When Time magazine released its mom-breastfeeding-3-year-old cover last week, Newsweek's Tina Brown laughed and promised: "Let the games begin."
And so they have -- Newsweek released its latest cover Sunday, and the furor is directed not so much at Obama's rainbow halo but the title of Andrew Sullivan's accompanying story: "The First Gay President."
Barack Obama had to come out of a different closet. He had to discover his black identity and then reconcile it with his white family, just as gays discover their homosexual identity and then have to reconcile it with their heterosexual family. The America he grew up in had no space for a boy like him: black yet enveloped by loving whiteness, estranged from a father he longed for (another common gay experience), hurtling between being a Barry and a Barack, needing an American racial identity as he grew older but chafing also against it and over-embracing it at times.
This is the gay experience: the discovery in adulthood of a community not like your own home and the struggle to belong in both places, without displacement, without alienation. It is easier today than ever. But it is never truly without emotional scar tissue. Obama learned to be black the way gays learn to be gay. And in Obama's marriage to a professional, determined, charismatic black woman, he created a kind of family he never had before, without ever leaving his real family behind. He did the hard work of integration and managed to create a space in America for people who did not have the space to be themselves before. And then as president, he constitutionally represented us all.
The comparison of Obama's struggle with racial identity to the struggle of coming out is quite a stretch. But as Sullivan is one of the most prominent and respected gay writers in the country, his words obviously are not meant to offend. Coining Obama "the first gay president" is merely a savvy money-making move.
Meanwhile, Brown says today: "If President Clinton was the 'first black president' then Obama earns every stripe in that 'gaylo' with last week's gay marriage proclamation. Newsweek's cover pays tribute to his newly ordained place in history."