Former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn labeled Cynthia Nixon an “unqualified lesbian” after the Sex and the City actress announced a primary challenge to Empire State governor Andrew Cuomo.
What makes one an “unqualified lesbian”? Like sanction or cleave, “unqualified” works as its own antonym (or perhaps, to qualify a bit, its own near opposite). Did Quinn mean to call Nixon one unfit for the lesbian label or did she mean to celebrate her as a total, full-blooded lesbian?
“Unqualified” strikes ears and eyes as a confusing qualifier.
Nixon, on the one hand, drifted into the Sapphic passion at midlife and did so after leaving six seasons and two films of convincing DVD evidence of an unabashed enthusiasm for dudes (perhaps she’s just a talented thespian). Maybe this makes her an unqualified, in the imposter sense, lesbian. On the other hand, she married Christine Marinoni, an LGBTQ and education activist who proudly rocks a boys’ regular. Perhaps in marrying an unqualified, as in unmitigated, wholehearted, gold-star, lesbian one trades in the unqualified, as in amateurish, lesbian label for an unqualified, as in absolute, lesbian title.
As it turns out, I fumbled the meaning of Quinn’s criticism. Headlines, like contronyms, tend to trip up our understanding.
“Cynthia Nixon was opposed to having a qualified lesbian become mayor of New York City,” notes Quinn, who lost her race against the Nixon-supported Bill de Blasio. “Now she wants to be an unqualified lesbian to be the governor of New York. You have to be qualified and have experience. She isn’t qualified to be the governor.”
So, Quinn seems to impugn Nixon’s credentials as a political candidate. Does she also attempt to undercut her standing among gays and lesbians with the “unqualified lesbian” barb? If so, the plausible deniability working on multiple levels gives it a sort of passive-aggressive genius. The context of the quote clearly targets Nixon’s bona fides as a political candidate. But parsed into a soundbite, as a skilled politician such as Quinn surely knew it would be, the peculiar phrasing raises, even if subconsciously so, Nixon’s late-in-life embrace of same-sex relations. The mere fact that Quinn, a veteran pol in good standing with fellow gays and lesbians, criticized Nixon undercuts her on her home turf. But the insinuation that Nixon makes for a Cool-for-the-Summer, I-Kissed-a-Girl-and-I-Liked It lesbian undercuts it more.
And by the end of Tuesday, Quinn found herself in the unusual position of asking forgiveness for unnecessarily invoking the sexuality of a fellow lesbian. “I do not apologize for saying that Cynthia Nixon is unqualified to be governor, because she is unqualified to be governor,” Quinn told NY1. Perhaps she merely meant this in her initial remarks. But when we choose our words without care (and I’m not sure Quinn did) others will chose their meanings.
Anyhow, Christine Quinn and Cynthia Nixon makes for the kind of girl-on-girl action few care for, particularly Democrats. Cuomo, like his dad, wished for a smooth sail to his third term. Nixon, a complicated woman, complicates this. She possesses no real chance to defeat Cuomo in the primaries. But in forcing the left-wing Democrat further left to fend off her challenge, she may damage him in a general election. Time and place, however, make his defeat unlikely. He is an unqualified liberal, if you know what I mean, and 2018 and New York figure to boost the prospects of unqualified liberals—and unqualified liberals, too.