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    October 04, 2006

    What was Foley's fatal flaw?

    Posted by: Chris

    Now he comes out. After a decade of dodging questions about his sexual orientation, Mark Foley finally acknowledged on Tuesday he is gay, hours after the American public learned of the sexually explicit online chats the Florida congressman had with teenage males he met as pages.

    By waiting until he was disgraced by scandal to finally come out of the closet, Foley joins a disappointingly lost list:

    * Jim McGreevey, who announced he is "a gay American" in the same press conference he resigned as New Jersey governor for having an extramarital affair and hiring his unqualified boyfriend to oversee the state's homeland security efforts.

    * George Michael, who finally owned up to the rumors he's gay after his arrest for soliciting a police officer for sex in a public park.

    * Gerry Studds, the Massachusetts congressman who came out two decades ago after admitting he had sex with — you guessed it — a teen-age male congressional page.

    Lacking the courage to come out when times are good, these public figures shame us all by coming out only when times are at their worst, and their conduct is invariably a smudge on all our reputations.In the short time since the Foley scandal broke, he's already trotted out a series of excuses, while simultaneously insisting he's not offering as excuses: He's an alcoholic (it was the booze talking); he was an abuse victim himself; and, of course, he is gay.

    The role these factors played in Foley's life probably won't be developed into a more complete picture until we're treated with the inevitable confessional autobiography and "Oprah" appearance, assuming Foley follows the same route as McGreevey.

    It's an ironic bit of karma that the media spotlight for McGreevey's book tour was stolen by the Foley scandal, as the media became distracted by even more salacious sexual misadventures by another closeted gay public official.

    Like Foley, McGreevey refused all interviews after coming out and resigning from office. McGreevey said his silence was out of respect to his wife and family, though now it's clear it was intended to build up interest for a "tell-some" book that cashes in on his misconduct.

    As suggested by the book's title, "The Confession," McGreevey now portrays himself as fully contrite, accepting responsibility for betraying his wife and the public. He claims he was driven by his Catholic upbringing to stifle his homosexual impulses and marry and have a family. In truth, his political ambition outstripped his religious devotion, since he did not feel similarly bound by the Catholic restrictions on divorce and remarriage, not to mention honoring his (re)marital vows.

    Still, even without knowing all the details of McGreevey or Foley's stories, the deception, sexual immaturity and hypocrisy featured in both their scandals bear the hallmarks of lives lived in the closet.

    Mark Foley is no Jim McGreevey, to be sure. Foley wasn't married to a woman and for much of his political career has been "openly closeted": that is, publicly unwilling to identify his sexual orientation. Some media reports, as well as some of those who know Foley, say he has a long-time (male) partner, who resides back in his home district.

    None of that discounts the toll the closet no doubt took on Foley, no matter how deep inside it he may have lived. Normal sexual and romantic development, through adolescence and adulthood, involves trial-and-error lesson-learning about the relationship between sex and love, and the benefits of integrating the two.

    Much of that education occurs firsthand, through crushes, dating, romances and relationships, and much of it occurs secondhand, learning and mirroring our parents' relationships, as well as those of other loved ones and friends.

    As many gays know all too well, sexual and romantic development for us is often quite different. Sex is associated with guilt and is compartmentalized into a secret, double life. Sexual and romantic maturity can be left in a state of arrested development. The older the gay person, the fewer examples they've seen among family or peers of successful gay relationships.

    Integrating that double life can be a lifelong task, made all the more difficult the later in life it's attempted, and made near-impossible under the pressure of public and media scrutiny.

    Jim McGreevey cheated so easily on his wife because he long ago learned to compartmentalize his sexual desire from his relationship feelings. Mark Foley similarly compartmentalized his sexual fantasies from his relationship with his partner, a skill that was second nature after decades in the closet.

    None of this excuses their behavior, or even offers a complete explanation for it. But we should face up to the fact that closeted gay politicians engage in sexual misconduct at a much higher rate than do openly straight elected officials.

    And we shouldn't miss the lesson that depriving a person of normal sexual and romantic maturation can really screw them up, raising the risk of gross misconduct later in life. Just ask the Catholic priest Foley alleges molested him as a teen.



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    1. RJP3 on Mar 19, 2007 4:51:34 PM:

      Gerry Studds, the Massachusetts congressman who came out two decades ago after admitting he had sex with — you guessed it — a teen-age male congressional page.

      The teenager was past the age of consent in DC. They had a relationship. Gerry Studds was only in his late 20's at the time.

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