James McGreevey is not a hero. That's the first thing we need to get straight.
To the contrary, press reports on the embattled New Jersey governor detail an administration so steeped in corruption that one feels a distinct need to wash one's hands after reading them.
We're talking allegations and indictments on a range of extortion, blackmail and conflict of interest charges involving the governor's supporters and members of his administration. And then, of course, there's the story that made national headlines earlier this month: McGreevey's resignation and his admission that he had an affair with another man. The governor is married and has two daughters.
He was coming forward, he said, because his gay ex-lover was attempting to extort money in exchange for silence. The man in question was widely speculated to be a former aide, Golan Cipel. Cipel, however, has denied both the affair and the extortion allegation. He says he was the victim here, repeatedly subjected to McGreevey's unwanted sexual advances.
Whichever version of the tale you choose to buy, it's clear the governor can be no one's idea of a role model.
But one need not want to pin a medal on McGreevey to feel empathy for the circumstance that has brought him to this difficult pass. "I am a gay American," he announced at his press conference. Apparently, this was something he had never said before. Apparently, he considered his sexual orientation something he dared not accept, much less voice out loud.
"I began to question what an acceptable reality really meant for me," he told reporters. "Were there realities from which I was running?"
And you wonder if the lesson of all this is lost on the people who need it most, the ones who become apoplectic when gay people leave the closet and declare themselves human beings deserving of human rights. Such people fail to realize that gays have only two other options, neither of them particularly attractive.
One, they cease to be homosexual. The problem with that is, homosexuality is not a disease. Therefore, it cannot be "cured." And yeah, I know that statement will not sit well with those religious fundamentalists who believe the opposite. I would only remind them of Gary Cooper and Michael Busse who in 1976 founded an organization called Exodus. Its stated mission was to grant "freedom from homosexuality" through the power of Christ.
Exodus is still around, but Cooper and Busse are no longer affiliated with it. The two men left the group after they fell in love with each other.
Which brings us to the second option. If one can't cease to be gay or lesbian, deny being gay or lesbian. Lie about it.
James McGreevey ought to be sufficient proof that this is a lousy idea of epic proportions. I mean, if you don't feel sorry for him, feel sorry for his wife and daughters, for a family shattered because of a reality he could not bring himself to accept.
Is anyone out there so foolish as to think it's better this way? That we should prefer this result to the one that would have come had McGreevey simply chosen early in life to be what he was?
With apologies to Jack Nicholson, it boils down to truth and our ability or lack thereof to handle it. And the truth here is simple: There are gay people. There have always been gay people. There will always be gay people.
The only question, then, is if we will come to terms with that. Or will we require gay people to live lies instead, our children, our spouses, our friends and co-workers, our sports heroes and yes, our political leaders, gay Americans hiding in plain sight.
Anyone who thinks that's a good idea is missing the same lesson McGreevey himself missed for so long.
Reality is reality, whether you accept it or not.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.