You know how after each Bush-administration scandal—male prostitutes running amuck in the White House, "Bin Laden Determined to Attack in U.S.," domestic spying—you sit there thinking, "Shit, if Clinton had done that he'd be impeached!"
I felt something similar this week listening to Republicans attempt to excuse or minimize the Mark Foley scandal. When White House spokesman and former Fox News hack Tony Snow dismissed the conversations as "naughty e-mails," or when Matt Drudge called the teenage boys "beasts" and accused them of egging Foley on, I sat there thinking. "Shit, if I had done what Foley did, I'd be in prison!"
I don't have any pages at "Savage Love" headquarters, but I do have access to plenty of teenagers—more than Mark Foley has in his wildest dreams. And while Foley manipulated teenagers into conversing with him about sex (telling them they're hot, pumping them for info about how they masturbate), the teenagers who write me already have sex on their minds.
Most of the mail from teenagers is straightforward: They send questions about birth control or kinks or relationships. But some gay teenagers, having seen one extremely flattering press photo of me (I wish I looked like the picture on my Wikipedia page), send offers, along with pictures or links to MySpace pages.
And what do I do with these e-mails? I delete them. Responding—to say nothing of taking any of these kids up on their offers (offers most would surely withdraw when they saw me in person)—wouldn't be right. Because the last thing gay teenage boys need in their lives, in my opinion, are gay middle-aged men.
I have to admit to having been tempted—some of these guys are hot and, like Foley's pages, above the age of consent. But it would be professional and personal suicide for me to respond to these e-mails. Imagine the shitstorm if a parent found flirtatious e-mails from the middle-aged, openly-gay author of American's sleaziest sex-advice column on their kid's computer. And I'm just paranoid enough to suspect that some of these e-mails—particularly the ones from very young boys who attach photos that look a little pornified—are set-ups. Ruining Rick Santorum's good name hasn't exactly endeared me to the knuckle-draggers on the far right. I wouldn't want to engage in a flirtatious chat with a gay teenager and then have to read the transcripts at FreeRepublic.com.
But if someone turned up e-mails or IM chats in which I asked a kid to measure his cock for me—or asked him for details about his masturbation habits, or whether I made him horny, or if he just came—I don't think Dennis Hastert, Tony Snow, Matt Drudge, and Rush Limbaugh would launch a cover-up to protect my skanky ass or, failing that, rush to my defense, pointing out that it was just, you know, a few naughty e-mails or the fault of some dirty-minded teenage beasts. They would call for my head.
So why would they bend over forward to accommodate Foley?
Because, in their eyes, Mark Foley was doing everything right. The religious conservatives in the GOP's base don't seriously believe that gay men can become straight. (Wanna stop a straight person from making the ex-gay argument? Ask him if he'd let his daughter marry one.) What they believe in—what they demand—are closeted homos, homos like Mark Foley, a single man who refused to answer direct questions about his sexual orientation. (Has any straight man ever refused to reveal his sexual orientation?) The religious conservatives in the GOP's base want all gays to be like Mark: deny who we are, live our lives alone, refuse to answer any questions about our sexuality. To them, Mark Foley was a good, closeted homo, deserving of every consideration.
The GOP was willing to cover for Foley because Foley, by being closeted, covered for them for years. So what if closet cases act out in sexually inappropriate ways? A few raped altar boys and skeeved-out pages are a price the gay-haters are only too willing to pay if it means fewer out homos.