Ana Marie Cox 「Mark Takano Thinks Gay Men Can Learn From Jane Austen」

Posted on June 29, 2016

You are the first openly gay person of color in Congress; that seems especially relevant right now.

“First openly gay person of color” is a long moniker. I give people permission to use the word “Gaysian.”

What did you think of the Republican response after the Pulse shooting in Orlando?
They were ignoring the fact that L.G.B.T. people were the target of the hate, because a hate crime nullifies the reality they want to manufacture, which is to make what happened in Orlando all about the weakness of President Obama in dealing with global terrorism. Instead of trying to form a bipartisan offensive against the ideology of ISIS, Republicans, in a perverse way, are empowering them.

How did it resonate with you personally?

I’m 6-foot-1. I’ve never really felt intimidated, but in most places in this country, I would still be uncomfortable kissing somebody in public. That’s still a dangerous act for a gay person to do. Then Donald Trump comes in with this collective guilt assigned to Muslims for what one Muslim did – both of my parents and all of my grandparents were interned during World War II. I know what it means to be the presumed face of the enemy.

You’ve said you mostly felt sad for your colleagues who oppose the goals of the L.G.B.T. movement. Have you been able to keep that generosity of spirit?

I don’t excuse them for their lack of courage. I do find it reprehensible that they are sincere about their intransigence and willfully stand by this very backward stance, but I don’t hate them. I pity them as morally immature.

Do you think that representation and diversity in Congress has had an impact on individual members of Congress?

The day of the first Maloney-­amendment vote on anti-L.G.B.T. discrimination, I was on the Democratic side of the chamber, but I thought, We have to be visible. So I ran over to the Republican side. Representative Kyrsten Sinema whispered in my ear: “Try to catch glances with some of them. Make them understand what they’re doing.”

What is it like to work with people who think that you don’t deserve the same rights as they do?

No one has spit in my face. By virtue of my being there, I am equal to them. They’ve got to deal with me. Even Louie Gohmert will be very civil and pleasant in the elevator.

All that said, you seem to be having fun in Congress, which isn’t something that I’ve seen in a lot of other members.

It’s kind of politically incorrect to say, “Oh, I love Congress.” But I love the institution of Congress. I fell in love with it as a 13-year-old watching the Nixon impeachment hearings in my immigrant grandfather’s living room. I was just awe-struck by Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, and I watched them gavel to gavel. That was the birth of my ambition.

You were a high-school English teacher for 24 years, and you have notoriously marked up your colleagues’ writings with red pen.

I’m very judicious with my red pen. The last time I did it was with Marco Rubio’s op-ed essay on net neutrality, and I just couldn’t resist. I have perfect grammar.

You do?

I do! It’s like, People, the object of the preposition takes the accusative form! But the point of the red pen is to be clever in the way that we could criticize someone’s arguments. Senator Lisa Murkowski got mad at me once – she said that was the kind of thing that makes people mad about Congress, this hyper­partisanship. But she was holding up a bill that was affecting 11 million people.

What work of literature has stuck with you?

I liked to teach『Pride and Prejudice』. I always wondered if Charlotte was a lesbian, so gay marriage was sort of what piqued my interest in Jane Austen. I look at so many young gays, and I think: You know what? Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Before you rush into anything, read Jane Austen. A good man is really hard to find, you know?

Interview has been condensed and edited.

A version of this article appears in print on July 3, 2016, on Page MM50 of the『Sunday Magazine』with the headline: 「Mark Takano Thinks Gay Men Can Learn From Jane Austen」.



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