A man's home is his closet!

Andrew Sullivan believes that "the closet" is responsible for many evils.

First it was Mark Foley:

the news about Mark Foley has a kind of grim inevitability to it. I don't know Foley, although, like any other gay man in D.C., I was told he was gay, closeted, afraid and therefore also screwed up. What the closet does to people - the hypocrisies it fosters, the pathologies it breeds - is brutal....

What I do know is that the closet corrupts. The lies it requires and the compartmentalization it demands can lead people to places they never truly wanted to go, and for which they have to take ultimate responsibility. From what I've read, Foley is another example of this destructive and self-destructive pattern for which the only cure is courage and honesty. While gays were fighting for thir basic equality, Foley voted for the "Defense of Marriage Act". If his resignation means the end of the closet for him, and if there is no more to this than we now know, then it may even be for the good.

Doesn't that sound a bit like a sermon? You'd almost think that "the closet" was something deeply sinister, and deeply immoral, causing people to lose their ability to control themselves and commit great evil.

Now it's Ted Haggard:

this is what the closet does: it is a dagger aimed at the heart of the family. It has wrecked so many marriages, destroyed so many families, traumatized so many kids. It must end.
Is it really "the closet" that has wrecked marriages and destroyed families? Or might there be a legitimate fear that by labeling yourself gay, you'll be limiting your choices, forcing yourself into a box, and ultimately setting in motion a chain of events that will wreck your marriage and traumatize your kids?

These aren't quite the same thing.

But to Sullivan, they are:

Until we achieve full gay equality and acceptance, families will continue to suffer terribly from the closet and those who defend and uphold it. But there is help out there.
But there is help? Many Americans do not like religious leaders pontificating and telling them what to do with their genitalia.

Is it possible that Andrew Sullivan is doing the same thing?

Unless I am wrong in my analysis, what Sullivan is saying is that there is no right to sexual privacy. While he describes himself as a conservative, his thinking seems awfully unconcerned about the rights of the individual. Where it comes to sex, what matters is what others do with their penises.

Frankly, I see little difference between that type of intolerance and that displayed by guys like Haggard and his ilk. Forgive me for repeating what I said yesterday, but I think it applies:

There's no live and let live with people like [Haggard]. Homosexuality is something to be fought personally -- and not just within oneself. It is something that must be fought in other people, even total strangers. Why anyone would care what another person does with his genitalia is something I will never understand. But that's one of my blind spots. I don't understand it because I don't think or behave that way. As I've tried to explain countless times, I see sexual intercourse as a matter between the people having or wanting to have it. The only person who has any reasonable or logical right to worry about my choice of sex partners would be someone who has or wants to have sex with me (or, of course, someone with whom I might want to have sex). But this runs afoul of the communitarian view that everyone's business is everyone else's collective business, and while I have tried to understand this view, I just don't feel it internally, and I doubt I ever will.
If there is such a thing as sexual freedom, it must mean the right to conduct your sex life in whatever way you see fit. In my view, people who think other people's sexuality is their business are undermining sexual freedom, and individual dignity. Sure, they're within their First Amendment rights. But preaching is preaching, and butting into other people's business is butting into other people's business.

Ted Haggard, of course, is so much in the news that I don't think this type of speculation constitutes butting in.

Well, what about him? What remains of his "closet"? And what exactly is it? I'd never given him a thought until yesterday, but I read that he has a wife and kids. Presumably, Andrew Sullivan would have him leave the wife and kids so that he can settle down in a gay ghetto somewhere and repent his evil ways. Haggard's own crowd doubtless have their version of the morality play. He's a very public person, so it really doesn't lend itself to the same type of analysis that might apply to an ordinary citizen, but suppose -- let's just suppose -- that he has sexual feelings for his wife. Would Andrew Sullivan allow that? Or is it taboo in the same way that the "other" side considers his homosexual feelings taboo? Something about the way the phrase "The Closet" is used implies that there are only two sexualities -- and that you're either one or the other. In my unprofessional, un-preacher lay opinion, the real victims of this are bisexuals. They exist, but they dare not, they may not ever, admit to bisexuality, for there are severe penalties attached. It's because of a meme called "The Closet."

From what I've seen in life, there are two types of closets. One is for "discreet" gays. These are people who might be "out" with their friends, maybe some co-workers (then maybe not), and maybe some family members. But they don't want the boss to know. And it would kill grandma! There are of course degrees of being in the closet. Some gays are so obvious that they couldn't have a closet if they wanted it, while others (even including the ones who brag about how "out" they are) typically do not want total strangers to know they're gay, as it might create incovenient or awkward situations. Might even lead to name-calling, or worse. So, while there's quite a large spectrumology involved in this first type of closet, what they all have in common is that they acknowledge -- to themselves and to at least some other people -- that they are gay.

The other type of closet is much more complicated, and that is the bisexual closet. What most gay activists cannot acknowledge is that real, genuine bisexuals exist. I have known many, and especially in the case of men, every one of them is forced to identify as heterosexual. That's because they have to. There is no bisexual option. Bisexual is simply a word that gay activists consider synonymous with "the closet." And because of the self-perpetuating nature of the meme, any bisexual man foolish enough to admit publicly that he is bisexual will be treated with condescending pity, as if he's still in "the closet," but "on his way" to being "out." (Meaning not bisexual, but gay.) I believe that so long as this inability to recognize bisexuality exists, bisexuals will be at war with a political concept called "the closet" -- which more than anything is perpetuated by identity politics. (The existence of bisexuality is not a new topic in this blog. It might be as old as Western civilization. Trouble is, the word itself implies a division that's a modern creation.)

Expressions like "the closet" and "outing" have become political code language, and are increasingly being used to terrorize people. I remember a time when "come out of the closet" was an expression which encouraged people to simply be themselves. Now it's little more than a thought virus in the arsenal of the identity politics police. Identity politics means that if you belong to a group, you have no self that's worthy of protection. What you do with your genitals matters! Your penis has become the collective property of others.

Has sexual privacy become evil?

I'm tempted to ask whether Andrew Sullivan has a sense of humor, but that might not be seen as very funny at all.

Truth is, despite my sense of humor, I find myself succumbing to the usual thinking -- that subjects like the nation's "closet wars" aren't very funny.

But then I see stuff like (via Glenn Reynolds) Woody Allen's interview with Rev. Billy Graham (a man who Allen said "knew God personally"), and I'm reminded of the redemptive value of humor.

But some things aren't funny, right?

No, some things aren't. Or they aren't supposed to be -- not even if they're funny because they're not supposed to be funny. ("That's not funny!" is the punch line to the old "how many lesbian feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb?" joke. )

Try as I might to imagine it, I just can't see Andrew Sullivan doing a funny interview with Ted Haggard. (Not even if Jeff Goldstein wrote the script!)

Can humor be used like krazy glue to stick together things that aren't funny? Not that I'm trying to be stuck on funny, but unfunny things have a way of getting stuck on unfunny, and I'm at a loss to understand why.

It's not as if I haven't tried before, but maybe I should try stuff like this more often:

When I was in college, there was a lot of good natured banter between religious fundamentalists and gay activists (if anyone is interested, I used to harass the evangelists, who would harangue in return!), and I was thinking that maybe the "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" program could find a young, single, male, anti-homosexual activist from the religious right who otherwise fills their bill and possibly do a total makeover!

Surely, somewhere out there, some lonely young member of the antigay religious right finds himself in need of a date but has the usual problems: terrible wardrobe, bad haircut, grooming problems, tacky living space -- you know -- the whole host of problems that the show specializes in "treating."

In return for consenting to be a guest on the show, the evangelist would be allowed by the Queer Eye folks a full segment in which he could try to convert them, yell at them, attempt to cure them -- whatever it might take to save them from the sin of homosexuality.

Depending on how this went, the episode might be high camp, and it could also serve as a reminder that we are all human.

Well, we are all human, aren't we?

Or are things like humor best kept in in the closet?

If so, then maybe the "the closet" is funnier than it appears.

It might even be funnier than Andrew Sullivan realizes.

UPDATE: Thanks to a careful reader for letting me know that I inadvertently referred to "Mark Foley" as "Tom Foley."

I blame the evils of the closet.

(The defoleyated one, that is.)

MORE: Speaking of closets, Dean Esmay is trying to stuff the B-52s' Fred Schneider into one!

Oh the hypocrisy! Oh the lies and compartmentalization!

posted by Eric on 11.04.06 at 09:52 AM


Please explain to me why any thinking person gives a flying fig about what Andrew Sullivan has to say about anything.

Andrew used to have something to say. In all seriousness, he now appears to be in the advanced stages of a horrible disease. Dementia is among the host of terrible consequences of this illness. He's now like the crazy grandma in the attic that will occasionally shout out mean and bizarre comments about others.

Pray for him if you're a praying man. But there's really no reason to quote him and to analyze his recent pronouncements.

(Although, I will agree that the thinking of most gay activists -- that there is no right to same-sex sexual privacy -- that gay men are not entitled to be discrete in their sexual affairs -- and that gay men should be blackmailed into behaving in ways pre-approved by the activist community -- is worthy of discussion separate and apart from the Sullivan quoting.)

Rhodium Heart   ·  November 4, 2006 12:08 PM

I was hoping that a post from a lowly blogger like me might get Andrew to lighten up, that's all. He was nice enough to link me recently, and I have been reading him for a long time. As to whether "any thinking person gives a flying fig about what Andrew Sullivan has to say about anything," well, a lot more people read Sullivan than read me.

I'd hesitate to assert that they're not thinking. For all I know, some of them might not even agree with Andrew.

Eric Scheie   ·  November 4, 2006 12:53 PM

I'm interested in the bisexuality angle. As I've argued before, there are two kinds of bisexuality; actually there are infinite kinds. Whatever problems may exist in his research overall, Kinsey was right that sexuality exists on a continuum. And lot's of other things do too: height, weight, intelligence, even race. If you are somewhere around "3" on the Kinsey scale, "bisexual" may properly apply as a label. All other bisexuals are fully attracted to one gender, less than fully to the other.

As I've noted in some of my past blogposts, if a person is fully attracted to one gender, less than fully to the other, it might make better sense to define and understand that person, not as "bisexual," but according to that gender to whom the person is fully attracted.

Say Haggard is fully attracted to guys, but has *some* incidental attraction to women (thus, not a perfect Kinsey 6). He's got enough attraction to his wife to father 5 children (as a Kinsey 6 would not); but he never had the strong passion with her to begin with -- and after X years married, his relationship with her is almost completely Platonic, as whatever initial limited sexual feelings there might have been are completely gone.

Does it make sense for such a person to be understood as "bisexual" even though, in the long run, he could flourish homosexually only? Such incidental bisexuality, I think best captures most gay men who get married, father children and come out in middle age. Were they perfect Kinsey 6s, I don't think they could have gotten it up and performed. I think they are probably somewhere between 4-5 on the Kinsey scale. They don't want to identify as "bisexual" because that would signal a "meaningful choice" over sexual partners which they feel they don't have.

Jon Rowe   ·  November 4, 2006 1:58 PM

There's another problem with the bi or gay or straight labels, which is that sexual attractions are often to a person, not to a group. A man who isn't normally attracted to men might find one particular guy irresistible, or the same way for a man not normally attracted to women. What labels are appropriate if love occurs and a relationship develops? Are these labels necessary, and who is to be charged with bestowing them?

I don't know what Haggard's deal is, so it's all speculation what to label him. He may be mostly gay and unhappy with his wife, he may be bi and be unhappy with his wife, and I suppose it's theoretically possible he might be mostly straight but found himself drawn to this particular man.

If the same thing had happened with a female prostitute it wouldn't be considered as disgraceful, or as hypocritical -- even if he preached against adultery every Sunday. Double standards abound.

I agree that usually there's a preference for a certain "type," more than there is for all members of a particular sex. Many straight men would prefer a sexy drag queen to a an older fat ugly woman, just as many gay men would prefer a sexy androgynous woman to a man who looked like Michael Moore. I think there's more permeability and fluidity in human sexuality than is commonly admitted.

Eric Scheie   ·  November 4, 2006 2:29 PM

Heh. I know one guy who fully fits the definition of bisexual. He basically came out as gay his freshman year of college (to the surprise of no one), but still loves the girls, and picks and chooses his relationships regardless of gender.

If he ever gets around to settling down, I'm not sure which gender he'll end up with.

(The only other bisexual I've know is currently in a realtionship with guys. Plural. Long-term. So I'd generally classify him as gay.)

B. Durbin   ·  November 4, 2006 4:42 PM

An aside ... notice how fights over "gay, bi, straight" labels don't usually take place when talking about women. Women aren't usually castigated for moving between the gay and straight worlds for their partners.

IMHO, politically I believe the male gay community wants to count bi's as "gay" because only then does the 10% claim approach validity.

My objection to Haggard's behavior have nothing to do with orientation.

He cheated on his wife. He betrayed his children.

THAT's the sin. And it has nothing to do with "the closet".

I would ask if Sully believes that one should advocate "open" relationships because fidelity is just another "closet" but I already know the answer.

Sully wrote an article praising the joys of guilt-free going wherever the little head leads one.

Excuse me if I find such a "true Christian and conservative" a little too self-serving.

Darleen   ·  November 4, 2006 5:33 PM

Very fine reading Eric. Thank you for the video links as well. That interview did actually bring a smile to my face and I personally long to see a day where such civility can exist again. As you say, we're all human anyways.

CTDeLude   ·  November 5, 2006 3:51 AM

Another problem with Andrew Sullivan's rant is connecting Ted Haggard's promiscuity and drug use with the closet. As if, would only Ted Haggard take Sullivan's advise to "come out of the closet" he could move from Colorado Springs to Locust and 13th Street, or the East Village, or wherever, and be able to leave his drug and prostitute-using days behind. Give thou me a break. Sullivan can't not know that he is being completely disingenuous.

Patrick Rothwell   ·  November 8, 2006 2:59 PM

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