Bad Lieutenant, Dan Choi – a great profile by the Village Voice’s Steven Thrasher

It’s great to see such a nice long feature on the enigma that is Dan Choi. He has many personas based on your political perspective, but what most people can agree on is that he generates strong reactions all around. Depending on your view he’s a hero, an attention-seeker, a patriot, a man of color, a “newly minted” out gay man (who has had his Grindr profile repeatedly deleted because the staff thinks he’s impersonating “the real” Dan Choi by using his actual name for his profile), an activist, a couch-surfer, you name it.

Village Voice staff writer Steven Thrasher, a friend of the Blend who has spent time in the coffeehouse as both a diarist and a liveblog guest (re: his infamous “White America Has Lost Its Mind” piece), has painted an interesting portrait, “Bad Lieutenant, Dan Choi,” that may surprise some, but if you’re a critic of MSM reporting, you’ll understand why this kind of profile hasn’t emerged in traditional media.

He has angered the left by not being lockstep antiwar enough at times, and by warmly welcoming Ken Mehlman, Bush’s campaign manager, to the gayborhood when he came out.

In a movement awash with political correctness, Choi decidedly isn’t. He is now speaking out without being asked, sometimes even angering people in his own camp. Rare among gay-rights activists in the national spotlight, Choi mixes an irrepressible sense of humor into his growing militancy.

Choi “has a public role and a private life,” one friend tells the Voice. “In his private life, he sometimes exhibits behaviors that, I fear, if caught on YouTube by somebody who was a conservative spy, would reflect very poorly on him and, by extension, on the movement. On the other hand, I’m just kind of jealous. There’s a lot of me wishing I could be out there and be as open as he is.”

Choi is unapologetic. He says he resents it when anyone, especially those in the gay-rights movement, discourages him from exploring-well, sexually-his newly revealed homosexuality.

“I think our movement hits on so many nerves,” he says, “not just for reasons of anti-discrimination and all the platitudes of the civil rights movement. I believe that it’s also because it has elements of sexual liberation. And it shows people that through what we’re trying to do, they can be fully respectful of themselves, without accepting the shame society wants to throw upon them.”

At Netroots Nation ’10.

And that’s the Dan Choi I’ve become familiar with — he’s the real deal off camera, no BS, all (too much) candor for the Beltway orgs. Think “loose cannon.” I mean that as a compliment, since by and large, many bloggers are seen in the same way, though I’d argue we play it a helluva lot safer than Dan does; he extends himself to represent those who wish they could speak out, as the unnamed friend noted. He could be seen as the Howard Beale of activists, unafraid to speak his mind in dramatic fashion, though perhaps that’s not quite right; he cleans up nicely for those on-air appearances, and he smoothly takes a jackhammer to BS – ask Valerie Jarrett how she felt after the fact-based smackdown she received on CNN last week. The White House is still trying to figure out how to recover from it.

***

At Netroots Nation ’10, Dan gave Harry Reid his West Point ring; the Senate Majority Leader said he would return it when DADT was repealed. Guess he’ll have that ring for a long while…

I was seated at the table with Dan at Netroots Nation when he prepared to go onstage and give Harry Reid his West Point ring. It was a dramatic moment that everyone knew would effectively lock the Senator into some kind of action, but Dan was nonplussed.

But to Choi’s mind, Reid’s gamble of attaching gay rights to a defense bill gave the Republicans a legitimate reason to feel shut out of the debate. So what happened in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas.

“Harry Reid is a pussy,” Choi angrily said after the failed vote in the Senate last month, vowing to speak out about the Democratic leader, “and he’ll be bleeding once a month.”

That won’t get him a job as a Beltway mouthpiece, lol. Steven’s profile captures the Dan I have engaged with, a complicated, quite entertaining and in fact lovable (would he like me saying that?) young man who believes in social justice and is willing to pay the price to achieve it in ways most people don’t feel comfortable doing.

Choi says he lives out of a couple of bags and, being used to “falling asleep wherever you have to” in the military, he doesn’t seem to mind the nomadic life. “I’m in a relationship with the movement,” he says. “And in any relationship, sometimes you have to sleep on the couch. And sometimes, even with the movement, the couch is literally a couch.”

I was around him at Netroots not long after he heard about his discharge papers being issued; it was so uncomfortable, even painful to know that he was experiencing a rush of emotions long-suppressed about the prospect of this finality.

“I just wanted to be alone, and I was in the belly of the beast, surrounded by every liberal blogger in America!” he says. With all eyes on him, he thought, “I have nothing else to give.”

Yet he continued to give, even doing TV and radio interviews in the wake of learning about his discharge papers while still in Vegas. Off-camera when I saw him milling about the hotel, he was very much a drained solitary figure in many ways. Those who accuse him of grandstanding or being a publicity hound could not be more off-base. He’s an articulate representative that you know will make the best case for equality when he goes on the air; and we need more Dan Chois to be visible and speaking truth to power — and using the mainstream media is how it’s done. We see too many of the same tired, talking heads who don’t have the experience, poise, and perspective Dan has. It’s not whether Dan should be on less, it’s that we need more diverse voices to counter not only the anti-equality mouthpieces, but the equally dreadful well-paid “conventional wisdomitis” sufferers who engage in embarrassing banter based on conversations in the bubble of the Beltway. You don’t have to always agree with Dan Choi’s rules of engagement, but he’s stepping up to take action with passion where others are content to attend cocktail parties and play it safe.

Anyway, Steven scores a win with this piece IMHO. It’s lengthy, so surf over and tell fellow members of the coffeehouse what you think of the profile.

 
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