Home/Rod Dreher/Political Mental Maps: Matt In VA’s Political Conversion

Political Mental Maps: Matt In VA’s Political Conversion

How Matt used to see the world (Lori Howard/Shutterstock)

In a post yesterday, I asked readers to recall the events, personalities, etc., that constructed their political “mental map” when they were young. The reader who comments as “Matt in VA” — I know his real name, and where he lives; he is who he says he is — posted this extraordinary reflection:

Well, I think a more interesting story, in my case, is how the mental maps I developed as a teenager proved to be unreliable or inaccurate once I was an adult. I mean, it seems like that is what you wrote about in your post. I think there are people who form their political identity by 21 and it doesn’t change, but there’s a part of me that’s almost suspicious of such people.

By age 21, my main political idée fixe was:

Conservatives were stupid and hated gay people. Liberals were intelligent and were the ones who read books. (Basically, a very midwit-liberal take on the world.) Mostly this was because once I knew/accepted that I was gay, I was extremely eager to read gay stuff, novels, history, and plenty of junk, whatever I could get ahold of, since I am the type of person who learns by reading instead of, say, the type of person who learns by doing* (heh) — and virtually all of the gay books I could find were quite clear that conservatives and Christians were the bad people. They were *ignorant* and hateful, but emphasis on the ignorance — they were stupid, they were uneducated.

(*The way Alison Bechdel writes about coming to terms with being a lesbian in “Fun Home” is basically exactly the same way I came to terms with being gay–it was done almost 100% via the library.)

Now, in my own life, at school and in sports, the kids who bullied me were not Christians (I am from New England and not too many of my peers were even religious at all) but I didn’t give that apparent contradiction much thought.

I think a great deal of the rest of my very liberal politics as a teenager sprang directly out of that belief that I was gay and therefore conservatives and Christians and Republicans were my enemy. That, and I do come from a very secular liberal/Democratic family anyway.

9/11 happened when I was 18 and attending college in New York City, but I honestly don’t think it made any difference in my politics; the Iraq War was launched about two years later, of course, when I was 20. I was already very, very liberal–again, quite sure that the “homophobia” of conservatives/Republicans was simply the most personal (to me) way in which they displayed their ignorance and malice, ignorance and malice that went all through them to where their hearts ought to have been.

And yet — a few things worked against that liberalism even as early as age 18, though it wasn’t until probably my late 20s or early 30s that I realized I wasn’t a liberal any more at all, really.

The first thing was that I went off to college at an Ivy League school and discovered how rich and connected a very, very high percentage of my peers and classmates were, much more so than me, the son of a police detective and a nurse (comfortably middle-class, I hasten to add) and how oblivious they were of this fact and what flowed from it. Nor did any of them ever relinquish or give up the advantages their connections gave them (why should they?)

The second thing happened when I was 22, fresh out of college, and worked for a short time in a failing inner-city public middle school. A single day in the classroom there destroyed basically 100% of my previous “takes” on education policy or politics. It was *immediately* clear that you could increase the funding in that school to $500,000 per pupil per year and it likely wouldn’t make a dime’s worth of difference if you weren’t willing and able to change the culture in that neighborhood and inside the families in which those children were being raised — and how was that supposed to happen?

But the very biggest thing that changed me was living as a sexually active gay man in the city and experiencing gay male sexual culture and watching what it did to some of my friends, including one of my very best friends.

When you have been led to believe that you are a Minority, oppressed by the majority, and that the Evil Conservatives are the ones who want to hurt you — they want to pull a Matthew Shepard on you! — and that it is your fellow minority members, your LGBT “community,” that cares about you and supports you, that you are the least safe when among the evil conservative Enemy and most safe among members of your own group… when you have been led to believe this, it is really something to watch one of your best friends get deeper and deeper and further and further down into the worst parts of the communal-sewer gay sex culture, having sex with random guys and anonymous strangers week in and week out, endlessly, it never ever leading anywhere or to anything, him growing more and more cynical and callous about himself and about his sex partners, him getting HIV, him having bad reactions to a number of the HIV drugs, him experiencing serious depression and mental illness (yes, I know people can experience this without it being due to being gay), him getting addicted to crystal meth, him being unable to hold down a job, him disappearing for long periods… when you get to the point when you find yourself wondering periodically if the next time you hear his name it’s because someone is telling you that he’s dead… and when he has told you, in moments of frankness, about some of the things he’s allowed other men to do to him, in this strange nonchalant voice that makes your shiver, and you think about how you remember when he used to talk about wanting to find a man to be with forever and get married to, but all that kind of talk is gone, gone…

And the thing is, you don’t just see this trajectory in your close friend. You see it all over, if you’re a gay man, you don’t even really have to look for it hard. You don’t see it early, when guys are just coming out, when they are full of hope and when they are naive–and I think lots of gay guys start out genuinely wanting to find real, meaningful love — but over time, over the years, this sick sexual culture sucks people in. And it always feels like, even if you’re OK at the moment, it’s waiting for YOU. I mean, maybe not for everybody, but I always feel that — it’s there, waiting for ME, too. It lies in wait, sitting somewhere inside me, happy to make itself felt sometimes. If you are a gay man, you can *always* find sex, no matter what, provided you are willing to degrade yourself to a greater or lesser degree (and probably it will need to be greater as you get older), and there is no real bottom or floor there, believe me.

Liberalism today has as a *core tenet* the idea that if you are a type of minority you are safest, happiest, and most well when among your own group and are at most risk when surrounded by the majority. But nothing could be further than the truth when it comes to gay men. The number of gay men who get killed or seriously injured due to “homophobia” or whatever is probably one-ten-thousandth of the number of gay men who have killed or seriously hurt each other via our insane sexual choices, and the idea that we make these choices because of “homophobia” causing us to have “low self-esteem” or whatever is belied by the fact that gay men make the worst sexual choices in the biggest cities and “gay meccas” where the most gays are and which are the most gay-friendly or gay-tolerant. Gay male sexual culture is so incredibly effective at making gay men internalize an understanding of both themselves and their sexual partners as worthless that it has persisted even through an epidemic that killed tens of thousands of gay men within my lifetime.

I remember a commenter on this blog, back some years ago when gay marriage was still highly contested, wrote a comment that imagined a gay man praying to God to change his sexuality because it couldn’t be reconciled with his faith, and God not changing it; and then the commenter imagined a gay man praying to God to change his *religion,* for the same reason, and God not doing it, either. And I feel like that second gay man, in the sense that I find that I have come to believe something even against my own will. I *cannot* believe, anymore, that gay male sexual culture, collectively speaking, is anything but toxic, or that its toxicity can be justified or rationalized as being due to “homophobia,” no matter how much I might need or want something like that to be true. Maybe gay men who lived at a time when it was much much harder to be openly gay can believe that, but I can’t. My faith in sexual liberalism is broken, and since all of my liberalism was based on that, all of it is gone, too.

I do not believe that there is good evidence that us gay men can police ourselves *or* that we can move forward on the track we are on to an affirming society in which gay men freely make good choices. Gay male sexual culture is a uniquely nightmarish niche, but human sexuality itself is the problem–“liberating” it makes us slaves to it. The fact that one has a desire is no guide at all as to whether that desire should be indulged, and the fact that two (or more) both have a desire is *also* no guide as to whether that desire should be indulged — but thin “consenting adults” ethics has no ability to address this issue. And the temptation is so strong and so motivating that it is simply not realistic to expect people to make the right choices in such a thin culture that provides so little guidance or steering. One starts to wonder if “oppression” is *necessary.* Sexual liberalism, at least what we’ve got, is a lie and a disaster, and Houellebecq seems to me to be the human and artistic incarnation of our sexual culture– including his own face, which has turned goblinlike almost as if he is absorbing all of the sins of our age, Portrait of Dorian Gray-style.

None of this is to say that I’ve converted or pulled an Eve Tushnet — I’m married to a man and I love my family — or that I’m anything but a hypocrite, someone suffering from cognitive dissonance, someone unwilling to accept all the consequences of my beliefs, somebody lacking the courage or whatever to be “consistent” — I mean, here I am, politically-speaking, and quite frankly I don’t want to be. I am very much a know-it-all and someone who likes to argue, and I hardly know what to write here, since I don’t feel that I have a limb to stand on, other than to try to claim something like we don’t know the future and there may be a way through and a way of squaring this circle that we just haven’t discerned yet. But what is it? Does it exist? An orthodox Christian, say, would say no. I don’t accept that. But I do accept the Christian notion of sin, which I see all around me and in me and which is more real to me even than my job or my car or my house. What an orthodox Christian must think of *me* (the sinner) seems to me unquestionably more true and real than what the conventional 2018 Western pieties about sexuality and the human animal ask me to believe.

That’s really something.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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