Coming Out Through The Evening News

New US Trade Representative Rob Portman

Will Portman speaks up about his Dad’s announcement:

It has been strange to have my personal life in the headlines. I could certainly do without having my sexual orientation announced on the evening news, or commentators weighing in to tell me things like living my life honestly and fully is “harmful to [me] and society as a whole.” But in many ways it’s been a privilege to come out so publicly. Now, my friends at Yale and the folks in my dad’s political orbit in Ohio are all on the same page. They know two things about me that I’m very proud of, not just one or the other: that I’m gay, and that I’m Rob and Jane Portman’s son.

I’m of an utterly different generation than Will, and, to be perfectly frank, I look up to his. Coming out in the 1980s – as the plague began to cull more and more gay men – was an alternate universe, and drenched with much more trauma. But in my case, I simply kissed a man and the world that had been in black and white was suddenly drenched in color. Dishheads will know that one of my vices is pathological indiscretion, so, true to form, I told everyone I knew over a couple of months; then my folks; and then it was over. Done. Back to reading and teaching Kant and Machiavelli and sending my jejune prose to be eviscerated by Mike Kinsley’s editing skills.

Or so I thought. Then, writing the marriage equality cover-story in 1989, being made editor of TNR in 1991, changed everything. Marty asked me if I intended to make a big issue out of it. I told him I didn’t but I wouldn’t lie. To his immense credit, he knew I wouldn’t. And all I ever really did was answer yes to a question all my colleagues and friends and family already knew. But suddenly I was the gay poster-boy, Gap-ad and all. In retrospect, I would have given far fewer interviews, but I wouldn’t have held back on adding gay stories to TNR where they had been relatively rare (but not absent) before me. The early 1990s were critical ones in getting Washington to take the issues of marriage equality and military service seriously. But I was absurdly naive about what being so publicly gay would mean – at a time when many fewer people were, and about what being openly conservative would mean to a gay community of solidly left-wing leadership. But it truly was not an act of courage. It was simply an act of not lying.

In the end, it’s about one’s willingness to lie, to put calculation before truth. And with all due respect to Will, we know more now than that he is Rob and Jane Portman’s son, or that he is gay.

We’ve learned something much simpler and more important: that he tells the truth.

(Photo: New US Trade Representative Rob Portman (C) is sworn-in by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card before President George W. Bush, Portman’s daughter Sally (lower left), son Will (rear) and wife Jane (R) on May 17, 2005. By Paul Richards/AFP/Getty Images)