Pete Buttigieg’s nerdiness may be a bigger liability than his sexual orientation as he attempts to become the first openly gay president of the United States. As admirable as his mind, words and biography are, his youthful studiousness and ambition risk reminding some of our peers of another political prodigy from our shared teenage years: Tracy Flick from “Election.”
Buttigieg seems to have mastered overachieving without becoming intolerable, but there’s a cap on how much perfectionism many folks will tolerate. Which is why there’s another Reese Witherspoon film from the ’90s that Buttigieg must avoid embodying even more: “Pleasantville.”

 

Buttigieg is a storybook candidate. He is charismatic but unimposing, ambitious but humble, young but wise, and a war veteran with a caring heart. His performance thus far in the campaign has been remarkable, both the promise of millennial leadership and how he has treated his homosexuality as an asset.

 

However, as in “Pleasantville,” a narrative can become so aspirational that it loses its authenticity. Buttigieg remains among my top tier of contenders in the Democratic primary, but my early enthusiasm for his candidacy was tempered when he and his husband were featured on the cover of Time magazine looking like the First Couple of Gay Mayberry.

 

I wasn’t disappointed they weren’t wearing leather or sequins, but I was startled by how “straight” they appeared — and I use that term in its historic, pejorative sense rather than to suggest sexual orientation. They were a visual manifestation of the lie that has been the LGBTQ movement’s most effective political strategy: that we and our relationships are just like heterosexuals.

 

Gay writer Dale Peck recently sparked outrage with a piece for The New Republic in which he wrote, “Mary Pete and I are just not the same type of gay.” Peck’s online column was pulled due to its vulgarity and cattiness, but his essay raised points that would fuel a delightful, tipsy conversation out of earshot, and without the input, of heterosexuals.

 

There is no right or wrong way to be homosexual, but there are different ways of being gay and there is little in Buttigieg’s story that echoes my experience and outlook as a homosexual. Indeed, the union between Buttigieg and Chasten Glezman — started on the fringe dating app Hinge — marks a radical departure from almost every gay man in history in that, as Peck notes, Buttigieg “married the first guy he dated.”
While that may sound like a heteronormative fairy tale, I read it as a red flag. Marriage equality did not retroactively equip gay men older than 30 with the same adolescent rites and lessons as their heterosexual peers, and I expect many to experience the frustration of trying to fit into a (faulty) relationship model for which we were never prepared.

 

Of course, many LGBTQ people throughout history were unable to pass a note to a middle-school crush, or attend prom with the date of their desire, or talk with their friends and family about their dreams of love, and they developed into fine human beings and romantic partners. I don’t know how many of them committed their lives to their first lover.

 

I don’t rule out Buttigieg blazing a new trail for gay relationships just as he has done for gay politics, but the former is decidedly less inspiring than his campaign pitch.

4 Responses

  1. Bob Van Keuren

    I’ve always wondered: exactly what is “neediness” anyway, and why is it so bad? We all have needs, and a person who admits to none might be mailing bombs to people that “need” to be killed. Remember the lyric: “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”

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  2. Bruce Garner

    I read the Dale Peck article and my early thoughts were that he needs to grow up and get a life. Picking people apart because they don’t fit some pre-conceived notion that we might have is a symptom of our own insecurities with who we are rather than those we would dissect. In Peck’s article and in this one, I can’t help but pick up a whiff of internalized homophobia. Some in our communities just cannot deal with someone else achieving something. Queers have been tearing apart their own leadership for decades. We just can’t seem to deal with the concept that we can actually do something and do it as well as if not better than “straight” folks or (fill in the blank) other people do. Is there anything actually wrong with a handsome young couple who are just being who they find their authentic selves to be? Mayor Pete probably has some of the best credentials of anyone we have seen in a long time except for a lot of experience. One thing he has by the boatloads over the other candidates is the ability to be calm, reasoned, non-anxious and non-angry. Yet he gets crap for just being an ordinary thoughtful guy.

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  3. Jim Brady

    Maybe it’s because I’m old and ‘settled down.’ Maybe it’s because I’ve been with the first man I fell in love with since I found him in a random place in a small town in
    1991 (we were married in 2015). But I had no idea that it was “a lie” to say we are just like most married heterosexuals. We argue about the same sorts of things – that I spent too much on a bottle of really great bourbon, that he still texts and drives even though I ask him not to, how I prefer to prepare food lower in sodium and fat so we live relatively longer, healthier lives (even though it can be a bit bland), and how he hates my using fabric softener when I wash our sheets (I’ve actually stopped doing that.) And we agree on the same sorts of things – that we both look great with a fresh haircut, that you can’t put a price on a good night’s sleep, that our dog needs to be walked on a leash daily to make him understand the dynamic between master and beast. I’m just saying…yes, we ARE like most straight married couples we know. I don’t know why that would startle anyone. And I don’t know why some would consider that sort of normality as a ‘political statement.’ It IS our reality and it’s Pete Buttigieg’s reality. Trust me, I’m not in the closet. When people ask (as they often do) ‘are you two brothers? You look so much alike!’ I hold my hand up, point to the ring on the third finger of my left hand and say ‘no, we’re married.’ Some don’t like it, some love the idea of two men who’ve managed to make a life together and some just plain out don’t give a damn. I won’t vote for Pete simply because I’m all fired up to have an openly gay President. I’ll vote for him when I see enough of him to know he’s prepared and competent to be our President.

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