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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Andrew Sullivan's Myopia

Andrew Sullivan is a gay man who frequently writes about gay themes. He is a leading proponent of same-sex marriage. Concerning monogamy and fidelity, Sullivan says gay men should not be held to the same standards as straight men. When same-sex marriage is legalized, Sullivan writes in his book Virtually Normal, heterosexuals will have to develop a greater "understanding of the need for extramarital outlets between two men than between a man and a woman." He notes: "The truth is, homosexuals are not entirely normal; and to flatten their varied and complicated lives into a single, moralistic model is to miss what is essential and exhilarating about their otherness" (pp. 202-203). Against this backdrop, it doesn't come as a big surprise that Sullivan's coverage of Rep. Mark Foley's indefensible behavior would focus on Foley as a closeted gay man rather than a sexual predator. Indeed, Sullivan can't resist using Foley's transgression as an opportunity to talk about himself in a way that is difficult to distinguish from bragging — chiefly referring to his "courage and honesty" in living openly gay rather than closeted. He adds this curious comment: "I don't think of this as a virtue, really." This is disingenuous nonsense. Precisely by raising the issue of his virtue ("Me? Noble and meritorious? Aw, shucks") Sullivan leaves no doubt ("really") that his being openly gay makes him praiseworthy. Sullivan's exercise in self congratulation brings to mind Oscar Levant's quip to Gershwin: "Tell me, George, if you had it to do all over again, would you still fall in love with yourself?" Two points here. It strikes me as a tad strange that a leading advocate of same-sex marriage would, as a matter of rhetorical strategy, go out of his way to echo gay-marriage adversaries who regularly claim that gay men are by nature promiscuous and thus "essentially" incapable of faithfulness. Second, it's hard to take issue with Sullivan's assertion that living a lie is inevitably corrupting of character. But in terms of what most matters about Rep. Mark Foley's behavior, Sullivan's asssertion is irrelevant. Moreover, the assertion borders on a red herring. Earth calling Andrew: Foley's shameful pursuit of a 16-year-old House page was not wrong because the page happens to be a young male. Foley would deserve condemnation — and would surely receive it — if he had similarly pursued a female page of the same age. Let's try it from the top: Mark Foley used his position of power to exploit a vulnerable young person. And like most sexual predators, Foley was closeted — which is to say "seduces under-age children" does not appear on his resume. Foley got "outed" because his behavior cascaded beyond his capacity to keep it hidden. Here's the strangest part of Sullivan's myopic narcissism. When one of his readers busted him for trying to turn Foley into a victim of the closet ("What I don't understand is that you appear to be defending Foley's pedophilia"), Sullivan lamely fired back: "[T]he problem with this argument with respect to Foley is that the page in question was of a consenting age, which is 16 in the District of Columbia." Sullivan muddied things further by adding: "This doesn't make Foley's internet interactions less gross or inappropriate or unethical." Oh, really? If what Foley did was not illegal because the page was of a consenting age, then exactly what makes Foley's internet communications so "gross or inappropriate or unethical"? After all, Sullivan tells us that Foley is gay. And, Sullivan, who calls himself a "conservative," says gay men aren't required to play by the same rules as straight men. Gay men need "variety." Sullivan appears to be confirming what opponents of same-sex marriage have been saying all along, namely that proponents do not simply want the "equality" they claim to seek. Sullivan is saying he wants to redefine marriage as an institution. Remember a few years ago, when San Francisco city officials were busily conducting same-sex marriages, the liberal media offered up countless glowing examples of gay men in long-term committed monogamous relationships? I can't help wondering whether some of these men might take exception to Sullivan's condescending special pleading for the promiscuity they claimed not to be interested in. If only these "moralistic" chaps understood how much more "exhilarating" their lives would be if they simply cheated on their partners! Oops, how judgmental of me. I meant: Don't they realize how many "varied" possibilities they are missing out on, by not embracing Andrew Sullivan's call to celebrate their very special "otherness" by playing around on the side? Safely, of course. That goes without saying.