Shame-Based, Shame-Based, Shame-Based
By: CHRISTOPHER MURRAY
This news cycle's public flaying of Republican Senator Larry Craig for soliciting "lewd conduct" in a Minneapolis airport restroom gave me no pleasure. I like to think of myself as first in line for a big helping of schadenfreude, especially at the seemingly endless parade of fundamentalist conservative hypocrites getting what's coming to 'em, but it just isn't so.
Seeing the related piece on CNN this week about "The Secret World of Gay Men's Hookups" and the descriptions of "creepy," "disgusting," and "dirty" public homosexual male sex was embarrassing and completely uncomfortable for me. All that horrible detail about secret foot-tapping signals under bathroom stalls. Ugh. Note to the senator - foot tapping is so old school, get your fine self on craigslist, gurl!
But in all seriousness, I loathe having our community's dirty laundry aired in public. I hated all the "gay men in three-day crystal meth-fueled fisting parties" newspaper stories. I hated all the "bug chaser seeks load after load of HIV-infected semen" magazine articles. I hated all the "black men on the down low are giving our women AIDS" episodes on daytime television talk shows.
Seeing and hearing all these exposes triggers all my internalized homophobia since I am completely and utterly shame-based. I was one of those kids you could point at in the lunchroom and say "Red!" and within 30 seconds my whole face would light up in Technicolor scarlet. I lived in fear that someone would discover the colored bikini underwear I stole from my mother's best friend's sexy boyfriend with the '70s moustache. And now I still have my secret shames.
We homos take such pains to separate ourselves so definitively from the Reverend Haggards, Congressman Foleys, and Senator Craigs of the world, don't we? But the truth is that almost everyone lives some kind of double life. We walk around pretending we aren't going to go home and jerk off to some sleazy Internet site or that we don't want to get jiggy with the greasy building superintendent.
Well, you are as sick as your secrets, the saying goes, and as Justice Louis Brandeis once said, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant." So, here goes. Mom, close your eyes. I've had sex in public restrooms and parks, thought it was hot AND been concerned about my sexual compulsivity. I've had awesome sexual experiences on meth AND gotten freaked out by the destructive force of that drug. I've flirted with unprotected sex, been totally aroused by barebacking AND felt tremendous anxiety about our community norms around it.
Whew! I feel better, don't you? Admit it.
Of course, I'm an out gay man, not a closeted hypocrite who voted for the Defense of Marriage Act. But I'm not sure that distinction really means too much to me emotionally. I know there is a difference between Senator Craig and me - I'm not deceiving a spouse nor voting on far-reaching national legislation, but still, I'm hardwired to crumple at my own or any one else's public pie in the face, even if they deserved it.
Guess what, maybe it's about coming out even more, even for all us out loud and proud types reading this newspaper.
By the way, I think that hair-trigger shame is partially where gay men's extraordinary emotional intelligence comes from. The empathy that fuels our artistic sensitivity or the supportive insight we are known for emanates from the inner knowledge that develops long before we ever suck a dick that we are somehow, innately wrong.
Some of us are able to overcome the paralyzing force of that shame to lead productive and loving lives. But make no mistake, as mainstreamed as MTV and CNN and USA Today and often we ourselves insist we are, gay men - and for that matter, all sexual minorities, our lesbian, bi, and trans sisters and brothers included - still pay a heavy price. We struggle mightily with direct outcomes of that shame - in our difficulty managing intimate relationships, and also in patently self-destructive acts like substance abuse, over-eating, and unsafe and otherwise dangerous sex.
So, stagnant, self-hating, denialist Senator Craig, my erstwhile fellow traveler, take a page out of the book of your much maligned compatriot Jim McGreevey and come out, come out, wherever you are. I won't say the water's just fine - it runs hot and cold - but it's fresh and it's pure and it's cleansing. See you in the steam room.