I'm gay, left-handed and Jewish. So the option of simply fitting into the majorities has never really opened itself. When I graduated from college, I was very interested in politics, but the notion that I would ever be elected to anything seemed pretty remote, given my presence in various of these groups. Then I got to Congress. Now, there was this temptation: "Oh, you're in Congress. Well, don't jeopardize your political career there." I delayed coming out. I didn't come out until I was 47. What was interesting: Not only did I have that fear, but almost all my straight friends had that fear. It kind of leaked out that I was thinking about coming out. In fact, [then-Speaker of the House] Tip O'Neill had at one point told -- I think it was Chris Matthews, who was his press secretary -- "We'd better get ready to talk to the press to tell them that Barney Frank's gonna come out of the room." He meant the closet. But a number of my good friends in the House said: "Hey, man, don't do that. We understand how you feel. You should live your life. But don't acknowledge it, because if you do, you're going to get marginalized." I hoped they were wrong. I thought they were right, but it was making me crazy. So I didn't do it for any great political purpose. I just did it, you know, going nuts.

One of the problems you have in politics is people don't ever want to disagree with their friends. Politicians get a lot of undeserved credit for standing up to their enemies. It's not only easy to stand up to your enemies; if you're a politician, it's generally profitable. The hardest thing to do is to stand up to your friends when you think they're wrong.

I'm a great believer in partisanship. The problem with partisanship is when it blinds you, and you apply double standards and you let your party off the hook. Yeah, I prefer the Democrats to the Republicans on all the issues, but I think that gives you an obligation to speak out when the Democrats do something wrong. I've also felt that my colleagues overestimate the consequences of saying what is considered unpopular. What, is someone going to hit you?

-- Interview by Tyler Currie