Monday, May 7, 2007

Monday with McKenna: Ambition in a Collar: Jim McGreevey

Nicolas "I've got happy hands" Sarkozy wins French presidency

First off, congratulations to the people of France for showing us some passing resemblance of real democracy: when 85% of your voting public turns out to cast a ballot, something good is happening.

But we also have a warning for our friends of the bouillabaisse persuasion: some six years ago, we—or rather, our Supreme Court—elected a conservative who said he was going to be the President of all the people. Today, he's the President of 28% of us, and in reality, he's the President of the wealthiest 1.1% or so of us. Maybe this guy Sarkozy will be different, but just in case, mes amies, you've been warned...

Now Terry McKenna, our resident New Jersey resident, has been having other problems: his state's governors are on a really bad streak. That job is as cursed as the Defense Against the Dark Arts spot at Hogwarts. What's worse: betraying your family for a closet affair and then being publicly outed, or having half the bones in your body broken? Today, Terry contemplates the misfortunes of the future vicar, Jim McGreevey.


For me, the Jim McGreevey story is local. Both of us are Jersey boys, raised in the crowded northeastern part of our state and both of us came from similarly staunch Catholic households. McGreevey was an altar boy; I never became one, but both of our young lives revolved around the Church and its rituals. We also both excelled in our studies. But after that, we took completely different paths. I rejected the notion that I had to push for money and material success (I spent a decade after college trying to earn my livelihood as an artist before I finally gave in and got a "real" job). Jim McGreevey on the other hand, pushed hard for the sort of achievement that many well educated young men dream of. By age 32 he was elected to the state assembly, and in a little more than a decade, he was our governor (I voted for him twice, first when he lost a close race to Christie Whitman , and then when he won.)

Jim McGreevey's fall from grace has been presented as the story of an identity crisis – it makes good copy, but I disagree. I maintain that he knew exactly what he was doing; that he chose his life in the closet because of the career he wanted. Thus, rather than being a victim, his story is just another example of the sort of failure that comes from the devotion to a false set of values.

Why am I writing about Jim McGreevey? He made the news the week with reports that he plans to enter an Episcopal seminary and eventually become a priest. It's not the biggest of national news, but it was well reported by the big New York City tabloids. What can you say but wow; you can't make this stuff up! But for the life of me, I can't think of anyone who would want him as a pastor. With his admitted past as an adulterer, I don't see him as a credible minister to married couples. Nor do I think that young folks would take him seriously – they've surfed the web and surely read the gossip, so his appearance would generate more snickers that anything else. Just think of this little tidbit – he keeps a large picture of a nude man in his bedroom (don't know if seen from the front or back). I'm sure it's art, but its not the image I have for the bedroom of a man of god. So who is left? A congregation of small children (kids 5 to 10 years old) and gay men.

And if Jim McGreevey wants to study for the priesthood, shouldn't we see evidence that his is a Christian life? Religion may be bunk, but parts of the Christ story are compelling. Who doesn't admire a live devoted to the poor; where any transgression is met by the promise of forgiveness (if penitent). As we've written before, the Bush administration would be much better had it evidenced genuine Christianity. Where is Jim McGreevey's repentance? He may want us to ignore his infidelity, but surely we have the right to expect an admission of sorrow that he betrayed his wife. But is he sorry? The dynamics of self outing are bizarre. The gay man gets to admit his adultery and to his having lived a life of lies (all blamed on sexual repression); the wife gets to admit nothing. At best, she's considered a fool; at worst a knowing conspirator.

I don't think Jim McGreevey is sorry for anything except being caught. Yes, I understand the difficulties for gay men. (One of my high school acquaintances had a brother who became a priest, but also was gay, and sadly died of Aids – so I'm familiar with the personal struggles of gay men). But Jim McGreevey grew up after the gay rights movement began. And he lived just a few dozen miles from Greenwich Village and Christopher Street. And he was well educated and cosmopolitan. It's hard to believe that he was not exposed to gay culture somewhere between Columbia , Harvard and the London School of Economics. Jim McGreevey had a less noble reason for living a lie. He was a hard driving and ambitious careerist. A man shooting for the moon. He masked his sexuality not because of a struggle for identity, but because he knew that his chance at the big prize would have ended as soon as he admitted that he was not the all American boy that he pretended to be. Remember, he married twice, not typical for the repressed homosexual. Jim McGreevey surely knew that he was gay. He knew before his second marriage. He probably knew before his first. His charade of victim hood is just that, a charade.

So let him go ahead and become an Episcopal priest. Maybe he can shoot for what might be considered the triple crown of disappointment. He's disappointed his wife (or wives) and his home state; and maybe after trying his hand at Christian ministry, he'll disappoint his God.

—T. McKenna

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