I must admit to being befuddled by assertions on both sides that Kerry's and Edwards's mentionings of Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter amount to low blows, smears, "low moments." I mean, I'm not surprised when the right makes such claims: after all, for much of the conservative base, being homosexual is pretty much a mark of ungodliness or weakness.
But from the left?
Sure, if Mary Cheney were closeted, or if she did not work as an advocate for gay and lesbian rights, then things would be different. Then talking about her sexuality on national television would amount to an outing, a breach of her privacy or her desire to define herself rather than be labeled by others.
But when such is not the case, and she is not only openly lesbian but willing to use her own sexuality in order to fight for rights of other gays or lesbians, then discussing her sexuality is not a slur, and for lefties to cower at its mention is to give in to conservative assertions of the wrongness or tabooness of homosexuality.
I know that some will assert that by mentioning this topic on national tv, democratic candidates are hoping to outrage members of the Bush-Cheney base. And yes, whatever their intentions are, there are members of the BC04 base who will be outraged, thrown off.
But if those of us on the left act in ways that accept that terms like "lesbian" or "gay" are inherently negative or scary or potentially offensive, what are we saying to ourselves who believe in gay rights and to those of us who take on queer labels in self-definition?
When discussions of domestic issues turn to issues involving lesbian and gay people, we need to talk frankly. We cannot allow only opponents of queer rights to use descriptive terms: then the terms take on a negative tinge. Only by using those terms ourselves, and by speaking frankly about the situation of people who are openly lesbian or gay, can we bring homosexual issues into the mainstream.