s private one could one live authentically. Otherwise, you were always performing for an outside audience. This, in contrast to her lover Franz, who believed that only by complete transparency could one live authentically. I believe Sabina’s position is, ironically, the more truthful.



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Peter

posted March 31, 2010 at 4:27 pm


I’m more interested in why we feel entitled to know about the sex lives of famous people.
Because it’s not about his sex life, it’s about who he is as a person.
You aren’t talking about your sex life when you talk about your wife. Is it any of our business that you are married and heterosexual? Why do you talk about it. Does Megan talk about her personal life? Is she talking about sex if she mentions it?



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John E - Agn Stoic

posted March 31, 2010 at 4:31 pm


Um, care to rephrase that last line, John?
Heh, yeah, I thought about that just after I hit the “Post” button.
I’m more interested in why we feel entitled to know about the sex lives of famous people.
Sort of a chicken and the egg situation – celebrities become famous by presenting themselves in a sort of faux intimate manner to the public. As more and more celebrities do this, the amount of personal information that must be revealed in order to stay interesting increases.



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Your Name

posted March 31, 2010 at 4:56 pm


On the interracial marriage front, bear in mind that up until 2000 it was still illegal in Alabama, and you had that Justice of the Peace in Louisiana last year that refused to issue marriage licenses to interracial couples. In both cases, is it better if the couples simply never marry? Should a man lie and say, “My wife just has a deep tan”? Should they simply stay home with the curtains drawn to avoid the possibility of offending racists?
Sadly, these situations become political not by choice of the couple, but by the outside “rational prejudice” of the community or government.



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Scott

posted March 31, 2010 at 5:17 pm


My adopted as an infant, 5-year-old son is not being political or talking about sex when he introduces his Dad and Daddy to his pre-school classmates. He has no concept of either the political issues or sex. Yet, somehow it appears that Rod would say that my 5-year-old is making a political statement and talking about sex because his family is not headed by heterosexuals. Perhaps, I misunderstand your point.



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Your Name

posted March 31, 2010 at 7:08 pm


My impression from a casual reading of this blog is that Mr. Dreher would very much feel that a five-year-old with two male parents is “making a political statement” when he talks about his family, and a Bad Statement at that.
And then…what? Some more rightly-thinking person should shut up the five-year-old? Such families should be outlawed or broken up or at least have crosses burned on their front lawns?
Our host is of course free to contradict these casual impressions of mine.



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stefanie

posted March 31, 2010 at 7:13 pm


When you are a gay person at this time & place, your personal relationships *are* political. It can’t be helped. Anytime someone is in a despised minority, that becomes the case.



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MH

posted March 31, 2010 at 7:29 pm


One of the benefits of being completely disconnected from pop culture is not caring who Ricky Martin is or who he choses for a partner.



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Lord Karth

posted March 31, 2010 at 8:49 pm


Ricky Martin is who he is. Let that be penalty enough.
Your servant,
Lord Karth



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Indy

posted March 31, 2010 at 9:44 pm


Sharing who one is and what one is going through is not always calculated and political. I think people – human beings – yearn to be understood. Look at the comment that came up a few weeks ago on one of your posts about your sister, Ruthie. Someone commented that some people go online and share their experiences, others don’t. We all have different tipping points, areas we feel comfortable sharing and not sharing. No one can tell someone else what is authentic to them and where that point is, when it comes to sharing about our personal lives, it is something we all decide for ourselves. There is no scoring system, no box with judges who give us a thumbs up or thumbs down. Just ordinary human beings, living their lives, reaching out, or not, as they see fit. That’s good enough for me. Who am I to say to anyone, you didn’t share enough or you shared too much? None of us really know what it like to walk in someone else’s shoes — or what fate may befall us in the future.



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Pat

posted March 31, 2010 at 10:41 pm


My mom was Danish, and she brought us up on the myth of the yellow star – which I gather isn’t true, but I always thought was very noble. I don’t see any current stakes as being so high that I would lie about myself to join in solidarity with a disadvantaged group, but I hope I would have the courage to tell the truth about myself in order to do so.
And, on general principles, I hope I would have the courage to tell the truth about myself anyway. After all, if I once start keeping important things secret, what reality check will there be on my behavior? I should not be doing things I am ashamed to tell the truth about.



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Your Name

posted March 31, 2010 at 11:21 pm


I would hope that every time you talk about your wife, or women in general, it’s not because you’re thinking of heterosexual sex (or wanting us to). So why don’t you afford homosexuals the same courtesy of realizing their orientation and relationships are more than sex?



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clasqm

posted April 1, 2010 at 5:04 am


Why people feel entitled to know about the sex lives of celebrities in general is too abstract a question for me this early in the morning. But one does need to say that when the celebrity in question has made a career out of acting out the fantasies of women worldwide as the hip-thrusting, swaggering Latin stud stereotype, then yes, to hear that he is actually playing for the other side certainly is newsworthy, on the time-honoured basis of “man bites dog”. And to make the announcement only when his career was well on the way to has-been-dom shows that he ha has an astute management team. Now they can milk a whole new audience for the few remaining years of his career.



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public_defender

posted April 1, 2010 at 6:05 am


Merely saying that they are gay does not “turn the intimate details of their private lives over to the public” any more than mentioning that you are married to a woman and have kids does. Of course, both gay and straight can go into too much detail about that.



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Indy

posted April 1, 2010 at 6:47 am


Something to keep in mind about this particular celebrity: he came to fame very young, as a member of the boy band, Menudo. So his perspective on fame and his support system, whatever it was, was very different from that of other youngsters. At an age when most kids are working through their issues in private, among their families and friends and in-school support system, or lack thereof, he became famous.



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MargaretE

posted April 1, 2010 at 7:26 am


“My impression from a casual reading of this blog is that Mr. Dreher would very much feel that a five-year-old with two male parents is “making a political statement” when he talks about his family, and a Bad Statement at that.”
Your Name
Don’t be absurd. Rod would never accuse an innocent child of “making a political statement.” This little boy may find that plenty of people (on both “sides”) want to use him for that purpose as he grows up, which is sad. But it certainly won’t be his fault. And to imply that Rod thinks anything of the sort is unfair and just plain ugly. This blog is supposed to be about growth and understanding. Take the snarky comments elsewhere, please.



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public_defender

posted April 1, 2010 at 8:02 am


Personally, I don’t want to know what’s going on in the pesonal lives of celebrities, but there is a part of the press that makes its living by uncovering and publishing the private lives of celebrities. Because of that, I think celebrities should get a little slack when trying to jump ahead of a story to gain what little control they can have over their “private lives.”
I have not read Megan’s post. Everything I know about Martin’s privater life comes from this post. I’d like to keep it that way. But I won’t condemn Martin for trying to let a little steam out of a tabloid onslaught by outing himself.



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Andrea

posted April 1, 2010 at 9:43 am


I watched Ricky Martin when he was on one of the soap operas more than 15 years ago. It was pretty evident back then from the news coverage that he was gay. He played a soap hunk perfectly well. Several other soap opera actors are gay and they play straight perfectly well. This isn’t really news. I was kind of surprised he made a big announcement about it.



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Judith

posted April 1, 2010 at 10:02 am


“This isn’t really news. I was kind of surprised he made a big announcement about it.”
Either he made the announcement for more publicity, or he made the announcement to diminish the publicity. Either way, he’s in a no-win situation, which those of us with private lives can’t fully appreciate.



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Not Your Name

posted April 1, 2010 at 10:26 am


You have love ‘Your Name’ above’s ‘casual impressions’.
My own casual impressions are that ‘Your Name’ wishes to intern anyone who disagrees with his casual impressions, much less his lifestyle, in a facility where they can be offwred a chance to be rehabilitated by forced labor, and starved to death as useless if beyond rehabilitation.
Oh, and he also seduced a neighbor’s 14yo son by plying him with alcohol one night.
But hey, they’re just casual impressions, right?



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John M.

posted April 1, 2010 at 10:53 am


Rod, I think you’re getting a raw deal here from most commenters. You stated without judgment the position of the lgbt movement on coming out publicly.
I do think that the idea of the view from a nonprivileged or majority position is also a valid consideration. A straight person would never have to think twice about mention his/her spouse in a casual conversation with people s/he just met. A gay person has to always do a gut check to assess whether it is safe to do so or whether we might be “starting” something we might not want to get into with strangers.
People in a minority position really do have to look at the world differently. For someone who says, “I don’t see color, I just see a human being,” that may be admirable, but it is also a luxury that a minority person does not have.



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Allen

posted April 1, 2010 at 1:57 pm


It’s worth recalling that Ricky Martin didn’t just “casually mention” his partner in conversation, or just have a night out in public where they acted like a romantic couple and let people work things out for themselves. He made a specific, reasonably high-profile announcement that he is a “homosexual man” in a forum designed to generate publicity. Now, lest that sound harsh, he’s answering a question he’s been asked by reporters and fans for over a decade. I guess what I’m saying here is that I don’t think he’s a particularly good example when discussing the larger issue here.
What I do find surprising here, Rod, is your making such a distinction between public and private lives. In the past I’ve understood you to be skeptical or even dismissive of the very notion of a “private life”, particularly where sex and sexuality are concerned. Specifically, I recall you having argued that there ought to be no special privacy afforded to what people do “in the bedroom” because somehow the larger community/culture are affected by it. Have you changed your views on this, or have I completely misunderstood you in the past?



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Rod Dreher

posted April 1, 2010 at 2:09 pm


Allen, there’s a difference between saying that private acts may have public consequences, and demanding the right to know all the details of a person’s intimate life. Think of it this way: you don’t need to see my American Express bill for last month to state that the way people spend their money necessarily affects the commons.



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BobSF

posted April 1, 2010 at 4:39 pm


demanding the right to know all the details of a person’s intimate life
Again, that odd phrase. What “details of Ricky Martin’s intimate life” have been disclosed to you by Ricky Martin? Did you get a juicier press release?
McArdle uses the oxymoron “major details” to cover sexual orientation. Is sexual orientation really a “detail” in this society? In people’s lives? Liking brunettes is a “detail”.
Her paragraph:
Rather, I wonder why the sex lives of public figures are so central to their appeal. Frankly, I know nothing about the love lives of virtually any movie star or musician: not gender, age, hair color, or names. And it doesn’t hamper my enjoyment of their work.
strikes me as disingenuously naive. Sex sells. Sex appeal sells. Maybe Ms. MacArdle hasn’t noticed that. The presumption of heterosexuality is what drives many, many publicity campaigns, so gender is important.



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Lord Karth

posted April 1, 2010 at 5:00 pm


Indy @ 6:47 AM writes:
“Something to keep in mind about this particular celebrity: he came to fame very young, as a member of the boy band, Menudo. So his perspective on fame and his support system, whatever it was, was very different from that of other youngsters. At an age when most kids are working through their issues in private, among their families and friends and in-school support system, or lack thereof, he became famous.”
That may well be true. If that is the case, I hope he’s getting treatment for it; he certainly needs it.
Your servant,
Lord Karth



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Your Name

posted April 1, 2010 at 6:18 pm


I am reminded of two celebrities.
1. Jodie Foster, who while never sending out a press release covering her sexual orientation, mentions her wife when such things are called for in conversation.
2. David Hyde-Pierce, who said “My life is an open book. That doesn’t mean I have to read it to you.”



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