What’s up with Republican politicos getting arrested by undercover cops for soliciting sex in public restrooms? First, Florida state representative Bob Allen, formerly John McCain’s state campaign co-chair, was arrested in July after he offered a police officer $20 for the privilege of performing oral sex. And today, news broke that back in June, Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho), long the subject of gay rumors, was arrested in a Minnesota airport by a plainclothes cop investigating lewd conduct in the men’s bathroom. Both men are married–to women. (See Max Blumenthal at Campaign Matters for more details.)
The moment is so thick with irony, I scarcely know where to begin. But let’s start with their incredibly lame attempts at damage control. Upon arrest, both Allen and Craig attempted to use their positions of power to escape charges (Craig handed over his US Senate business card to the officer and asked, "What do you think about that?).
Post-arrest, Allen, appealing at once to homophobia and racism, mounted a "black (gay) panic" defense. You see he wasn’t really interested in giving head, he was just trying to save his neck. Apparently, the cop was "a pretty stocky black guy" and "there were nothing but other black guys around in the park." Fearing he was "about to become a statistic," Allen did what any other, rational, straight (straight!), white man would do if he just so happened to find himself cruising a public restroom full of black men: fork over a Jackson and drop to your knees.
Less hysterical, but equally flimsy, is Craig’s story. Through his spokesman, Craig said that the whole incident was just a "he said/he said misunderstanding." Last year, when gay blogger Mike Rogers alleged that Craig had engaged in same-sex relations, Craig called the story "absolutely ridiculous, almost laughable." I wonder if Craig was laughing on August 8–when he plead guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges in a Minnesota County Court.
Of course, both Republicans have a long history of support for anti-gay legislation–in Craig’s case votes for the Federal Marriage Amendment and in Allen’s a court brief against gay adoption and authorship of a failed bill to ratchet up penalties for "unnatural and lascivious acts."
I’m sure as the press digests the Craig scandal, you’ll hear a lot about "hypocrisy," "repressed homosexuality" and "internalized homophobia." Good enough, I suppose, for making a somewhat cheap political point and sweeping these undeniably creepy, tragic guys back into the Brokeback Mountain days from whence they apparently came. But I wonder if the GOP’s burgeoning "bathroom problem" isn’t reflective of something larger than just a bunch of conservative dudes who couldn’t come out of the closet. There’s something palpably sad to me about what happened to Allen and Craig too, something oddly touching about their misplaced faith in the fading world of secret, anonymous gay sex. That world–once found in bathrooms, parks, piers and adult bookstores; the furtive refuges of adventuresome queers, married men, the curious–has been swept away by so many police raids, privatization schemes, quality of life campaigns and internet dating services. But mostly, it’s fallen away as gays have become increasingly integrated into the mainstream, and also, paradoxically, more marked than ever. "You’re either gay or you’re not" seems to be the equation.
Until someone like Craig, Allen, Mark Foley, Ted Haggard or Jim McGreevey shows up to ripple momentarily the waters of public discourse on sex. These guys have problems, no doubt. But we might also pause to wonder if there’s some cultural knot that gay liberation–despite its original and best intentions–has left in place. At the very least the link between public power and domestic heterosexuality–with all the fetishistic displays of family life that entails–has yet to be completely severed. Just ask Rudy Guiliani, or Hillary Clinton! Moreover, that knot, perhaps best described as sexual propriety, is what fuels the moral campaigns against homosexuality that have become one of the Republican Party’s identifying causes–loyally supported by the likes of Craig, Haggard, Foley, et. al. It’s also what leads Bob Allen to the stunning and revealing calculation that it would be better to be seen in the public eye as an avowed racist than as someone who likes to have sex with men sometimes.