The Cocoons We Live In

The Elena Kagan discussion last week has remained in my head, not because the issue is open any more, but because of what it revealed to me about the cocoon I also live in. Like many of us, I inhabit several Blogging over-lapping worlds of discourse, friends, family, background, neighborhood, etc. And one of those worlds is the gay one. Being out since my early twenties (a late-comer for today's generation), I've lived very comfortably, joyfully actually, in a gay world - and a straight one - much of my life. In Washington, being able to be part of these two worlds allows me one small but great advantage: I can have as much of a social life as I please without it being largely connected to my work. There are obvious overlaps, of course. You wouldn't believe what you find out on a Thursday night at the Duplex Diner where many plugged-in gay men congregate each week. But there are differences. What is talked about at the Diner stays at the Diner. And I'm a stickler for "off the record" facts in personal and private social settings.

But what's discussed at the Diner cannot help but remain in one's head. So what do you do when you live in both worlds and have a blog that tries to retain a no-bullshit rule of posting? This is a new zone because it has only really existed for a few years, and it is a zone where the conversational honesty of actual discourse interacts with the formal public truths one is ethically required to adhere to, if you're not just to peddle gossip. This was really my problem with the Trig thing.

I was caught between two very powerful impulses: the ethical desire not to say anything untrue or unverifiable and the ethical compulsion I felt to be totally honest with my readers about what I made of the passing scene from day to day. The conflict was so severe in the Palin question I simply decided not to blog for a couple of days while I wrestled with it. I may have been crazy but I wasn't going to bullshit my readers with phony thoughts because they were what I was supposed to think, or should pretend to think because of my reputation. And I could not wait or duck. A columnist can do that; a blogger cannot. To have stopped myself asking of Kagan's orientation would have been, to my mind, something of a rupture of trust between me and Dish readers. It would have erected a barrier between my own thoughts and what I allowed to appear on the blog.

But this where the two worlds collide. What seems like a simple question to me and my friends in a gay setting - "so is she gay?" - has no fraught complications, no element of touching something you never should. And the gay community has been buzzing about this, because it raises so many issues in a culture in transition. But in the straight world, the very asking of the question is deemed a dangerous, invasive, explosive thing. In the straight world, mentioning softball, cigars, and careerism about a single woman is to engage in hideous stereotyping. In the gay world, these stereotypes are totally talked about, cited, joked about and sympathized with. And this makes for a strange eddy as these two cultural forces collide in public discourse. My general position with respect to all this is rather like my mentors at South Park: tell it as you see it. But they have their characters to say what cannot be said. I only have myself.

The straight response in public to this question, in other words, is: "How dare you?"

The gay response in private wherever I have gone is: "Aww, c'mon."

It's between those two worlds that this blog hovers. And sometimes the gulf is simply too wide to handle.

(Cartoon from the wonderful xkcd blog.)