Meditations on the L-Word

Janet, Donna, Hillary, and Me

AIM's press release further stated that a Miami talk-show host (Mike Thompson, no relation to Jack beyond philosophical kinship) charged Reno with lesbianism for several days running, without eliciting from her "any protests, denials, or threats of legal action." But in AIM's view, a denial would do no good. "In the event that Reno gives an unequivocal denial, doubts will still linger because of the abundance of rumors to the contrary and her past evasions," said AIM's press release.

In other words, Reno will never be able to prove that she isn't a lesbian. (Actually, Reno did deny the allegations. "I am not a lesbian," she stated at a February 15 press conference. "I have nothing to hide." How much more plainly could she put it?) Conservative dyke-baiters don't care about the truth. Neither do radical queers. Both care only about their own agendas. In the case of Queer Nation, that agenda is clear: Outing lesbians, like outing gays, is intended to convince the American public that "we are everywhere."

Or, at the very least, that "we" might be everywhere. "All this talk about who may be gay in the administration, and who may be lesbian in the cabinet, is really good, even if the people we are talking about aren't gay and lesbian," Queer Nation's Petrelis says breezily.

For right-wingers, lesbian rumors are even more versatile. In their crudest form, such accusations are powerful verbal hot buttons. They are fighting words intended to tar and feather their female targets, to discredit these women in an obscure but vivid way. Calling a woman a lesbian is like calling someone a Jew-hater. The potency of the words does the work, and like the blood on Lady Macbeth's hand (more on her in a minute), the stain can never be entirely washed off.

Which brings us back to Hillary Clinton. For the first lady, the L-rumor comes as the logical culmination of all the Hillary-vilification that's been going on since the beginning of the campaign. Nobody worried A at least not seriously A about the way in which Nancy Reagan led Ronnie around by a leash, or questioned the nature of their marital alliance; a wife with astrology charts is not nearly as troubling as a wife with policy notions. Charges of "unnaturalness," of being an aberrant wife and woman, are inherent in many of the criticisms aimed at Hillary Clinton: that she didn't change her name, that she changed it and then changed it back, that she makes too much money, that she sits on too many boards, that she bakes too few cookies, that she fraternizes with too many "hard" liberals, that she insisted on keeping the Clinton campaign headquarters in Little Rock rather than Washington, the better to preserve her lock over it.

One of the most virulent anti-Hillary screeds, titled "The Lady Macbeth of Little Rock," written by Daniel Wattenberg, appeared in the American Spectator in August 1992. The title was aptly chosen. Though Macbeth has no overt lesbianism or feminism, it prominently features both witchcraft and child-murder, as well as the pushiest, most unnatural wife in all of Shakespeare A a woman who'd willingly cast her suckling babes from her breast. Examining Hillary Clinton's legal writings on marriage and children, Wattenberg concludes that Ms. C. would do pretty much the same. "She has likened the American family to slavery," he argues, and "thinks kids should be able to sue their parents to resolve family arguments." Like Lady Macbeth, ball-bustin' Hillary exhibits "consuming ambition, inflexibility of purpose, domination of a pliable husband, and an unsettling lack of tender human feeling."

Wattenberg theorizes that Bill Clinton "is powerless to check his wife's growing influence" because he needs her to play the role of forgiving wife. He goes on to portray Hillary as both aggressively heterosexual and abnormally cold toward her husband. In their courtship at Yale, he notes, "she made the first move." Yet her lack of interest in Bill, it's implied, is the real cause of the poor man's alleged philandering; he has to go out for it because he can't get any at home.

"If one is to believe street talk in Arkansas," Wattenberg snidely writes, "Hillary's rejection of traditional family life is not confined to her scholarly scribblings. The status of the Clintons' marriage, including the possibility that Bill's extramarital wanderings reflect an 'open marriage,' is the subject of wide speculation and gossip in Arkansas political circles."

While allowing that "those close to the Clintons hotly deny any such allegations," Wattenberg nevertheless detects "a pattern of details about their relationship that suggests it is not as fully fused as an old-fashioned marriage." (Fused?) He cites the fact that their assets are separately held, and that most are under Hillary's name. That the two give to separate charities, go to separate churches, sometimes take separate vacations. (At this point, of course, we're one step away from separate beds.) Hillary's vacations, he reveals, are often taken with a female friend (and, alarmingly, the two women's daughters). Where do these girls go for fun? San Francisco is a "favorite destination." Based on all this, combined with her liberal scholarship, we are to believe that Hillary "harbors a deeply cynical view of the traditional family, its origins, and its defenders."

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