Homo Who Feels Sorry for Larry Craig?
posted by October 19 at 7:51 AMon
Uh… not me.
But Andrew Sullivan wrote a compassionate, thoughtful post after watching Matt Lauer’s thoroughly despicable and widely panned interview with Larry Craig and his wife Wednesday night. (Some of Lauer’s lousy reviews can be read here, here, and here.) Here’s Andrew:
I forced myself. It was excruciating. Beyond embarrassing. Extraordinarily painful—especially for his wife. Why on earth they decided to subject themselves to prolonging this agony is a question worth asking. And the answer, I think, is: they have to. At this point in their lives, to allow the possibility that Craig is indeed homosexual, that he has sustained, lived, internalized a fundamental lie for his entire life, and involved his wife and children in that lie, would be to destroy themselves. I am not going to exonerate the man from hypocrisy because it is impossible. But I do think his problem is far deeper.
He grew up in a different time, and a different place, where even the possibility of being gay was inconceivable. I don’t think he even thinks of himself as gay, or has any idea what being gay might actually mean. I think he thinks of his sexual orientation as a “lifestyle” (to use that hideous term Lauer kept referring to) that can be overcome the way one overcomes smoking or poor eating or sexual compulsion. And he constructed an identity in opposition to this “lifestyle” early, out of pain and defensiveness and terrible fear…
[Craig] is a hypocrite; and he made his choices. I am not going to dispute that. His voting record helped sustain the misery for others that he lived with himself. He is for ever responsible for that. But he is also a victim. And to see such a victim’s pain exposed brutally in a public restroom pains me. He needs help. So do millions of others.
There’s more to Andrew’s post, which can read in its entirety here.
Now as much as I hate to disagree with my ol’ buddy Andrew—first Folsom’s “Last Supper” poster and now this!—I have to say that I feel no sympathy whatsoever for Larry Craig. And it’s not just that the scale of his hypocrisy outweighs whatever sympathy I might feel for another human being in pain. Or that the transparent lies and the self-serving machinations piss me off so royally. Or that only a monster would put his wife and kids up to and through what Craig has since his arrest became public.
There’s simply no excuse for Larry Craig—certainly not the one Andrew points to.
Craig turned sixty two in July, and Andrew and others have pointed to Craig’s age as a mitigating factor. Craig missed out on the gay rights movement. He couldn’t conceive of living as an openly gay man, there weren’t examples out there, no role models. Perhaps if Craig had been born later, none of this—Craig’s closet, Craig’s voting record, Craig’s arrest—would have happened. Craig’s a victim.
Craig was born in 1945, which would have made him 24 years old in 1969, when the Stonewall Riots occurred in New York City. I wrote a piece for The Advocate about Jim West, another closeted gay Republican with an anti-gay voting record, after he was outed in 2005:
I felt sorry for them—for the older guys, the men in their 40s and 50s, that ever-present clump of middle-aged men who hung out in bars they were way too old for and lusted after guys who were way too young for them…. It was 1981, and I was three months shy of my 18th birthday. Unlike most of the other boys in the vapid crowd of just-out teenagers I was running with, I knew a little gay history and I could add and subtract.
When those older men in the bars were 18, it was 1961 or 1951—and it might as well have been 1661 for all the difference it made. When they were our age it just wasn’t possible to be an openly gay teenager. We were talking pre-Stonewall! The dark ages! There weren’t gay youth groups or gay bookstores or gay neighborhoods. No PFLAG, no NGLTF, no FFA. “Give ’em a break,” I used to tell my friends. “They missed out.”
But none of the sympathy I felt for middle-aged gay men I met in the early 1980s extended to West—or to any closeted middle-aged men today who fear getting caught.
West is 54 years old. That means he was 18 in 1969, the year of the Stonewall riots. He was 26 in 1977, the year that Harvey Milk was elected to the board of supervisors in San Francisco. He was 29 years old when I was 17 and hanging out in bars in Chicago.
He was 34 years old when my boyfriend was being beaten in his Spokane high school, in a district that West represented in the Washington State legislature.
Jim West knew better. He knew he didn’t have to live a lie. He knew he could have lived as an openly gay or bisexual man—bisexual is all West has admitted to in most of his interviews, although no pictures of young women were found on his work computer—but he chose not to. Unlike the older gay men I met in 1981, West and other closeted middle-aged men today didn’t come of age at a time when no one could conceive of openly gay and lesbian people and communities. (Or politicians: Washington State has four openly gay members of its legislature.) Jim West chose the closet and shame and lies and hypocrisy.
So while I had sympathy for gay men who came out late in life in the 1970s and 1980s, I find I have no sympathy for Jim West or other men like him today. Their stories aren’t tragic, they’re pathetic. They didn’t miss out. They opted out.
Like West, Craig knew better. Craig didn’t marry his wife until 1983, for crying out loud. It was impossible for Craig—even in Idaho—not to know exactly who and what he was in 1983. In two years we’ll be marking the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and the birth of the modern gay and lesbian civil rights movement. We simply can’t look at closeted guys in their sixties anymore and think, “Gee, how sad—he was too old to realize he could be out.” The men and woman that came out after Stonewall weren’t born in 1969. They were Craig’s peers.
Craig knew he didn’t have to live a lie. He knew he didn’t have to inflict himself on that poor woman. Craig’s story isn’t tragic, it’s pathetic. Craig, like West, didn’t miss out. He opted out.