Friday, August 31, 2007

The senator from Idaho

K-box mentioned on her blog the annoyance of the Senator from Idaho who was recently caught trying to solicit sex in a Minneapolis bathroom declaring over and over "I am not gay." I wrote an annoyingly long comment on her blog, and since I had been thinking about posting something on this, I copied my comment here, as a post. So here are my useless thoughts on the matter:

I admit that, even though I'm a liberal and therefore am supposed to be gleeful at a Republican's demise, I'm rather of two minds on the topic.

On the one hand, I really don't mind if the senator's sex life is kept nice and private. It's not my business. And while I'm not a huge fan of anonymous sex in bathrooms (in fact I've encountered men in park restrooms here seeming to be waiting and waiting and it makes me not want to enter the place and makes me go 'ick') the honest truth is that, if straight men could go into a bathroom and periodically have sex with a woman they'd never met, the line of people waiting to enter a stall would go out the door and around the airport terminal. And so, in some sense, it's even okay with me if a senator has a sex life that I don't fully approve of as long as it is consentual between adults and doesn't intrude on others (which is of course what public sex does).

On the other hand, of course, having sex in public is against the law. That really is relevant to public service. However, how great of a crime is it? It is a misdemeanor, right, not a felony. I don't know where exactly the dividing line is between breaking the law with a parking ticket and breaking the law in such a way that you are unfit to hold public office. Corruption goes straight to the heart of a senator's job, like gambling for a referee, but dubious sex doesn't really. Don't most couples at some point in the relationship try to do a little hanky panky outside, where it is actually illegal, but you hope no one sees you? Do you think you should be fired from your job if you and your boyfriend get it on under a tree once and get caught?

I can't help but think the reaction really is in large part based upon the solicited sex being same sex sex. If the senator was caught with a female lover in the airplane bathroom (the mile high club), there would be a very different reaction than if caught with a male lover. The former is a common fantasy for thousands or millions of people, but it is illegal. Joining the mile high club still might crash his electability -- see Gary Hart, for instance -- but the reaction would be less.

Truly, I'm lost on these issues, I confess. In some ways, it seems like a minor ethics violation, which should deserve some punishment but perhaps not being kicked out of the Senate, and then the people of Idaho should choose whether or not they want this person to represent them.

My last thought is that the senator, relating to his annoying and repetitive protests, may not truly be "gay" the way I define the term. My understanding has always been that human sexuality is a lot more fluid, let's make that variable, than we like to discuss. Since at least the Kinsey report in the 50s, we've had data that some large percentage of men, say 20%, 30%, have had some sort of physical encounter with another man some time in their life. But it isn't clear at all that all such men are all gay or even truly bisexual. They are men very attracted to women who also tried physical stuff with a man a few times. I don't know. I always take "gay" to mean a basic, lasting attraction to someone of your own sex with feelings of love and desire. The senator's actions could indeed be a repressed version of that, but they could also be a small sexual thrill he gets on the side with little more meaning to him than physical sensation. Indeed, one could imagine that it is the illicitness of the act that is the thrill he seeks, and not truly attraction to the other person. Of course, we can define being gay to include anyone who has a sexual encounter with someone of the same sex ever in their life, but it'd still be a very different type of being gay than a man who falls in love with men over and over.


Mamaebeth said...

unrelated to this post.
an article where an apology is demanded by chinese.

pacatrue said...

Yeah, that's great. Thanks. Though since it involves ninjas, I might put it in a footnote.

bunnygirl said...

I think one of the issues people have with this senator is that he's been very publicly "family values" and "anti-gay." A lot of people are just reacting to the hypocrisy.