Kirby Dick's documentary argues that it's long past time that the many stories that shape closeted gay politicians' lives and careers be sorted out.


Director: Kirby Dick
Cast: Barney Frank, Jim McGreevey, David Catania, Larry Kramer, Michelangelo Signorile, Andrew Sullivan, Elizabeth Birch, Hilary Rosen
MPAA rating: N/A
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
First date: 2009
US Release Date: 2008-05-08 (Limited release)

"This town is full of gay people," says David Catania, at-large member of the DC City Council. Indeed, seconds Michael Rogers, self-designated outer and founder of, the business of politics is much like a Broadway show.

The trouble is, much of that the show is fearful and small-minded. Too many politicians are afraid to be out. And the closet, according to Outrage, is "profoundly unhealthy," according to Jim McGreevey, not only for those caught inside it, but also for the culture that constructs and sustains it. "To thine own self be true," quotes McGreevey, the former New Jersey governor whose self-declaration in 2004 ("And so, my truth is that I am a gay American") led to the loss of his job, a sensational divorce case, and, as he suggests here, an eventual sense of peace and self-confidence. At least until the release of this film, which has apparently reignited the public dispute with his ex-wife Dina, interviewed here separately, still proclaiming her absolute ignorance concerning his gayness during their marriage ("I dated Jim for four years, there was nothing to indicate that there was a problem"). McGreevey, meantime, describes his closeting as "like being in a bad Star Trek episode," where he was left wondering "which foot was in which universe at any given time." Like Rogers says, a Broadway show.

The processes of closeting and outing appear to constitute an ongoing series of performances, with the roles of victims and villains shifting. As representatives of government and media trade accusations and assumptions, they also collude in maintaining an underlying dread with spurts of hysteria. One such moment serves as the movie's primary touchstone, the outing of Idaho's Senator Larry Craig. His much-mocked statement for the press -- "Let me be clear: I am not gay. I never have been gay" -- is replayed here as a kind of refrain, an emblem of the many ways that queers deny their desires and identities in order to stay in office. If, as Outrage submits, the primary damage done by homophobia in U.S. politics is the overwhelming tendency of closeted officials to vote against gay rights legislation, any number of lesser injuries are also inflicted, in repressive and sometimes frantic responses to rumors. "Living in the closet makes you do crazy things," observes Kevin Naff, editor of the Washington Blade.

Like, for instance, soliciting sex in an airport bathroom in Minneapolis.

No matter whether Craig identifies as gay, sees his sexual liaisons with men as separate from his identity, or lies to his wife. Even as he provides Outrage with a modicum of comedy, Craig is also something of a nasty, bad, naughty" poster boy for the sorts of contortions practiced by closeted politicians. He's certainly not the only such emblem, as Outrage also considers the cases of Ken Mehlman, Ed Koch, and Charlie Crist, all still insisting on their straightness. They can do this, submits this decidedly unsensational documentary, because media go along -- sustaining an atmosphere of gossip, self-hate, cover-ups, and revenge that distorts lives and ruin careers.

The irony is that the "Broadway show" is simultaneously evident and secret. Most often, it has to do with men -- the movie includes interviews with lesbian politicians and media reps (former director of the Human Rights Campaign Elizabeth Birch, Wisconsin congressperson Tammy Baldwin, and CNN contributor Hilary Rosen, who criticizes Mary Cheney working as gay and lesbian liaison for Coors Beer, while the Coors family remained openly homophobic) -- but even if such figures are few in number, they are not among those Outrage accuses of actively seeking to keep their queerness secret. The film doesn’t take up why this might be so -- how lesbians and gay men are treated differently in politics or in media. Neither does it address the overwhelming whiteness of its interviewees or targets, though it does feature an interview with the Washington Post's Jose Antonio Vargas, whose reporting on video games and HIV/AIDS suggests that he keeps his feet in multiple universes.

The difficulty of maintaining such balance while closeted comes up repeatedly. "It's kind of hard to be public and closeted," quips Barney Frank -- though the film shows repeatedly that this is exactly what closeted politicians are. Pointing out the hypocrisies and bad policies engendered by homophobia (say, the U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" rule), the film enlists Rogers as a kind of crusading point man. "I am going to tell people," he asserts, "who these horrible traitors are." While Rogers outs public figures generally (including Calvin Klein, Shepard Smith, and Malcolm Forbes), he is especially focused on those closeted individuals who take homophobic positions on legislation and policy. As Chairman of the Republican Party, Mehlman, for instance, campaigned against gay marriage, and when Bill Maher named him for on Larry King, CNN deleted that portion of his interview.

"Journalists are in the business of reporting the truth," says Michelangelo Signorile. And so he resents those who collude in lies for the sake of continued access or seeming propriety. During the Republican National Convention last year, Signorile recalls, he invited Charlie Crist on his Sirius radio show, where "I asked him straight out" whether he was gay. Crist's response to this question has been more or less consistent (essentially, "I'm not going to talk about this issue"), though he has worked hard to look straight, dating models and even becoming engaged when he was plainly hoping to be selected as John McCain's running mate in 2008. The documentary follows this story in some detail, including an interview with one of Crist's female exes, Kelly Heyniger, who follows up her TV ad ("He's real, he wants to make a difference" with this tidbit for Dick's crew: "I think I should just keep my mouth shut. Call me in 10 years and I'll tell you a story."

Dick's film argues that it's long past time that the many stories that shape closeted politicians' lives and careers be sorted out.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.