Asbury Park – Former Gov. Jim McGreevey, who notoriously resigned as New Jersey’s chief executive in 2004 after admitting to a gay affair, took to the stage at the TEDxAsburyPark conference on Saturday to talk about his sexuality and his own prejudices.
McGreevey, 59, of Jersey City, said he first felt shame over his homosexuality while on an overnight camping trip with the Boy Scouts at the age of 12.
As he drifted off to sleep, he overheard a number of other boys seated around a nearby campfire, use a variety of epithets to describe their belief that McGreevey was probably gay.
“Homo, queer; and these are words that terrified me,” McGreevey said. “I thought maybe this is surreal, maybe it’s just my fear and then I heard it: ‘McGreevey’s a queer. McGreevey’s a faggot.’ He doesn’t like girls, he’s a homo. And I remember putting my face into my sleeping bag, trying to muffle my cries and my tent-mate said, ‘Jim, don’t worry about it, they’re just jerks.’ But I thought to myself: No. I do have to worry about it. I am gay.”
Jim McGreevey to give TEDxAsburyPark talk on identity
A few weeks later, McGreevey went to the public library in his hometown and surreptitiously looked up the word: “homosexuality” in the library catalog. There he found a single card, it read: “For homosexuality, see sexual deviancy,” he recalled.
For McGreevey, a smart, earnest young boy — who came from a proud Irish-American family with its own storied past in American history — and who wanted to do good and be good in the world, it was too much to bear.
Not only were the boys around the campfire right about him, but now he could see from the index card in the library catalog that even the smartest people in the world had determined he was a deviant.
“That of being gay was a dark, ugly shadow in the recesses of my mind,” McGreevey said. “And so I I developed an artifice, I worked diligently to create an external being so that I could pretend to be like the other boys on the playground.”
It would send his life on a collision course with a destiny which he acknowledged would define him in front of the world: that moment on Aug. 12, 2004, when he announced that he was “a gay American” and would resign as governor.
“I didn’t come out willingly, I came out at the end of a lawsuit,” McGreevey said.
At the time, McGreevey had been threatened with sexual harassment litigation from Golan Cipel, an Israeli national whom McGreevey had briefly appointed as his homeland security adviser.
“So what did I do? What do all disgraced politicians do? You get a therapist and then you get God … not necessarily in that order,” McGreevey quipped.
The former governor studied to become an Episcopal priest, completing three years of studies at General Theological Seminary in New York City, where he was assigned to counsel people coming out of prison.
“And I thought, hey, they are murderers, thieves; all I did was have a gay affair and resign,” McGreevey said. “Ironically, I was playing the same tape of those Boy Scouts, vis-à-vis me: I was better than, they were less than. And when I went up there and saw what these men and women wanted, they wanted the same things I wanted: three square meals, a place to lay down, the love of a family, a job with purpose. But society had labeled them with a ‘Scarlet F’ (felon).”
He said everyone has the power to reject the identities that society attaches to them, if they have the courage to be the hero of their own journey in the service of others, paraphrasing Joseph Campbell, the American religious scholar.
by Erik Larsen
Source – APP