Overachieving gay lawyer sees himself in empirical study

Justice Department lawyer Adam Chandler has an impressive resume. He graduated from Yale Law School in 2011, clerked for a federal appeals judge, and wrote articles for SCOTUSblog and Slate. At Justice, Chandler works in the Antitrust Division’s appellate section.

Now Chandler is pondering the reasons for his success in a New York Times op-ed. He notes a recently published study suggesting that young, closeted gay men deflect attention from their sexuality through success. Chandler notes two findings of the research: First, the longer a gay man is closeted, the more heavily he invests in success. Second, gay men who grow up in stigmatizing environments are more likely to seek self-worth through competition.

Chandler grew up in a rural, religious town in North Carolina. And the only time he revealed his sexual orientation, until now, was to a polygraph operator questioning Chandler for a summer stint at the National Security Agency.

“Biographies do not commonly lurk in stuffy academic journals, but there was mine, in that study in the latest issue of Basic and Applied Social Psychology,” Chandler wrote.

“I tore through middle and high school, craving perfect scores like a junkie in need of a fix. In college, I wrecked the curve for my straight classmates. Each semester, I petitioned the dean to overload my course schedule and sought the presidencies of student groups I had joined just days earlier. By the time I reached Yale Law School, where once-closeted academic superstars are like the hay in a haystack, coming out wouldn’t even have provoked a yawn. No matter. I built a wall of casebooks, hunkered down and ignored the growing hole in my social development.”

Now Chandler is wondering what happens next. “The flip side of discovering you’re not alone is the melting of your presumed snowflake uniqueness. Now I’m a statistic, another data point, just an ordinary overachieving closet case,” he writes. “That’s bad enough. What’s worse is that the biography is half finished. They haven’t told me what’s on the other side of the closet door. Once I’m no longer harboring my secret, will I lose my drive? Or will my lifelong trophy hunt expand to include a search for a trophy husband?”

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