Rachel Maddow Love: Post-Gay or “Straight-Washing”?

maddowIt’s been awhile since we talked about the deep-abiding love everybody has for Rachel Maddow, MSNBC’s perky, adorable lesbian political pundit. See? We just did it ourselves. Well, Bitch magazine’s Jonanna Widner wonders if all the automatic Maddow-madness is really a sign of post-gay acceptance or if the media coverage of Maddow simply treats her sexuality as a cute personality quirk, like “her love of classic cocktails.” She raises a good point and since your editor gets quoted in the article, we’re going to weigh in.

Widner writes:

“Indeed, for Maddow, the blogosphere has been turning cartwheels, batting its eyelashes, and collectively giggling like a hormonal schoolgirl at her first dance. “I know I’m probably breaking some kind of gay male covenant,” said blogger Japhy Grant of Popnography, kicking off an April 4, 2008 post about her. “But I have the world’s biggest crush on Rachel Maddow.” The responses to Grant’s post were equally starry-eyed, though oddly speckled with disclaimers. “Rachel is smart, funny, no nonsense, and absolutely adorable. I totally have a girl crush on her (tho’ I’m a happily married woman.)…” wrote CouldIBe?; another poster gushed, “I thought I was alone in my unfitting crush (straight woman!). She can switch from being really witty and funny to speaking really eloquently about important issues, without losing a bit of her credibility! Plus she’s just lovely to look at and listen to!” A third enthused that he was “Hetero, married to the sweetest thing for 25+ years, and I can’t stop watching Rachel.”

But she questions whether all this love is basically because Maddow is so rad and not necessarily a sign of increased tolerance, saying:

“The stories in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and the L.A. Times have been clear about Maddow’s sexuality, but they never dig into it. It’s not so much what they’ve said as what they haven’t. The paucity of coverage about Maddow’s sexuality stands out sharply when compared with the barrage of references to a second characteristic: namely, how nice she is.”

Which is true. Maddow herself is not exactly reticent to talk about her sexuality, but certainly she doesn’t make it a major part of her MSNBC persona– which is a marked contrast rom how she presented herself in her previous gig at Air America. Widner’s concern is that, in loving Maddow, straight folks are fooling themselves into thinking they’re ‘post-gay’, because they like her, when in reality, they’re not. She says:

“Maddow’s existence as the postgay, well, poster child mirrors Barack Obama as the “postrace” politician and Hillary Clinton as the “post- feminist” one. The three of them combine as a hopeful triumvirate, true; but there’s a danger that the public will see them as the ultimate proof of how far we’ve come, thereby marginalizing how far we still have to go.”

It’s an interesting point, to be honest, but essentially an academic one. Maddow is one of two openly gay cable news pundits (the other being financial guru Suze Orman) and when the pool is so small, it seems a little early to start questioning the motivations as to why audiences like Maddow. The same argument could be applied to Ellen, who is openly gay and manages to dominate daytime while talking about her relationships and her views on gay rights–and who, you could argue, is beloved not because she’s gay, but because she’s so damn cute.

Weirdly, we’re okay with this. In a perfect world, people ought to be judged on their awesomeness, not on their sexuality and we’d love Maddow even if she was into guys. Perhaps some folks will watch Maddow and lull themselves into a sense of false complacency about their tolerance, but we imagine more people will watch her, like her and wind up finding out she’s a lesbian and have their worldview expanded a little. At the same time, Madow suffers from the double-standard all pioneers face– she’s choosing to be openly gay in public, but doesn’t want to be defined by her sexuality. The fact that she’s so popular and beloved while being open about her sexuality doesn’t mean that there still isn’t work to be done, but like Obama and Hillary, it’s still a sign of undeniable progress.

Get Queerty Daily

Subscribe to Queerty for a daily dose of #msnbc #rachelmaddow stories and more


  • Sebbe

    Love her. I think her appeal to most is her wit and personality, not because she is a lesbian, but everyone does love a pretty intelligent power dyke as well.

  • JL

    Plus she’s so damn cute.

  • Lyle

    Maddow is one of two openly gay cable news pundits (the other being financial guru Suze Orman)

    I thought I read that CNN just gave another out lesbian a show?

  • Sebbe

    Is it Jeanne Moos? I love her, she cracks me up.

  • silverkjk

    That the newspeople mentioned are all lesbians reminds me of one of the feminist analyses of homophobia that were extant when I was first coming out some 25+ years ago. I believe that one of the arguments that was made then was that homophobia was based in a threat to the power positions of straight males – that sexual attraction of one male to another threatens the straight male’s innate sense of dominance, in that he can be the object of sexual desire and thus in a less powerful position. It was argued that for that reason gay men are more threatening to the patriarchy than lesbians and thus more likely to face discrimination/attempts to threaten.

  • Slider

    Sebbe…it is Jane Velez-Mitchell on CNN with her own show. But I do agree I so love Jeanne Moos..who is hysterically funny.

    My guess is MSNBC has done a CNN 360 thing on Rachel…..tone down the Gay….rumors were they made her change her wardrobe and to not mention so much the wife, etc…..Doesn’t surprise me in the least that the so called “liberal” MSNBC ain’t so very liberal and tolerant….Rachel used to mention her GF/Wife on Air America radion all the time in the course of general conversation…..I bet not a word spoken now that she is on MSNBC….which to me speaks volumes…

  • Dubwise

    I have a crush on Rachel…when she dresses all butched up w/ the glasses and the cowboy shirts…

  • hardmannyc

    We’re were Jews were in the 1950s. The media would point out, “He’s Jewish,” or “He’s the first Jewish …” In a few years, someone’s sexual preference will not be worth mentioning. It’s happening already.

  • Paul

    So much blather about someone so insignificant…..sigh…..

  • Mr. Enemabag Jones

    “It was argued that for that reason gay men are more threatening to the patriarchy than lesbians and thus more likely to face discrimination/attempts to threaten.”

    Quite possibly, silverkjk. I know a handful of gay couples who have been harrased in places that they lived, apartments, and houses, after moving in. Yet of the lesbians I know, none have faced that kind of discrimination from neighbors.

  • Sebbe

    @Slider – Isn’t Velez-Mitchell gonna be on Cnn Headline News replacing Beck (who’s going to Faux News)?

    I get what your saying about the toning down and I am suspicious myself, but I also think that talk radio tends to focus more on personal stories and Rachel would have been in a forum where it might have been more appropriate to speak about her wife. Not sure what I think about that to be honest?

  • rogue dandelion

    @silverkjk: I kind of think it also has something to do with straight men finding gay sex icky, while being intrigued by lesbian sex- just a thought.

  • Padraic

    Can’t speak for her Air America gig, but I know Rachel’s mentioned her partner at least once on her TV show.

    I don’t think she’s been “straight-washed,” considering how often she covers Prop 8 and DADT right alongside segments on infrastructure and the economy. Sure, she’s more likely to qualify herself “As a liberal…” than “As a lesbian…” But she’s always open about her orientation during guest appearances on other shows. What more can we ask for…?


    … Oh, right.

  • Chris

    @rogue dandelion: But gay sex shouldn’t even be coming into the equation in terms of how you treat people in daily life. Why are you even thinking about it to begin with?

  • Andrew W

    I think Widner has a very good point. I’m so tired of seeing people on Huffington Post either complaining that someone dared mention Maddow’s sexuality (including the editors of HuffPo, who got, well, huffy when UK papers dared to call her a lesbian), or saying ‘it doesn’t matter that she’s gay’, which is a type of figleaf tolerance that drives me nuts. This is the new diversity; ‘We like a gay person! Let’s never again mention that she’s gay!’

  • blake

    OK. This is blather. There were plenty of white people who loved baseball legend Jackie Robinson but that didn’t mean that they were fully accepting of his being an African-American, or as they used to say, colored man. We see the same kind of “acceptance” of lots of minorities but it doesn’t mean that much.

    Barack Obama is president but only an idiot would say that we live in a post-racial world.

    We have to accept that there is this thing called “exceptionalism.” Certain individuals of a minority defy the odds and are embraced but that doesn’t signify that the world’s perception of the minority group in question has greatly changed.

    Again, many white people thought Sammy Davis Jr was a great entertainer in the early 1960s but that didn’t mean squat as people’s heads were getting bashed in.

    While Rachael Maddow may have a following, the anti-gay forces have not given up their efforts to stifle gay marriage or bash in the heads of gay people.

  • dvlaries

    Maddow was a blast when she was commentating on the presidential debates with Pat Buchanan of all folks facing off with her. I think Pat can’t help liking her either. She fosters a sense of inclusiveness with the viewer that’s irresistible. That’s a talent beyond anyone’s sexual bent, and I don’t think I’ve liked any female anchor as much since Linda Ellerbee was hosting NBC Overnight.

  • Aaron

    @Sebbe: omg, loooove Jeanne Moos! Amen. =]

  • Forwhat Itsworth

    She bores me to tears, frankly. Just my personal opinion.

  • kevin (not that one)

    Rachel was interviewed on The View recently and was asked about and discussed her partner in depth. I don’t believe anyone’s trying to play down her sexual orientation, let alone her. Jay Leno also asked her about her private life, and what it was like to come out to her parents.

    I know how much visibility is to our community, but aren’t we just playing into the whole culture of celebrity worship/violation of privacy when we are more interested in who someone is schtooping rather than the work they are performing? And aren’t we falling into the futile argument of determining the merit of a person’s work by how outspoken they are about their private lives?

    Isn’t it just enough to be gay and not have it be a big deal? And isn’t that what we’ve demanded all along?

  • Jennifer

    I think the point of being post-gay, post-racial, post-gender, whatever is that we’re moving steadily toward post-humanity. If you think about the current state of humanity and the ways in which the meaning of being human has been twisted by all the religious and societal filters out there, that can only be good.

    Humans feel that their lizard brains (men are “hardwired to screw everything in sight because they must spread their seed”, but “women seek the strong, alpha male, to protect her and grant her the noble stability of his seed”) excuse their foul behaviour. Humans marry and breed like monkeys, with no thought to the consequences. Humans find scapegoats. I’d be very happy to see the animal that we are evolve into something that looks more like a sentient being.

  • blake


    “Post-humanity”? I think you are misinterpreting the phrase “post-human.” Post-human refers to significant changes in someone of human origin to the point that those alterations through genetics, cybernetic, or mutation takes person beyond what is defined as human in terms of, for instance, mortality or other common physical or psychological traits. Thus, Spider-man or the Bionic Woman would be considered post-human.

    Cultural changes that lead to greater acceptance of humans of different phenotype (characteristics associated with race and ethnicity), sexuality, etc. do not push one outside the boundaries of human. A person who has Down’s Syndrome has extra chromosomes but she is still human. A person who marries 3 spouses is still human.

    Phrases like post-gender, post-gay, and post-racial at this point in our world’s history are more homogenizing differing groups to fit a majority worldview. Why would a Jewish person, for instance, want to be post Jewish if he cherishes his Jewish heritage?

    Post-racial can be seen as beneficial but only if there is acceptance that race is a social construct and the features associated with so-called races should be equally valued and respected. We certainly don’t live in that age. Witness the constant reminders on Queerty where white gay men repeatedly say how some black man is either good looking for being black or is good looking because he has white ancestry. If that is an example of post-racialism then you can keep it because it’s just another repackaging of white supremacy.

    Similarly, being post-gender would require either massive genetic engineering or ultra-rapid mutation and evolution to create one single gender. At this stage of human evolution, gender/sex occurs in many forms: male, female, intersexed, gay, straight, or bi.

    Why would we want to live in a post-gender world? What advantage would that have? There are species that reproduce asexually or through parthenogenesis but humans aren’t one of them.

  • Ben

    “Weirdly, we’re okay with this.”

    Not weird at all. Rachel’s cute as a button and whip-smart. Nuff said. Why the moaning about “paucity of coverage” of her woman-loving? Everyone got the memo: lesbo. Next.

    It is approaching the end of the continuum where “post-gay” lives.

    This Widner chick’s got some sand in her vazhay for some strange reason. Could it be that she writes for an zine called “Bitch” and feels obligated to cook up some half-assed brow-furrowing to keep up the image?

  • Ben

    @Slider: Name another cable news talking head that regularly mentions their significant other.

  • kevin (not that one)

    @Ben: I seem to remember something about Bill O’Reilly, a falafel, and a loofa sponge.

  • Mr. Info

    Women are either bisexual or lesbian. Heterosexuality doesn’t exist for women. The most known study on women’s sexuality was conducted by Meredith Chivers.

    On a side note, male-to-female transexuals who were attracted to men had arousal patterns like gay men not women.

    Women’s attraction to Rachel is real.

    I’m a gay man and I like Rachel a lot because she is a lesbian, smart, funny, even-tempered, liberal and worldly.

  • Sebbe

    On a side note, does anyone know if Randy Kay on CNN is a lesbian?

  • Alexa

    @Mr. Info: That’s as inane as saying bisexual men don’t exist. I don’t care what the study says, if that’s the conclusion it reached then it is flawed.

  • Mark

    Really, who couldn’t love a cute liberal intellectual lesbian. Damn, I wish she were my neighbor.

    Oh, Rachael, gay man here. If you’re reading this, *I LOVE YOU*!!

  • Gianpiero

    Enough already with this “post-gay” meme, of which Queerty has been particularly fond. Clearly with our opponents as vocal as ever in blocking and voting against our equality on various fronts, with the level of harassment and even killing in our schools, we’re not there yet. Having it be (thankfully) unremarkable in an increasing number of arenas doesn’t mean it’s “over” or that it’s not significant.

    That said, Rachel absolutely rocks!

  • rick

    i love rachel. she is smart, sassy and funny. her show is great. it is like ellen with the news. she doesn’t yell or shout and lets people explain things. she is perfection.

  • Mary Taylor

    @rick: I agree. Rachel is perfection

  • jjaylad

    actually, you’re completely wrong. she mentions her partner regularly on the show. btw, random theories and assumptions sound dumb, Especially in the blogosphere.

  • bailey

    Here’s how I feel about Rachel: it is WONDERFUL to turn on a show in prime time and there, looking back at me, is someone who looks like me. I didn’t realize how much it would mean to me, but it does.

  • Carrie

    Maddow is not nice. She IS smart. But of what use when it’s a tool for tearing apart, deconstructing? Slinging mayhem madness just for the sake of destroying whats worked for 3 thousand years? What’s the end that justifies these inane means? WHY? Just why?!

  • Alec

    @Carrie: Um, what is it that she’s destroying that has worked for three thousand years? I’m very confused.

  • James

    Rachel Madcow – Can’t stand her. Lovely. Yikes ! I was dem, not really into politics …I watched her for a while, and it was so backwards the stuff that came out of her. My friends actually switched to the other side sad to say. I would never have voted that way or even for McCain, but going forward. Left is not for me and mine. OMG we can’t even get enough H1N1, we can’t even get the moronic recovery.gov (18 million) website right, can’t even get cash for clunkers right. Then Obama who I regret voting for goes on an apology tour preaching how wrong the US is and how we messed up things bowing and bowing and bowing some more. He then comes back to sell us on healthcare ” Trust us ! ” OMG what a freakn joke govt is. they are a bunch of wasteful idiots. We have sided way to long with the left. At least the right has it right. Less govt is better.

  • Connie Lingus

    I just wanna rip those workboots off her, rio open her flannel shirt and smrll the unwieldy birdnests under each arm! Then I wanna see he piss while standing – preferably in Keith Olbermann’s mouth!

  • ramko

    Connie longskinnydick, you’re an ass. You no nothing of which you speak. Go look for Coulters “Lingus” with your ignorant fantasies! You’re a pig.
    P.S. Lesbians do shave you know, asshat.

  • John Long

    The posterchild for Supercuts.

    Just because you’re gay doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look good for the camera.

    The world knows who you are……You can stop the Bad Hair Life routine.

  • AlanPlessinger

    I’m still trying to sort through my feelings on Rachel Maddow and understand why I adore her so much. She’s not someone I’d instantly be attracted to, but something just happens to me when I watch her. There’s her staggering intellect, her wit, her charm, and there’s that gorgeous adorable smile, and her wonderful laugh. How wonderful would it be to have her in your life, to be able to talk and laugh with her and bounce ideas off her? But even all that doesn’t explain why I have erotic dreams about her. I can’t explain why I’m so attracted to her, except that I just like her so damn much. She is made of awesome.

Comments are closed.