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Senators, Cops, & T-Room Sex

October 2007


Read the gay community’s responses to news of U.S. Sen. Larry Craig’s arrest in a Minneapolis airport toilet and you will find three levels of political understanding.


First, there are those gleeful that a politician who has opposed measures to outlaw anti-gay discrimination as well as gay marriage was himself evidently caught looking for man-on-man sex. As with the similar “scandals” involving Ted Haggard and Mark Foley, it is indeed tempting to take pleasure at the unmasking of evident hypocrisy. But hypocrisy amongst politicians is hardly news, and sanctimonious gay clucking does not change the fact that a man’s life was wrecked not because he harmed anyone, nor because he created any real nuisance, nor because he was a hypocrite; no, Senator Craig’s life was turned upside down because he was arrested for the “crime” of being believed to be looking for homosex — surely, nothing any thoughtful gay person can celebrate.


Slightly more sophisticated are those who note the double standard applied to homo and hetero sexual transgressions. U.S. Sen. David Vitter, a Republican like Craig, confessed to “a very serious sin” after his phone number popped up in an investigation of the so-called “D.C. Madam.” Evidently, Sen. Vitter had been paying for the services of prostitutes, but because the sex involved was not queer, his resignation was not demanded by Republican officials; while Craig was stripped of his chairmanships and all-but excommunicated from his party, Vitter was granted thunderous ovations from other GOP legislators, eager to show support for their embattled colleague (who happens to hail from a state with a Democratic governor who would make the appointment to fill any Senate seat vacated by resignation). While it is legitimate to note this double standard, we must be wary of suggesting that the fundamental problem is inequity: if Sen. Vitter were also drummed out of public life because of his private sexual predilections, that would only compound the injustice.


Finally, there are a few pundits who correctly identify the real scandal in the Craig case: Minneapolis taxpayers are footing the bill for cops to loiter in toilets, posing as men interested in sex with men, and then arresting anyone who responds to their flirtations. Without the cops manufacturing it, there would be no “crime” in this case. Sen. Craig is the victim of the sort of despicable anti-gay entrapment scheme re-enacted all across the country, still today as in decades past. In a more just world, it would be arresting officer David Karsnia who would be facing charges, not Sen. Craig.


But even those who understand that police misconduct is the real issue, often compromise their insight with unthinking put-downs of t-room sex in particular, and so-called “public” sex in general. They suggest viewing Sen. Craig and other t-room aficionados as either pathetic closet cases unable to develop a mature gay identity, or as social misfits, unable to form “real” relationships.


What claptrap.


One of the glorious, wonderful aspects of homosexual life through the ages has been the existence of places where homosex could be enjoyed, free of stultifying heterosexual marriage-minded, sexually-possessive norms. In dunes, parks, alleyways, backrooms, rest areas, waterfronts, souks, baths, and, yes, toilets around the world, men looking for sex with other men have created local “scenes” that serve to enhance life with excitement and pleasure. At their best, such places provide the potential for radically democratic connections, wherein color or education or age or language or nationality all matter less than a common, fraternal sexual bond.


A thoughtful gay person, thus, recognizes in Sen. Craig’s tragic case, not only an unfair assault on a single “queer,” but an ominous threat to queer space. In a sexually saner world, airports would provide t-rooms as welcome amenities to travelers looking for layover refreshment. Societal realities suggest such sensibility is far in the future, but we must today, at the very least, demand that cops quit entrapping and terrorizing randy men looking for like-minded fellows, even those as politically retrograde as Sen. Craig.


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