How Larry Craig Altered America's Political Landscape

Public Sex, MSM and The End of The Culture Wars

During his post-scandal statement yesterday, Senator Larry Craig gave the media a perfect soundbyte, “I am not gay. I never have been gay.” No doubt news heads have heard those nine words countless of times since yesterday afternoon. No doubt you will hear them again.

“I am not gay. I never have been gay.” Those nine words will be etched as hard and as deep as former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey’s famous five: “I am a gay American.”

Craig’s nine words will define the end of his culture warrior career. For once he may not by lying. And, by some twist of political fate, Craig may be helping so-called “sexual deviants”.

Over an hour before Craig blasted the Idaho Newstatesman and again pleaded his heterosexuality, CNN’s Kyra Phillips interviewed police office Darryl Tolleson. An Atlanta Major, Tolleson’s arrested more the forty men fishing for sex in Atlanta’s famously cruisey airport.

During her chat with Tolleson, Phillips touched upon an issue that’s starting to be raised more and more: are public sex “offenders” necessarily gay. The gay media – including ourselves – have played up Craig’s alleged queerness. In fact, the gay media – namely: Mike Rogers – started the ball rolling on this case. Craig’s case, however, is not implicitly “gay”. It’s queer, to be sure, but not necessarily “gay”.

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  • RyRy

    Interesting opinion, I definitely think. I don’t know if that’ll be the case in the preceding months, but I’m certain that’s where everyone’s heading. Cool article, certainly!

  • Ash

    I believe “I am a gay American” is five words. Don’t knock the letter A, she’s a word too.

  • Mr. B

    Thanks for making this post. Obviously not everyone will agree with everything about it, but it’s something that should be addressed.

    I am not one to defend the DL, but sometimes I wonder if it’s not homophobia alone (which definitely plays a big part) but also the polarity with which we view male sexuality that leads so many so-called family men to the restrooms/parks/glory holes. Lots of people, both gay and straight, tend to lump any and all men who have ever had an inkling of male-to-male sexual experience as unquestionably, irrevocably gay. I’m not so sure that that encourages men with a more middle-of-the-road Kinsey rating to be open about their feelings. There’s nothing wrong with being gay, but forcing labels on someone who doesn’t fit them is just as restrictive as forbidding someone else (or oneself) to claim the same label. Some of thoe men have never lied to themselves about their sexual identities a day in their lives–they just don’t really know how they can be open about their inclinations.

    And anyway, men (and women) of all orientations have cheated on their partners since the dawn of monogamy. It can’t all be about repression.

  • Ash

    And “men who have sex with men” is six words, not five. This is such an interesting piece, it’s well-written, informative and covers many bases–just double-check the counting! Or hire an awesome lesbian college student who is obsessed with grammar and punctuation to edit posts! Like, um…Me!

  • Heather_L_James

    Ash the anally retentive lesbian! See, one more example of how stereotypes just don’t work anymore. The bottom line to this goes even further than sexuality.

    I think the bigger issue isn’t the sexuality binary, but rather gender binary. I read an article in New York Magazine titled, “The Science of Gaydar”, and one of the principles discussed was that women seemed much more fluid in their sexuality than men. The author seemed to me to imply that men are hard wired in their attractions to either males or females, whereas women are predisposed to a less rigid sexuality. The more and more I see these scandals involving “family men” seeking out sex with men, the less and less inclined I am to believe that men and women are fundamentally different in terms of orientation. I would tend to believe that men are every bit as fluid as women in terms of orientation.

    A great deal has been made about male privilege, but with any privilege comes certain expectations. In our culture it has always been expected that men identify as either gay or straight, that is one of the limiting curses of male privilege. Until we destroy the idea of privilege and its associated expectations, things like Allen, Haggard, Craig, et. al. are going to continue. Indeed, so long as we continue to live in these gender defined prisons people are going to continue to seek out unseemly ways to sate perfectly natural desires.

  • Mr. B

    See, Heather, I think the sexuality binary is related directly to the gender binary–the notion that men have solid, definitive sexual orientations and women are just amorphously sexual. It’s restrictive on BOTH sides, as it pigeonholes men into a “gay/straight either/or” while dismissing women’s sexuality as not definitive. (There’s nothing wrong with the fluidity of sexuality or gender, of course, but it so often gets set up side by side like this to show men=serious and women=unimportant.) I despise J. Michael Bailey’s work for a lot of reasons, but every bit of his research on gender and sexuality seems to come back to binary opposition and biological essentialism. (Also, it is pretty much exclusively restricted to male-assigned people.) The point to my original post was that this way of thinking seems to carry over into public thought quite a bit, and it’s problematic.

    All of that to say, I agree with you about the fluidity of sexuality. The double standard therein (that there’s no such thing as a bisexual man or a true lesbian) pisses me off to no end, because who are we to define the rest of the world?

  • Heather_L_James

    Point well taken Mr.B, and I agree they are completely related. And I despise Bailey, because according to him I am either a gay man that is so fearful of being gay I chose to transition genders, or I am so obsessed with feminine sexuality that I am transitioning genders. It boggles my mind that scientists who spend their careers investigating an entire universe of possibilites with regards to their fields of study yet still want to come down to “either/or” answers.

    As far as discounting female sexuality, that was not my intention at all. I think it is high time we dispense with labels like “straight” or “gay” and even labels for transgender people like me. The most important thing we can do is to stop exceptionalizing those of us who don’t conform to the cultural majority. Until it isn’t an item of interest that someone is gay or lesbian or trans none of us are really free or equal.

  • Paul Raposo

    I think all these DL and MSM acronyms spell out one word–SHAME.

    We all have friends who love to suck cock and eat ass, but are ashamed of the fact that they enjoy these activities. A friend of mine loves to bottom, but describes himself as “versatile” because he says he doesn’t want to be labeled a bottom, “Like some bitch laying there waiting to get plowed.”

    Misogyny aside, today’s men have spent so much time and effort convincing the world and ourselves that we’re not nelly queens, but butch men, that the things we love doing in private embarrass us in the cold light of day. And I find that sad.

    There’s a line in a 70’s porn film, Something-or-Other Drilling Company–where the star says during a fist fight with a gay basher who has just called him a cocksucker, “The only thing I love more than sucking cock, is kicking ass!” I have to ask; how many of todays GBQ’s have the balls to say that with pride and really mean it?

  • hisurfer

    I’ve seen the term “MSM” used in public health contexts (AIDS prevention, especially). I don’t think it’s “another category,” as one of the speakers suggests; rather, it’s a catch-all and hopefully politically neutral term that epidemiologists can use.

    I’m still amazed that people are still arguing that gender and sexualtiy definitions are rigid rather than fluid. Any queer who has spent anytime in a non-Western culture can attest that our notions of gay/straight/bi are culturally-based and specific to the West.

    But I actually came on here to make snarky comments about Broward County and how Naugle has it all wrong. It’s not gays in those restrooms! It’s straight Republican Senators! Ban them, and then tell me that your town is safe again for families.

  • Mr. B

    Heh. One tiny example of the butch posturing you speak of, Paul–that constant use of “man,” “bud,” and “guy” by the “discreet, masculine” married guys on good old Craigslist. And that’s not even thinking of the dreadful but favored “straight-acting.”

    So true about shame being at the core of it.

    That ’70s porn film–was it one of the Joe Gage/Tom Kincaid trilogies?

  • Qjersey

    “I’m not gay, but I love sucking cock”

  • Heather_L_James

    “I’m still amazed that people are still arguing that gender and sexualtiy definitions are rigid rather than fluid. Any queer who has spent anytime in a non-Western culture can attest that our notions of gay/straight/bi are culturally-based and specific to the West.”

    I am not amazed one bit, the good ole’ US of A is one of the most ethnocentric places on the planet. In the era of McCarthyism it was “if you aren’t with us you’re a pinko commie”, and in 2007 it is “you’re either with us or with the terrorists”. Meanwhile we teeter ever closer to the brink of facism, our healthcare is terrible, and our schools produce vapid twits like Ms. South Carolina. But hey, this is America, and we know best, after all we are the greatest Nation in the world.*

    *Not intended to represent healthcare, education, poverty, literacy, unemployment, infant mortality, violent crime or personal freedom.

  • Paul Raposo

    “that constant use of ‘man,’ ‘bud,’ and ‘guy’ by the ‘discreet, masculine’ married guys on good old Craigslist.”

    Actually, yes! It’s as if they believe that referring to tricks, or lovers as “buds” they aren’t REALLY gay, just buddies–fuck buddies 8^)

    “And that’s not even thinking of the dreadful but favored ‘straight-acting.'”

    A friend tells me he’s straight acting all the time and the funny thing is, when he gets comfortable, or drunk, he turns into an adorable nelly queen.

    I mean, is it just me, but I love effeminate men–I don’t mean “flamboyant” men, I mean guys who are naturally femme. I love them to death.

    “That ’70s porn film–was it one of the Joe Gage/Tom Kincaid trilogies?”

    Quite possibly. At the end of this film, the star and his lover finally get to a ranch he inherited and it turns out to be a useless dust bowl, until they discover they have an under ground spring and own the water rights.

    As a side note, the porn from the 70’s and 80’s was much hotter than the stuff today. And I don’t mean because of the barebacking. The sex just seemed hotter and the men just seemed to enjoy themselves more.

  • Paul Raposo

    “I’m not gay, but I love sucking cock”

    Wasn’t there a T-shirt that read, “I’m not gay, but my boyfriend is”?

  • eagledancer4444

    I was involved pretty much from the start with HIV/AIDS…in fact two of my first patients were diagnosed with “GRID,” the term that was being used before AIDS was coined. I worked with a few national (and later international) prevention and treatment projects, and presented on multicultural aspects of sexuality as well as gender identity. To my surprise, after my first presentations, I would have a few participants who came up to me, who said, “I never really felt I was gay, but I didn’t know of any other place to go than the gay community.”

    I remember very well some of the quite bitter “fights” that were going on at that time. M2M or MSM were suggested because one of the most difficult subgroups of the population to reach are men who are sexually active with men, but don’t identify as gay, since they won’t pick up gay newspapers (lol—they won’t pick up anything labeled as “gay” other than a gay man), or hit gay bars where condoms and prevention material would be available. This was one of the motivations for the creation of such terminology, along with “bisexual behavior,” even if there was no self-identification with bisexuality as an identity.

    There is, for many, an “evolution” or developmental journey (i.e. the Cass Model) where one starts off knowing one is “different,” but not really knowing all that means, other than a general message “different is bad.” I suspect a lot of you didn’t shout out your sexual orientation while in high school but “tried it on for size” so to speak, until you were comfortable with it. That’s why at the University where I was teaching, there was a student support group entitled, “I don’t think I’m gay, but I know I’m not straight…” To walk into a support group labeled GBTLQ means you’ve already accepted a label. Not everyone is there yet. One of the real “sea changes,” we’re seeing is an increasingly younger average age for coming out, which according to a 2001 publication, is now 15. I feel there’s a “generational” issue here of people like Craig, who became sexually active pre-internet (and pre-feminist, for that matter), where sexual initiation involved very specific, male only situations, such as rest rooms.

    As I mentioned, I was surprised at the hostility I (and others) faced when we tried to explain to other researchers and prevention specialists, “gay” was not sufficient as a category in working within the “real world.” Many of the most vocal opponents were white gay men who had become active in the 1970s, for whom gay was a strived for identity that wasn’t just about the gender of a sexual partner, but also included self-esteem, status, and a way of confronting earlier shame, both internal and societal. Any suggestion of expanding the categories of outreach were met with accusations of “denial,” and internalized homophobia about not being able to “accept” the “true” identity of being gay.

    As someone who teaches cross-cultural sexuality, this response was frustrating (and very ethnocentric), but I also felt M2M or MSM was also too limiting. In a number of cultures, there’s a concept of more than 2 genders, so asking a man, “Have you ever had sex with another man?” (MSM)—will not work well if the man being asked has had sex with someone his community does not identify as a “man.” In one article on Latino sexuality, the author suggested the answer would differ if you asked, “Have you ever had sex with a man who was not a man? A soft man? A man who was a woman?”

    The question determines the answer. In a study with African-American males in L.A., when asked if they had ever had sex with another man, the answer across the board was “No.” But when the same men were asked, “When was the last time you popped a sissy?” the response was very different.

    Which, of course, leads us back to the actual definition of “sex.” When President Clinton said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” we had done a research project with mid-western adults before the Clinton incident. The majority of those interviewed would have agreed with Clinton. They did not identify oral sex as “real sex.” Only penile/vaginal penetration was understood as “real sex.” This is why a few years ago, about one fourth of 10,000 adolescent females responding to an interview had engaged in oral sex, but nearly 80 percent of them considered themselves to be virgins. One of the reasons it’s so hard to reach the married men at rest rooms and public parks doing the MSM thing, is the reality they don’t classify what they are doing is “cheating” because it would only be “cheating” if they were “doing it” with a woman, and the belief what they are doing isn’t “real sex,” because the only “real sex” involves a penis and a vagina.

    Simply dismissing this as “denial” on the part of the individual doesn’t make effective impact on HIV (or other STDs) from a public health level. It also doesn’t recognize other cultures may use different categories. For example, in some non-Western cultures, the gender of your partner has no bearing on your sexual orientation. As long as you are in the “active” or “insertive” role, you (and your community) will still recognize you as heterosexual. This was the hardest thing to get across to people around a discussion table…if you’re not from that community, frankly “you don’t get to vote.” You can tell them they are “wrong, bad, stupid or crazy” to think the way they do, but frankly, they’re used to being told that from the American Dominant Culture. A direct attack tends to make them hold even more tightly to their established belief system.

    By the way—this is the reason reporters hate interviewing a lot of researchers and scientists who don’t provide “neat” sound bites. Asking if Craig or the others are “really gay,” doesn’t encourage an easy answer, because there isn’t a consensus of what “gay” means. Even Freud referred to “homosexualities.” I think it’s obvious that Craig and his brethren are in some sort of different classification than people who’ve posted on this topic who themselves identify as gay or queer, if nothing other than a category of “gay-impaired.”

  • hisurfer

    Hey eagledancer4444 – do you mind if I copy this (with credit)? I really like some of the points you raise.

  • eagledancer4444

    Happy to oblige, hisurfer–

  • Stenar

    Did anyone notice that in his press conference, Larry Craig said, “Thank you all for coming out today…” He on the other hand did not come out:

    See it for yourself:

  • GranDiva

    Perhaps because in 70s/80s porn, the guys performing it actually enjoyed it, as opposed to the many, many money-grubbing straight muscleheads who are flooding the M2M porn industry now.

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