The closet.

I tired of the Foley story 36 hours ago, even as it continues to amuse. It has sprung so many Hydra-heads — the political angle, the internet angle, the cover-up, the closet, the late-arriving “clergyman” who fondled our offender — that you really can’t cover it concisely anymore. Underneath it all is the Disgust: Well, what can you expect from those people? They have sex in toilets, after all.

I think about that last one a lot. In recent years, gay writers along the political spectrum have tried to wrestle it to the ground, and it seems to be a losing battle. Even if all gay men were upstanding and Cleaveresque (“Ward, I’m worried about the Beaver.” “Oh, Wally, you know he’s just a red-blooded American boy.” “That’s what I’m worried about.”) some straight people are simply going to be repulsed by the idea of what two men do in bed together. The fact that gay people feel the same way about what men and women do doesn’t bother them at all, so I advise gay people to take the same approach: Don’t worry about it and carry on.

Far more pervasive is disgust over the man/boy thing. I’d imagine most straight people would be a lot quicker to accept gay people if these stories would stop popping up. Priests and altar boys, congressmen and pages — unequal partners, lopsided in power, the corrupt elder sucking the juices (sorry) out of the innocent younger.

Every day brings some heterosexual version of this in the papers, but we ignore that. Only stories contaminated with gay catch our eyes.

I think it bugs us because it’s one of the big themes in humanity’s master narrative. Sex is a threshold everyone crosses with a partner. In most cases, one partner has crossed it before. Many believe it’s best to do it this way, avoid the two-fumbling-ignorant-teenagers model for one in which it’s at least possible to have some real pleasure, some instruction in how it’s supposed to go. All over the world, fathers take their sons to brothels for their first go-round; I’ve known a couple of these sons. In fact, when I think back, I remember lots of these lopsided cases among my peers — a babysitter stopping off for a quickie with her employer as he drove her home, an intern with a mentor. Nearly all ended without lasting damage, even as the parties believe what they did was wrong. It was just something that happened. As Donald Rumsfeld says, freedom is messy. I guess, if we really wanted to prevent it, we could structure our society so it never happens — keep young people under lock and key until they take wedding vows, dress girls head-to-toe in concealing clothing to avoid arousing temptation, impose religious sanctions on those who stray. It would look a lot like…never mind.

Add homosexuality to the mix, and you’ve really got a powder keg. Is there a creature with more sexual energy than a teenage boy? How about one who knows his feelings are wrong and bad and forbidden — just look at how dad sneers at those fags on “American Idol” — but still wants to express them? He doesn’t understand what goes where, who does what, how it works, and what’s more, other men seem to just know — about him, that is. A boy craves a teacher, and all of a sudden, here’s this friendly congressman who remembers his name, asks about his family, pays compliments.

Just so you understand: I think adults should keep their mitts off teenagers. I think they should avoid even thinking about it. I don’t care how hot Scarlett Johansson is. That’s for Benecio Del Toro to think about, not you. But I also think that if we want this to happen less often, we might try giving gay teenagers in particular another door to walk through, one that doesn’t lead to public bathrooms and wooded areas in parks and other venues of shame and concealment. You won’t save every one from the Rep. Foleys of the world, but you might save a few.


Foley was the very picture of self-loathing, of the corrupting closet: Here in Florida, where people knew him longest and best, friends said he kept his sexuality quiet because the most influential forces in his life, his parents and the political world he thrived in, would not accept him otherwise.

The high-octane congressman who loved name dropping and photo shoots went to excruciating lengths, it seems, to keep probing questions at bay.

“I never asked outright because I thought it would be inappropriate,�? said Billy Brooks, a town council member in Palm Beach who was Mr. Foley’s high school guidance counselor. “I suppose if I had my druthers, I would have said, ‘Let’s get it out and get it over with.’ It was always bubbling under the surface.�?

Did you know the Catholic Medical Association still teaches that “overprotective mothers” are a common element in the backgrounds of gay men? Uh-huh, along with this: “If the emotional and developmental needs of each child are properly met by both family and peers, the development of same-sex attraction is very unlikely.” Thanks. And get out there and play some football, ya fairies!

The perils of live TV reporting, at least in Columbus. Thanks to Marcia.

Don’t bother spending $30 on “State of Denial.” Slate has condensed it down to the good parts.

I only met R.W. Apple Jr. — “Johnny” to all — once. He was a FoKWF (Friend of the Knight-Wallace Fellowship) and spoke at a conference our class hosted, on food writing. I recall his talk was a disappointment; he spoke of fusion cuisine, of which he disapproved. But he was jolly and funny and you just knew he’d be a blast to have dinner with. The Calvin Trillin profile in The New Yorker might have been on the stands that very week, and remains the single best source for understanding his legend. For a roundup of all the tributes, Romenesko is the best starting place.

Posted at 9:45 am in Current events, Popculch |

27 responses to “The closet.”

  1. ashley said on October 5, 2006 at 10:16 am

    Here’s a nice article about Apple and his love for the people and cuisine of New Orleans.

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  2. Kirk said on October 5, 2006 at 10:18 am

    re: foley. let’s not forget that he suddenly has decided that he needs alcoholism treatment. funny, the same thing occurred to slimeball Rep. Bob Ney after he agreed to plead guilty to feeding at the trough of criminal lobbyists. maybe they can share a room.

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  3. nancy said on October 5, 2006 at 10:40 am

    Kirk, I can’t believe the tongue-at-a-lesbian-convention interview didn’t make the Dispatch’s greatest-hits-of-the-conference-room-TV roundup, the way Dave Kaylor’s dentures malfunction did.

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  4. MichaelG said on October 5, 2006 at 11:19 am

    The thing that gets me about Foley is the hypocrisy.

    For the rest of them, it’s the hypocrisy, the ducking and the cover-up.

    A gay guy named “Beaver”? Reminds me to wonder what they call the Oregon State women’s teams.

    I used to get momentary eyebrow raises by saying “I don’t like girls.” — pause — “I like women”.

    Who knows about teenage male sexuality. I don’t think my life would have been ruined if Miss Karvelas (an English teacher on whom I had a serious crush in High School) would have made my dreams come true. Interestingly she was the same age then that Scarlett Johansson is now – 22.

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  5. Danny said on October 5, 2006 at 11:45 am

    But I also think that if we want this to happen less often, we might try giving gay teenagers in particular another door to walk through, one that doesn’t lead to public bathrooms and wooded areas in parks and other venues of shame and concealment. You won’t save every one from the Rep. Foleys of the world, but you might save a few.

    Nance, it seems that most of this is true for hetero teens too. Woods and back seats are places teens will frequent, regardless of orientation. Most parents don’t want their teenagers having sex and for very good reasons. And maybe some would disagree, but taking a teen to a whore is just riduclously bad judgment, on the scale of child endangerment.

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  6. mary said on October 5, 2006 at 11:50 am

    Hmm, maybe it would be a good idea to assume the teen is going to have sex anyway,and to give the teen as much information as possible and reassure him/her that sex is neither weird nor wrong. It’s powerful stuff and should be considered as such, but with care and caution it’s not so bad.

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  7. nancy said on October 5, 2006 at 11:52 am

    Danny, I agree with all of it. The difference between gay and straight teens, though, is that straight ones are told if they wait long enough, sooner or later they can do it. It’s approved adult behavior. Whereas gay ones are still visiting the woods and parks well into adulthood (sometimes with their children’s baby seats still strapped in the back seat of the car). Accepting homosexuality as a valid way to be won’t eliminate cruising, but you gotta hope it might knock it down a little.

    Of course, in the age of HIV, no one would take a teenager to a prostitute. I’m saying it happens, and I know someone it happened to — dad was European and saw it as his duty. This was decades back, but there you are.

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  8. Kirk said on October 5, 2006 at 1:11 pm

    the ben gelber live weather correspondent phone call has been tivoed to death in our newsroom. we’re even using it as a jumping-off point for a story on the perils of going live on tv. it was truly a great moment in the annals of video.

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  9. Dwight the Troubled Teen said on October 5, 2006 at 2:59 pm

    Ms. Nancy, you had me cheering at my desk… Right up to the “I don’t care how hot Scarlett Johanson is” part.

    First we (as a society) draw a legal bright line in the age of consent, even if that line is all over the place (16 in D.C. 18 in FL). Then we blur the line according to the outrage level of any given parent.

    The kid in question with Foley turns out to be 18 at the time Dufus was hitting on him. I’m still creeped out by the whole thing, but that’s more about my homosqueemish factor than it should be.

    Maybe if we are going to classify 18 year olds as “children”, we should collectively up the age of consent.

    Twenty five? Is that high enough? Does that work? As long as we up the minimum draft age accordingly, I’m good with twenty five.

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  10. nancy said on October 5, 2006 at 3:15 pm

    I was probably unclear about Scarlett Johansson.

    I was thinking of something I read yesterday, which used a picture of a 16-year-old S.J. to underscore that there’s no bright line of human desire, that any man who looked at her with lust in his heart was definitely not a pedophile.

    Doesn’t matter, though. Sixteen is 16, and consent laws are there to remind the world we mean what we say about ’em.

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  11. mary said on October 5, 2006 at 3:43 pm

    The Catholic Medical guide about homosexuality is wonderful. It lists enough causes to cover pretty much everyone’s upbringing in some way, thus proving they’re right. Based on that list of causes, it’s probable that both my kids are gay, as am I, their dad, and pretty much everyone I know.

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  12. nairb reduots said on October 5, 2006 at 4:21 pm

    So, NOW – at least one of the pages is diving deeply into the deny!-deny!-deny! self-loathing thing (“it was all a joke! a joke! and I’n NOT gay!!”)

    this is starting to look like the movie about the Profumo affair – “Scandal”

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  13. ashley said on October 5, 2006 at 4:57 pm

    “The kid in question with Foley turns out to be 18 at the time Dufus was hitting on him.” Source? Like a real one, not a wingnut one?

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  14. Danny said on October 5, 2006 at 5:07 pm

    Whatzamattawithyou, Ash? It’s a developing story on Drudge. So it’s like set in stone. Right?

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  15. Dwight the Troubled Teen said on October 5, 2006 at 6:10 pm

    Yeah, Ash. It sucks when something pesky like the truth gets in the way of riteous blind hatred. Sorry, man. Don’t let that slow you down. If you can blame Bush for a hurricane, surely you can blame every ‘publican down to the local dog catcher for Foley. They are all covering up… For something that isn’t even a crime… for some reason we just haven’t figured out yet.

    You go, Dawg.

    And Scarlett Johanson is almost 22. She was rather awkward and goofy looking back in her Horse Whisperer days. Who was scamming on her at 16? Guh.

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  16. Dwight the Troubled Teen said on October 5, 2006 at 6:19 pm

    Okay. Saw the SJ pic. I retract. Not Guh, but not exactly Wowsers either.

    You know, the natural order of things kind of takes care of such situations. Does anybody think that SJ is going to hook up with a creepy old guy just because a creepy old guy is piqued? The innate revulsion young women have for paunchy, middle-aged goombahs pretty much nullifies any chance of a nefarious encounter.

    Well… You know… Benicio Del Toro aside, I mean.

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  17. Ricardo said on October 5, 2006 at 6:31 pm

    You skipped the part about the money. Where does a guy like Foley get a cool mil to give to the GOP? Was the $100k given to Reynolds hush money? The entire mil? These congressmen and congresswomen start out rather poor in some cases but end up being millionaires before returning to their private life. Their salary isn’t that great.

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  18. ashley said on October 5, 2006 at 7:40 pm

    Oh, so you got no source. Ok.

    Spin away.

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  19. Danny said on October 5, 2006 at 8:47 pm

    Oh, so you got no source. Ok.

    Exactly. Ashley, is totally right.

    Dwight, this story is going to be a slippery one. And it is really going to be more about perception than anything else. Best just to set back and watch it develop.

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  20. nairb reduots said on October 6, 2006 at 11:29 am

    OK – I confess that this made me laugh out loud

    headline –

    Pacers’ Jackson in wild incident at strip club

    subhead –

    Forward fires 9 mm pistol after being hit in mouth, struck by car, cops say

    See – take a bunch of men with lots of money and lots of free time (whether they’re members of congress, or professional athletes, or toe-sucking pollsters, or whatever) – and you will get a steady stream of stories like this

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  21. Julie said on October 6, 2006 at 11:30 am

    “You skipped the part about the money. Where does a guy like Foley get a cool mil to give to the GOP? Was the $100k given to Reynolds hush money? The entire mil?”

    Foley has been described as a successful fundraiser. The money wasn’t his in the sense that it came from his personal wealth. Rather, he raised it by putting the hit on potential contributors direcly and speaking at lots and lots of fundraising receptions. Like many pols, he was jazzed about being around people. One of the articles that I read recently said that he “woke up in the morning looking for an event to go to.” That gregariousness helped him in the fundraising arena. He was popular in his district and would have won. Senior people in Congress are, I also read recently, expected to raise money that others who are not in safe seats can use in their campaigns.

    So I don’t think that raising the million is noteworthy. (Hillary Clinton apparently has a bank account containing more than $20M.) What I’ve heard is that the unusual aspect of this is giving it in out in such large amounts. So there may be something to the hush money idea . . . or, without imputing criminality, a recognition that making substantial contributions was a way to deal with being marginal.

    Foley did not come from a rich family, and I don’t think he became wealthy before getting into politics. He didn’t go to college and had been a restaurant owner and operator at some point in the past. Many senators are millionaires, but that’s less likely to be true for representatives. According to the Post, some of them have a hard time dealing w/ the need to get by in the very expensive DC real estate market and the need to maintain a home of some kind in their districts.

    They deal w/ this in different ways. Chuck Schumer, who is, of course, a senator, shares an apartment with some other Congresspeople and travels to his home in NY. That’s easy for someone who can take a quick trip on the shuttle, but doesn’t work so well for someone whose district is in Wyoming or LA.

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  22. Julie said on October 6, 2006 at 11:38 am

    “take a bunch of men with lots of money and lots of free time (whether they’re members of congress, or professional athletes, or toe-sucking pollsters, or whatever) – and you will get a steady stream of stories like this”

    Interesting that you say that. Andrew Sullivan, a political/cultural blogger who is gay, noted the obvious–that there were no women involved in the Foley mess.

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  23. michaelj said on October 6, 2006 at 12:54 pm

    The money issue is interesting. For absolutely, on-record certain, Foley has passed on $550,000 to the Republican National Campaign Committee. Over the next few days, somebody is sure to keep a running talley of his further largesse as skittish individual GOP colleagues trip over their tongues to give money back or to sexual abuscharities or whatever. Meantime, $2.7mil sits in Maf54’s coffers, and that must be driving the party money politburo slobbering crazy. (Aesop’s fox and those grapes he lusts after but can’t reach.)

    Metaphorically, this recalls R. Raygun and his wistful reminiscence about an America in his youth that simply wasn’t aware there were Negroes. So now it’s sexual preference Bantustans in Big Tent Country, and campaign loot serves for identification papers before curfew.

    One way or another, it’s the cash, stupid. So after years of these bastard’s making political headway excoriating Clinton’s policies concerning gays and the armed forces,it seems that the Grand Old Prevaricators were past masters of don’t ask/don’t tell, praise the lord, and pass the contributions.

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  24. Danny said on October 6, 2006 at 1:08 pm

    Added some new photos to Flickr. My nephews are some good looking lads!

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  25. Danny said on October 7, 2006 at 8:21 am

    A followup story regarding service dogs for disabled people:

    In this story, I think the owner of the restaurant was probably wrong, but my wife and I have severe allergies and so we see the other side of the situation. When someone abuses public trust and wants to bring a “companion” dog for “emotional support” on all of their shopping tasks, it irritates me.

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  26. Bob said on October 8, 2006 at 6:01 pm

    “… we might try giving gay teenagers in particular another door to walk through, one that doesn’t lead to public bathrooms and wooded areas in parks and other venues of shame and concealment.”

    I have to shout a loud “Amen” to that.

    I was so thoroughly indoctrinated with Midwestern “sex is dirty” Fundamentalism and the concept that homosexuals are vile creatures that live in restrooms on the east and west coasts, and seldom, if ever, venture this far inland, that I was in my twenties before, overcome by hormones when unexpectedly presented with opportunity, I made my first foray into the forbidden territory. It went so badly, and I was so overcome by guilt, that it was three years before my next attempt.

    What ensued was a an attempt to make up for lost time, leading to many encounters with all the wrong people (because they’re always the ones who are most readily available) in many of the wrong places. I experienced a lot of emotional and physical abuse and a lot of financial loss in the process. I won’t go so far as to say that it marked me for life, but the physical bruises healed ‘way before the emotional ones did.

    When sexuality is driven underground by prejudice and stigma, it manifests in its lowest forms. Being gay is not a moral failure or mental illness, and people should stop treating others as if they’re corrupt or crazy just because of their sexual orientation.

    There’s nothing queer about being gay.

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  27. Ricardo said on October 8, 2006 at 9:53 pm

    I knew one of the bright people would know about Foley’s money.

    Now, Reagan also served in office while he had alzheimer’s disease, maybe for half his term. That explains a lot of his crazy talk.

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