October 9, 2006

Foley's real folly was staying in the closet

Leave it to a pornographer to make the most relevant point yet about the Mark Foley controversy.

At his popular site DudeTube (dudetube.blogspot.com), “Matt”—no last names provided—writes the following about Foley: “I don’t want to get into some big examination of being in the public eye and being gay,” Matt writes. “What I have been thinking about is how, if you don’t deal with your sexuality in a healthy way, it’s going to manifest itself in an unhealthy way. I’m not saying that’s the only reason you chase 16-year-old boys […] but it can’t help.”

This is certainly more thought-provoking than the statement issued by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), perennial gay-rights watchdogs (and, some would argue, governmental lapdogs). “Gay or straight, Democrat or Republican, it is completely inexcusable for an adult to have this kind of communication with a minor,” the HRC writes, in a typically self-righteous and inarticulate e-mail.

Um…one minute there, HRC. Besides immediately playing into the tired system of party politics, the HRC (an organization that has every reason to pay close attention to legal nuances) completely misses the fact that none of Foley’s targets were under 16 years old. This is the age of consent in Washington, D.C. From a purely legal standpoint, Foley’s sin was sexual harassment, not propositioning a minor or even harboring pedophiliac impulses (still not a crime, unless the Thought Police have finally taken over). Were Foley’s actions creepy? Hell, yes. But were they pedophiliac? Technically, no.

In a world in which homosexuality is often lumped in the same category as pedophilia—and gay men are often portrayed as sexual predators—how could the U.S.’s (arguably) most prominent gay-rights organization not emphasize this fact? At first glance, their actions seem inexcusable. They are once again linking the terms “pedophilia” and “homosexuality” in the public’s mind where no real connection exists.

But, upon second thought, I think the HRC is just playing it safe. They understand that to place Foley’s actions in the correct context (i.e. sexual harassment, not pedophilia) would be misunderstood by too many as an implicit endorsement of his deeds. The usual drivel about homosexual “recruitment” tactics would be trotted out by organizations such as the improperly named American Family Association. And that fear-mongering would benefit absolutely no one, least of all teenagers undergoing honest explorations of their sexuality.

What a coincidence that this weekend, 16-year-oldWhale Rider actress Keisha Castle-Hughes announced her pregnancy by 19-year-old boyfriend Bradley Hull. Of course, Castle-Hughes’s relationship with Hull is much different than a relationship any underling can carry on with a person in power. For one thing, they ostensibly share a level of mutual trust and respect. But still…16.

It’s no secret that teenage girls are among our culture’s most prominent sex symbols. Were Lolita remade today, there would be no shortage of actresses eligible for the title role. And so I believe the emphasis on the age of Foley’s targets betrays a pervasive cultural homophobia. In other words, it’s OK to lust after Lindsay Lohan but not Aaron Carter. At least, not if you’re a guy.

It’s worth noting that Foley was one of the queer community’s few Republican allies—good for political leverage but not so good for our dignity. Like that weasel McGreevey (the disgraced former governor of New Jersey), Foley is one of a growing number of politicians who quietly support our causes while hypocritically placating their larger voting base with anti-gay rhetoric. Do we really want people of such weak integrity on our side? For the sheer number of votes required to pass equal rights legislation…well, yeah. A liar who votes on our side is better than someone who casts a vote against us. The HRC knows this better than anyone. But no one, queer or straight, should ever look to Foley as a role model.

The Foley scandal will blow over in a few weeks after the rat gets out of rehab and does the talk show circuit, apologizing for his transgressions. Hey, he may even start identifying himself as a “gay American” like McGreevey did once he was caught in a similar bind. But I have a gut feeling that the claim of alcoholism is a ruse—one last, homophobic gasp from a sadly self-loathing individual. I wouldn’t be surprised if he retreated to the closet after his stint in rehab, as if one’s sexual desires could be altered by something as simple as alcohol. Are we to believe that Foley only hit on guys because he was in a drunken stupor? Yeah, right. And booze caused Mel Gibson to make those anti-Semitic remarks.

“If you don’t deal with your sexuality in a healthy way”—and yes, that includes looking at pornography, as long as it’s populated by adults who knew what they were getting into—“it’s going to manifest itself in an unhealthy way.” Makes sense.

And now, best of all, I can chalk up all my time spent on DudeTube as political research.