Does anyone doubt at this point that the Republican Party has become a refuge for hypocrites, liars and dumbasses? The latest drama involves U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho. He was caught soliciting sex in a public restroom – a very dumb thing to do just a few months after angrily denying to reporters that he was gay.
But it takes supercojones to plead guilty, albeit to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct, and then swear it's a coincidence that he engaged in a well-known ritual by which men signal their sexual interest.
Of course, the schadenfreude of seeing yet another family-values advocate and opponent of gay rights shoot himself in his tapping foot is delicious. Now we know that "GOP" sometimes stands for "Gays On Potties."
While I enjoy seeing such clear evidence of the way moralists are always hiding their own impulses behind wholesome rhetoric, the truth is that Craig did nothing wrong. The very signal he employed – tapping the foot – is a discreet way of indicating interest. Had the undercover cop who arrested him not tapped his own foot in reply, Craig would have abandoned his sex hunt.
Craig's behavior did bring to light how persistent "public sex" remains. But was his behavior truly public?
About five years ago, I read a paper at the University of North Carolina's gay-and-lesbian-studies conference. It was titled "A Defense of Sex in Public Places." My purpose was not literally to encourage such sex but to question the precise meaning of "public space."
As part of my research, I got hold of a police training film from the '50s. The film provided instruction on how to conduct stings in public restrooms. The cops installed a hidden camera in order to monitor the action.
Watching the film, you quickly realize that the only thing that made the men's behavior public was the camera's presence. Whenever two men were playing, they immediately stopped when someone came through the door. Moreover, the great majority went into a stall together where they could not be observed. The sting resulted in some 50 arrests, and almost all of them were married men. That's a lot of lives ruined to placate voyeuristic cops.
The usual argument for wasting police hours on such operations is to protect the innocent eyes of children. As part of my research for the same paper, I looked for police complaints about bathroom sex observed by a child. I could not find a single case anywhere.
It's fashionable to blame restroom sex on "internalized homophobia." Supposedly, it's only closeted gay men who, unable to tolerate intimacy, seek anonymous sex in such places. I'm afraid that's not true, either. At the time I wrote my paper, the city in America with the most arrests for bathroom sex was West Hollywood – the gayest city in the nation, where finding sex requires a five-minute stroll down Santa Monica Boulevard. I suspect the bathroom stings in West Hollywood were part of the broader agenda of imposing the guise of "normality" on gay people.
Why do men have sex in public bathrooms? For one thing, it's a tradition. For many years, it was illegal for gay men to congregate even in bars. So, in order to meet sex partners, they went to anonymous venues like bathrooms, parks and freeway rest areas. They might engage in oral sex on the premises or go to a more private location after meeting. Understand, too, that nobody is born knowing how to have gay sex. So, having nowhere else to go, young men went to these locations literally to learn how to have sex.
Such sex continues for the simple reason that it's quick and without "strings." Yes, cops aside, it's safer for the married, but it can also appeal to openly gay men just because it's so anonymous and uncomplicated: pure sex with a hint of danger.
What about Larry Craig's claim that he is not gay? Actually, I have no problem with that. It's tedious the way we divide everyone into two sexual species, gay or straight. Before sexual orientation became the basis of identity, it was understood that a lot of otherwise "straight" men had occasional sex with other men.
At this writing, Craig, who said he would resign Sept. 30, has hired a team of lawyers to withdraw his guilty plea and fight a Senate ethics investigation. I doubt he will be honest about his behavior, but his story is a cautionary tale for the countless other hypocrites hiding behind the rhetorical wall of moral condemnation of others.
Cliff Bostock holds a Ph.D. in depth psychology. For information on his private practice, go to www.cliffbostock.com.
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