The debate over the Mark Foley scandal has boiled down to just two questions: Bad for Republicans? Or bad for the gays?
It’s seems to me that it could wind up being bad for Republicans and bad for gays—including all you gay Republicans. (Hey there, Ken Mehlman!) The Republican leadership and right-wing Christian nutters in their base, like the Catholic hierarchy before them, desperately want to pin the blame on homos—as if we created and enforced the culture of the closet, a culture that creates, protects, and rewards men like Mark Foley.
But the average American could, after this is all over, trust Republicans less and fear homos more. We can head that off if out homos and sensible heteros keep hammering home the one thing that distinguishes the Mark Foleys of the world, e.g. the gays you should fear, from the gays you should not fear: being out. Yes, yes: out folks have done and do shitty things, of course. (Hey there, Andrew Cunanan!). But out folks generally do not have are sex lives warped by shame and secrecy—the kind of sex life, in other words, that lends itself to desperate, abusive behavior.
Shame and fear of discovery dominates the psyche of a Mark Foley, making any and all attempts to obtain sexual release fraught with panic. You can’t sustain a relationship inside the closet, in part because so few gay men are willing to settle for that kind of relationship anymore. So what are your sexual options if you’re a Mark Foley? Cruisy parks, booking a rentboy, slipping into a bathhouse—all risky activities, and not something you’re likely to do unless you can find a way to, you know, lower your inhibitions somehow. Which brings us to…
Some people doubt that Foley is actually a drunk. I don’t doubt it—most closet cases are.
While some out gay men have serious substance abuse problems, Lord knows, the closet and the bottle were made for each other. I’ll go farther than that: The culture of the closet wouldn’t survive ten freakin’ minutes without booze. When you’re not particularly horny, just miserably lonely, booze numbs the pain. When you’re horny, booze is the only thing that allows you to suppress your fear and shame long enough to finally go out there and get some. What an incentive to drink! Which brings us to…
A lot of closet cases go in for boys. And why not? Hot fucking boys—and when I say “boysā€¯ I mean “guys anywhere from the age of consent to extremely well-preserved 35 year-oldsā€¯—are, you know, fucking hot. And America, despite the impression you may have gotten over the last few days, absolutely loves boys. Most of the male sex symbols of the past twenty or thirty years have been men with boyish looks, bodies, or both. David Cassidy, Joey Lawrence, Tom Cruise, Leonardo DiCaprio circa Titanic, Ashton Kutcher, Brad Pitt circa Thelma and Louise, Jake Gyllenhall.
But closeted boys, particularly the ones under 21, bring something else to the table besides the reigning male beauty ideal and, absurdly enough, some of the same signifiers of fertility that attract straight men to teenage women. For the closet case boys are appealing because, often, they’re not all that bright. They’re easily impressed by even a modicum of power and money. And if they’re gay and closeted too, which some of Foley’s crushes appear to have been, they have shame and fear issues of their own, which makes them extremely easy to manipulate.
For the closet cases, a sex partner that is every bit as fearful of disclosure as they themselves are is an attractive thing. But for an older closet case to attract younger closet cases he has to be successful—he has to have power, money, status.
When two deeply closeted men—whatever their ages—sleep together, it’s like some gay version of M.A.D., or “mutual assured destruction,ā€¯ the balance of terror that got us through the worst of Cold War. He’s not going to reveal your secret because you would, in turn, reveal his. You both have the power to destroy each other. An adult in Foley’s position—a closeted congressman—may objectively have more to lose if his secret is revealed, but a closeted, fearful, easily manipulated gay teenager is likelier to feel more vulnerable. While the closeted adult might “justā€¯ lose his job, the closeted teenager fears losing his parents, the financial support they provide him, his home, his siblings, his friends. His whole world, really, is at risk.
And younger closeted gay teens are often attracted to older male closet cases for a reason that’s as depressing as it thankfully is fleeting. A lot of gay teenagers—particularly ones with conservative and/or religious parents—in despair decide that they’re never going to come out. To most openly gay men a closet case is a pathetic relic from another age, but to a gay teen still bargaining with fate, an older, successful, wealthy, powerful and closeted gay man is a role model. The older closet case shows the younger one that he can have it all—power, money, status, a straight-identified life, and lots of gay sex.
Most gay teens who mess around with older closet cases quickly come to their senses—nothing cures a desire to remain closeted more than hanging out with some depressing, fearful, drunken old closet case—but the old closet cases stumble on until booze gets the better of them and they do something so stupid and risky that they finally manage to out themselves.