This Boy Wonder: On Race, Homosexuality, and the Buttigieg Dilemma
As a gay man, I can appreciate what it means for an out gay man to be a real Democratic contender — but as a black man, things are much more complicated.
This essay contains spoilers from James Baldwin’s 1962 novel, Another Country.
1. For months I’ve hesitated to write about Pete Buttigieg because I wasn’t sure how to articulate exactly what I felt. My ambivalence toward him is based on my own racial and sexual identities. I asked myself at one point: Could I, as a gay man, admire Buttigieg and, at the same time, as a black man, feel exasperated and angered by his choices? But after an incident with a group of gay white men in a bathhouse two weekends ago, I better understood what I’ll refer to here as “The Buttigieg Dilemma” and how it affects my relationship with his presidential candidacy.
There is a trapdoor waiting for any black person who attempts to defend Pete Buttigieg, so let me be very clear: I’m not about to fall into it. Because I can’t defend him. I don’t know him. And the truth is, some of his choices as a candidate and as mayor of South Bend appear indefensible. But I can appreciate what his candidacy means to me as a black, gay man — where I feel loyal to him, where I feel betrayed.
When a politician’s campaign is in trouble (and at the time of this writing, Buttigieg’s poll numbers with African Americans suggest that as a Democratic candidate he is in deep trouble), staffers will sometimes look for the black pass, the negro “Hail Mary” endorsement they can point to and affirm, “See, not every black hates him!” All it takes is one — if it is the right one. Even if I were inclined to give Buttigieg one of the black pardons he may be seeking, I don’t have the political influence he requires. But if he becomes the Democratic nominee for president, the pardon I am describing will come from powerful quarters. Just watch: one photo of him and his husband Chasten having lunch with Michelle Obama, and most of his black public relations problems will be solved.
So, this is what happened: I was at a spa, in a steam room with about twenty other men. Some of the men were relaxing, others were cruising for…