With less fanfare than one might expect, Joe.My.God declared Mike Jones the winner of the Queer of the Year poll. Jones gathered almost double the votes of any of the other nominations. Some of this might reflect who reads Joe’s blog, but it is still an interesting choice. Jones did not have my personal vote, but I became intrigued by the amount of attention he received all through the nomination and voting process. Only Rosie O’Donnell had the same level of praise and admonishment (who also did not get my vote).
For those who don’t know, Jones gained fame when he reported that he had been hired by the evangelical-Christian leader Ted Haggard to supply sex and drugs. Haggard had built a fortune and a mini-religious-empire in Colorado by attacking gays and lesbians, undermining women’s rights, claiming a moral Truth, and preaching a simplistic message of salvation through conformity. He also served as the President of the National Association of Evangelicals. Great Hera! With all of that and constantly lying to himself about his real sexual desires, no wonder he became a meth addict.
During the past election cycle, Haggard had been outspoken in his support of an amendment banning same-sex marriage in Colorado. When Jones learned of Haggard’s real identity (Haggard used a pseudonym during their three year relationship), Jones stated that he felt a moral duty to reveal the minister’s hypocrisy.
Many expressed their dismay at Jones’ nomination and selection as Queer of the Year. Some objected on moralistic grounds, either because they disdained supporting a prostitute and tina supplier or because they disdained supporting a prostitute and tina dealer who named names.
Others wondered about the image that Jones presented of the queer community. In many ways, the media loved this story because of its scintillation and scandal. Jones’ image floated in the media because it could capture the imagination of both the left and the right simultaneously. For the left, he single-handedly took down one of the most virulent and hateful religious leaders in the nation. For the right, though, he also confirmed their assumptions about queer people as thugish criminals who push drugs and illicit sex on good (though weak) married men.
Indeed, Jones’ allegations fit within an entire year of media obsession over “gay scandals.” The media had a ball over the launch of former-governor and “gay-American” James McGreevey’s confessional book, unimaginatively titled The Confession (Jones has signed a deal for his own tell-all – One can only assume that it will be named Tell All). Likewise, Representative Mark Foley’s hands-on approach to interns basically consumed all of the news-feeds in the last weeks of October. The media loves these types of scandals because there is something for everybody. The Jones story packed in all the extremes. The media then simplified it by framing it as a battle between the hypocritical Christian minister and the drug-supplying hooker.
We never really learned much about Jones as a real person or as an individual. Sure the media had plenty to say about Haggard. They could trace his life story – His rise to power, his 14,000 member church, and of course, his wife and his children. Boy, did we hear about the fact that he had a wife and children. News folk usually popped mention of Sally-Stay-At-Home and her kiddies in a lament about how the scandal must be making them suffer. Now, I am no psychologist, but I am going to guess that living with a closeted, über-Christian, meth-addict probably predated their suffering to somewhere before Jones’ revelation.
Discussion of Jones, though, usually stopped at “a male prostitute.” If he had a family, other lovers, or even a dog, we never knew it. Apparently Jones spent twenty-four hours a day being a prostitute or obtaining drugs, because there was little else the news could report about him.
So, why did Jones win Queer of the Year? Well, I can only guess at the collective motives of those who voted for Jones.
Beyond the main-stream media, Jones’ story revealed schisms and issues within the queer community. Jones media-image repudiated the sanitized and homogenized vision of queers that groups like HRC, MassEquality, or GLAAD want to present. Jones was seemingly indifferent to monogamous marriage, children, or even a career. Instead, he was presented (and often presented himself) as a party-man who used his looks and alleged bodily-proportions to ease-by in life. He remained unapologetic about being a prostitute. Some likely found this an appealing alternative to the ever-increasing demand that queers conform to heterosexual standards and institutions.
Jones’ decisions also brought to the surface debates about “outing.” The virulent support and equally adamant condemnation suggests that the queer community lacks consensus on outing.
Perhaps, though, part of Jones appeal originates in his contrast and defeat of Haggard. There is a general satisfaction when somebody who has been so hateful falls from power.
With Haggard, though, there is also the issue that he is (whether we like it or not) an enemy within the queer category. Haggard had sexual desires for other men, but spent his life repudiating them. Even now, he has joined a “reparative therapy” group headed by Focus on the Family’s James Dobson. Haggard claims that queers, including himself, can be “cured.”
Jones, meanwhile, appeared to more than enjoy his queer inclinations. He also believed in the necessity of making those inclinations public in order to achieve political goals.
The queers who supported Jones probably saw the potential for revolt and even victory against the seemingly unstoppable Religious Right. While I doubt that he will be remembered in the long term, he captured the attention and emotions of a lot of queer folk at the end of 2006.