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August 18, 2004

Elite Post-Modernism, Thy Posterboy McGreevey Be

Adjusting the picture of the modern world to incorporate the value given to otherhood and orgasms, one might come to see James McGreevey as the representative of a last minute coup against egalitarian progress. The white, male lawyer turned politician, with a BA from Columbia, a law degree from Georgetown, and a master's degree from Harvard, was nothing if not ambiguous in his coming out announcement. From the full text of his speech (linked by Patrick Sweeney):

Throughout my life, I have grappled with my own identity, who I am. As a young child, I often felt ambivalent about myself, in fact, confused. ...

Yet, from my early days in school, until the present day, I acknowledged some feelings, a certain sense that separated me from others. But because of my resolve, and also thinking that I was doing the right thing, I forced what I thought was an acceptable reality onto myself, a reality which is layered and layered with all the, quote, good things, and all the, quote, right things of typical adolescent and adult behavior.

Yet, at my most reflective, maybe even spiritual level, there were points in my life when I began to question what an acceptable reality really meant for me. Were there realities from which I was running? ...

At a point in every person's life, one has to look deeply into the mirror of one's soul and decide one's unique truth in the world, not as we may want to see it or hope to see it, but as it is.

And so my truth is that I am a gay American.

So, when a boy, he was in a state well known to males at that stage: confusion. At "points in" his life — not always, not hounding him at every step, weighing on his every decision, only at his "most reflective, maybe even spiritual" moments — he wondered whether he had run to, I guess, an unacceptable reality. Now, at 47, he has "decided" his "unique truth." At the risk of asking a question with an answer that is supposed to be obvious: by what definition is this man "gay"?

He's offered a number of allusions to the "gay narrative"; he's apparently had the implicated sexual encounters; he's made an assertion. But then again, there are those two wives and a daughter with each. He mentions loving them. His juggling of "truths" doesn't quite come around to an admission of having "lived a lie," as the saying goes. Would anybody (who is not intellectually chained to an agenda) be surprised if this manifestly corrupt lawyer-politician announced a different truth in a few years?

But let's exclude political calculation in order to think more generally. If traditions and community can box a homosexual into living the '70s, '80s, and '90s as a straight, procreative man — one for whom divorce is not apparently beyond question — why couldn't lust and a different community, as well as the differing response to infidelity when committed across "orientations" and the politically convenient "victim class" status, give a heterosexual the license to live as a "gay American" for a time?

This is why, as much as I might agree with most of her conclusions, I have to wonder whether it is accurate for IrishLaw to write, of McGreevey, "at least he's being honest." Now, for my purposes here, I don't wish to enter the field of topics ranging from other homosexuals' experiences to the proper course of action for McGreevey to take with his family (see the addendum below). However, in clicking through IrishLaw's discussion with fellow law students, I came across exactly the statement around which skepticism ought to begin to center. From Chris Geidner:

I do not at all think his adultery can be written off, however, as the same as a heterosexual man cheating on his heterosexual wife with another heterosexual woman. This is not because gay relationships are somehow different, but rather that the reasons -- as many former spouses of gay people could discuss -- why a closeted gay man cheats on his wife are different.

I submit that this asserted truth of sexual politics is pervasively accepted and known in our society. Moreover, it needn't be a consciously cut escape hatch for a midlife affair in order for it to have an effect. In a culture that has endeavored to diminish the inherency of the link between sex and procreation and to erase the stigma of sodomy and homosexual sex, the differing reaction to a particular form of infidelity surely factors into a man's mullings as he struggles with temptation.

That considered, step back and view the fullness of the picture of the modern aristocrat, appropriately tinted in accordance with the power of otherhood and orgasms. Doesn't it look like James McGreevey (if not the actual man, then at least the public perception of him)? Having benefited, imagewise, from his marriages, having fulfilled the instinctual demand to create future generations, having experienced the family-man life, this posterboy for elite post-modernism has opened the way for a subsequent life of renewed bachelorhood — and perhaps evaded public anger at his corruption, to boot.

ADDENDUM:
Obviously, one's judgment of McGreevey's proper course of action from this moment on is jumbled up with one's views on marriage, family, and even life. For Geidner, who uses the "living a lie" language that McGreevey did not, the ideal of honesty that the governor would be teaching his daughters by henceforth living as a gay man is a positive benefit to them, far outstripping any benefits that they might garner by his proximity and fulfillment of a traditional role.

McGreevey, to put it mildly, has complicated the abstract discussion by introducing a second marriage and giving each daughter a different mother. However, it seems to me that the bottom-line, can't-be-trumped reasons to treat marriage as sacrosanct — sickness and health, riches and poverty, and realizations of orientational otherhood notwithstanding — are twofold:

  1. The children's subconscious sense of self. This means ensuring that the children (or, in McGreevey's case, at least his two year old) know that they were and remain the products of two parents equivalently, all bound in a familial love and mutual respect of needs that transcends any worldly conveniences, desires, and even sexual "identities."
  2. The children's understanding of the significance of marriage. Geidner says that it is only through "honesty and trust," including the honesty of admitting one's sexuality, that "a true relationship" can be built, presumably implying that the children will not repeat the mistakes of their father. But, even accepting the standard storyline, there's more to the mistake than the orientational lie: there's the erroneous entry into a lifelong commitment. However much it might be true that the children will learn to privilege honesty and trust, doesn't the necessity of working through confusion and looking "deeply into the mirror of one's soul" before making promises to a spouse and children diminish if failure to do so, or realization of error, is an absolute excuse to void the spiritual contract?

Geidner doesn't so much as entertain the possibility that somebody in McGreevey's position could remain married to his wife without being "a lying, closeted gay husband" (and father). Conveniently, that leaves out the path that I consider to be the moral, if most difficult, one. Namely, whatever one's sexual identity might be, entering into marriage and having children are, themselves, declarations of identity that, for the sake of progeny and public, stand above whatever epiphanies might follow.

Posted by Justin Katz at August 18, 2004 1:38 AM
Culture
Comments

What bothers me (and from what I've read, I'm not alone) is that this event is being portrayed as some sort of 'cultural' issue.

Certainly McGreevey started it by attempting to make this a 'gay' issue - about his sexuality. That is nonsense and his lame way of deflecting the real issue - which is his corrupt behavior. (both in public and personally)

Now, obviously I don't believe there is a connection between his sexuality and his lack of integrity as others might.

But I don't understand why people like Rauch are making this into some referendum on SSM. To me, it has no relevance into the debate except for fodder for those like to paint homosexual behavior with corruptness.

McGreevey is a bad man. He is a liar, cheater, embezzler and used his power and administration to foster corruption.

The fact that he is gay and could not get married to his male lover has no relevance. It would give the gay rights movement some legitimacy if they had the guts to come out and call a spade a spade, regardless of sexual orientation.

Posted by: Mark Miller at August 18, 2004 1:06 PM

Justin,

If McGreevey doesn't know if he is gay, how do you know that you are straight?

Posted by: Joel Thomas at August 18, 2004 3:17 PM

I appreciate your honesty and expression but think you are remarkably off the mark. I believe I have -- along with the Fool -- gone through this at quite a length.

Posted by: Chris at August 18, 2004 3:44 PM

Dennis Prager had an interesting comment on the "living a lie" theme. It's relevant to Chris' assertion that a married gay man having an affair is different from a married hetero man having an affair:

"Just as McGreevey may have always preferred sex with men, most heterosexual men married to a woman would prefer sex with a succession of women to sex with only one. Marriage demands of all men that their sexual nature not be fully expressed. It does so for society's sake, for the sake of children, for women's sakes, and, yes, ultimately for men's sakes as well. Admittedly, such an idea is foreign to those who believe that sexual self-realization is the highest personal value."

Hetero men want to have sex with as many women as possible. Marriage vows forbid this. Are we living a lie?

Posted by: Ben Bateman at August 19, 2004 1:12 AM

Ben, with all due respect, that analogy is absolute nonsense.

It's akin to comparing a man who cannot afford to rent a place for shelter for his wife and three children to the man who cannot afford to purchase a yacht for the pleasure of his wife and three children.

Or comparing the plight of children who are hungry for food to the plight of children who wish to eat candy for all their meals.

Both sets are not able to meet all their desires. Based on your analogy, that makes the plight of each equivalent.

Posted by: Mark Miller at August 19, 2004 11:53 AM

Perhaps a more apt analogy would be that both the poor man and the rich man steal in order to pay for their desired objects (the apartment and the yacht). Is the act of stealing morally different in the two cases? Why or why not? Should the punishments be different? Why or why not?

Another problem with Mark's version is the introduction of other's needs into the equation. Prager was talking about the sexual desires of the individual in question, buy now you are claiming that others are dependent on his acting to gratify those desires. On your analogy, McGreevy's gay lover would have been significantly harmed if McGreevy hadn't done as he had, whereas the female lover(s) of the hypothetical heterosexual politician would just be 'eating candy'. But it's hard to see, from the standpoint of McGreevy's sexual desires, how it matters whether he's gratifying them with another man or another woman.

Posted by: Mike S. at August 19, 2004 2:03 PM

Mark, you're making some pretty big assumptions there. You're assuming that a gay man's lust for gay sex is analogous to a necessity, while a hetero man's lust for multiple women is analogous to a luxury.

How can you assume that? What do you really know about how intensely different people feel different sexual urges? At a minimum, it's a fact question that would require some research. Do you have any data to back up your assumptions?

You make that gay urges are special because that is part of conventional wisdom about homosexuality. But like most conventional wisdom on that topic, it rapidly falls apart under the mildest of scrutiny.

Gay advocates frequently claim that their sexual inclinations are genetic, which they suppose absolves them of any responsibility for their actions. Yet whatever genetic urge gays feel, it must surely be weaker than a man's urge to spread his seed as widely as possible and produce as many children as possible. The slightest contact with evolutionary biology will tell you that. It isn’t even unique to humans: The males in virtually every mammal species feel the same urge for the same reason. (In fact, you could really go far beyond mammals with that statement, but let's not get too technical.) So if a gay gene excuses homosexuality, then surely every hetero man has a far more powerful license to philander.

As we discussed with PB&I, sexual morality only makes sense if you start with concerns about reproduction. But if reproduction is irrelevant to sex, then sexual morality cannot and will not stand. The people destroying the current wall have no interest in building a new one, and it’s obvious to those inclined towards wall-building that a new wall can’t survive on the new location that the destroyers suggest. So if the destroyers succeed in tearing down the existing wall and preventing it from being rebuilt, then there will be no new wall; there will be no sexual morality.

This conversation is a specific case of that broad point. We're essentially talking about polygamy without the marriage. We have a group of men—a rather large group—that would experience intense and extended sexual pleasure if only society didn’t disapprove of promiscuity. In a post-Lawrence and post-Goodridge world, on what theory will you deny them their pleasure?

(From another perspective, the philanderers have already had their way years ago with no-fault divorce and government-sponsored campaigns to encourage children to hump like bunnies as long as they use condoms. I doubt that much societal disapproval of promiscuity remains. If you start with that rather dismal premise, then the gays are really second in line behind the philanderers in the crusade for sexual liberation. And that would be consistent with the idea that urge to philander is probably far more powerful, and certainly more common, than the urge for gay sex.)

The gays say that their desire for a specific kind of sexual pleasure is so intense that they must be allowed to have it without the slightest inconvenience, regardless of the consequences to society. They want us to assume, without thinking about it too hard, that the pleasures involved in gay sex are very special—so special that the rest of us can't even imagine the intensity of the desire and corresponding pleasure involved.

I reject that assumption. I see no reason to think that a gay man's desire for gay sex is any more intense than a pedophile's desire for pedophilia, a bestialist's desire for bestiality, or a hetero man's desire to have sex with multiple women. There are many repressed sexual desires out there. I see no reason to permit one and reject the others.

Further, I don't think it matters how intense the desire is. That shouldn't be relevant to whether it ought to be discouraged or criminalized. (It may be relevant in a political sense, of course, but not in a moral sense.) If intensity of desire counts, then every repressed sexual urge should be legalized and legitimized—as long as it’s intense enough.

The deepest damage that results from Goodridge and especially Lawrence is the idea that a desire for pleasure with nothing more can become intense enough to merit a place alongside real moral values. If you think about that idea by itself, it’s really horrifying. If enough people in power today believe that pleasure is the purpose of life—and believe it fervently enough that they are willing to force it on everyone else—then we have entered Huxley’s Brave New World. Pass the Soma.

Posted by: Ben Bateman at August 19, 2004 3:06 PM

Mike,

"Perhaps a more apt analogy would be that both the poor man and the rich man steal in order to pay for their desired objects (the apartment and the yacht)."
—---- That's even less apt. Are you really comparing all sexual urges/behavior to theft ? Or just gay sex ?

"Prager was talking about the sexual desires of the individual in question, but now you are claiming that others are dependent on his acting to gratify those desires."
—----- Not at all. I am simply claiming that the gratification of a heterosexuals desires is morally equivalent to the gratification of a homosexuals desires.

Our area of disagreement here is quite simple. You morally equate the fulfilling of the sexual urge towards someone of the same gender as immoral - such as with pedophilia and bestiality, etc. I morally equate it with the fulfilling of a sexual urge towards a member of the opposite sex.

If you remember, my initial comment was towards those who defend McGreevey's action and admired his 'honesty' and his plight. (spare me) I don't agree with them and based on what I've read feel that he is simply a sleazy, adulterous, lying politician - who happens to be gay.

Ben,

I think it is you who are making the big assumptions.

I think that a gay person's lust for sex is analogous to a straight person's lust for sex.

I think a gay person's lust for multiple partners is analogous to a straight person's lust for multiple partners - and both are luxuries.

The analogy between homosexuality and philandering does not work on a lot of levels. First and foremost, they are not mutually exclusive. You can be a philandering homosexual or a philandering heterosexual.

The bottom line of all this is that you do not feel that homosexuality is immutable - you feel it is akin to having the inclination or desire to commit harm based on societal and environmental surroundings or whatever. You see it as a negative and harmful inclination - one that must be suppressed or discouraged.

Obviously, I do not agree that homosexuality is in the class of no-fault divorce, promiscuity, polygamy or use of birth control. To me, the closest analogous behavior is heterosexuality.

Posted by: Mark Miller at August 19, 2004 4:48 PM

Mark: "The bottom line of all this is that you do not feel that homosexuality is immutable"

The desire may be immutable. Or more likely, it's mutable in some and not in others. But the individual can always choose not to act on the desire. Lots of people have lots of sexual desires that we expect them not to act on.

"you feel it is akin to having the inclination or desire to commit harm based on societal and environmental surroundings or whatever."

No. I see it as a sexual desire like any other. Some people like gay sex. Some like children. Some like groups. Some like to watch midgets wrestle in jello. I don't understand why you think that the urge to have gay sex is special as a sexual urge.

"You see it as a negative and harmful inclination - one that must be suppressed or discouraged"

Yes. The act itself involves some harm. Legitimizing the lifestyle involves much more harm. Legitimizing it by trampling democracy involve additional harm.

"Obviously, I do not agree that homosexuality is in the class of no-fault divorce, promiscuity, polygamy or use of birth control."

Where did birth control from? You lost me there.

I don't see any relevance to your point that homosexuality and promiscuity are non-exclusive categories. Virtually nothing about sex is exclusive--except reproduction and marriage.

I guess it's obvious that you believe what you just wrote, but I don't understand why. Try to answer precisely the questions I'm asking. I don't know how to make them any clearer:

Is there anything more to homosexuality, in your mind, than a particular kind of sexual pleasure? Is there anything more to gayness than the pursuit of a specific kind of sexual pleasure?

If not, then what in your mind sets the pleasure of gay sex apart from any number of other kinds of sexual pleasure? If it's all about pleasure, then why is the pleasure of gay sex so special?

Posted by: Ben Bateman at August 19, 2004 5:17 PM

Lots of people have lots of sexual desires that we expect them not to act on.
—-------- Does this include the sexual urge towards the opposite sex ?

No. I see it as a sexual desire like any other. Some people like gay sex. Some like children. Some like groups. Some like to watch midgets wrestle in jello. I don't understand why you think that the urge to have gay sex is special as a sexual urge.
—------ I don't think it is 'special'. I think it should be treated like the urge to have sex with someone of the opposite sex.

"You see it as a negative and harmful inclination - one that must be suppressed or discouraged"

The act itself involves some harm
—— not the case with two women.

Legitimizing the lifestyle involves much more harm
—--- I don't agree.

Legitimizing it by trampling democracy involve additional harm.
—--- I've acknowledged that the judicial imposition of SSM is not appropriate. But if you mean that the will of the majority of people trumps all, then I don't agree.

"Obviously, I do not agree that homosexuality is in the class of no-fault divorce, promiscuity, polygamy or use of birth control."
Where did birth control from? You lost me there.
—------ Isn't use of birth control immoral ? Use of birth control effectively says that the sex is about the desires/pleasure of the people involved and not solely about procreation. The decision to legalize birth control is one of the ones often mentioned in the same breath as the Goodridge and Lawrence decisions. That is where it came from.

I don't see any relevance to your point that homosexuality and promiscuity are non-exclusive categories.
—------- Point taken. I was saying that homosexuality and heterosexuality are different than homosexuality and incest due to non-exclusiveness but you are correct, it doesn't work.

Is there anything more to homosexuality, in your mind, than a particular kind of sexual pleasure?
—---- The same can be said about non-procreative sex between opposite sex adults. As I've said before, if you were against all non-procreative sex (including sex with women past child-bearing age) that would be a consistent argument.

Is there anything more to gayness than the pursuit of a specific kind of sexual pleasure?
—------ Is there anything more to heterosexuality than the pursuit of sexual pleasure ? The difference is that the pleasure for hetero sex can result in procreation. Are you against all sexual pleasure - or just for gays ?

If not, then what in your mind sets the pleasure of gay sex apart from any number of other kinds of sexual pleasure? If it's all about pleasure, then why is the pleasure of gay sex so special?
—------ My point is that the pleasure of gay sex to gays is morally equivalent to the pleasure of sex for all people. You are trying to lump gay sex in with all forms of sexual pleasure be it with animals, children or multiple partners. I am saying that you could legitimately include hetero sex in with those too. My argument is that there is a moral (and legal) difference between gay sex and PI&B. Is your argument that the government should discourage or criminalize all non-procreative sex ?

Posted by: Mark Miller at August 20, 2004 9:49 AM

I must say I have to agree with Mark here. If the natural teleology of sex is procreation, then nothing could be more "unnatural" than contraception (according to this teleology). If we accept contraception as legit. as I think we should, then we necessarily accept that sex wholly cut off from its procreative teleology, i.e., sex for the purpose of expressing love, cementing relationships, relieving stress, is legit.

Posted by: Jon Rowe, Esq. at August 20, 2004 10:28 AM

"My argument is that there is a moral (and legal) difference between gay sex and PI&B."

The strange thing is, polygamy and incest are procreative. So if procreation is our guide, those two forms of sex are fine.

It's true that bestiality, like homosexuality, is inherently non-procreative. So is sex with a pre-pubescent child (but not with a post-pubescent 13 or 14 year old: that passes our "procreation" test). But then again, so too is sex with a post-menopausal woman. So too is heterosexual oral & anal sex. So to is getting a tubal ligation or a vasectomy.

The point that I am trying to make, "procreation" is a really weak place park a justificatory basis for sex. As Andrew Sullivan says, just because this is what sex CAN be about, doesn't mean that this is what sex MUST be about.

Posted by: Jon Rowe, Esq. at August 20, 2004 10:34 AM

"—----- Not at all. I am simply claiming that the gratification of a heterosexuals desires is morally equivalent to the gratification of a homosexuals desires."

I think somehow things got turned around here. Ben wrote,

"Dennis Prager had an interesting comment on the "living a lie" theme. It's relevant to Chris' assertion that a married gay man having an affair is different from a married hetero man having an affair:"

So he was responding to the claim by Chris (on his blog) that there is something different about a gay affair (as opposed to a heterosexual one). I think Ben and Mark both disagree with this claim, but for different reasons. Or maybe I'm just further confusing the issue...

Jon said,

"The point that I am trying to make, "procreation" is a really weak place park a justificatory basis for sex."

Two points. 1) One does not have to claim that procreation is the sole justification for sex - the claim can be that procreation is (or should be) intrinsically linked to sex. For example, many people would disagree with the claim that "sex for the purpose of expressing love, cementing relationships, relieving stress" is "wholly cut off from its procreative teleology" when it is in the context of a marriage. One purpose of sex is to create intimacy between the husband and wife, making them more likely to stay together to raise any children they produce. In effect, you are begging the question.

2) There is a difference between the justification for sex, and the justification for the social and legal expectations that married couples should not have sex outside of marriage. From the standpoint of McGreevy's marriage, whether he was unfaithful with a man or with a woman is immaterial - he was satisfying his sexual urges (and perhaps emotional ones) and breaking his marriage vows in doing so. From the more general perspective, however, heterosexual affairs are more damaging than homosexual ones, because they sometimes (frequently?) produce babies, who come into the world with a father with divided sympathies.

Posted by: Mike S. at August 20, 2004 12:22 PM

http://www.nationalreview.com/goldberg/goldberg200408200923.asp

Everyone who is interested in the question of whether there is truly a "conservative" case for gay marriage or not should read Jonah Goldberg's piece. He basically makes the same point I was trying to make earlier. The only conceivable case to be made for SSM, that is true to conservative principles, would require waiting until a strong majority of the population was convinced that changing the definition of marriage in this way was the right way to proceed. Since this is unlikely in the forseeable future (in America), there is effectively no conservative case for SSM at the present time, only the possibility that it can be implemented in the distant future.

Posted by: Mike S. at August 20, 2004 12:28 PM

"For example, many people would disagree with the claim that 'sex for the purpose of expressing love, cementing relationships, relieving stress'" is 'wholly cut off from its procreative teleology'"

And what happens when such sex takes place within the context of a heterosexual marriage that has no children, or one that has no chance of ever producing children...such as one with a post-menopausal heterosexual women (a woman past the age of 60 has NO chance of naturally conceiving a child. Why not make this a cut-off date for marriageability of such women?).

I think I can anticipate the response. It will be something along the lines of as long as it's one man and one women, it's okay. Leading me to conclude that sex & marriage aren't really about procreation, but rather about heterosexuality. Talk about question begging!

Posted by: Jon Rowe, Esq. at August 20, 2004 12:40 PM

The McGreevey case is a highlight of the damage that can be done when society tries to get gays to consider themselves (delude themselves) straight and then go on to marry and father children. What is asked, in this, is for innocent spouses to participate in some big social experiment for the sake of "proof" by conservatives that gays can change their orientation to straight.

If I kidnapped the spouse of a straight person and told the straight person I would kill and horribly mutilate their spouse unless the straight person became gay, I might succeed in getting the straight person to have homosexual contact, but their orientation would remain heterosexual.

Posted by: Joel Thomas at August 20, 2004 12:56 PM