The tragic opera of former congressman Mark Foley is the revenge of don't ask, don't tell.
Foley, a Republican from Florida, resigned Friday after e-mails and instant messages between him and several teenage congressional pages surfaced. The Republican leadership knew that at least one page had gotten e-mails where Foley admired the body of one of the page's friends, and asked the page for a picture of himself, e-mails the page naturally found sick and a bit creepy.
Republican leaders responded to the potential political problem by telling Foley to knock it off. With respect to the larger issue, though, there was no asking or telling. The boy's own revulsion at the obviously inappropriate attention was ignored, not only by Foley's partisan fellows, but by some news outlets that also had seen the e-mails.
If this has a familiar ring, look in the Catholic Church for the bell. Republican leadership was acting like the Catholic hierarchy, which played shell games with men accused of sexually abusing children. And there's a good reason for the similarity. The inability to deal straightforwardly with gay people leads to other kinds of truth-avoidance when things go south. But that's what comes from not wanting to know something, and going out of your way to remain ignorant.
We've come a long way since homosexuals had two basic options: the closet or jail. But a good portion of the electorate, most of them Republican, still seems to long for the good old days when we didn't have to think about ``those people." Both Libertarians and, generally, the Democratic Party have withdrawn their official support for the closet over time. States, too, are seeing what a losing battle this is, and allowing homosexuals to live their lives in conformity with, rather than opposition to, the law.
But that leaves Republicans and the religious right trying to live a 1950s lie in the new millennium. As Foley prepared in 2003 to run for the Senate, newspapers in Florida and elsewhere published stories about his homosexuality. But you'd never hear any of his colleagues saying such a thing. And Foley himself refused to discuss the issue, until his lawyer acknowledged Wednesday that the former congressman is indeed gay.
Being in the closet is hard to pull off without help, and for years Foley was eagerly abetted by his Republican brethren, whose willful blindness is at the heart of the current tragedy. Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, majority leader John Boehner, and others in the House leadership are still under the impression that the closet, like Tinkerbell, will continue to live as long as we all believe. And believe, they do -- against all the evidence.
But the number of people who believe in the closet is declining day by day and generation by generation. Hastert and the rest of his cronies are their own victims. The political turmoil they caused for themselves is only just.
But their failure to acknowledge the obvious reality has other victims as well: the boys whom Foley apparently pursued. Some of the messages show some tolerance of Foley's advances, but not much more. This was no one's ``Summer of '42." The healthy disgust in one boy's use of the word ``sick" repeated 13 times seems about right.
But what can one expect from denying grown men -- and women -- a normal, adult sex life? Whether the denial of adult intimacy comes from religious conviction or the ordinary urge toward conformity, people who run away from their sexuality nearly always have to answer to nature somehow. For people who fear abiding and mutual love, the trust and confusion of the young is a godsend. Add to that the perquisites of power, and a degenerate is born.
Fortunately for the arc of justice, the closet ultimately works against itself. Foley's case and the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal are the last screams of the dinosaurs. It took the dinosaurs a long time to finally die off, or evolve into creatures that could continue to survive, and the same will be true of the closet's final supporters. But they will look more and more ridiculous each time that they take pride in holding up the ruins of this particular antiquity while tending to the wounded when the building again collapses.
Like the Catholic Church, the Republican Party in Washington guarantees its own future calamities in its enduring and steadfast habit of pretending that, unlike heterosexuality, homosexuality can be either denied or suppressed.
David Link is a writer and attorney in Sacramento, and a member of the Independent Gay Forum.
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