Several months ago, our editor sent us the newly compiled index for our book, which we received with glee. You see, during the process of writing the book, our editor noted how packed full of references it was and floated the idea that the book would need an index to contain and collate them all. Once that suggestion was in place, we worked all the harder to pack the book with as many references to queer cultural, political and historical figures as we could, because the very idea of our little drag queen book having an index tickled us pink(er).
As we excitedly pored over the list, one series of entries delighted us above all others:
BUtterfield-8 (film), 15
Buttigieg, Pete, 253
Caliente, Jiggly, 45
That three-entry list summarized everything we wanted the book to be; a catalogue of cultural references important to the community and the spotlighting of figures that represented the full range of LGBTQ existence. It may seem odd that Pete Buttigieg’s name wound up in a book on queer cultural history and drag queens, but only if you discount the importance of his accomplishment. In compiling a list of current queer political figures picking up the gauntlet from their legendary forebears, we noted in one passage that in April 2019, two things happened. Maebe A. Girl was elected to the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council, making them the very first drag queen elected to public office in the United States. In that same month, we noted, “at the other end of the rainbow,” Pete Buttigieg, the openly gay mayor of South Bend, Indiana, announced his candidacy for the Democratic party nomination for president, making him the first openly gay man to mount a viable nationwide campaign.
“At the other end of the rainbow.” There’s a reason we used that phrase and as Pete suspends his historic campaign, we keep coming back to it. To be a middle-class white cisgender gay man is to be a symbol of the most privileged members of the LGBTQ community and when Pete Buttigieg’s life story is put up against, say, the stories of queer people of color, trans women, or LGBTQ kids in crisis, it’s difficult to sustain the idea that his character was forged in the kind of hardship and pain that envelopes so many queer lives and struggles. And of course, as he spent time in the grinder of national electoral politics and people got a good look at him for the first time, much about his rhetoric, approach, and policies were found lacking by many in the queer community specifically, among black voters, and by the more leftward members of the Democratic party. He was not a perfect candidate or a perfect representation for queerness.
Then again, literally no one ever is, ever was, or ever will be.
This is not a defense of Pete Buttigieg’s candidacy, character, or political positions. This is not a dismissal of his shortcomings or of the very serious criticisms levied at his record. This is merely a very deserved acknowledgement that Pete Buttigieg accomplished something no one else ever had and for that, he deserves respect and praise.
When you step away from the policies and rhetoric of politics, you are left with one thing; possibly the most important thing in politics. Symbolism.
I truly don’t care what you think of Pete’s politics, but I do care a lot that the 9-year-old boy on this stage is living in a very different era than I did three decades ago. pic.twitter.com/bSMnHbfdxi
— Tim Ball (@tball) February 23, 2020
You don’t have to agree with his policies. You don’t have to erect a shrine to him or even pin a medal on him. But when you step back and take the larger view (which almost no one ever does during a presidential campaigning season), the effect of Pete’s candidacy, including the affectionate and even romantic displays with his husband Chasten, cannot be measured on the gay kids who saw it unfold. To them, his record as mayor, his thoughts on Medicare for all, or his time serving in the military didn’t matter. To gay kids in 2020, who will be voting by 2028, Pete Buttigieg represented the normalization of their highest dreams. Not to be President of the United States, but to be loved, honored and respected by their communities as free, open, and proud queer members of it. Unless you’ve personally felt the worthlessness and self-loathing that plagues queer kids, you can’t imagine what power a symbol like Pete can have for them.
To be an imperfect trailblazer is to be a trailblazer, period.
Thank you, Pete.
[Photo Credit: peteforamerica.com]