Saturday, October 16, 2004

Sexual Politics

When was it that the door was opened and the sexual pecadillos and orientations of our elected officials became a subject of public discourse? Certainly after LBJ and JFK had exited stage left. To my mind, the first ghost of it came with the interview of Jimmy Carter where he confessed that he had 'lust in his heart' for women other than his wife, Roslyn. Or maybe it showed up with Congressman Wilbur Mills who danced in the fountain with Fanne Fox, the young woman of questionable virtue. Such is the value of age, that these foibles fade from mind, though they were sharply incised once.

Then at some point the focus veered from hetero to homosexual philanderings. I remember when Bob Bauman, the very conservative congressman from Maryland was outed in 1981 for his taste in young boys. The jokes around D.C. were fast and furious: "born in Maryland but reared in D.C." was one of them. Eventually Barney Frank and others gave a sober face to gay politicians but the whinge factor is still there. As witnessed by the cringing when John Kerry uttered the "L" word in his third and last debate with President Bush, referring to Mary Cheney and her sexual orientation. What it seems to come down to is that the Republicans, though they refuse to say it, think that being gay or lesbian is a choice, like whether you have gas or oil heat in your house. The Democrats, by and large, believe that it is an innate preference, akin to being lefthanded or having brown eyes.

I have a brother who is gay. Back when we were closer than we are now, he asked me, "Do you think that, knowing all the trouble that this would cause me in life, I actually chose this oritentation?" I believed him. But my mother as late as 4 years ago still said daily rosaries for him to 'come to his senses,' and my sister gave him a pamphlet that indicated with enough prayer he could lead a happy hetero life. Obviously, they saw his homosexuality as a choice.

I think they fear that if it isn't a choice, there is no accountability, no responsibility for his actions. He is free to do as he pleases. Kind of like when W found 'god'--it absolved him from his responsibility for his 20 year drug and drinking binge and obtaining an abortion for his girlfriend. What they forget is that one always has accountability for one's actions regardless of sexual orientation. And if this sexual orientation 'thingy' as GHWB used to say is a matter of choice, then all it takes is an act of will for gays to come back to the fold. That is why Republicans can support a Marriage Amendment to the Constitution. Because if they admitted that being gay is not a matter of choice, then they would have to admit that they are imposing second class citizenship on a group of US citizens that is simply akin to that done to African Americans in the Dred Scott decision. This is the real place for Dred Scott, not the abortion debates. But then that makes the Republicans no better than Justice Taney, which should be an anathema. Thus, they continue to perpetrate their illusions.

But in the end and at the core, this is all about sex, and American society has at least since Victorian times been schizophrenic when it comes to sex. Always a sunny, androgynous, face to present to the world, with the darker implications of one's sexuality left in dank, dark basements of our minds and sometimes even literally in our lives. Until we as a society can address this conflict that lies at the foundation of our weltanschaung, we will never be able to free ourselves from the chains that such an approach creates.

Lets start to clean out our basements and actually bring out sexuality in to the open for a good, thorough examination. Ironically, if we can do this, things might get healthier in our lives and in that of the body politic.

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