RIP Jim West

Former Spokane Mayor James E. West, who opposed gay-rights bills but was recalled from office over an Internet gay sex scandal, died Saturday of complications from recent cancer surgery. He was 55.”

I feel really sad about this. I had no love for Jim West, who abused his various positions of authority, including his mayorship, to facilitate sexual relationships with young men, while simultaneously serving to further an anti-gay Republican platform, like assailing domestic partnership benefits for Spokane City employees. He was the worst kind of conservative hypocrite, who maligned and marginalized the LGBT community while living a double life.

But even this hard old heart, resistant as it is to any sympathy for his political scandal, is not unmoved upon his death.

West was a divisive and infuriating figure—requiring the LGBT community and its supporters to mobilize in search of protection against his anti-gay agenda—but pathetic, too. There was, in the end, no one who could save him from himself. West died still trapped in a stranglehold of repression and self-loathing, never having given himself the chance to find real happiness, choosing instead to work toward denying of others that which he denied himself—as if perpetuating inequality would somehow, sometime, legislate homosexuality right out of existence, and take with it that part of himself he hated.

Like so many of his fellow anti-gay crusaders, West never seemed able to regard homosexuality as anything but sex and legal rights, both of which they fervently believe ought to be manageable by the law. They ignore, or refuse to accept, that love in the LGBT community is no more stoppable than in its straight counterpart, and will eclipse any barrier put in its way. Love is a feeling so strong, so essential to our humanity, that poets have spent lifetimes trying to lay it on a page, that artists have endeavored to capture in one still but enduring moment. Operas and books and films and pop songs, so heartbreakingly lovely that they can steal one’s breath, if just for a moment, have been written by people in the thralls of love, or the searing pain of its loss. Monuments have been built, wars have been fought, and some of the greatest happiness ever experienced by humankind has been born because of love. Love’s end can come suddenly, unexpectedly, by death or betrayal or contemptible familiarity, but even the most fragile of hearts are not broken by laws.

That West led a closeted life makes his failure to grasp this notion all the more tragic. One is left to wonder if he ever truly understood the intractable power of love, or if, in denying the truth of himself, he also denied himself the chance to experience it at all. Did he die having ever substituted fake relationships and illicit sex for love, never knowing its splendor? I can’t help but feel sad at the possibility.

(Crossposted at Ezra’s place.)

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