Newsweek’s cover, “Our First Gay President,” has caused people to ask, “Is he really?” Andrew Sullivan used the word in the same metaphoric sense that “black” is used in the sentence, “Bill Clinton is our first black president.” It meant that much of Obama’s experience has been similar to the experience of gay people. In the words of Joe Biden, he gets it.
I think he does too, and he’s proven that by being the most gay-friendly president ever. I don’t understand gay people like Michelangelo Signorile, who thinks we ought to save the title for an actual gay person. That’s silly. Nobody said that when Bill Clinton became known as our first black president. Nobody thought to say of Barack Obama, he’s the second black person, after Bill Clinton. The first one got a metaphoric title and the second one got an actual title, and nobody was confused.
Underneath all this is still lingering bitterness directed against Obama for not directing all his energies against federal homophobic bigotry from the beginning in January 2009. Since he has already done so much of what he promised, I’m willing to cut him some slack and not begrudge him a hyped Newsweek cover, which, in any case, was a beautiful cover. In the end, we are going to be able to look back on the Obama years and say, That was the beginning of the end of official bigotry.
The other thread from this week has been this one: But James Buchanan was the first gay president! That’s as silly as Signorile’s proposal. Buchanan was president 1857-1861, nine years before anyone had an idea that there was such a thing as a gay person, and nine years before the word homosexual was invented. Even though Buchanan wrote that famous letter saying, “I have gone a wooing to several gentlemen,” he was never gay because there was never a gay community for him to come out into. He was never out except, apparently, to a few friends and to “several gentlemen,” and he had none of the political awareness or self-awareness that we associate today with being gay. Saying Buchanan was gay is as false as saying Shakespeare—or Benvenuto Cellini—was gay. I, on the other hand, am gay. I am deeply in love with my partner, C, I am self-aware, and I am aware of the politics of being what I am. And everybody who knows me, knows I am gay.