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.

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