Better Left Unsaid

Former Gov. James McGreevey's dismal bid for redemption is weighed down by naive misconceptions about being gay

James McGreevey’s autobiography, The Confession, is as dismal as his approval ratings were in 2004 when he declared that he was a ”gay American” and resigned as governor of New Jersey. His attempt to explain himself by sharing his story fails and, very possibly, makes him appear even more untrustworthy and unlikable.

With the help of ghostwriter David France, McGreevy takes readers through a detailed look at his youth, his two marriages, every strategic detail of his political campaigns, and finally his affair with Golan Cipel, the overpaid aide whose alleged blackmail attempt led to McGreevey’s resignation. Fraught with naïve observations about the GLBT community and esoteric details about New Jersey politics, McGreevey’s autobiography meanders its way to an end without much redemption.

If McGreevy is looking for absolution because of his confession, he’s going to have a tough time finding it.

Remember how, after coming out, you viewed through the prism of being gay and it felt as if you were the first person to experience life outside the closet? And how it got old really fast because people kept reminding you that many others had been there before you? McGreevey is still in that first stage.

There are numerous instances of McGreevey trying to explain away some of the most mundane prejudices against the gay community, and many of those explanations will alienate the community in the process. For example, McGreevey is careful to point out that he has always felt ”masculine, male, appropriate” and he dismisses ”any tendency to favor my female side.”

The most egregious example of McGreevey’s naiveté is his explanation that he hid his homosexuality because it was ”spoiled” and ”disgusting,” and he stayed in the closet to embrace the life of ”tradition and values and America.” Sounds an awful lot like Rick Santorum, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Then, his decision to publicly come out (after being blackmailed) is the perfect solution because, in the words of an advisor, ”the tawdry affair with your political appointee makes sense. You were a man in the closet.” It’s an argument on par with Mark Foley’s assertion that he solicited pages because he was abused as a child and has an alcohol problem.


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So who is McGreevey’s intended audience? Understandably, the gay community has been slow to embrace him — blogs have had a virtual field day referring to him as ”McCreepy.” Straight politicians are certainly going to steer clear — it’s hard to imagine a more disinterested group. Straight women are going to judge him for taking a man to bed while his wife was recovering from a difficult birth. Who’s left?

Perhaps aspiring candidates for public office who are gay and looking for a ”how not to do it” book. Don’t bother. Find Ken Yeager’s Trailblazers: Profiles of America’s Gay and Lesbian Elected Officials instead. Those are 14 stories worth reading and 14 people worth admiring.

Certainly, the promise of McGreevey’s sexual encounters is going to entice some readers. He does describe his first homosexual experiences growing up, his visits to adult bookstores, and his methods of evading the security detail to sneak over to Cipel’s apartment. However, the sex is so overshadowed by the revulsion and remorse that follows, it’s just not worth it.

Ultimately, we’re left to assume that McGreevey is writing for McGreevey. In the final pages of the book, he has entered rehab for control issues and is starting his recovery. Anyone undertaking this difficult journey can only be respected and supported, but The Confession reads like a therapy session. In fact, the whole story feels like a masturbatory exercise in self-flagellation and self-gratification in hopes of redemption.

Hopefully McGreevey has gained the perspective needed to move on from this chapter of his life. He just doesn’t need to continue writing these chapters down to sell. At least no one has given him an award for his visibility. Yet.

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