Steyn’s indeterminate self
I seem to have stirred up a little hornet’s nest among some readers with my passing comment about Mark Steyn’s multiple ambiguous identities. Thus one reader writes:
I don’t know if making unfunny jokes about being a rare straight lover of musicals and Judy Garland really qualifies as being “ambiguous” about one’s sexual orientation. Unless you know something that I don’t, this seems to me like making and repeating a very serious charge on very thin evidence.I’m not particularly eager to go into all this, but since misconceptions have arisen, there is no choice but to explain what I meant.
Here’s what I said:
The fact is that Steyn’s nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and name have always been ambiguous—an ambiguity he has deliberately cultivated over the years.Here’s what I meant:
Ambiguous name. From the time I first began reading Steyn, in the American Spectator in the mid-90s, friends and I wondered about his name. The guess was that his name was Stein but he had changed the spelling to make it less common. Steyn seemed quite artificial. Then, several years late, I saw an interview or quote of Steyn’s in which he explained that his real name was some very conventional, Anglo-Saxon name like “Anthony Wilson” (that’s not the exact name he gave, but it was something like that), so he adopted a Jewish-sounding name that would stand out more. In other words, he was saying that he was an Anglo-Saxon pretending to be a Jew in order to advance his career in journalism. Later, he seemed to contradict that story as well.
Ambigious nationality. When I first read Steyn he wrote from England, and seemed to know the country very well, and never (at least in my reading) suggested that he wasn’t English, so I assumed he was English (or rather, since he was apparently a Jew, British). Then, in more recent years, he would occasionally mention that he lives in New Hampshire, again with no reference to any bi-national identity, so at that point I insensibly assumed he was American. But then he said he was Canadian. Yet he never speaks of Canada in the manner of one who was born and raised there or who lives there, or, indeed, who has any connection with or affection for that country at all. Furthermore, if you check out his February 2005 interview on C-SPAN, you’ll see that he’s described as a “North American journalist.” If that’s not being ambiguous about his nationality, nothing is.
Ambigious ethnicity and religion. See above. His name is Jewish, but synthetically so. Then he suggested that he’s a WASP. Then he let out (at his website, see below) that he’s of Jewish background. The only time I saw Steyn, on a discussion panel on C-SPAN a couple of years ago, he didn’t look in the slightest degree like a Jew named Mark Steyn. He looked like a broad-featured, thick-haired, burly Celt, someone you’d expect to see playing rugby. All of which made one wonder, “Who is this guy?”
Ambiguous sexual orientation. With all due respect to my correspondent, I am not so crass as to believe that if someone likes musicals that means he’s homosexual; that would be like saying that everyone who likes the Beatles or everyone who likes classical music is homosexual. Here’s the origin of the thought. From the time I first read Steyn ten years ago, virtually every article of his had a reference to genitals or rear ends, usually in the first or second paragraph. Sexually normal men do not make constant references to genitals and bottoms. Then, more recently, Steyn came out and said he’s married with children. So I’d say he at least cultivated the suggestion that he’s homosexual, only to reverse it later.
In his answers to frequently asked questions at his website, he plays the mystery man. Even when he gives an apparently straight answer, pun intended, he does so in such a way as to raise further questions. Thus, in reply to the query, “What is Mark?”, he says, “Straight.” But the question did not involve sexual orientation. So why did he bring it up? In reply to a question about his religion, he says,
Mark is of Jewish descent, but was baptized a Catholic, confirmed an Anglican, and currently attends a small rural American Baptist Church. As John Podhoretz of the New York Post said, You’re not Jewish or gay? But you wrote a book on musicals?First, by giving no explanation of this multiple, confusing religious background, though it cries out for one (after all, this is his own FAQs page where he’s supposed to be answering questions like this), Steyn shows that his intention is to engage in postmodern schtick rather than give correct information about himself. Second, he again insists on his sexual straightness, even though the question concerned religion, not sexual orientation.
In conclusion, I repeat the point with which I started. Steyn is a person who deliberately creates ambiguity around his various identities.
A final note: I have not researched this article, other than looking at Steyn’s FAQs. I’m speaking from memories and impressions over a period of time. I look forward to being corrected on details by people who care enough about this issue to correct me.