Fear and (self-) loathing in the closet

Dan Savage writes, “Holy crap. My God. Jesus, Mary and Joseph. What. A. Mess.”

It is, admittedly, rather difficult to disagree. And I hope people do understand that, generally, when a homosexual is caught up in politics that force him (or her) out of the closet, I, like many, try to keep a degree of sympathy about my outlook. But when that homosexual is a Republican with an anti-gay voting record who gets burned by a gigolo, it’s a little harder to ward off the wicked smile.

The latest name on the GOP Dishonor Roll is Washington state Representative Dick Curtis. The Stranger‘s Dan Savage is covering the debacle:

It’s hard to follow just what’s alleged and what’s fact. The Spokesman Review‘s report makes it seem as if Curtis admitted to engaging in sexual activities with Castagna. Exactly how much money Curtis owed Castagna for those activities amounts to a he said/he said conflict, of course, but it seems pretty clear that 1. Castagna isn’t a very professional escort (and he looked like such a nice young man!), and 2. Curtis outed himself when he went to the police.

It is a sordid tale, one that involves denials, accusations of blackmail, an unprofessional hooker with a rap sheet and a filmography, transvestism, oral sex in a video booth, sums ranging up to $1,000, accusations of rape, and, curiously, “a plastic sack which contained a light grey length of nylon rope, a plastic doctor’s stethoscope, and other items ….”

Savage notes:

One final detail: After telling the police absolutely everything, Curtis decides to stop cooperating. Curtis suddenly claims that Castagna must have drugged him and states that he “was so out of it he really didn’t know what happened.” (Yes, that old excuse.) Curtis then tells investigators that, on the advice of his attorney, he can’t tell them what he was doing in Spokane. “I asked Curtis who his attorney was and he stated he could not find the business card and he could not recall his attorney’s name.”

Again, it is important to remind that, while the surge of perverse glee with which many receive such news probably is, to a certain degree, petty and mean-spirited, we should not focus so greatly on the trials of the beleaguered closet case who gets his ass caught in a bad trap of his own making. Rather, it’s about the hypocrisy. As Pam notes:

I’m living a relatively plain jane lesbian existence simply asking for my civil rights while closet cases like Curtis get all sorts of kinks on while railing against openly LGBT citizens. It makes me sick.

I think there is a certain poetic justice here that some find irresistible. Quite simply if homophobia is going to have victims, we should be pleased that, for once, its victims are, in fact, the homophobes themselves. But we should be careful in our schadenfreude: irony is cruelly addictive. This long-overdue, backlash of self-loathing and guilty consciences already has a casualty count: the late Reverend Gary Aldridge, formerly a Baptist minister from Alabama, apparently died last month of autoerotic asphyxiation including wetsuits, diving gloves, rubber underwear, a mask, a length of rope, and a large sexual instrument found inside the preacher’s body.

As Dan Savage noted last month:

But I can’t resist pointing out that Thorington Road’s pastor would be alive and well today if he’d indulged his passion for bondage, wet suits, diving gloves, rubberized underwear, etc., etc., on the streets of San Francisco, California, and not home alone in Montgomery, Alabama.

Aldridge’s death, like Rep. Curtis’ sordid tale, is a tragic symptom of homophobia. Who the hell persecutes themselves this way? And why? What about our society compels people to engage in such dangerous hypocrisy?

I have a theory. Sort of. But it’s not the most complimentary consideration of our society, and it inherently reflects poorly on conservatives in general. But in the first place, what we are expected to do for what we define, culturally, as success, is one of those concepts that seems to leave our international neighbors stunned. Power, prestige, and two-dimensional, fixed images of success demand such influence that people are willing to die for them. From any perspective I can find, this seems a difficult proposition.

Secondly, more specifically, and probably more importantly, is the proposition that there is, simply, something amiss about conservatives. Now, I know that’s a dangerous generalization, a suffocating blanket statement. But this notion is one I’ve never declared confirmed, that bears deep influence over my developing outlook in youth. The idea originated in a high school psychology class, when discussing Freud. The idea of sexuality expressing itself among juvenile boys was a difficult thing for my class to wrap our heads around, but what stood out at the time was the idea that some of this expression would be in the form of boys beating the crap out of each other for simple amusement. And it is true; I recognized this behavior from its first descriptions. I wish I could remember the theory involved, but I remember thinking of “church kids”, especially the boys encountered whenever my Lutheran confirmation class mingled with another church youth group. It seemed odd to see thirteen and fourteen year-olds behaving as I remember acting at ten and eleven. And this was a striking observation, one I’ve never fully resolved as either legitimate or otherwise.

But I’m getting that feeling again. It’s as if conservatives have a childish outlook on certain issues, and don’t really understand the full consequences of what they are playing with. And everything about the conservative sex disaster seems somehow juvenile. The naughty, naughty breaking of the rules. The simplistic lies. The guilty consciences. The shallow image of homosexuals. They’re like children who simply don’t understand how dangerous they’re being.

In the first place, no wonder conservatives are so prone to thinking homosexuals are dirty, pedophiliac sex machines with no boundaries or decency. Apparently, that’s true of conservative homosexuals. And instead of wondering why that is, instead of looking at the nefarious power and influence of the closet, conservatives, in a very child-like manner, simply pretend everyone is as evil and sinful as they are. It is, psychologically, convenient. This way, conservatives can think of themselves as victims, that the Devil or some other evil influence has taken advantage of them.

This is perhaps more disturbing than the idea that homophobic conservatives are, in fact, closet cases: they do not seem to grasp the danger.

Stunted or warped social skills, a persistent and influential fixation of juvenile paranoia disguised as youthful confidence somehow prevents them from grasping that this isn’t just about them. While they play their naughty games, try to keep their neighbors from finding out the scandalous truth, lives are in turmoil, poor decisions are made, and each day brings more victims of the closet. I would hope that it shouldn’t come down to delivering the news to a preacher’s wife that her husband was found dead of autoerotic asphyxiation while wearing rubber underwear to keep a large, dark, artificial phallus invasively situated. Except, of course, that it does.

I would ask you to consider a particular scene:

Officer: … And these, ma’am, are his personal effects.

Wife: Oh, God … is that …?

Officer: A large plastic penis? Yes, ma’am.

Wife: But … what … I mean, what did … I mean ….

Officer: Ma’am, are you aware that there is a “love that dare not speak its name”?

Yes. I want you to think about that. Imagine delivering the news.

And look at the juvenile excuses: Rep. Curtis variously claims blackmail and implies rape. Florida Rep. Bob Allen is so ashamed of being gay that he would rather be thought of as stupid. Emil Steiner notes:

Recently released police tapes and documents indicate that Allen first attempted to avoid arrest by telling the officers he was a legislator. When that failed, he switched from intimidation to playing the race card with an excuse that would make even Wally Terzinsky cringe. In his statement Allen explained that Danny Kavanaugh, the Titusville police officer from whom he allegedly solicited sex, was a “pretty stocky black guy.” And because “there was nothing but other black guys around in the park,” he became intimidated and did whatever he could to survive.

We’ve all been there, made so nervous by our racially diverse surroundings that we offer up 20 bucks to perform fellatio on the nearest person in a public bathroom. Still, as Allen maintained in his taped statement, the whole thing was a “bizarro world … misunderstanding.” Police, however, remained unconvinced — perhaps because, at least as Kavanaugh tells it, Allen repeatedly approached him.

At some point it is fair to wonder about the health and sanity of the GOP’s dirty secrets. Their conduct is adventurously sordid, the excuses pathetic. There is, indeed, a sense of the childish about it, as if they’re getting caught playing dirty games. And they do not seem to understand how deeply these issues affect lives. Certainly their dalliances have hurt their own conditions, but their inability to understand the symbiotic relationship between the closet and increased risks is scary. And I realize it’s hard to imagine that you might accidentally strangle yourself for a homoerotic masturbatory thrill, but this goes beyond disease, or the childish ridicule from one’s friends, or even the question of how to break the news to your mother.

So, yes, the theory is essentially that conservatives are developmentally stunted, and thus have no idea what they are playing with.

And the thing is that this isn’t meant as a convenient excuse to call conservatives retarded. Every once in a while the differences in human values becomes so striking that we wonder what the political opposition is thinking. And, in many cases, correlations suggest social underdevelopment is to blame. After all, while I can obviously understand the central mechanism of certain conservative arguments, I often find myself wondering how it is they cannot tell the difference. And sometimes, those differences aren’t exactly subtle.

Like this. Homophobia obviously doesn’t stop conservatives from being homoerotic and homosexual. Why, oh why, do they think it will be effective for anyone else?

At some point, their persistence in spite of their inability to grasp the necessary issues suggests that something is worryingly amiss. We are past the point of simply chuckling and pointing our fingers. There is something seriously wrong with these self-loathing, ultra-repressed persecutors. If this had to do with anything other than buggery, there would have been an intervention by now.

Henry James and the Vulgar Secret

Spoiler note … oh, who cares, it’s about Henry James, so if you don’t already care, you won’t.  And if you do care and don’t already know, well, you don’t have to thank me.  I didn’t mean to steal your sole reason for existing.  Oh, wait, it wasn’t me.  It was Joshua Glenn.  And Henry Petroski before him.

Ever since the 1903 publication of Henry James’ The Ambassadors, critics and readers have puzzled over a literary mystery that has come to be known as the Woollett Question. What, everyone from E.M. Forster to David Lodge has wanted to know, is the “little nameless object” manufactured in Woollett, Mass.? The case went cold at some point in the 1960s, but earlier this week it was reopened … and cracked.

My thing about Henry James has more to do with Turn of the Screw, which is one of a few stories horror writers will lavish with praise for being one of the best stories ever written in which absolutely nothing happens.

Anyway, Glenn recounts for Slate.com the mystery of Henry James and the vulgar object, and suggests that Petroski has properly solved it.  Fascinating.  I picked up Petroski over on NPR, talking about his book.  It’s worth a listen.

We’re the good guys. What’s my line?

When I was young, a popular form of machismo was tough wisdom. Often, this came in the form of simple dualisms: “There’s two kinds of people in the world ….” And I’ve never liked it. Mostly because the people spouting it generally sounded hostile. Because wherever you heard those words, you were bound to find someone looking down their nose.

The problem with absolutes, of course, is that nature is infinitely diverse, and statistically promises to bite you in the ass if you stick around long enough.

Recognizing this reality generally does not exempt one from the silly practice of declaring absolutes. Thus, I should should suggest some caution about the following: There really are people who don’t get it.

Asked whether “simulated drowning, dogs, forced nudity, stress positions, beatings, and induced hypothermia” are “unlawful,” Mukasey responded with evasions. He wrote, “As described in your letter,” the techniques “seem over the line or, on a personal basis, repugnant to me.” However, “hypotheticals are different from real life, and in any legal opinion the actual facts and circumstances are critical,” he said. “I was and remain loath to discuss and opine on any of those alternatives at this stage.”

Mukasey pleaded ignorance about the nature of the techniques. He also argued that any statement of his would aid “our enemies” and might “present our professional interrogators in the field … or those charged with reviewing their conduct, with either a threat or a promise that could influence their performance in a way inconsistent with the proper limits of any interrogation program they are charged with carrying out.” That is, if the likely future attorney general declared such barbaric interrogation techniques to be unlawful, it might prevent interrogators from continuing to employ them.

Mukasey’s claim that the question is a “hypothetical” is absurd, as all the techniques are clearly defined and illegal, according to both national and international law.

Waterboarding in particular has been prosecuted as torture in US military courts since the Spanish-American War of 1898. All the techniques cited in the question are violations of Geneva Convention prohibitions on torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment—prohibitions that are also included in separate US law such as the War Crimes Act. (Joe Kay)

We should never presume that this means there are only two sorts of people, those who get it and those who don’t, because the questions of what is gotten and to what degree remain variable. But something unusually direct, nearly polar, seems to be happening here.

What makes all this even more perplexing is the suggestion that pretty much every generation imagines some sort of Golden Age in the past, when things just weren’t like they are. But it does seem that during my lifetime, the political discourse has taken a sharp turn toward the stupid.

There have always been, throughout the history of good guys and bad guys, good guys who were determined to walk the line, to be nearly as bad as the bad guys, with only the justification that they were, in fact, the good guys. In the range of mythic heroes and villains, you’ll tend to find such characters situated as either blunt, even simplistic good guys with tons of brute force and hearts of gold, or else in calculating, megalomaniacal evil genius.

I never understood the concept of the popular, heartthrob villain in professional wrestling, but something about the reckless edge of America’s would-be heroes actually pines after such melodrama. The refusal to view torture as torture, and therefore as wrong, since torture is wrong, and if it was torture then it would be wrong, stems from a simple inability to look at the things we do in pursuit of at least nominal justice as wrong. It is as if the pursuit of justice somehow licenses all manner of mischief, and the argument only works for us because, well, we’re the good guys.

This brand of macho optimism is straight out of the postwar boom, the bluster and bravado that led to the moon and back, and straight into the new era of American global diplomacy, which is to say, disproportionately absurd exploitation of our military resources. The polished façade suggests poseur belligerence, is meant to contain the cacophony of doubts and fears, endure wavering faith, protect an abstract stake beyond reasonable measure.

There really are people out there who believe that people will fight as long as there is more than one of us. And no wonder they believe they exist. But they may not understand that part of the human endeavor involves choosing to evolve past that problem; they may not understand that not everyone looks at it the same way.

So it is not a matter of there being only two kinds of people. It is not “Us and Them”. Human diversity demands any “us” should be insufficiently representative. But among that all there is a “them”. It would seem that they truly do not understand certain things. But, uh, what are those certain things?

There is a theory I work with, and can never formalize or affix because I can never see the whole process working at once. But it has to do with how they picture themselves. When they lose politically, what they perceive tells them that absolute gibberish won the day. So they come back with absolute gibberish. Seriously: at some point they don’t understand how people can object to anything on principle. After all, isn’t that “prejudice”? Isn’t it “prejudice” to object before you know all the facts?

Frankly, no. That they could not tell the difference would be scandalously suggestive. I mean, if you are upset because your kid is dating someone with the wrong color skin, you probably should not have kids in the first place. If you are upset because the good guys are not supposed to torture people, you should probably let other people play the roles of the good guys.

And here is the real punchline: I only believe this crap because I bought into all that wonderful, idealistic shite they taught me about this country when I was in school, and during my brief stint as a Cub Scout. Apparently–and I feel stupid because I really didn’t know–it’s all a lie.

I would rather we be the good guys.

For real.

Seriously. Land of the free, home of the brave. Liberty and justice for all. Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. It was a great pitch.

And if we ever want to have that country the first thing we need to do is put this lot to the rubbish tip.

Let me know. Really. Revolutions shouldn’t be like book club meetings, you know, when you write down the wrong date, and sit drinking coffee for two hours feeling like a buffoon, wondering whether anyone will be showing up, or maybe they meant the SBC in Wallingford ….

Not that I’ve ever been part of a book club. But, you know, I can imagine. Anyway, it really sucks being the only one showing up for the revolution. Ask around. I know I’m not the only one.

Poster child for arson

Well, there you go, then.

Several adult arson suspects have been arrested in the seven counties affected by last week’s fires. “A 10-year-old boy is in a whole other psychic realm,” said Dr. Jeff Victoroff, associate professor of clinical neurology and psychiatry, at the University of Southern California. “At least one study suggests that if you take a population of boys between kindergarten and fourth grade, 60 percent of them have committed unsupervised fireplay, which is to say that fireplay is a common and absolutely normal part of human development.”

Damn. I once got in trouble for burning a hole in a screen on the bathroom window. In retrospect, I should have predicted that outcome, but for some reason, I thought of the screen as metal and therefore impervious to an aerosol-driven bathroom blowtorch. Lysol, I believe.

What? Do I really have to tell you to not try that one at home? Get off.

(Story via Michael Parrish at NYTimes.com.)