Benoit Denizet-Lewis’ illuminating New York Times Magazine piece on his ex-gay friend Michael Glatze is a lesson in how ideologues of all stripes can disappoint. Utter certainty is as dubious as it is tiresome; the more intellectually honest among us acknowledge a good deal of gray in the world. Glatze, a former gay activist and co-founder of Young Gay America magazine, whose sense of the politics of language was so acute he used to direct friends to drive “forward” rather than “straight,” has improbably morphed into a straight, fundamentalist Christian attending Bible school. Glatze now writes things like “it’s obvious why people should feel gross about homosexuality.” In his spare time, he’s looking for a wife.
But wait. Maybe this scenario isn’t so improbable. In many ways, Glatze appears to be the same guy. He’s as sure of himself as ever, and as committed to spreading his version of the truth to the world. He’s still a preacher, just of a different sort. In Denizet-Lewis’ article, Glatze’s ex-boyfriend muses that a “radical queer activist and a fundamentalist Christian aren’t always as different as they might seem.” Both are “ideologues who can railroad over nuance and claim a monopoly on the truth,” as Denizet-Lewis paraphrases it.
We’ve all heard of people like this who go from one extreme to another, renouncing their previous lives (and finding themselves beloved by their new allies because they have the authority of experience from the dark side). These are not seekers of middle ground. These are folks who leap from one side of a deeply polarized debate waaay over to the other side, and come out just as bombastic and sure of themselves as ever. I’m thinking of David Horowitz , one-time Marxist and Black Panther supporter turned vitriolic conservative. (“I understand I’m provocative,” Horowitz told the Washington Post some years back. “It’s hard to change your character.”) I’m thinking of Charlene Cothran , a black lesbian who, after a religious revelation, began to use her gay lifestyle magazine Venus to renounce homosexuality. Glatze is not just a fascinating window into cultural politics; he is also a type. All I’m saying is if, five years from now, Ann Coulter suddenly announces herself a liberal, no one should be too surprised.