Thursday, August 26, 2010

What does punishment of French collaborators have to do with Ken Mehlman?

What does the treatment of women collaborators after Liberation have to do with Ken Mehlman? As initial anger gives way to introspection, I recall how it took nearly a half century for much of France (those that are not clinging to denial still) to truly examine as a nation the varying degrees of accommodation, co-operation and appeasement that millions of French found themselves committing out of sheer necessity or as a result of real or perceived danger.

It was easy to single out a particular scapegoat --the women who consorted with the Germans under the Occupation-- without admitting that it was they who ate the few scraps of extra food that "voluntary" association with the enemy provided. The French courts still get cases involving the French culpability in the Holocaust, much less those that chose to profit from it.

Washington politics, public and private lives intersect at angles as odd as the avenues that dissect the city's landscape. Many times, those enraged by individual or group acts against LGBT people, people with HIV, minorities --the list goes on ad nauseam-- have named names or threatened to of those guilty of participation, and have been applauded or derided for doing so.

The current spate of anti-gay Republican actions in Washington began when Ken Mehlman was studying for his bar mitzvah*, much less the bar. Yes, there were out gay law students and organizations when he was at Harvard. We probably couldn't arrive at how he chose to be a closeted, possibly self-hating, possibly ambitious self-serving SOB. Enough people have stepped forward to show their support for him at what every gay person knows is a difficult and frightening decision to come out publicly that Mehlman couldn't possibly be a 100% pure evil bastard. Yet, he did remain silent during, orchestrated and promoted an anti-gay agenda as he reached the highest echelons of power that have consequences to this day for millions of gay men and women. Life is complicated.

If black South Africans, some of whom it was my privilege to meet and talk with, could look Afrikaaners in the eye after the end of white rule and say, "I forgive you," then I am aware that now the onus is as much on us as it is him.

As one black South African woman said, "forgive, yes; forget, never." What penance and reparation should Ken Mehlman pay? I am not his judge (formally). I, and millions of others, must give him the opportunity to make amends such as will satisfy the victims. As with the proposed community center at 51 Park Place, there is no one course of action which will provide satisfaction to all the parties concerned.

Every gay person alive knows a single disparaging voice in our heads from decades earlier can color the most seemingly unrelated acts in our future, a voice that all the therapy, good deeds and best wishes might not dislodge. Bearing that particular unique Hell may be greater punishment than any of us could dish out.
It might do Mehlman good to hear the shears --or at least know they're in abeyance-- but hold off on putting them to his head. Whether or not he has been acknowledged for making the effort to take responsibility for his past, we are responsible for our own reactions.

Oh, I'm still angry, alright. But I've got laundry and a bowl of Greek yogurt with honey waiting for me, so I'm about to log off and work on keeping all things Mehlman out of my head for a bit. That is, at least I'll try.

*assuming he had one. Not knowing the man personally, I haven't a clue if he's even ashamed even of being Jewish, much less being gay.


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