This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog. It was published about three months ago, so of course the "right-wing politician/religious leader caught in sex scandal" du jour has changed. But the gist of the article remains very much the same. FTI, this piece talks about sex, but it doesn't talk about my personal sex life, so it should be safe for family members.
The story is pretty much boilerplate at this point. "Right-wing Republican politician/ prominent Christian Right leader, famous for advocating a rigid sexual morality, caught in sex scandal." It's hardly even newsworthy.
The latest, of course, is David Vitter, Republican senator from Louisiana, who built a career supporting abstinence-only sex education, opposing same-sex marriage, and generally trying to legislate sexual morality... and was recently identified as (and has admitted to being) a client of the D.C. Madam.
There's also right-wing evangelical preacher Ted Haggard, preaching about the evils of homosexuality and supporting a ban on same-sex marriage... having regular sex with a gay male prostitute. There's Republican Congressman Mark Foley, pushing for laws to protect minors from sex predators on the Internet... sending sexually explicit and seductive emails and instant messages to underage pages. There's Bob Allen, Republican representative in the Florida House and co-chair of McCain's presidential campaign, sponsoring a bill to tighten Florida’s public sex laws... getting arrested for offering a male cop $20 to blow him in a public bathroom.
And that's just in the last year.
I'm not even talking about Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Bob Livingston, the widespread pedophilia in the Catholic priesthood, and similar scandals from years past. It seems like cartoonist Tom Tomorrow is asking the right question: "Should we assume that every sanctimonious, moralizing Republican is a closeted sexual libertine -- or just most of them?"
So here's what I’m finding fascinating.
It's not just that these right-wing figures are generally preaching a rigid sexual morality that they don't practice. The pattern I find so compelling is that, for so many of them, the specific taboo sex acts they engage in are the exact ones they publicly campaign against.
Ted Haggard -- preached against the evils of homosexuality; had sex with a male prostitute. Mark Foley -- campaigned against Internet predators endangering minors; sent sexual and seductive emails and instant messages to teenagers. Bob Allen -- tried to tighten bans on public sex; solicited a guy in a public bathroom. And now Vitter -- opposed same-sex marriage to protect marriage's sanctity; cheated on his wife with prostitutes. (In what were reportedly some fairly unusual variations.)
It's almost eerie, how precisely the hypocrisy matches up.
Admittedly, a big part of this pattern comes from the media focus. Hypocrisy in powerful public figures is big news, and I'm sure there's some cherry-picking in the coverage. After all, "Married Congressman caught with hookers -- and he campaigned on the sanctity of marriage!" makes great headlines. "Married Congressman caught with hookers -- and he voted to renew the Farm Bill!" isn't going to make headlines anywhere but the Surrealist Times.
But even given that, there's a precision to the match-ups between the public condemnation and the private behavior that seems like more than coincidence and media focus.
Maybe it's all just smokescreens. You rant enough about the evils of homosexuality and pedophilia, and you figure nobody will suspect the truth about those teenage boys. But if all this sexual hypocrisy is a smokescreen, it's a singularly stupid one. It may protect you from suspicion for a while -- but when the hammer comes down, it's going to come down that much harder. So even from a purely pragmatic angle, you'd think that if you were offering $20 to blow strangers in public bathrooms, you'd pick an issue to campaign on other than the evils of public sex.
Or maybe it's the natural human tendency each of us has, to believe that we personally can be trusted to know which laws and rules should be obeyed, but that other people can't be and everybody else should just obey the law. But while that explains the right wingers' overall willingness to break sex laws and flout sexual taboos, it doesn't explain the eerie specificity with which their law/ taboo breaking matches their public condemnation.
What's that about, anyway?
I'm no expert. I'm not a psychologist or therapist. But based on my years of experience in the sex world, what this smells like to me is sexual guilt -- and overcompensation for it.
I don't think Ted Haggard was happy about having sex with men. I doubt seriously that David Vitter or Jimmy Swaggart felt great about seeing prostitutes. Ditto Mark Foley about being hot for teenage boys, or Bob Allen about picking up guys in public bathrooms. Maybe some of these right-wing hypocrites are laughing up their sleeves about how they've pulled one over on everyone. But for the most part, I think they feel tremendous guilt about wanting, and having, the exact kinds of sex that they believe are destroying society and making baby Jesus cry.
So they overcompensate. They hate themselves for wanting what they want and doing what they do... so they preach against it, and propose legislation against it, and do everything in their power to relocate their guilt out in the world instead of inside their own treacherous minds and bodies. They may even feel that, in fighting the scourge of homosexuality or whatever, they're somehow making up for their own misdeeds. I even have some compassion for them, although I'd have a whole lot more if they weren't screwing things up for the rest of us.
And this is just one more reason we need to work for a new sexual morality -- to shift it away from a guilty freakout over which tab goes in what slot, and towards a morality based on honesty and consent.
Because if people in power weren't so wracked with guilt about their own sexuality, I think they'd be a lot less obsessively controlling about everyone else's. If Ted Haggard hadn't felt so guilty about fucking men, maybe he'd have become a minister in the gay-positive MCC... instead of battling gay rights at every turn. If Mark Foley hadn't felt so guilty about emailing and IMing teenage pages, maybe he'd have felt comfortable going for guys who were young but legal... instead of trying to turn the Internet into a Norman Rockwell painting. And if David Vitter hadn't felt so guilty about wanting unusual fetishistic sex, maybe he and his wife could have come to an agreement about it... instead of trying to protect the sacred institution of marriage from the depraved ravages of gay people in love.
Just a thought.