Queering Weinergate

I can’t believe that I just typed that title for this blog post…

The newest revelation about an alleged “x-rated” picture of Anthony Weiner’s erect penis got me thinking about the very public arena in which we live. I read an article by Marie Griffith on Huffington Post last evening, and I think she hit the nail on the head. Then I started thinking some more about how we label an erect penis as “x-rated.” As a direct descendent of Mayflower Compact signers (the Fuller family for those who care), I feel their puritanical beliefs running very deep in my psyche. It’s taken me lots of hours in the chair to learn how to respect those beliefs while also quieting the judging voices that come with them. It’s why I’m trying so desperately hard not to condemn Anthony Weiner’s actions. The lying part I’m pretty unhappy about, but politicians lie all the time. I’m not sure why people get so bent out of shape when politicians lie. Yes, let’s hold them to a higher standard, but haven’t we seen that the higher standard is unattainable for most of these people? Maybe we need to adjust our expectations. Our romance with a public person’s persona is impossible to keep going for too long, because our obsession with participating in social media connections takes all the mystery right out of the equation. Nothing is private anymore.

But technology has also changed how people construct their sexual identities. Confession: I am a bit of a closet queer theorist. Shocker. Queer theory is an academic discipline that grew out of the women’s studies movement. The term “queer” can actually be used to describe anything that is non-normative or that challenges normalcy. So if we lived in a culture where everyone only wore Converse sneakers, and I decided to wear penny loafers, then that would make me non-normative and queer. Some may call that an oversimplification, but it’s how I make meaning of the term.

People have spent a lot of time over the last three days criticizing Anthony Weiner for his actions and passing judgment about his tweeting, implying immorality, mental illness, etc. Then the revelation of a pregnant wife added additional weight to those judgments, and the moralists piled on that as a way to further condemn his actions. As I said, the lying I’m disappointed about, but given the current state of our society, I’m less interested in judging Anthony Weiner’s tweeting. For me, it’s an example of non-normative or queer behavior. Here’s why.

In his 2003 book Queer Theories, Donald Hall writes:

“Indeed, it is stunningly clear that technology has thoroughly complicated what constitutes sexuality and our mechanisms of sexual identification or identifications.”

Since Hall wrote those words, technology has only grown more accessible and increased the public way in which we live, document, and share our lives. Anthony Weiner, like millions of other people every day, expressed a constructed sexual identity through his tweets, Facebook messages, text messages, and phone messages, and none of that particular sexual identity may be reflected in his relationship with his wife. Not only has the internet made our lives more public, but it also provides people with a way to have multiple identities and ways of expressing themselves. Because we can’t see how fast our society is changing (or don’t want to see it), we label Weiner as an outsider engaging in non-normative behavior. We “queer” him. And for most people, that means condemning him. However, if we pay attention to what Hall wrote over eight years ago, we should see that Weiner’s identity as a sexual tweeter may not be all that queer. We don’t have the sexual privacy that we used to have because we splatter our sexuality all over an information highway that has no toll plazas.

Bottom line: Weinergate has ruined someone’s career and disrupted a number of people’s lives. It’s given Americans another reason to question the integrity of elected officials. But Americans need to do some soul searching as a society about how we judge people’s sexual identities and practices. A lot of so-called “normal” people engage in queer behavior every day, so picking up a stone to throw at someone else’s glass house right now may not be the best idea.

Put your stones down, people, and take a step back.