By French Wall, GuideMagazine November 2006
It is tempting to revel in the exposure and downfall of monumental
hypocrites. There is satisfaction in knowing that J. Edgar Hoover,
who liked to persecute others for their perversions, himself enjoyed
donning women's clothes. It seems just to posthumously drag Senator
McCarthy's savagely anti-gay legal pitbull Roy Cohn out of his
closet. And who doesn't enjoy watching televangelists weepily
confess to the very sins they so heartily condemn in others?
Thus, one can be excused for ever-so-briefly taking pleasure in the
political ruin of Congressman Mark Foley. A high-profile crusader
for so-called "decency" and author and co-sponsor of internet
censorship legislation, Foley has made a career of attacking those
who engage in the same behavior he himself so lustily enjoys.
But care should be taken that pleasure at Foley's misfortune not
distract us from the ominous portents of Washington's current sexual
imbroglio. While Foley can be legitimately tagged as a hypocrite,
his attackers have condemned his actions as "unspeakably sordid" and
labeled him a "predator of children." Alarmingly, such nonsense
emanates not just from Religious Right mouthpieces, but also from
ostensibly moderate politicians and even gay political groups.
Foley's actions were decidedly not unspeakably sordid nor do they
make him a predator of children. He wrote puerile mash notes to
congressional pages, all over the age of consent. He did not,
apparently, ever have sexual contact with any of his online buddies
(though it would have been legal in the District of Columbia), nor
did he coerce anyone to do anything. His correspondents willingly
participated in the adolescent banter.
Given that hypocrisy is hardly a distinguishing characteristic in
Washington, and that no one was touched, much less harmed, by
Congressman Foley, what is so animating his critics? Why is the
Republican leadership vowing to fire anyone who knew of the
congressman's R-rated e-mail but failed to turn him in?
Some may claim the issue is the protection of congressional
employees. Rational people might take the position that members of
Congress having sexual relationships with pages-- though legal-- is
nonetheless not wise policy. But such concern can be addressed
without a full-fledged witchhunt. Indeed, in 1983 when it came to
light that Congressman Gerry Studds had enjoyed cocktails and sex
with a 17-year-old male page, the House merely censured him (along
with Congressman Dan Crane, who'd also had sex with a page). A
chastised Studds returned to his district to greet cheering crowds
and supportive op-ed pieces in local papers; he handily won re-election.
Today's histrionic reaction to Foley's far milder workplace
transgressions (wherein no alcohol use nor sexual contact is
alleged) should give pause to anyone who thinks we've made progress
combating destructive anti-sex attitudes in the past
Indeed, l'affaire Foley makes clear just how
successful the Right has been (with complicity from the therapy
industry) in demonizing sex in the last decades' series of sex
panics. Whereas even conservative gay pundits defended Studds in
1983 (some reasonably noting that the page involved could be
considered flattered and fortunate to have the congressman's
attention), today our gay political groups mindlessly join the
condemnation of Foley as some sort of monster. And for what?
Good-natured, online locker-room talk with willing young men.
Of course, sex scandals are an age-old diversion for institutions
looking to distract attention from other issues. Perhaps some in
Congress prefer that body to occupy itself pillorying sexually
wayward members instead of investigating the massive corruption of
the DeLay/ Abramoff/Rove influence-peddling scheme. Maybe some
members would rather headlines be filled with tawdry gossip about
penis size rather than exposÚs of how Congress has rubber-stamped
President Bush's torture policy, domestic spying, and secret
overseas prisons. And if the object of the vitriolic condemnation is
a vulnerable homo, well that's just gravy to many in the "family
Those running the government are beholdened to religious zealots who
believe that all gay people are deserving of eternal damnation and
death. Thus, we have a special interest in resisting attempts to
scapegoat anyone for their sexual peccadilloes, even someone as
hypocritical as Mark Foley.