“Aggressively gay”?

Not so long ago I expressed weary indifference to frmr. Sen Chuck Hagel’s anti-gay comments from 1998:

 Then-Senator Hagel’s views at the time of the statement are 100% totally irrelevant now. DADT is toast. President Obama would be his boss, and the views of the POTUS are eminently satisfactory to me. Potential-Sec Hagel’s opinions about gays would be utterly irrelevant, so his quondam opinions are even more so. Do I forgive him? Meh. I don’t care enough about him to forgive him, and I doubt he cares about me. At this particular moment, it’s moot. His opinions about gays have no bearing on policy.

I stand by that.  I think it’s time to move on.  If my chums on the Gay Left use those comments in an attempt to scupper Hagel’s nomination to be Secretary of Defense, I think they will be doing both the country and our shared goals for LGBT equality a disservice.

I dislike the politics of victimhood intensely.  I believe the marriage-equality battle is being gradually won because more and more people are coming to the shocking realization that same-sex couples are remarkably, boringly normal, and that giving legal sanction to our relationships won’t cause the country to collapse into anarchy and devil-worship.  This is because gay and lesbian people have been making a proactive case for ourselves and arguing the issue on its merits.

Whinging about dunderheaded comments from a decade and a half ago, when the man who made them has repudiated them and apologized… well, it seems pointless to me.  Are the comments indefensible?  I think so.  Hagel isn’t defending them.  I would politely suggest we accept the apology and focus on something more useful.


Having read a bit more about what ol’ Chuck had to say back in the day does make me roll my eyes a bit.  From TPM:

Then-Sen. Chuck Hagel’s remark to the Omaha World-Herald in 1998 that Clinton ambassadorial nominee James Hormel was “openly aggressively gay” was only a part of what Hagel told the paper about his opposition to Hormel’s nomination.

In additional comments that appeared in the same Omaha World-Herald storyon July 3, 1998, Hagel said that Hormel’s gay conduct in public goes “beyond common sense” and concluded that a gay performance group of men in drag as nuns was “anti-Catholic” upon seeing a video of Hormel at one of its events.


Hormel “very aggressively told the world of his gayness and the funding and all the things he’s been involved in,” Hagel was quoted as saying. “I think you do go beyond common sense there, and reason and a certain amount of decorum.”

“Aggressively gay”?  What the hell does that even mean?  Did Hormel roam around the countryside tying straight people to chairs and making them listen to old Streisand albums?  Did he break into the ESPN offices and replace “Sports Center” with “Liza with a ‘Z'”?  I have this vision of him running from person to person on the street, grabbing them by the shoulders and shaking them vigorously while shouting “I’m gay, dammit!  Gay, I tell you!

I have a hard time being offended by something so impossibly dumb.  “Aggressively gay” belongs with “severely conservative” in the dustbin of idiotic political descriptors.  If being openly and apologetically gay is “aggressive” to conservatives, then I guess that makes me Mike Tyson in smartly tailored pants.

Again, I have absolutely zero desire to dredge all of this up in opposition to Hagel’s nomination.  I think he will make a fine Secretary of Defense, and politely request that my fellow ‘mos keep their powder dry for more appropriate targets.  But I really do hope Mr. Hagel has the grace to be embarrassed by his previous statements, because they certainly are embarrassing.

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. The only time phrases like “aggressively gay” make any sort of sense to me is when people are using them in conjunction with things like the Folsom Street Fair or the Love Parade (which, I want to make clear, I have no inherent problem with); and even then, I think most people are really responding to the open/flaunting nature of the often-sexual behavior, rather than the orientation of said behavior; I hope they would be equally agitated by a bunch of strictly-straight people “doin’ it in the road.”


    Don’t care if you’re straight or gay
    But please, put yr boobs or wang away

  2. Would you believe that it’s primarily the gay right, not the gay left, who are trying to use these comments against him?

    That’s the Log Cabin Republicans for you.

    • It’s a real sign of progress that Republicans now think it’s useful to smear their enemies as homophobic.

    • Makes we want to join, just so I can quit in protest.

      I do believe newly-minted Senator Tammy Baldwin plans to make some hay with this issue, as well.

    • I’m not sure there’s a more pathetic beaten wife group in politics than the LCR’s. You see their booths at gay events surrounded, typically, by an empty circle of space (an unusual thing to find at gay events in Minneapolis~ an uncrowded area) and the folks manning them always look so piteous. It makes me want to give them a brochure for a half way house. “Honey, he doesn’t love you, he doesn’t even like you. He just wants you to do his laundry.”

  3. Aggressively gay is what, well, the boomer-age folks (or younger folks who are sheltered from the real world) call people who aren’t ashamed to be gay and admit it, and don’t seem to think they have to hide it.

    It’s really a hard judgement to make, with the older generations. On the one hand, they have a lot of political pull. On the other hand, they grew up in a different world and have been understandably slow to roll with the punches.

    You gotta take it case by case, you know? If this guy’s a dinosaur on gay rights or race or whatever, does it matter? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

  4. Sort of OT, but I have to ask:

    When did “whinging” become an American idiom? Where I grew up, it was always simply “whining” – I only encountered “whinging” when reading British authors (and, I assumed it was strictly a spelling difference, and that the pronunciation was the same – is this true?)

    Anybody know?

    • I’m the wrong person to ask. My dad’s from England, so I heard admonitions to stop whinging (short “i,” soft “g”) all through my childhood.

      I believe Harry Potter’s Muggle family lives in Little Whinging (one of the more amusing little jokes), so perhaps it entered the American vernacular that way?

      • RE: the Potter theory, that’s possible. I remember first noticing bloggers maybe 5 years ago using it, and thinking it strange the first couple times, and now it almost seems the norm. (I read a lot as a kid, and was an Anglophile as a teen, so I was familiar with the word’s meaning/usage; but I though it was a color/colour – type difference, and I never heard it spoken by Americans).

        I wonder if Andrew Sullivan maybe used it, and people picked it up from there. His blogging was pretty influential to other bloggers.

    • It’s also Canadian idiom, though (at least in my neck of the woods) it was informally used, and would rarely have entered written documents.

      Canadians like to be redundant, so “whingeing and whining,” frex.

    • huh….I just thought it was a misspelling. I guess I learn something everyday. (Unfortunately that “something” doesn’t yet include “what it’s like to finish my dissertation.”)

  5. Aggressively Jewish:

    “Hell, yes. And if He comes back, we’re doing it again.”

      • More seriously, one of the things that made Jews in medieval Europa so unpopular with the powers that were is that, by being unapologetically Jewish, they demonstrated that it was possible to live outside the Church. That’s a close parallel to “aggressively gay”.

  6. Ugh… privilege.

    Signs of my aggressive heterosexuality:
    – Regular references to my wife (previously, my fiance and, before that, my girlfriend)
    – Regular nights out with my wife, which often includes hand holding, hugging, and kissing (which SHE often describes as aggressive but that’s just because she comes from a family of cold, affectionless Connecticut WASPS… and, no, I don’t let her read these pages)
    – My wedding ring
    – Regular references to women I find attractive
    – Regular consumption of entertainment staring primarily or exclusively straight participants

    Need I go on…?

    I *will* speak to one instance of aggressive homosexuality I witnessed:

    I used to work in Chelsea and hit the NYSC in the neighborhood, right on the corner of 16th and 8th. I don’t usually say this, but it was pretty frickin’ gay. But never gayer than when one of the largest/strongest members of the club decided it was Whitney Houston time, and proceeded to use one of those mini-DVD players to play live Whitney Houston shows in the locker room. No headphones, speakers on full blast, screen pointed away from him so that all could bask in the glory of her vocal highness. And the guy proudly standing there in his barely-there mid-rift exposing tank top, muscles popping, daring anyone to ask him to turn it down.

    In hindsight, it was actually pretty awesome.

    I miss that gym.

      • You and I both would probably be best served to brace ourselves around the Whitney Houston guy.

        • And, more seriously, besides just having a really good exercise atmosphere, I appreciated the opportunity to be in the minority, to be off my home turf, and to learn from that.

          I was 22, 23 at the time. And while I was generally comfortable and supportive of LGBTQ folks, there was still a lot for me to learn. At first, I bristled a bit when I overheard guys talking about how they just had to get “some dick” that weekend. Then I realized it was no different than the conversation you’d hear at most other gyms; they just replaced “pussy” or “ass” with “dick”. And while maybe NONE of us should have been talking about potential sexual partners in that way, I realized these behaviors were one and the same. And that I had no standing to walk into one of the few spaces they could express themselves so freely and demand otherwise.

          Also, I got super huge because I had to make sure I could defend myself some Whitney Houston Man. Great motivation.

        • You both can come listen to my neighbor that sings showtunes on his karaoke machine…. with a Danish accent.

          “Da hillz are awife wit da sownd af museeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek”

    • So by that token, an aggressively gay person (let’s say, a gay man) would:

      – Make regular references to his boyfriend/fiancee/husband/partner/whathaveyou
      – Regular nights out with his BF/F/H/P/W which often include hand holding, hugging, and kissing
      – Wearing a wedding/commitment ring
      – Regularly referring to men he finds attractive
      – Regularly consume entertainment starring primarily or exclusively gay participants, or perhaps with themes of gay life (e.g., Brokeback Mountain)

      This roughly describes quite a lot of gay men and lesbian women with whom I am acquainted. And after all, why SHOULDN’T a gay man:

      – Regularly refer to his boyfriend/fiancee/husband/partner/whathaveyou. That man is a big part of his life.
      – Regularly go out on dates with his BF/F/H/P/W which often include hand holding, hugging, and kissing. Couples ought to go out on dates.
      – Wear a wedding/commitment ring. A public symbol of commitment is very often part of being in a committed relationship.
      – Regularly refer to men he finds attractive. Dude’s in a relationship, but he’s not blind.
      – Regularly consume entertainment starring primarily or exclusively gay participants, or perhaps with themes of gay life (e.g., Brokeback Mountain). Turns out, Brokeback Mountain was a really good movie.

      Maybe once upon a time these sorts of things would have been heterosexual privilege. Again, while it’s easy for me as a holder of this purported privilege to deny that it exists, I can think of no reason why a same-sex couple shouldn’t and, in all but the most backwards of places, couldn’t do all these things with social acceptance.

      • Should have used the masculine form of “fiance” with only one e. The second “e” sometimes automatically generates the accent but I guess it didn’t this time. Y’all get the idea.

      • Burt,

        I do know folks who would describe all those actions undertaken by gay men as “aggressive” or “flamboyant” or “shoving it in people’s face” or whathaveyou. Not everyone. And perhaps not enough to discourage the behavior in most places. But that certainly exists.

        According to the link, some of the things that Hagel thought were aggressively gay or otherwise “beyond common sense” were:
        – donating money to a group that created a documentary to help teacher’s educate children about homosexuality
        – attending a gay pride parade where a drag group performed

        And, in case it wasn’t clear, I don’t think any of the originally listed items should be considered “aggressive” when undertaken by anyone, gay or straight.

      • I’ve only known one person who was gay that I’d label ‘aggressively’ so. If someone disagreed with him, it’s because of his sexuality. If you didn’t have time to do something with him, it’s because of his sexuality. It was never because he was actually wrong, or you were actually busy or had other plans, you were either picking on him because he was gay, or didn’t want to be seen in public with him because he was gay.

        He blew up at a postal employee who wouldn’t let him sign for a registered letter for his partner, screaming that he was going to sue the employee for sexual discrimination because he wasn’t allowed to sign for the letter….because he was gay.

        • I have enough insight to know that, when people don’t want to spend time with me, it’s because of my unspeakable obnoxiousness and not my being gay.

    • I *will* speak to one instance of aggressive homosexuality I witnessed:

      Not sure if this really counts…

      When my wife and I moved to Los Angeles, we found a great apartment in West Hollywood. This was before kids, but we did have a young dog. So, lots of dog walking around West Hollywood, and the necessary cleanup after.

      One night, my wife and I were walking the dog and talking, and he eventually did his business. I bent over to clean up what he left on the grass as a few gentlemen were walking down the street and passed us. One of them loudly proclaimed “Nice A$$, honey!” as they went by, with the others agreeing and laughing.

      I laughed too, as did my wife. I told her I finally understood what it probably felt like for her, sometimes, but not really. She laughed even more at that. “You have no IDEA!….” she said, while just cracking up.

  7. I don’t have comment, but simply want to express how space-awesome the picture accompianing this post is.

  8. I’ve never used the term ‘aggressively gay’ but I have used the term ‘super-gay’ in a joking way. As an example, the character of Will on Will & Grace was gay. The character of Jack was ‘super-gay’. Flamboyant also works well to mean the same thing.

    • Mike,

      Half-snarky, half-serious, would that make you flamboyantly or super-straight?

      • I’ve actually heard the term ‘super-hetero’ used. I’m not sure what that looks like exactly.

        • Are you as straight as Jack was gay, at least in how you carry and present yourself?

          (I’m probably not… the PreK teacher thing tends to raise an eyebrow. Plus, there is my luxurious, long, silky hair.)

          • More seriously, and conceding that Jack was a fictional character, it seems we tend to use terms like “super” or “flamboyant” with gays in ways we don’t with straights because of norming and privilege and all that.

            If two gay guys kissing on the street corner are being flamboyantly gay, than two straight folks kissing on the opposite corner are equally flamboyantly straight, no?

          • I wouldn’t consider two gay guys kissing to be ‘super-gay’. As for ‘super-hetero’ I think about frat guys talking about nothing but chasing tail. Of course, there’s been plenty of academic speculation that this is over-compensating which may be true as well.

            Question for the gay folks: Is flamboyant behavior really just a kind of signaling that someone is available?

          • Regarding use of the word “flamboyant” – and I am going to have to tread carefully here, but I got through this convo with my gay cousin OK, so hopefully I can get through it here –

            There is that sort of stereotype of the very effeminate, flamboyant or flouncy gay man – you know, very theatrical and dramatic, associated with certain verbal or linguistic tics (things like drawing out vowels like daaaahling, or the nasal/lispy/prissy thing) that I think it is safe to say is in actual fact a “type” of gay man (or at least, a type of affectation or persona or whatever) that does get encountered in real life.

            And I must admit, this persona can sometimes kind of get on my nerves (my cousin absolutely hates it – he was the one who brought the topic up). Not in a “I want to bash that homo kind of way”, but in a “come ON, you aren’t serious, are you? Quit acting!” kind of way.

            Like, it seems frivolous, or whining, or narcissistic in some way.

            Now, here’s the thing – this *exact same persona* also manifests in females (that is, some “drama queens” are in fact actual literal queens, with similar mannerisms and vocalisms), and frankly, it annoys me there too; but I am apt to pay it less mind in a female, particularly if she’s otherwise hot enough that on some level I want to get in her pants.

            So: latent homophobia, or not? My cousin says no, but then, he would.

            What say you?

          • Glyph,
            I think many people are willing to put up with a lot of crazy to get into people’s pants.
            Particularly guys…

          • Glyph,

            I’m not gay, but I think it is okay to find certain character traits as irritating, so long as you don’t generalize them to a larger group or consider that obnoxiousness to somehow be more representative than it is.

            I also think you see behavioral/personality types that are as deliberately contrived amongst non-gay folks (or amongst gay folks but which are not intended to signal anything about sexuality). Do you really think The Situation woke up acting that way organically? Or do you think it is a carefully groomed personality intended to signal something? Bro-culture can be similarly nauseating in the wrong hands, and is often done to signal something about heterosexuality.

            But, as I allude to up above, I think much of what we (“we” as in society, not necessarily folks here) consider to be “flamboyant” when talking about LGBTQ folks are things we consider to be “normal” when talking about the heteros.

          • I have little to add to what Kazzy said. (And didn’t we have a whole big conversation about gay signaling not so long ago?)

            I would be a fool to deny that there are plenty of flaming gays out there. (There’s always at least one in every season of “Project Runway.”) I tend to find them annoying. But they’re not signaling that they’re “available.” They’re signaling that they’re flamboyantly gay men. Again, I find this kind of posturing annoying, but as Kazzy points out there are plenty of annoying ways that heterosexual dudes posture, too.

            As far as why some gay men are flamboyant in that way, well… there’s obviously a greater acceptance of femininity within the gay community, if that’s the kind of boy you are. And there’s also an affinity for dramatic, creative, artistic people within the community as well. So it stands to reason that there would be subset of the subset who present themselves as very high on those scales.

            The guy who grew up in the house just behind mine is also gay (though I haven’t bumped into him in years). He has the stereotypical “gay voice” and I don’t. (Back me up here, people who’ve met me in person. I don’t, right? RIGHT?!?!? ) I have no idea where it came from. We’re both gay and grew up in exactly the same area, but present ourselves differently. Different strokes for different folks.

          • “And there’s also an affinity for dramatic, creative, artistic people within the community as well.”

            I’ve seen it theorized that gays, men in particular, spend so much of their lives acting, that the dramatic arts comes more naturally or is otherwise more appealing. Add to that the normal looniness of the dramatic types and you can see the rabbit hole opening up. I dabbled with the theater crowd in both high school and college; they were one giant clusterfuck of contrived personality, regardless of their orientation.

          • I think many people are willing to put up with a lot of crazy to get into people’s pants.

            Crazy in the head; crazy in the bed.

        • Macho (i may have the word wrong, i’m not fluent). Sometimes used to express “gay, but not -that- type of gay” (perhaps this only happens in Spain…)

          • I don’t know about “super-hetero”, but he’s definitely “super-hairy-o”.

  9. If being openly and apologetically gay is “aggressive” to conservatives, then I guess that makes me Mike Tyson in smartly tailored pants.

    Great, now I’m imagining how terrified that type of right-winger would be in the same room with an “aggressively gay” version of Mike Tyson…

    • I’m not a right winger, but I’d be terrified to be in the same room with Mike Tyson, aggressively gay or no. Dude seems unstable to me.

    • Wasn’t it Tyson who trash-talked a fight by telling the other boxer, “I’m gonna beat you until you love me?”

      • Yes. I interpreted that though as saying as a result of head blows the opponents brains would be scrambled such they’d think *they* were gay — thus, making Tyson’s remark itself anti-gay (since it assumes gay people are somehow fished in the head rather than just different). He’s also said he wanted to eat an opponent’s children.

  10. Is there any relevance to this conversation that the comments were linked to the a nomination to send an ambassador to a nation that outlawed homosexuality? I’m not excusing his word choice which was horribly offensive. I’m curious of the context of the time the comments were made.

    I imagine, similarly that it would not be ~illogical~ to oppose sending a woman as ambassador to a nation who did not allow women to appear in public, unless the goal was to put that nation’s stance on women front and center and the cornerstone of our policy there. Or is this just all noise in the bleachers?

    • A Teacher,

      I think there would be room to discuss the appropriateness of sending a gay ambassador to a country that outlawed homosexuality. But it should be focused on that decision’s impact on the ambassador, not its impact on America, which seemed to be Hagel’s focus.

      • FWIW, opponents tried to make an issue out of this, but from what I recall Luxembourg said that they would welcome him.

        • Perhaps, though I think it’s not dissimilar, if I may make the analogy, to how a student reacts when I pair them with a student they Do Not Like. While it says a great deal about the two students and how they act when paired up, it also puts a little on me for saying “you two work together”. I’ve found that on the margin unless I want the lesson to be about getting along more than it is about, say, math, it’s often easier to “appoint” student pairs that are going to get along out of the gate rather than come into the situation at odds.

          Now I do want to echo that Hagel was a total d-bag about how he expressed this and that “Aggressively Gay” was pretty stupid to say.

  11. I find it interesting how other political needs and partisanship often define whether gaffes/comments.

    Hagel is opposed by the right for going against the IRAQ war and allegedly anti-Israeli thought*

    Andrew Sullivan who normally goes after comments like aggressively gay with a fury is now defending Hagel and said he apologized correctly because he wants the man to be Defense Secretary.

    This happens a million times in politics and it always amuses me. Hagel will not be the first or last politician to be defended and attacked for past statements.

    *I have no idea whether Hagel is anti-Israel or critical of Israel or not. I just know this is part of the controversey

  12. I met an aggressively gay guy once. He followed me for like three blocks, and then, apparently having realized the futility of rhetorical persuasion, made a grab for the goods.

    • The dude was just a sexual predator. Being gay was strictly incidental. I’ve known (too many) men who acted similarly around women, but you wouldn’t call them “aggressively straight” would you?

  13. Y’all might remember a Friday Jukebox I put up back in the fall featuring the band, Mystery Machine*. Their third(?) album is titled, ‘Headfirst Into Everything’.

    Years ago, I was at the club I frequented (where I had just seen Mystery Machine a few weeks before). I was wearing a T from the concert that read, ‘Headfirst Into Everything’. A guy at the bar saw my shirt and commented, “nice shirt”. I said thanks, assuming he had been at the show.

    He then said to me, “I’ve got a shirt, too”. He pulled back his cardigan to reveal a shirt that read, “What I like most in a man? My tongue.”

    I don’t have a point or anything, I just think it’s an amusing anecdote… one the wife was quite worried about when I started telling it to her mom.

    *Behind the scenes, it sparked an extended – and appreciated – lesson by Jason on the proper use of commas.

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