My hometown of Park Ridge, Illinois has a fickle relationship with our most famous native daughter. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s picture adorns a plaque in the hallway of my alma mater of Maine South High School, her childhood house at Elm and Wisner has a sign denoting it “Rodham Corner,” and everything written about the town since 1992 mentions her name.
However, few Americans (even Illinoisans) could name her hometown. During my college political science classes in Chicago, I even heard people refer to her as being from Arkansas.
This speaks not to an especially ignorant American populace but an especially savvy Ms. Clinton. She has firm control over her image and does not want to be associated with any one place or person. She is Hillary Clinton (D), United States, woman in charge of her life. Hillary has, over the years, transformed her image from a divisive and unconventionally political first lady in the early ‘90s to a powerful, conventionally Democratic senator by the mid-2000s. This is no small feat, considering the limp legacies of her peers (if she even has any) like Elizabeth Dole and Tipper Gore. Neither was able to gain a following along the way, except for perhaps token support from party loyalists.
Hillary, though, seems to have a cult following among moderate-to-liberal, working-to-middle class white women and white gay men of all economic classes. Certainly she has detractors within these groups and additional support elsewhere, but among gay men especially, she is often idolized. Is it because she is, to quote her former boss, a “fierce advocate” for gay rights and causes? I would argue that it is not.
Instead, she has a decent record on domestic gay rights in the last fifteen years as a senator and public figure (though a superb one on international LGBT issues in her role as Secretary of State), and a poor one before that as first lady. She did vote against the failed Bush-era anti-same sex marriage constitutional amendment in 2004 and 2006, but she supported the Defense of Marriage Act throughout her husband’s presidency, supported Don’t Ask Don’t Tell until 1999, and remained opposed to marriage equality throughout the 2008 presidential campaign.
It took her until 2013 to come out in favor of same-sex marriage, a full nine years after Massachusetts began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples and national figures like Dennis Kucinich and Gavin Newsom rallied for marriage equality. Though it’s arguably unfair to do it, when her record is isolated and not compared to her party’s evolving stances, it doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny.
With all of that said, gay men usually err on her side, if not dive headfirst into the Hillary Kool-Aid pool. I worked on Barack Obama’s primary and general election campaign in 2008 and, during the primaries, I eventually learned not to wear my Obama buttons into gay bars. Inevitably, shouting matches would erupt from avid Hillary supporters, as if my not supporting Hillary in her time of need was tantamount to betrayal of the gay community. The facts were pretty clear; neither candidate was optimal for gay people – why were people getting so worked up?
I didn’t realize it then, but now my opinion is strong that Hillary Clinton is as close as national politics has ever come to having a cultural diva. I absolutely do not use the term diva – an Italian word meaning female deity, or goddess – flippantly. I believe the commonplace gay male devotion to divas like Diana Ross, Tina Turner and even Rihanna shows that we retain some form of community as we blend ever more into mainstream society.
The most important element of diva worship, in terms of the gay perspective, is the respect for strength through adversity. If Diana Ross could make it through the Brewster Projects in Detroit, and if Tina and Rihanna could rebound after such public hardship, then surely us gays can make it through to tomorrow. The idea transitions almost seamlessly back to politics; if Hillary Clinton can be successful after the crap she’s been through, well then so can I.
Hillary’s life in the public eye has been wrought with hardship and is especially affected by media and opposition’s reactions to her mere existence. Her time as first lady was considered unusually divisive and controversial, merely because she vocalized some opinions, occasionally in opposition to her husband’s. A woman with opinions is bad enough, but to disagree with her husband’s…the nerve!
After “Hillarycare” failed in 1993, her public involvement was scaled back to shield her husband from criticism. That husband would later cheat on her and put her through a media circus of humiliation and unfair exposure, the likes of which a modern first lady had never seen.
Gay men can relate in that our genuine opinions and desires about everything from clothes to sex are often squelched in favor of some mainstream idea of acceptable gender roles. We often deepen our voices and loosen our clothes in straight-dominated settings and shy away from talking frankly about pop music or gay sex for fear of social isolation or even retribution.
We can relate to Hillary’s pain in having dealt with a cheating man because, well, we’ve dealt with them too.
As a woman, Hillary endures almost nonstop sexism and misogyny that perhaps reached a climax in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election. As Republicans prepared for her inevitable candidacy, they were routinely quoted saying horrifying things like “How do we beat the bitch?” and “When Hillary Clinton speaks, men hear ‘take out the garbage.’” John McCain and the media did little if anything to call these people out and characterized the language as more partisan politics than disturbing misogyny.
Additionally, for not seeming to obsess over her looks and be pretty for every camera, Hillary is frequently “accused” of being a lesbian. Such statements are so filled with sexism and homophobia that I could write a book on it (and people have!). She has responded to these claims exactly how she should – by ignoring them.
Women and gay men alike admire her strength through such adversity. She has never demeaned herself by acknowledging the dirty insults and is always smart when she addresses her opponents – even if they’re stupid. To her ability, she does not allow sexism to detract from her success and it probably even motivates her to be stronger on behalf of all women. As she chips away at the glass ceiling, gay men will probably always be her most loyal allies, knowing that our ceiling (stained glass?) is the next one up.
Gays have got her back, as right now she’s culturally the closest thing to a gay man who’s ever lived in the White House (closet-case presidents notwithstanding). And as she inches closer to moving back to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, I’m pretty keen on the idea of a diva as President.