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Friday, October 13, 2006

 

Open Forum on the Mark Foley Issue

Unless you are just returning from Antarctica, you have heard of the Mark Foley page scandal. Here are some possible questions to discuss?

-Is the closet to blame?
-Did gay staffers and congressmen cover up his activities?
-Blogactive blogger, Mike Rogers, thinks the answer is to out all closeted gay Republicans. Is this a good thing?
-Will this scandal impact the November elections?
-Does this scandal have any relevance to pedophilia and/or homosexuality in general?

Suggest others and talk loud. I'll be reading more than writing here this weekend as I am on deadline with an article but this feel free to post links to news and opinion around the blogiverse.

Comments:
Just to get started:

The closet is not to blame. But I think it plays a very crucial, if subtle role.

There appears to be tremendous pressure for gay Republicans to keep their sexuality hidden, or at the very least, very quiet. In my opinion, that tendency is shame-based, although it's more of a collective shame rather than an individual one.

Here's my take: If Bob is somewhat closeted, and he sees someone (I dunno, let's call him Mark) who is closeted, doing something dumb he might go to Steve, who is also closeted, to try to figure out what to do about it. They may approach Mark to say, "cut it out. You're being a stupid troll."

They may even threaten him with exposure, or report him to others in authoridy. But there's a hitch: exposing Mark might mean that Steve and Bob are also exposed.

And besides, if the behavior happens to conform to one of the worst stereotypes about gay people, then there is that element of not wanting to offer evidence which may appear to confirm that stereotype. (It's what we often call "Internalized homophobia", a term which is terribly imprecise in most usages, but I think is very appropriate here.)

Now let's add some straight folks to this scenario. Bob and Steve enlist the aid of Mr. Big to solve the problem. But Mr. Big doesn't want some of his constituents to know there are these gay people on his staff or the staff of his colleagues. And besides, (and lets assume the best here) he also doesn't want Bob and Steve to suffer from Mark's behavior. If Bob and Steve can handle it successfully, that would be, from Mr. Big's standpoint, the best possible outcome. No publicity, nobody gets hurt, and those who are ardently opposed to homosexuality need never find out about anyone.

I haven't even touched on the larger political considerations of elections and control of the house. But with the so many people who have so many secrets to keep, thinking gets clouded, and the obvious options to you and me are not so obvious to them.

I wrote this out very quickly, and there are probably holes big enough to drive an earth-mover through. So, discuss....
 
If we're going to go this route, how about a similar forum to ponder the question of what the Amish school shooting incident has to tell us about pedophilia and heterosexuality?
 
Boo - I mention this not because I think there is a link but because it is being discussed in the media and among pundits. I also do not think the Foley case has any real relevance to pedophilia as his interests have not been revealed to be about children.
 
Boo - I mention this not because I think there is a link but because it is being discussed in the media and among pundits.

Which points to a huge media double standard. Why is it only discussed when it's male-on-male?

Newsmax has some interesting stuff about the history of the page program:

http://www.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2006/10/11/82738.shtml

But the stories rarely mention the reforms instituted after the 1983 scandals. Before the scandals, Congress appointed 14- and 15-year-olds and let them run loose in Washington without any supervision. Pages had no dormitory and no curfews. As long as the pages brought them coffee and delivered their messages, members of Congress did not seem to care if minors entrusted to them became corrupted...

...At the beginning of their shifts, Capitol Police officers would make it a practice to "stake out" the building at 235 2nd Street NE.

"It was nicknamed ‘virgin village' because female pages undressed there without putting down their blinds," Terry Coons, a former Capitol Police officer, told me. "It was a gathering place for officers for the first hour."

"They left their blinds open, and undressed," said Wayne Beckett, another former Capitol Police officer. "The officers watched. They [the female pages] were teases. They knew what they were doing. We would shine flashlights at them, and they would leave the blinds open . . . They totally undressed and pranced around."...

...Meanwhile, "A lot of secretaries were enticing a lot of the good-looking pages and teaching them the facts of life really early, up in the attics and places like that," said Roy L. Elson, the former Senate administrative assistant to Sen. Carl T. Hayden, who headed the Senate Rules and Administration Committee and later the Senate Appropriations Committee.
 
I only favor outing someone if they are clearly being hypocritical -- for example talking trash about gays when they are gay themselves.
 
And so, to continue:

-- did gay staffers and congressman cover up his activities?

Yes, all around. I think there was a massive cover-up, although the motives for it are probably much more complex than media reports have it.

-- Should closeted gay Republicans be outed?

Generally, I'm not in favor of involuntary outing. Having said that, I think we can see the dangers the closet provides. There used to be a belief that gay people should not have security clearances because they are a blackmail risk. That, of course, is not true for someone is gay and out, and today we have security clearances.

But it seems to me the same logic applies; keeping this secret clouds the judgment not only of the gay folks themselves, but of straight folks who work with them, like them, and don't want anything bad to happen to them.

-- Will this scandal impact the November elections?

I think so. Especially as it comes on the heels of fresh revelations of the WH's callous regard for many leaders of the religious right. IMO, the two events together may well resonate among evangelical voters.

-- Does this have any relevance to pedohilia and/or homosexuality in general?

Nope. (I think you knew my answer there) But from understanding the political and cultural ramifications of how we deal with sexuality, I think we will have plenty of food for thought for years to come.
 
I don't understand this closet thing. I read that he has a partner in FL and goes out with his sister and her family with his partner. Is it only a closet thing in DC but not in FL?
 
Anonymous: don't understand this closet thing. I read that he has a partner in FL and goes out with his sister and her family with his partner. Is it only a closet thing in DC but not in FL?

That could very well be the case. It's not unusual for the closet to be situational. Out to family but not at work is pretty common. And depending on family dynanics, being out at work and among friends but closeted to family isn't unusual either.

But even these partially-closeted situations involve keeping secrets and constantly trying to remember who knows and who doesn't. It can get pretty complicated.
 
The question I'd like to see addressed: Why did this go unchecked? What good are our laws that protect children when even our government winks at them? Seems that more than a few people knew...aren't they then also responsible? In some states, I believe they may even be criminally responsible?


Boo, I agree that the Pennsylvania tragedy also needs to be discussed. To be totally honest, it leaves me speechless. I can't seem to even begin to figure it out. My grandmother was from that culture; although I've never lived in the culture, I do understand it...somewhat. Even to this day, though, their ability to forgive so completely is beyond me.
 
ed,

"Seems that more than a few people knew...aren't they then also responsible? In some states, I believe they may even be criminally responsible?"

In order to be criminally responsible, a crime has to have occurred.

As best we know, Foley's youngest sexual conquest was 21. But even had he been 16, that is not a crime in Washington DC. Sending emails asking what someone wants for their birthday is not illegal anywhere (that I know of).

If there was a crime, it might have to do with the explicit nature of some of the instant message (IM) conversations but to date I've not heard anyone say that a crime has in fact occurred.

Let's stick to the facts. Foley's behavior was creepy and inappropriate. And it appears that those who knew of parts of it made efforts to confront him.

What is uncertain is whether official or semi-official complaints were ignored by Hastert or others in power. If this is the case, they need to step down. Otherwise, ironically, Foley (as icky as he has been) has shown more admirable character than Hastert.

But, of course, refusing to do the honorable thing is also not criminal. And it seems to have very little political cost.
 
It's all about relationships and trust. Which is why you get this weird dichotomy between family/friends/work/etc. and how "out" a gay person may or may not be. I personally would like for either hetero sex to become MORE "icky poo" in general society or homo sex to become less so. Something to level the playing field somewhat would help.

I'm naive, I know, but could it be that people might not give a rip about sexual preferences (and that's all it is as far as i'm concerned) and could just treat each other as fellow humans....if we didn't have such judgemental attitudes toward the individuals based on those private behaviors? Am I just stupid? Completely off base here?

In a fog,

grace/pam
 
Jim et al: What of the argument that straights commit such offenses but they are not closeted about their sexuality?

Back to writing...
 
Jim et al: What of the argument that straights commit such offenses but they are not closeted about their sexuality?

Identifying something as a contributing factor doesn't mean it has to be the only contributing factor. The Son of Sam killed people because he thought the devil told him to through his neighbor's dog, but there are many people who don't think their neighbor's dog talks to them and still kill people.
 
< Eroticizing youth tends to result in the exploitation of youth.b>

I think we are always in some difficulty when we try to make a clear meaning and draw clear conclusions about a public figure's personal life. I think it gets even worse when we try and squeeze that into some agenda.

To do so we have to emphasize certain facts and ignore others and we tend to do that based upon worldview and political goals. In essence we either quickly oversimplify or make overly complex the target of our curiosities.

This is true of Mark Foley, Barney Frank, John Paulk, Annie Heche, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Swaggart and many others. There are plenty of "dull axes" out there, ready to grind away.

I would just ask us all to remember that Foley decided, as an adult to deal with his Same Sex Attraction in a way that best suited him. Describing him as "in the closet" seems contraindicated by the facts. To describe him as "gay identified" seems contraindicated by the facts. His behavior with minors seems as if he is trolling, but to date, that is all that it can be characterized as. Some heterosexuals in positions of power make the same poorly disguised advances which I find offensive.

I think it is safe to draw this conclusion: Eroticizing youth tends to result in the exploitation of youth.

I just had a thought about maturity. Since girls tend to be more emotionally mature than boys throughout adolescence, is it even more exploitative to hit on adolescent boys than adolescent girls (whether gay or straight?).

I think one of our options on this blog is to maintain a true sense of curiosity. The kind of curiosity that ultimately will change each one of us, because it is sincere and humble.

It is awful tempting to restrict curiosity to searching for those events which will confirm our preconceptions or political agenda.

David Blakeslee
 
Yes, i think everyone should be outed, just so the rest of us know who we are dealing with.

I would no sooner allow my son to spend private time with a gay man that I would my daughter with a straight man.

But when that man appears and claims to be straight, but is actually gay, he is engaging in a deliberate deception that puts children at risk.
 
What of the argument that straights commit such offenses but they are not closeted about their sexuality?

Good question. First, I want to echo boo, and say that I think that while it may be a very small factor in explaining Foley's behavior, I would never claim that it is even close to being a primary explanation for what Foley did.

I think, however, it offers a partial explanation for how people reacted to what Foley did -- the hesitance to deal with the problem forcefully.

I am speaking out of my own experience on both sides of the closet, so please forgive me if I doth project too much.

And I am, admittedly tossing the term "closeted" very loosely. There is a range and degree of "closetedness" which could be looked at almost the way Kinsey defined sexuality on a scale from 0 to 6. When gay people want to find out if someone is out or not, the question never stops with "are you out?", but goes into "who are you out to?"

IMO, most people are closeted because they are afraid of what others may think or do. That’s why being closeted is very often situational – out to friends and family, but not co-workers or especially not to the boss, for example.

So, in this example, if you have a vested interest in being closeted among your colleages (i.e. congressmen and fellow staffers), you may be less willing to point out something terrible that someone else is doing, especially if that action coincides with a stereotype, and if you fear that this stereotype will then be used against you.

From my own many years in the closest (I only emerged about 7 years ago), I know how sensitive all things gay can be even if you're partially closeted. I could write a book, but to try to keep the comment short (yeah, too late, I know), I would say that my efforts to "cover" something others thought was wrong with me meant that I was sometimes tempted to try to "cover" something that was definitely wrong with others.

I'm sure you egghead psychologists have a word for what I'm trying to describe ;-) Ya'll seem to have a word for everything and I'd like to know what it is!

What’s odd to me is how the desire to protect the closet even extends to straight people, especially when they know someone who is gay. Remember the GOP’s collective wince when Kerry supposedly “outed” Mary Cheney – the most “out” Republican of 2004? It was considered outrageous that anyone would point this out. I haven’t begun to sort out what this means in my own mind, but I think it is a fascinating dynamic, one that I think may have played a role in Hastert’s and Reynold's timid response when they first learned about Foley’s behavior. (And that would be a the most charitable theory, IMO, because the only other plausible explanation would involve crass election-year politics.)
 
I just had a thought about maturity. Since girls tend to be more emotionally mature than boys throughout adolescence, is it even more exploitative to hit on adolescent boys than adolescent girls (whether gay or straight?).

I think that would be a hard argument to make. Girls may generally be more emotionally mature than boys, but I don't think that necessarily extends to girls who succumb to the advances of older men.

On the other hand, boys are socialize to be more sexually aggressive. While the adult ALWAYS bears the responsibility to ensure the relationship between the adult and much younger man (and remember, we're talking well past post-pubescent here) is appropriate, the thing that is rarely discussed is the willingness ( and perhaps aggression) with which some of these very young men approach older men.

I'll reiterate: This is not an excuse. Several years ago, an 18-year-old approached me in earnest; I flatly turned him down and didn't give a second thought about it. And I am not a hero for having done so simply because this is how all emotionally mature men behave. We take responsibility not only for ourselves, but for those who are less mature as well.

Maturity goes all the way around, as does initiation and agression. If you take away the physical ages, it can be hard to know who is exploiting who. But I repeat, it is always the adult's responsibility regardless of who is the aggressor or any other circumstances.
 
Jim,

Thanks for your comments and transparency about your own journey and your values on responsibility.

Regarding teens, gender and initiation: I think adolescent boys tend to take more risks and are more immature than adolescent girls. They are less likely to use language related tasks to mediate problem-solving. I think this makes them more vulnerable to exploitation.

I think we agree that our older minds give us an advantage, we are less impulsive and tend to be more contemplative. We are also less egocentric, able to engage in a form of empathy which adolescents struggle to achieve. That emphathy drives us to think about what is in the best interests of the risk-taking, initiating adolescent.

That is all true, if I apply my maturity appropriately. If I do not, I can use my empathy and planning skills to "troll," for the impulsive, the needy, insecure and the naive. The older male (regardless of sexual orientation) can also use those skills to try to reclaim lost or regretted youth. It is hard for me to really see and care for someone when they are a means to an end.

Older objects of affection have more neurological and physiological maturity to better choose for themselves than do adolescents. Sometimes we misunderstand the adolescent male's risk-taking behavior as "choosing" in an informed manner. It is choosing risk, but not in an informed manner.

Enjoying the conversation.

David Blakeslee
 
-Is the closet to blame?

No. Individuals are to blame for the bad choices of individuals.

-Did gay staffers and congressmen cover up his activities?

I don't know. There are certainly many reasons to do so, none of them good.

-Blogactive blogger, Mike Rogers, thinks the answer is to out all closeted gay Republicans. Is this a good thing?

That depends on what your values are and what the fallout will be. According to my own values, I really can't tell becasue I have no idea what the fallout would be. At first, I thought that the Mark Foley thing would be bad for gay men because of the Democrats' desire to gain political points through the demonization of gay men. At the same time, I suddenly heard Ann Coulter defending gay men, so I really don't know if this is going to be bad or good. Likewise, I don't know how outing all gay republicans would help or harm.

-Will this scandal impact the November elections?

I don't know.

-Does this scandal have any relevance to pedophilia and/or homosexuality in general?

It will be spun that way. Anti-gays will continue to exploit the fear of the "gay predator" to make it appear that all gays are inherently untrustworthy around children or even around adults. If this question intends to ask, "Does the Mark Foley scandal lend credence to the all-gays-are-predators fear?" I would say no, it does not.
 
Dr. Blakeslee.

I think we're pretty much of similar minds on this topic.

Jimmy Gatt, and others.. About outing.

I said before I'm generally opposed to outing. I don't think it is effective as a political tactic (as if that could be a good enough reason), and I don't think it is the moral thing to do personally. I think everyone should have the right to determine their own identity (how's that for an opening for the ex-gay movement?), as well as the right to determine how to express it.

And besides, you can call me prideful if you want, but there are some folks that I don't want anybody to learn that they're gay. :-)

Okay, that's a joke.

But come to think of it, could that sort of attitude partly explain the timid response on the part of some upon learning of Foley's behavior? I think that's the crux of what I've been trying to get at while using far too many words.
 
I was particularly intrigued by two statements made in this thread. Both were good 'food for thought'.

Our society is overwhelmingly more protective of females but, in these instances of attempted molestation, I agree that the young males are more at risk. They do mature more slowly emotionally than females; they are more likely to take risks...to try 'adventurous' behaviors.

And Jim B's last statement (question)...could the fear of 'guilt by association' have silenced some who knew of Foley's attempts? It's not that they would be assumed to be predators but they could be assumed to be gay. While I'm basically against 'outing', I often think that when an individual pursues public office (i.e. politics) they ought to reckon with the fact that any 'deep dark secrets' could lead to unfortunate compromises. An individual who feels the need to keep closeted about their sexuality should pursue a line of work that isn't public.

In a slightly different vein, it would seem that as a society we hate pedophilia BUT we don't hate it as much as we should. The psychiatric profession has several issues which they MUST report even if told in the privacy of a therapeutic session. I believe that the potential molestation of a child or vulnerable adult is one of them. Those in the political arena ought to be held to the same requirements. There ought to be no excuse for failure to report such a threat.
 
jim burroway wrote:

"Jimmy Gatt, and others.. About outing. I said before I'm generally opposed to outing."

And I suppose I should have been more clear about my response.

Would it be a good thing (for gay men) if all gay Republicans were outed? I don't know.

Is outing, in general, a good thing? No way!
 
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