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September 29, 2006
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Volume 34
Issue 39
 
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'I'M A GAY-AMERICAN': PART ONE
'I'M A GAY-AMERICAN': PART ONE
Former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey speaks about his life and new book

by Mark Segal - Special to the SGN

If you think Jim McGreevey revealed all during recent interviews with media powerhouses Larry King and Oprah, think again.

In an in-depth interview, the former New Jersey governor speaks in greater detail about the upcoming New Jersey senate race; gives advice to American Idol star Clay Aiken; discusses a possible return to politics; and talks about his new work as a foot soldier for the continuing Gay rights struggle.

The extensive interview is the result of an hours-long phone conversation held in conjunction with the release of McGreeveys memoir, The Confession.



[Editors Note: The following is the first half of a two-part interview with McGreevey. The second half will appear in next weeks edition of the Seattle Gay News.]

Mark Segal: Are you holding up on the tour?

Jim McGreevey: Yes, and its great that I have a loving partner, and a loving daughter.

MS: Well you seem to be holding up beautifully. The greatest thing I need to let you know about this interview is that this one, unlike all the others youve been doing, is primarily you speaking to the community which you are now a part of, which is exciting for both of us, I hope. So I focused on the first interview, on one of the interviews you had done for the non-Gay community, you were asked about Mark, your partner, and the first thing you said was my boyfriend and then you caught yourself with a smile on your face and said Oh I was taught not to use that phrase and you said life partner instead. So the question is, are you feeling comfortable with the community you are now apart of?

JM: I welcome and need their love and support and caring, and its good to come home.

...

MS: In your book, youre bursting out of the closet. I dont think Ive ever read another biography where someone with a political background talks so explicitly about their background, i.e. masturbation, ejaculation  was it a cleansing?

JM: Its trying to speak to the larger need for honesty, and to somewhat end the lie, end the division, and to embrace ones truth. Being closeted was perhaps my greatest fear, a willingness to be who I am. And my fear was also draped in shame. And my hope is that through the story, others will embrace their truths. And its a far healthier place for me, my family, my loved ones, and all those weve touched.

MS: I tried to talk to as many people in the Gay community as I could regarding the book and all the publicity. ...[E]verybody has been amazed at how truthful youve been, how honest youve been, but do you have to bring up alleyways and truck stops.

JM: I think its important to say thats not the love I wanted, but its all that I thought was open for me. I wanted the loving committed relationship with another man, but I thought it was forbidden, and I thought it was impossible.

MS: Now, youve in a position where very few people in our community have ever been before. Youre a Gay man who was in a major political position who has come out, and come out like nobody has ever come out before. And before you came out there were the whispering campaigns surrounding you that you mention in the book. We in the Gay news have often heard those whispers.

JM: And I worked overtime to really counteract those rumors.

MS: And at the same time there were many other people who are going through the same thing, especially people who are in public life. A couple days ago, Diane Sawyer interviewed Clay Aiken and questioned him about his sexuality, in one of the most painful interviews Id ever seen. What kind of advice would you give to people like him?

JM: Well Mark, I can judge nobody else but myself. But I know how much healthier and at peace I am today than Ive ever been. I probably never would have broken through the fear, if it werent for the scandal. But it gave me the greatest blessing and the greatest grace in my life.

MS: You had such a public coming out, but most people in our community who are in the closet dont have to have such a public experience. After they seek inside them what they need to come out, what do you think is the best route to do so?

JM: Im hardly an expert. Ive only [come out] once and once is enough. And arguably Ive had the sloppiest coming out because I came out by necessity, and then afterwards I made sense of it. I went to the Meadow in Wickenburg, Arizona, and I went there first for a week in a program called Survivors, where they work with people who have undergone intensive trauma, and after a week, the therapist said I needed to stay there longer.

MS: You had a little more than trauma.

JM: Exactly, and she recommended, which I abided by that I stay there for a 30-day period. So, first, it was coming to terms with who I was. But I only did it by virtue of necessity because the scandal forced me to confront my reality. And when I came out, I thought Id be a healthy and integrated Gay man, but that wasnt the case. Because...of those years of repression and fear and shame, the emotions in me were all backed up. I went to Survivors for this week period, and it was in a sense an emotional cleansing. One of the great exercises I picked up was where you engage in a dialogue with yourself, where, for example, I write to my child as an adult, to me as a 7-year old boy, and then I write as that child back to the adult.

MS: One of the most beautiful things that I picked up from your book was right after one of your first sexual experiences in the 7th or 8th grade, you say that you made it to second or third base and that most heterosexual guys would be thrilled there. But what you really wanted to make it to first base, which was the kiss and the emotional connection.

JM: Exactly. And the kiss, to have an emotional connection, would have been to accept my Gayness, and it would have been to accept being Gay.

MS: So kissing Mark on Larry King showed nationwide, did you finally get that [emotional connection]?

JM: I got it, I love it, and its who I am. And its wonderful. And all the bile which has been building up over so many years is dissolving. And the irony of it is, I avoided the simple, public acts which are accepted as heterosexual or acceptable straight behavior, even though thats what my heart yearned for.

MS: In your early days of running for office, and even when you were a kid, there were always the whispers that you might be Gay. You point out in the book that during your first run for governor, you passed a billboard on the Garden State Parkway which someone spray painted Homo underneath your name. And you said you sat there silently for the next few miles. But once you were elected you inherited many people in the administration who became close to you and were key advisors to you, who were Gay, and knew you were Gay. From what I understand, during that period just before you went public, some of them were telling you to come out. Before the Cipel thing became so intolerable, did you ever think you should have just come out right there, maybe a few weeks or a month before the whole thing blew up?

JM: Oh no, no one ever discussed it with me. A couple times in my life, maybe once in high school I wrestled with being Gay, and I wrestled with suicide. And then in college when I was at Columbia University Id take that long walk down to the village. Id look in a Gay bar, and I just couldnt, I refused to embrace the identity because of fear, so Id literally walk all the way back up to 114th Street. And then after the first gubernatorial campaign in 97 when I had that narrow loss to Governor Whitman, I went to British Columbia. And BC has a very different attitude; it was one of the first provinces in Canada to embrace Gay marriage. I saw people openly embrace their Gay identity. I wrestled with it. This was my last chance to be true to myself, and I rejected it out of fear, shame, and self-loathing.

MS: But yet, theres also the fact that you are bringing Gay rights further down the line. Youre governor, the legislature passes civil unions. Did you have any trouble signing that?

JM: Oh no, god no.

MS: What was in your mind, as a Gay man, and you know youre Gay, signing this piece of legislation which you know is helping the Gay community move forward?

JM: I was just filled with conflict, filled with emotional conflict. Because I knew in my heart, that I always wanted a committed, loving relationship, that marriage was the ideal. Still, domestic partnerships were the most we could achieve politically with the legislature. The fear of embracing Gay cide than straight children. Id like to refocus on the passions that first brought me to government and politics. Clearly I will always support those elected officials who embrace moving progressive Gay rights agenda.

MS: So if you were offered a campaign position with Hillary or with Al Gore or someone&

JM: Well, I wouldnt go&

MS: You would consider it?

JM: Well, I want to lend my voice, but I want to do it in concert with the Gay rights movement. In Jersey we have a great organization, Garden State Equality, and Steven Goldstein is a tremendous leader. I think Id work through local and regional organizations first.

MS: So youd feel comfortable going to a Gay organization in a place like Mississippi on behalf of a candidate saying the candidate has our values and should be looked at seriously?

JM: Well, I think my first priority is to follow my passion. Ive worked hard at politics for 20 years, and wherever I can use my voice for our community in an appropriate way Ill do it. But theres tremendous Gay leadership already. I want to be one of the foot soldiers to help.

MS: You are in many ways helping many people in the closet right now. Theyre watching you

JM: You know, thats been so touching. Ive had people at book signings in all stages of coming out. Some out, some closeted, some in the process. For four minutes, you connect one to one. That has been so heartening, so strengthening, because sharing the story helps people go through the pain. And being in the closet is a sick, difficult place.

MS: How would you have felt if somebody outed you in office, before the Cipel affair?

JM: I would have been resentful, angry, filled with betrayal, because I put such considerable energy and passion to prevent that. I thought, and probably rightfully so, that I could not be elected to governor as a Gay person. God-hoping there is a time where a Gay person could be elected governor or senator, but at the time I was coming politically of

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