Thursday, September 13, 2007

Conservatives in the Tearoom

Is it hypocrisy when a social conservative, adamantly opposed to gay rights, adultery, divorce, or what have you is caught literally and figuratively with his pants down doing the very thing he proclaims to despise?

According to Andrew Sullivan and some others, maybe it's deeper than simple hypocrisy. Says Andrew:
Social conservatives who try to have extremely discreet and anonymous sex or drugs or whatever are not, perhaps, hypocrites as such. They recognize vice, do not deny it, see it in themselves, understand that some of it is simply irrepressible, and do not see their public moralizing as in conflict with it. Think Bill Bennett or Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly or David Vitter: all involved in various personal vices (often compulsively) - and arguably more socially conservative because of them.
Reference is made in Andrew's post to a now 37-year old study that was done by Laud Humphreys, a graduate student (later professor) of sociology of the "tearoom" trade, or in straight parlance anonymous sex in men's rooms, in St. Louis in the mid-1960's.

I was impressed with Humphrey's inventiveness in how he went about peeling back the onion to discover who these men were that had sex with strangers in mens' rooms. Check this out:
Posing as a voyeur, and never revealing that he was there for research, Humphreys was accepted as “watchqueen” by the social circle hanging out at the restroom. He was entrusted with giving a signal if the police came around. He took notes on the activity taking place – including the license plates numbers of men who came around for fellatio. Through a contact in the police department, he was able to get their home addresses. After a year, and having disguised himself to some degree, he visited them under the pretense of doing a survey for an insurance company to gather more data about their circumstances and opinions. Humphreys states that he was never recognized during these interviews.
Gotta admire that commitment to discovering the truth. Though obviously deceitful, he ultimately honored the anonymity of the men he studied by destroying their personal information. Anyway, here's what he found:
Men he had observed having anonymous sex in a public place often turned out to be ardent champions of law and order. Unable to control themselves in that part of their lives, they put on the defensive “breastplate,” redoubling their efforts elsewhere: “Motivated largely by his own awareness of the discreditable nature of his secret behavior,” wrote Humphreys in his dissertation, “the covert deviant develops a presentation of self that is respectable to a fault. His whole lifestyle becomes an incarnation of what is proper and orthodox.”
So maybe that explains cats like Larry Craig and Ted Haggard, or even Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart. They're not so much hypocrites as they are tormented by their own deviance to the point that they crank up the volume of their moralism publicly to overcompensate.

That sounds reasonable to me, but I wonder if there isn't something peculiar about the religious conservative closeted homosexual. After all, we know the type has sought refuge in the Catholic priesthood. Cynics may say that they put on the cloth purely as an avenue to get the trust of young boys, but I suspect again that it's deeper than that. I wonder if the guilt and shame that society imposes upon being gay causes men to reassert their goodness and morality by becoming champions of righteousness, while unable to restrain their impulses privately.

Something, my friends, has got to change.


At 6:29 PM, Blogger dorsey said...

I remember, back in the days of the Bakker and Swaggert scandals, evangelist James Robison presented himself to a group of his peers and admitted that, although he had committed no impropriety, he was struggling with lust. Of course, in that day, no one was really equipped to help the guy, so they promptly turned their backs on him.

As he later decried the state of the culture of ministry, he described his struggle in more detail. The thing I remember is that he said he always seemed to react to his urges by preaching all the more forcefully against sexual sin, as if, by doing so, he could cast out his own demon.

I've often observed that the people who try the hardest (and loudest) to be perfect always seem to be the ones who have some of the most deviant problems. It's interesting to hear it placed in a sociological perspective.

At 9:39 PM, Blogger Craig Bob said...

At some point you'll want to shout me down for repeating this comment in various different forms ... but this is one more area where the myth of specialness surrounding pastors is unhealthy. All around. That spiritual cloaking device enables the bipolar life you describe.

At 10:04 PM, Blogger Zeke said...

Like I said somewhere else in another form, spiritual abuse depends upon an atmosphere of blind trust and optimism. So I'm with what you're saying, CB.

At 2:49 PM, Blogger Mrs Zeke said...

we get what we give..
How many people think Pastors have all the right answers?
Doctors know how to fix all that harms us?
Mothers know all about children?
Fathers know all the answers to life?
the list is endless

We have our high platforms we put people on then get mad when they act arrogant or fall is really kinda silly

I can not be the only one that walks the earth, that gets real stuff from all the Pastors, deacons and other peeps in church power that others miss. There fears, demented thoughts, what they do or don't do in private etc

Maybe if allow people to he who they are we will get the honesty we so claim to want.

So is it what we really want?

Love you baby

At 7:08 AM, Blogger JP said...

Surprisingly insightful post! I think I will have to link to it...


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