Foley and the Pink Elephants
First the nothing. Despite all the brouhaha it has not been demonstrated that Ex-Rep. Foley violated any laws. Sex with 16-year olds is legal in the District of Columbia. But did Foley actually have sexual relations with any of the pages? Well, we are told, he had “Internet Sex.” That is not sex at all, since there is no physical contact. While the messages were suggestive, none indicate that the representative was actually demanding sexual relations. His wording skates close to the edge, but does not cross it.
Some maintain that the gravamen of the matter has been workplace sexual harassment. But was it? So far none of the pages has come forward to charge sexual harassment. The pages serve for only one year and could easily wait their suitor out. All apparently did so. Foley had much more to lose than they did, and any excessive pressure on his part could lead to his downfall. Downfall indeed occurred, but not because of any explicit complaint of targeted sexual harassment.
To be sure, Foley continued to communicate suggestively with the young men after they had left their jobs in DC, but that is certainly not workplace harassment. For many years I made it a rule never to proposition or have sexual relations with any of my students at the college where I taught. On one occasion, though, I had sex with a person who requested it-—years after the individual had graduated. Again, though, Foley does not seem to have had any sex with the pages. He seems to have “gotten off” with naughty remarks. Is naughtiness enough to account for all the turmoil we have been experiencing?
Since the pages were not children when the verbal contact began, we would not be dealing with pedophilia, even if the relations had been consummated. In fact, Foley is an ephebophile, a person who chooses sex objects in their late teens or early twenties.
For the moment the worst thing about the Foley scandal is that it is a distraction from important business. After two sycophantic books, Bob Woodward finally got up enough courage to expose the Administration’s distortions and deviousness about Iraq. (For some reason he cannot bring himself to use the word "lie.") Much of the discussion that should have ensued about this supremely vital matter was blunted. In the short run, at least, it is not the Democrats who benefited from the Foley hysteria, but Republicans, because it shifted the subject away from their greatest vulnerability.
All that being said, rumbles coming from public perception are ominous. For some time now parents have been worried about their offspring being approached by sexual predators on My Space and other Internet venues. On weekends MSNBC offers a sensational "reality" program in which older men are lured to private homes in the expectation of having sex with teenagers. This practice strikes me as entrapment for profit, but the public seems to be eating it up.
The bottom line, though, is that technology has raised new fears on the part of parents. These purported dangers play into a poorly articulated but deeply held anxiety. Of long standing, that anxiety goes as follows. “My Jimmy (or Emily) is at an impressionable age at which sexual orientation is still amorphous. If he (or she) is exposed to the temptations of gay sex now, it will forever ruin his (or her) life.”
Esee est percipi. Perception, so the saying goes, is reality. We can insist as long as we want that what Foley and others like him do is not pedophilia, not even inchoate pedophilia, but such assertions will not remove the anxiety on the part of adults. That fearful narrative has circulated for too long with little challenge.
One way for parents to deal with this matter is to have a frank discussion with their children. Then steps could be taken, including the offering of condoms, to encourage them to engage in “healthy’ heterosexual behavior. It seems, though, that most parents will not do this. They want their teenagers to be prevented from having sex of any sort. In view of the widespread propensity for teenage rebellion, such prohibitions may actually increase the chances for “forbidden” contacts of any sort. So the parents are hoist by their own petard. But they will not admit this.
The affair also lifts the lid on a hitherto largely hidden subculture. This is the little world of closeted Republicans who are working in Washington. This world may not be so little, as apparently government service has special attraction for gays and lesbians. And anywhere between a quarter and a third of them are Republicans. Many readers will rub their eyes in disbelief. Given the amount of demonizing Republicans have indulged in, it will seem hard to understand how any self-respecting gay person could conset to the role of a Republican operative.
Having had some contact with gay Republicans over the past decade let me address the origins of that apparent anomaly. These folks start from a theoretically sound position. We are, all of us, citizens first and foremost, and secondarily persons of a particular sexual orientation. As citizens we may properly oppose what have come to be regarded as Democratic excesses, including massive spending to buy votes and the balkanization that identity politics is bringing. Or so it seemed in the run-up to the contested election of 2000.
Then was then and now is now. The claim that Republicans were properly addressing such issues of national concern has long since evaporated. The Bush administration has increased government spending and government surveillance far more than any predecessor that any of us can recall. It has done these two things in order to buy votes and frighten people. Of central importance, the Iraq folly has made us less, not more secure. So the argument that the greater public interest overrides the bad Republican record on gay rights is not viable-—if it ever was. I gather that Andrew Sullivan’s new book, out on Monday, forcefully addresses these issues.
Again, prior to the 2000 election we were told that the “Republicans didn’t really mean it.” Besides, the Democrats had failed us also, with the vile don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy in the military, which has made things worse rather than better. And Clinton actually boasted of his support for the Defense of Marriage Act, intended to block same-sex marriage, an issue many gays and lesbians care a great deal about.
The last six years have changed that equation, because it is now crystal-clear that the Republicans are captives of the Christian right, which is implacably and unchangeably homophobic
In short the Republicans have absolutely nothing to offer. Log Cabin and other gay Republican enterprises must confront meltdown. If they aren’t experiencing this fate, they deserve to.
Abandon ship is the best advice I can give. Yet it is not see easy for the Republican staffers in Washington, the Pink Elephants, to be nonchalant. Like most of us, they need a job. The many closeted gay and lesbian Republicans who work on Capitol Hill and other government agencies live in a constant state of fear. In principle, at least, their Democratic counterparts can safely come out. The Republican staffers are faced with a constant barrage of homophobic comment, together with legislative proposals that do not serve the interests of their community. This pervasive atmosphere of negativity has a chilling effect. More and more they barricade themselves behind the walls of silence and denial. And people who are intimidated are easier to control, making this cohort useful to their heterosexist masters, despite the disapproval the “lifestyle” engenders. One should not take the word perversion lightly, but this abusive relationship seems to merit it.
On their other flank the closeted Republican staffers are fearful of being outed by liberal and leftist gay activists. Currently, it is said, a Pink Elephant compilation called The List is circulating in DC. The security of all those on this roster is now imperiled.
The gay activists contend that it is their duty to out gays who “are working against our interests.” But how is this purported antigay behavior defined? Someone who goes out of his way to help draft and promote antigay legislation is one thing. Yet some of the activists seem to think that just being a Republican makes one antigay. All are fair game.
Clearly this is a volatile and dangerous situation. Massive outings of gay Republicans in Washington may lead to a tit-for-tat series of outings of gay Democrats. Do we really want a situation like that of the 'fifties in which gay people shun employment opportunities in Washington because of fear?