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.
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.