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Jewish World Review Jan. 27, 2000 /20 Shevat, 5760

Chris Matthews

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John McCain's gay radar


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- DURING OUR TRAINING in Louisiana, we all lived in fear of "de-selection." That was Peace Corps jargon for getting bounced, being told by the team of psychologists, experts in cross-cultural differences and other types that you couldn't go to Africa for two years.

One of our group that autumn of '68 was a soft-spoken guy whose manner made most of us figure he was gay. He never did anything that suggested his sexual orientation, and to us it was no big deal. But if the training staff was looking for some people to dump, thereby earning their pay, we just assumed that he would be a prime candidate.

Irony of ironies, three other volunteers and I were the folks singled out for probation because we didn't quite fit the Peace Corps profile. We won this meaningless designation for being "too middle class" or "too opinionated" me? or whatever.

As for the fellow we all figured to be in the trainers' cross hairs, he breezed to "selection" without admonition or comment.

Later, in Africa, the scuttlebutt got around about how our fortunate fellow volunteer got through the Khyber Pass of Peace Corps correctitude.

Rather than risk "de-selection" under some vague assessment of personality, some weasel words typed out by the training staff for the purpose of meeting their quota of rejections, he made a proposition: If any of the training staff had a problem with him being a Peace Corps volunteer, he wanted that person to spell out that problem to his face. No clever notations or P.C. jargon, no long Latinate words, just tell him what it is about him his voice or manner or build that made them think he was not up to the task of teaching high school in a Third World country.

Apparently, it did the trick. Through sheer guts our fellow volunteer had managed a legendary rite of passage.

I was reminded of this vital, little memory by something John McCain said recently: that he knew certain fellow Navy officers to be gay by their "behavior and attitudes."

Under pressure, McCain said this week, "It's clear to some of us when some people have that lifestyle."

Fair enough. We all have fellow workers and friends who have not declared their sexual orientation. Some people send signals in more subtle ways. I knew one government official who simply posed for a picture with the Washington Gay Men's Chorus. I knew a newspaper reporter, hung out with him, drank with him, traveled with him, and he never told me that he had AIDS. I found out when it was too late.

As long as there are differences among people, there will be some ignorance, some mistaken identities.

The question here is not the reliability or intensity of John McCain's "gaydar" but the fairness of his heart. And there is nothing in his public record to suggest he's the kind of guy who has ever, or would ever, single out a gay person for "de-selection."



JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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