Shameless

John Kerry is guilty—of having underestimated the persistence in America of fear and hatred of homosexuality. There is no shame in being openly lesbian and no shame in speaking about it. There is certainly no shame in praising a father for failing to sell his openly lesbian daughter down the river.

I can’t think when I last read something as enraging in its bigotry and obtuseness as William Safire’s column this morning about the Mary Cheney brouhaha. Safire writes that until Kerry named Mary Cheney in the third debate, “only political junkies knew that a member of the Cheney family serving on the campaign staff was homosexual.” News flash to Safire: another group in America has been aware of her sexuality for years: gays and lesbians. This isn’t because of some dark grapevine of gossip. Although Safire does not mention it, Cheney worked for years as the Coors Brewing Company’s liaison to the lesbian and gay community. She’s out, and she’s been paid to be out. When lesbians and gays watch the machinations of the Bush-Cheney administration on gay issues, we can’t help but wonder about her and her silence. Love is what psychologists call experience-near. You feel it to be a part of yourself, immediate and sometimes overwhelming. I don’t know Mary Cheney’s political opinions about homosexuality, but those of the Republican party are quite clear. In supporting a vindictive amendment to the Constitution, the party has made it a campaign strategy to rally voters by appealing to their fear and hatred of homosexuals. Whatever her politics, and whether or not she realizes it, Mary Cheney has placed herself where she cannot both stand by her love for her partner and her love for her father without inconsistency. It must be excruciating.

I suspect it’s only possible for her to sustain it because her father has openly demurred from the party’s hysteria about gay marriage and has recognized her love for her partner by, for example, allowing the lesbian couple to greet him onstage after his debate with John Edwards. Either Dick Cheney’s concessions to his daughter on this issue mean something, or they do not. If they mean something, he should not be ashamed of them, and he should not object to having attention paid to them. If they mean nothing—if he is deceiving his daughter with hollow gestures—then they should be exposed. My sense is that they do mean something. And one of those meanings is that one of the men on the Bush-Cheney ticket wishes he were not complicit with cynical fear-mongering.

Kerry referred to Mary Cheney in order to rebut an insinuation by Bush. The moderator had asked Bush whether he thought homosexuality was a choice. “I don’t know,” the president answered. Well, I do, and I’m happy to tell him. It is a choice exactly as much as heterosexuality is, and no further. Everyone, gay or straight, may choose to be celibate, but that’s not what’s at stake here. No one chooses their orientation; no one chooses whether they find men or women attractive. And to deny someone the richness of an intimate, romantic relationship with another adult is wrong. By feigning ignorance about the nature of sexual orientation, Bush was telegraphing to his base that he would deny that richness to gays and lesbians, if he should ever find the legal means to do so. He was referencing a well-known split hair of the fundamentalist right, whereby they profess to love homosexuals as people and merely regret that they act on their homosexual desires.

Against such messages, Kerry pointed out that homosexuals, such as Mary Cheney, almost universally say they have not chosen their orientation. And he suggested that true love for homosexual people is not compatible with a wish to deny them the experience of an adult romantic relationship, as the Cheney’s own support for their daughter attests. It is impossible to think this was hurtful unless you think it is shameful to be gay or to love people who are.

More highly evolved

BROOKLYN—Peanut, the chewtoy monkey, took steps this morning to reassure friends of his liberal credentials, after a photograph appeared in the New York Times of a similar monkey involved in a protest action against gay marriage in Missouri.

Peanut denies any contact with the Missouri monkey, who is thought to be a hand puppet.

A chihuahua close to Peanut said she accepted Peanut’s explanation. The chihuahua asked not to be named. A mixed-breed dog seemed at first to welcome Peanut’s statement, but then threatened to rend and disembowel the plushy monkey, removing his squeaky and stuffing. Analysts suggest, however, that this threat may not be related to the mixed-breed’s sociopolitical beliefs.

Be still, my throbbing heart

In John Augustus Stone’s melodrama Metamora; or, the Last of the Wampanoags, first performed in 1829, the heroine Oceana is so concerned about her lover, Walter, that she indulges in an aside: “Be still my throbbing heart.” Today a variant of the line—“Be still, my beating heart”—is a well circulated cliché. Was Metamora the coining of it? After a quick check of Bartlett’s and a brief poke through the database Literature Online, I suspect that it was. Of course, to prove that a phrase has no antecedent is to prove an absolute negative, which is awfully hard; a single counterexample will topple my hypothesis.

But if I’m right, then the turn of phrase permeated the culture without the assistance of print, because the play was never published while it was popular. The star of Metamora, Edwin Forrest, awarded a prize to the play’s author, and he considered that by paying the prize money he had purchased the play’s copyright. To ensure that it would not serve as a star vehicle for anyone else, Forrest prevented publication, and he prevented it so well that the play didn’t appear in print until 1941. In fact, act 4—the one that contains the line “Be still my throbbing heart”—didn’t appear in print until 1962.

In The Name of War, scholar Jill Lepore notes that lines from Metamora “became household words,” quoted by boys playing Indian and sentimental Americans of all ages. So it seems plausible, if exceptional, that the beating-heart line might have entered the popular linguistic subconscious by no other means than being spoken from stage.

Iraqi fauna

Pictures taken today in Al Hillah, Iraq, by T. R. Klysa, USMC, while in search of electrical equipment and plumbers for the repair of an elementary school. (Since I posted much starker images from Iraq ten days ago, I think it would be karmically imbalanced of me if I didn’t post these milder ones now. But it’s evident from the number of hits to this blog, then vs. now, that people are more interested in the fallout of battle than in facilities for schoolchildren.)




Left: “Boy with turkey, near the Al Hillah covered market.” April 29, 2003. Right:“Street sign, Al Hillah. Telephone/electrical wires obscuring view.” April 29, 2003.