Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Beyond the binary

So much of the discussion of Larry Craig's foot-tapping escapade has emphasized the "gay" in "anonymous gay sex," and has read his behavior as a sign of repression. If only he were a Democrat, he'd be just now getting back from Provincetown. But is it possible that some men, for whatever reason, desire free, anonymous sex, no outside parties involved, and as such are left only with men as possible partners? Is anonymous bathroom sex mainly about there being two men, or, in a world of coed bathrooms, would it be more of a free-for-all?

The reason this is worth asking is that every behavior deemed abnormal has a corresponding 'normal' behavior we are supposed to assume a person would switch to if less disturbed or repressed. (Male) pedophiles whose victims are girls are assumed to be a twisted subset of heterosexual men, while those who prefer boys are discussed as an upsetting minority of men who, given the right treatment and conditions, would have husbands. But are these assumptions correct? How much does gender even matter, when someone's interest may well be, above all, risk?

It seems absurd to imagine that somehow, medically, everybody is underneath it all a monogamously-inclined individual just waiting for the right man or woman to come along, given the relative novelty of 'inclination' having anything to do with marriage, or of a monogamous gay relationship being a socially acceptable option in much of the West. And our culture's obsession with homosexuality as the be all, end all, gives the gender of the partners far more attention than other, more telling aspects of various situations.

Note: This post is a bit devil's-advocatish, so feel free to advocate for either side.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

The issue here is his hypocrisy. If Barney Frank were caught trying to have anonymous sex in the men's rule it would be no story.One thing everyone should learn from this episode is the need to retain a lawyer if you are middle class and are arrested.

Phoebe said...

Hypocrisy is certainly an issue, but it's by no means the only one. I'm bringing up another.

Pzufs said...

Did you ever read Dan Savage's column in the Village Voice?

Phoebe said...

Ever, yes, but not regularly. Did he write something about this?

Nick said...

Your questions are loaded ones that seem to imply conclusions they don't need to, and (separately, and more importantly) they evidence a lack of understanding of the history of gay men in this country, which, in part, is a history of anonymous sex in public bathrooms.

First:

Your questions seem to imply that anonymous sex between men and women doesn't already happen, and that therefore men seeking such sex are left only with other men for partners, because they have only (single-sex) bathrooms for a venue. But the truth is, anonymous heterosexual sex does happen, in the open. It happens in bars and night clubs and other places, where women are picked up for one-night stands (I know you saw this in Sex and the City). It happens in brothels or on street corners, but I suppose you've cabined that out by using the word "free" (which I feel is unfair, given in most places heterosexual prostitution is much more prevalent and established than homosexual prostitution). Hell, it happens via websites like craigslist. None of which even speaks to the large numbers of "gentlemen's clubs," which, if not providing sex per se, seem to provide (given their continued existence) some form of valued release.

Is it possible that some men desire anonymous sex? More than possible, it's clearly true.

But you've taken it farther: Does it follow that they must use men's restrooms, and therefore only have available to them homosexual acts? You seem to be implying that Sen. Craig can somehow have sex with men in bathrooms and still not qualify as having wanted sex with men, but simply having been constrained by lack of alternative choice. I suppose that's possible for a select few who only want sex in bathrooms, but the long list of other possibilities indicates to me that that's not likely. It may have been true 90 years ago, when having sex with men didn't necessarily imply something about a fundamental character trait, but in this day and age, I think not. Sen. Craig chose those bathrooms to pick up men. If he wanted women, he would have gone to bars or nightclubs or some other establishment, as the panoply of other Congressional sex scandals indicate.

Second (and more importantly):

Your question is almost violently ignorant of the fact that a monogamous, meaningful relationship has really only been a viable option for gay men in this country for a very short time (and it's still a difficult thing, as government's public policy still mitigates against these relationships). There are some people who did have such relationships, and they risked a lot to do so. But not everyone was capable of making that commitment.

For a long period in our history, and in some places in America still today, being gay and wanting to meet other men left you with very few spaces in which to do so. Public restrooms have a long history of being one of the many public places that gay men could use to find other gay men to have sex with, in an era when living in a long-term, monogamous relationship with someone of the same gender is not a viable possibility.

I'm not saying all gay men want such long term relationships. Clearly some don't, and that's the reason that Lambda Legal still continues to publish its Little Black Book, which is a "know your rights" publication about cruising and activities in public places. But your post puts an almost insulting gloss on history, overlooking the societal opprobium towards gay men that made such bathroom activity necessary.

There's a small possibility that Sen. Craig is simply a risk-taker, who wants anonymous sex. But what's so much more likely is that Sen. Craig grew up in a time and place where being gay was not an option, and so he learned to sequester that part of him that wanted to be with other men into anonymous sexual encoutners. Jim McGreevey's recent op-ed in the Washington Post, in which he talks about why he looked for such anonymous encounters, supports this notion.

So what I'm saying, really, is that it's almost insulting to reach for that unlikely (and smugly clever) conclusion, when a much more obvious explanation, that's much more attune to social reality, exists.

pzufs said...

Yes, frequently, often dripping with sarcasm.

Phoebe said...

"Your question is almost violently ignorant of the fact that a monogamous, meaningful relationship has really only been a viable option for gay men in this country for a very short time (and it's still a difficult thing, as government's public policy still mitigates against these relationships)."

I don't especially like rhetorical use of the word "violence" and its variants. I don't claim expertise in the history of gay men in America, but those who do should be able to correct me (if they feel this is necessary) without calling me smug or violent. It just gets old blogging about Walt-Mearsheimer.

Phoebe said...

But Nick, to respond in a bit more seriousness, but not much since I have to do this in about a minute... my take is while it's important to factor in the history of same-sex relationships and of their reception in society (and what I know on this subject is mainly from reading Gay New York and the occasional article/blog), it's also necessary to admit that a) people want all sorts of things, which are far more specific than the broad categories of 'men,' 'women,' and 'both.' And b) that a meaningful monogamous relationship between partners who chose each other, and whose relationship is sanctioned by society, is relatively new for straights as well, and is still not accepted practice in every family and community. It is no doubt more difficult to be gay than straight, all things equal, but there's no need to overlook the areas of overlap among all romantic relationships between human beings living in society of some form or another.

And... By "free, anonymous" I meant not just no money exchanged, but no strings, no intermediaries, and an assumption of mutual interest rather than a transaction. It's a different situation than a prostitute or a 'gentlemen's club.'

And really, "Sex and the City"? It's as realistic about heterosexual relations as it is about what's normal to spend on shoes. It's like learning about gay life through "Will and Grace."