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”.

Of the the forty men Tolleson has arrested, he says, the majority are family men. We posted the video and transcript earlier, but here’s the money quote:

…A good majority of these men do have families. And that’s been a little bit shocking to us. You would think that it would be more of a gay issue. But overwhelmingly more and more we’re seeing that these are people with families.

Some of those arrested may qualify as closeted queers, but it’s certainly likely not all of them are motivated solely by shame. They may have sex with men, but it doesn’t make these men “gay”.

Had it not been for Larry Craig, we would have had more space to share a story that got bumped to yesterday’s Happy Endings. Unfortunately, the source article ended up getting trimmed to six words: “‘Homosexuality’ in India walks fine line.” Though seemingly incongruous, those six words have quite a connection with Larry Craig’s nine.

Penned for America’s “largest circulated Indian publication,” Little India, “Homosexuality and The Indian” explores the limbo in which many of India’s “homosexuals” live. Now, we’ve discussed India before, particularly with regard to the perpetuation of colonial era sodomy laws and a burgeoning gay scene. The Little India piece, however, examines the space between those extremes.

As part of the piece, journo Sudhir Kakar examines men who have sex with men, but whom are not gay. This, we’re sure, is a population with which many of you are familiar. These men rationalize their actions through a variety of cultural mechanisms, which Kakar lumps together as “homosexual denial”. Kakar writes:

The “homosexual denial,” as some might call it, is facilitated by Indian culture in many ways. A man’s behavior has to be really flagrant, such as that of the cross-dressing hijras to excite interest or warrant comment. Some find elaborate cultural defenses to deny their homosexual orientation. The gay activist Ashok Row Kavi tells us about the dhurrati panthis, men who have sex with other men because the semen inside them makes them twice as manly and capable of really satisfying their wives. Then there are the komat panthis who like to give oral sex, but will not let themselves be touched. Some of these men are revered teachers, “gurus,” in body building gymnasiums, who believe they will become exceptionally powerful by performing oral sex on younger men. Both will be horrified to be called homosexual.

As Kavi notes in another interview, the idea of semen-centric power certainly isn’t isolated to India. A number of societies have similar practices, parallel mechanisms for diffusing seemingly “gay” acts. Ours does not.

There are no semen rituals in America. None that are fully embraced, at least. We do not, as a culture, believe another man’s semen makes one more virile or a better warrior. Our sexual culture doesn’t accommodate such deduction. Ours is a clinical culture. Our national understanding of sexuality springs from scientific rationality. Countless doctors, shrinks, quacks and sociologists have dissected sexuality, splattering stereotypes and terms across the cultural lexicon.

Our carnal comprehension comes from the laboratory, not the bedroom or the battle field. For years newspapers and medical papers referred to gays as “homosexuals”. Jim Naugle aside, the term’s fallen out of politically correct behavior. It’s archaic, yes, but still speaks volumes about how Americans – and other Western nationals – deal with men who have sex with men.

To completely understand “down-low” men, Westerners have adopted a definitively indefinite definition. We’ve coined a collection of six words: “Men Who Have Sex With Men”. The term first appeared in the early 1990s as a way to address HIV infections among men who don’t identify as “homosexual”. That population’s long been closeted – and not in a gay way.

Yes, Oprah has specials on these men, health workers use it daily, politicos use it delicately, but MSM – not to be confused with mainstream media – remain largely unexamined. Larry Craig may change all that.

Last night, at 9pm, about 4-and-a-half hours after Craig’s delivered those already infamous nine words, anther Larry, Larry King, hosted a panel to discuss the political and cultural ramifications of the scandal. Among his guests, King welcomed sexpert Dr. Drew Pinsky. During the course of their conversation, Pinsky brought up MSM, saying:

There is a separate category, which is men who have sex with men. And so people can genuinely get up and say I’m not gay but I’m still one of these people that have sex with men.

The distinction came up on a number of other shows. By raising awareness of MSM, Craig’s inadvertently dismantling America’s tenacious sexual distinctions. Gay and straight no longer exist. We’ve got a new, clinical sexual class. The scientific rationale used to oppress gays will now help them by expanding our nation’s homo horizons.

Our clinical culture, our culture which operates within doctor-approved boundaries, created an entirely new sexual category. With more exposure, MSM may actually help break down the sexual binarism. If more people understand – and, more importantly, accept – that some men have sex with men, for whatever reason, America may be freed of limiting labels. The political implications are innumerable.

Sexuality, which has been used as a political tool, becomes impotent when citizens and gadflies finally realize they’ve been going about the “Culture Wars” all wrong. It’s never been black-and-white. Sexuality can be colorful, but it’s primarily gray. Even if Americans don’t come to accept – or even understand – MSM, Cultural Warrior Craig’s nine words nailed the Culture War coffin closed.

Craig belonged to a political elite so fascinated by sexual policing, they built an entire platform around the subject. For decades the Moral Majority, Christian Voice and other “Values” voting groups have shaped the Republican agenda. Over the last year, however, that party’s been rocked by a number of sex scandals, including four “gay-tinged” tales.

We’ve got Mark Foley, Ted Haggard, Bob Allen and Larry Craig: all men who based their political careers on family values, values the national party – and its members – embraced. These people found political salvation through sexual segregation. As The Nation‘s Richard Kim wrote in his Craig-related piece:

[This anti-gay GOP culture led] Bob Allen to the stunning and revealing calculation that it would be better to be seen in the public eye as an avowed racist than as someone who likes to have sex with men sometimes.

Voters will not stand for hypocrisy. Nor should they. As Craig deals with the personal fall out of his folly, the Republican party will have no choice but to – cough, cough – change course.

Famed political analyst James Carville, who also appeared on last night’s Larry King, had this to say about the Craig ramifications:

I hope the good that comes out of this is that everybody calls a truce in this stupid culture war and goes to talking about things that really matter and leave these people alone.

Carville and Republican strategist Michelle Laxalt both lamented the moralists’ take over of the Republican party, a party which once respected individual liberty – though not necessarily “lifestyles”. With Craig and others’ respective fuck-ups, the Culture Warriors have no choice but to retreat.

Their pride, shame and arrogance smothered the fire they started.