Meditations on the L-Word

Janet, Donna, Hillary, and Me

More than a fear of Hillary, her brains, her professional success, her independence, the current craze for dyke-baiting reflects uneasiness about the female alliances that are manifesting themselves in Washington, D.C. One of the chief criticisms of Hillary Clinton, of course, is that she's exerting too much control over her husband's appointments ("Everything is vetted by Hillary," Jack Wheeler asserts, parroting a plaint that's been made in many mainstream media outlets, as if Hillary, witchlike, has truly limitless potency) and in the process bringing all her hairy-legged friends to positions of influence.

Why is she doing this? Maybe because some of these women are, um, you know. Unwilling to speak the L-word, AIM's Reed Irvine notes that "if indeed Mrs. Clinton is that way, one of the things about the homosexuals that we've known since the beginning of time is that they flock together, and they provide jobs for others of the same persuasion."

It's true that female alliances are on the rise in Washington. Thank God. The boil that Anita Hill lanced was one that had been festering in the American corpus since at least World War II, when women entered the work force in large numbers but were denied promotion and, often, fair treatment. It's hard to advance unaided anywhere, but particularly in Washington. Traditionally, the few women who did get elected to political office were wives or daughters of politicians.

Female alliances? And high time, too. Even the best-intentioned of men only look out for women's interests if and when it suits them. So yes, there are female alliances, and to some extent a conspiracy of women that's growing in the nation's capitol. There are a number of lesbians in this group, but face it: the majority of women, even feminists, want to sleep with men. And face it: Washington is run A has always been run A by cabals. Harvard cabals. Texas cabals. California cabals. George Bush appointed three old chums A James Baker, Robert Mosbacher, Nicholas Brady A as his closest advisors. Clinton has appointed a gaggle of lawyers and lobbyists and Rhodes scholars. Yet this unnerving influx of women? They must be lesbians, conservatives think A and they must be out to get us.

I'd further argue that lesbian rumors contain equal parts terror and titillation. There are two popular myths about the lesbian, one relatively recent and one quite venerable: the homicidal dyke, as shown in Basic Instinct, and the thrillingly erotic sexual transgressor A as shown, most recently, in Bad Lieutenant. That's why lesbian sex scenes are a pornographic staple. And that's why lesbian rumors are so entertaining: they're fun to visualize! Hence Jack Wheeler's zestful description, over the phone, of how two Secret Servicemen came upon Hillary Clinton "going at it" with a television actress in the anteroom between the Clintons' allegedly separate bedrooms. He also claims to know the identities of Janet Reno's alleged Miami girlfriends. It would seem that men (okay, some men) are simultaneously terrified that women are lesbians and aroused by the thought. Men tell lesbian rumors because they are perplexed by powerful women; they also tell lesbian rumors because they like to think them through. And don't imagine that right-wingers and radical queers are the only ones spreading this pseudo-news. Liberal media scribes have also been known to indulge.

But hard-core conservatives remain the chief offenders. Left enemyless by the collapse of the Cold War, right-wingers targeted feminists and homosexuals during much of the 1992 campaign. Baiting these Democratic women is a way of killing two birds with one Molotov cocktail. Right-wingers should be careful, though. Rumormongering can cut both ways. Jack Kemp had to field the same sort of unsubstantiated rumors in 1986, and the current gossip could revive those. Moreover, as gays and lesbians become increasingly visible A and increasingly accepted A in mainstream society and the American workplace, they also become more powerful in the ballot booth. Bash a gay these days and you might lose a whole family's vote. (Among the prominent families that include avowed homosexuals are those of Phyllis Schlafly and Robert Mosbacher.) Nor should it be forgotten that the big tent of the Republican Party has a sizable number of homosexuals dwelling under it, as pointed out by Matthew Rees in a June 1992 New Republic article, "Homocons." Many of these are men, many of them closeted, many of them attracted to the conservative ideology because it wants to keep government off people's backs and fronts.

Among these people as among any right-thinking people baseless lesbian rumormongering is most likely to evince sympathy for the targeted women, and disgust with their attackers.

So Mr. Wheeler, I await your next expose: on how closeted conservative gays are now, even as we speak, conspiring and caballing, conniving and secretly meeting, cackling 'round cauldrons, plotting the destruction of the Republican Party and of Western civilization as we know it. Until then, the sane among us will ignore the rumors and turn to more interesting things. Where's my latest New Yorker?

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