Sheriff Paul Babeu Wants to See Your Papers, Honey…

“Ask her,” the boy says, meaning me, / “whether or not she is satisfied.”
—Ai, “Hoover Trismegistus”

I couldn’t have made up a story more scrumptious or unsettling: over the weekend, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu came out amidst allegations that he intimidated his ex-boyfriend, a Mexican national in the U.S. on a visa, with threats to deport him.

Babeu, in a fascinating news conference, came out—and came out fighting. In the face of tough questions (and some of them, frankly, too tangential to his immediate situation, like his stance on gay marriage), Babeu tried to draw an increasingly stark line between the personal and the private, but failed miserably. At issue here isn’t the usual crowing about closeted gay Republicans, but a far deeper issue: abuse of power.

Babeu’s coming out reminded me of New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey’s startling admission that he was resigning back in 2004. I was living in New York at the time and the story was all everyone could talk about (for about two days anyway). McGreevey’s spin on the circumstances had him invoking the now famous (or infamous, if you ask me) “I am a gay American.” Caught up in the spirit of a famous public official declaring himself part of our team, more than a few of my friends were sympathetic to him, but I wasn’t buying it.

What always bothered me about McGreevey’s phrase was that his coming out, brave on the one hand, was still an attempt to garner sympathy by brushing aside his abuse of power. He had resigned, after all, because of an impending investigation into whether or not he had given an important political post to a former lover—not just that he was gay.

In that regard, the allegations against Babeu—and his strategy—are really not different. I’m less titillated these days by yet another Republican making his orientation plain as day, but intrigued as all get-out by Arizona’s vicious anti-immigration atmosphere unexpectedly writhing around with queer desire. If the allegations against Babeu prove true upon investigation, the moral ground will get awfully shaky. There’s nothing like a shell game of personal behavior suddenly exposed by the misuse of an office to keep guarding that privacy.

“Can we expect any more men to come out with similar allegations?” a reporter asked. What did the question mean? Boyfriends might come out of the woodwork, but I hope we won’t miss the point if they do. (The man has a right to his desire.) On the other hand, I won’t know what to make of a whole parade of young Mexican men if they start showing up on TV. (My god if it doesn’t remind me of my own young-pup days in NYC, standing along the bar with a martini and being approached by yet another chinless white man with the worst pickup line of all: “Hola.” “I speak English,” I always told them.)

Shades of J. Edgar! The granddaddy of all closeted power brokers is really only a few steps away from this mess. And hence my inclusion of the 1993 cover to the poet Ai’s Greed, which included two dramatic monologues on Hoover. I suggest you visit your local library, dear reader, if you don’t have Ai on your shelf. You can find the poems in her 1999 Vice as well. They are two vicious poems on the entrapment of self-loathing and how it rarely stays personal. The second poem, “Hoover Trismegistus,” includes a few lines that came to me almost from the moment I saw Babeu in his press conference: “Whether I were Edgar, or Mary / meant nothing to me. / I could be both, couldn’t I?”

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