Political Writer Kathleen Rooney Discusses Inspiration For Her Book About A Closeted Republican Congressman

Kathy-055Kathleen Rooney knows Illinois politics. Having been a staffer in the office of Senator Dick Durbin, known less for his achievements on Capitol Hill and more for mentoring President Barack Obama, Rooney worked tirelessly behind the scenes for more than a decade…until she was fired. In her latest book O, Democracy! Rooney tells the story of trying to make a difference inside a political machine that is Schock-ingly gay. Queerty sat down with Rooney in her native Chicago to discuss her book, the November elections and closeted politicians.

In the book you write about a Republican Illinois Congressman with a gay secret. I can’t help but ask: is this character based on Aaron Schock?

Although Aaron Schock is, like, just delicious and obvious, for now I’ll just say that it’s actually a composite character of a bunch of different politicians I encountered over the years. The state of Illinois seems to have a fairly longstanding tradition of closeted Republicans in office.

Aaron-SchockmainAre you kidding? Why do you think that is?

I’ve actually thought a lot about this and I think they’re opportunistic.  The path to leadership in the Illinois Republican Party is a hell of a lot shorter and whiter than the Democratic path, so it’s a good career move for them.  Also, their ambitions are often big: senate, governorship, presidency. And therefore they know they have to be closeted, because America is — very disappointingly — not ready to elect an openly gay president.  So long as they’re already pretending to be something they’re not, why not do it in a way that’s politically advantageous to them?

But, like, there are tons of openly gay politicians in other states, why not just come out?

It would be easy to say that conservative middle America is just repulsed by difference and hates it in every form, but that’s not remotely true; it just doesn’t want to be challenged by difference. America loves gay camp the same way it loved blackface: they love to laugh at difference, and the laughter isn’t without affection. It’s just without respect. Take Liberace, for example. Middle America loved Liberace, and knew he was gay, and was cool with it so long as he always said he was straight. Gay right-wing politicians are kind of the same thing. Americans don’t actually give a shit whether politicians actually share their values so long as they consistently perform their values. When a gay man pretends to be one of them, it doesn’t necessarily imply that they’re suckers; it just implies that they’re powerful enough to coerce somebody into doing that. America knows this about itself, and likes it.

ODemocracyCoverAlthough this is a work of fiction, it appears to strike really close to the real thing.

Yes, I wrote a fictionalized version of something heavily autobiographical. And even though I was urged to write a tell-all or a memoir I really wanted to do something relatable and entertaining. Something that not just political dorks, but general readers can get into and understand.

So, by any chance are you hoping this book sways the upcoming November elections?

Good question. My intention is not to try and influence the election but maybe to get people to think and pay more attention both to elections and to the stuff that goes on between them, which, theoretically, is where the real democracy happens. Elections are largely theater, but you still shouldn’t just sit on your butt and be apathetic. My main character Colleen tries to make a difference through the electoral system and loses her job. You can make the world better but it’s not from voting; you have to go out and change your community. You can’t rely on our dinosaur system. I want people to remember to be citizens: 300 million people acting mindfully every day.



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  • BJ McFrisky

    Stories about Tom Daley, drag queens, and closeted Republicans.

    It must be Monday at Queerty.

  • Dakotahgeo

    I’m interested, impressed, intrigued, and… curious. Gotta hunt up this book!

  • Scribe38

    @BJ McFrisky: Come sit on Daddy’s lap and I will help you sound out the really big words, or you could just stop coming to the site you claim to hate.

  • Ben Dover

    @BJ McFrisky: Queerty looked around for some openly gay Republicans to write about, but they are both in the Cayman Islands for the holiday weekend.

  • toberlin

    Good Interview.”O,Democracy “sounds like my kind of book…

  • Kenover

    There’s a egregious spelling error in the second sentence of this story. It does seem like Queerty ought to be able to spell B-A-R-A-C-K Obama. Do you ever proof your copy?

  • Kangol

    I guess it isn’t common knowledge, but Mark Kirk, the junior US Senator from Illinois who replaced President Obama in his post, was outed before his eventual full-term election to the Senate.

    Kirk is moderate as Republicans go these days, and suffered a terrible stroke two years ago. But he has not publicly come out, and he has not fully broken with the GOP’s anti-gay policies though his votes sometimes are supportive of LGBTQ people, voting to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and DOMA.

    Also, the very conservative junior US Senator from Idaho, John Barrasso, was outed in 2008. Again, few news outlets will publicize this, some six years later. He continues to support anti-LGBTQ legislation and policies.

    And then there are the persistent rumors about Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell, etc. So it isn’t just Aaron Schock.

  • Snapper59

    So after 10 years in politics working effortlessly for her Democrats, she’s…..FIRED…..and that’s that? Why was she fired? Sounds like a war on women to me.

  • Cam

    @BJ McFrisky:

    And once again BJ will do whatever is possible to defend anti-gay politicians.

    I myself would be interested to see why she was fired. Knowing how politicians on both sides come to agreements to protect each other my guess is she wanted to out somebody and her boss flipped out. lol

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