‘Scandal’ Restores Humanity to the Closeted Republican Homophobe
Spoilers for the first episode of Scandal below.
The series start of Scandal, for all its social importance as the first network show in 30 years to feature a black woman in a leading role, came with a little extra bang for its buck: the pilot touches upon the high risk of internalized oppression among gays who happen to be conservative. While it’s common for critics to deride gay conservatives as anomalous, hypocritical or “traitors to the cause”–especially in instances of publicly homophobic closet cases–the condemnation of these men and women often overshadows the remaining fact that they were at one point victims rather than villains.
Of course, there’s little excuse for closeted public figures who actively deny gay citizens rights or respect. However, this brand of hypocrisy results from understandable and even pitiable causes; it goes without saying that conservative gays, like moderate and liberal ones, are told from the youngest age of their perverse, unethical and abominable nature, whether directly by people or indirectly by cultural cues. And although homosexual homophobia is easy to despise in the queer and pro-gay community, there remains the undeniable truth that closeted gay bashers inflict pain because it was inflicted upon them first.
Scandal‘s pilot addresses the issue with a compassionate touch, rather than a condemning one. In the episode, protagonist Olivia Pope and her association of “crisis managers,” a team that solves PR disasters for the elite behind closed doors, takes on the case of a highly decorated military vet claiming innocence from the murder of his girlfriend. The veteran, Sully St. James, is a Republican who makes a living giving right-wing speeches, and has actively decried gay rights in doing so. However, when Olivia discovers that Sully’s only alibi is his male sexual partner, a heartbreaking scene ensues in which Sully refuses to go public with the information.
The scene is particularly poignant given Sully’s choice of words for why he can’t come out. He repeats that he “honors the uniform” and that he’s a “hero,” concepts he genuinely believes are mutually exclusive with is sexuality. Sully is even so deeply ashamed of his same-sex attraction that he turns himself in to the police instead of using his gay alibi for exoneration. Although his plot line is wrapped up rather neatly and quickly by the end of the episode, Scandal dedicates just enough time to it to humanize Sully–though he resembles some of the most reviled anti-gay Republicans outed in the real world.
Scandal‘s perspective on the character, and the issues he represents, is refreshingly tender-hearted. While the pilot certainly doesn’t condone or excuse Sully’s political actions, it still prompts viewers to approach the character with understanding. Because as “juicy” as it may be when anti-gay conservatives are exposed in reality, the real scandal lies in the quiet trauma forced upon them to begin with.
Photo courtesy of Hulu.
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