May 2010

First published at 365gay.com on May 28, 2010

I hesitate to write another column about Elena Kagan, President Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Stevens, and someone whose putative sexuality has been discussed ad nauseam by people (like me) who aren’t in a position to know the first thing about it.

It’s true that when people enter public life, they must forgo some realm of privacy. But c’mon. It’s not as if Kagan is picking up chicks at the Dinah Shore Golf Weekend. For that matter, it doesn’t appear that she’s doing much romantically with men, either—at least not in any public way. Despite relentless media efforts to make it so, Kagan’s sexuality is just not a particularly visible feature of her life.

So let’s not have another column about Kagan—at least not directly. Let’s instead bring up Kagan only as a springboard to something else.

In the discussions surrounding Kagan, various parties aimed to produce evidence that she was either gay, straight, or bi. She plays softball, smokes cigars, and doesn’t have a man in her life (which apparently suggests that she’s gay); she dated Eliot Spitzer’s male friends in college (which apparently suggests that she’s straight); she never dated Spitzer (which suggests that she has taste).

What no one seems to have considered is a fourth option: perhaps Kagan is neither gay, straight, nor bi. Perhaps she is asexual.

Asexuality is an unusual phenomenon where people do not experience any sexual attraction. (Or perhaps it is better understood on a continuum model, where they experience vanishingly low levels of sexual attraction.)

Asexuality does not get discussed much, mainly because it challenges our tendency to put everyone into the neat boxes we’re used to. It has taken decades to accustom people to the “gay/lesbian” box, making them understand that gay people are not just perverted heterosexuals. Many people still have a hard time with the “bisexual” box. (“They’re just confused; they haven’t decided yet; there’s no such thing.”)

And some people (a minority) argue that we shouldn’t have “boxes” at all, although they can be a useful way of organizing information and building community identity.

I’ll be candid: I don’t know much about asexuality. I have at least one friend that I think it probably describes. He’s never dated either males or females and doesn’t have much interest in doing so, and as far as I know, this disinterest is not the result of some emotional or physical dysfunction. He appears to view sex the way I view having children or running marathons—I can see why other people might enjoy these things, but they’re just not for me. And I don’t need to try either one to know this.

One thing that LGBT people ought to understand is that the boxes society wants to impose don’t always fit. That’s one reason why I aim to give people the benefit of the doubt when they’re sharing their experience: generally speaking, every person gets to be the expert on his or her own feelings. And some people report feeling no sexual desire.

According to Asexuality.org, an online community of over 19,000 people:

“An asexual is someone who does not experience sexual attraction. Unlike celibacy, which people choose, asexuality is an intrinsic part of who we are. Asexuality does not make our lives any worse or any better, we just face a different set of challenges than most sexual people. There is considerable diversity among the asexual community; each asexual person experiences things like relationships, attraction, and arousal somewhat differently. Asexuality is just beginning to be the subject of scientific research.”

The website goes on to explain that asexuals have the same emotional needs as everyone else and that some date and form long-term partnerships. Those who do are just as likely to date sexual people as to date each other (indeed, probably more so, since there are many more sexual people in the world).

Thus, while many asexuals are celibate, some aren’t: despite lacking sexual desire, some have sex as a way to care for non-asexual partners. (Kind of like I might go running with a partner even though I have no direct interest in running. But don’t get any ideas, Mark.) By contrast, most celibates are NOT asexual: they are people with sexual desire who choose to forgo sex for some other reason.

Some other interesting points from the website:

“Many asexual people experience attraction, but we feel no need to act out that attraction sexually….Asexual people who experience attraction will often be attracted to a particular gender, and will identify as lesbian, gay, bi, or straight.”

The website also explains that some asexual people experience sexual arousal whereas as others do not; some masturbate; others don’t. What they all have in common is a lack of desire for partnered sexual expression. Thoughtfully, the site includes this caveat:

“Note: People do not need sexual arousal to be healthy, but in a minority of cases a lack of arousal can be the symptom of a more serious medical condition. If you do not experience sexual arousal or if you suddenly lose interest in sex you should probably check with a doctor just to be safe.”

At the risk of adding more letters to the coalition of LGBTQQISS and so on, I think it’s time we take the “asexual” box seriously. Check out Asexuality.org if you want to learn more.

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First published at 365gay.com on May 21, 2010

“Are you, or have you ever been, a homosexual?”

From the moment President Obama nominated Solicitor General Elena Kagan to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, observers have been itching to ask her some version of this question—or as I’ll call it, The Question.

For the time being, The Question has subsided. Instead, it has been largely replaced by a meta-question: is The Question even appropriate to ask?

When commentators as disparate as gay-rights advocate Andrew Sullivan and the virulently anti-gay Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans For Truth (About Homosexuality), agree on something, it’s noteworthy. And both agree that asking Kagan The Question is appropriate.

LaBarbera writes [http://americansfortruth.com/news/if-elena-kagan-is-a-lesbian-she-should-say-so-because-public-has-a-right-to-know.html],

“If Kagan is practicing immoral sexual behavior, it reflects on her character as a judicial nominee and her personal bias as potentially one of the most important public officials in America….Besides, in an era of ubiquitous pro-gay messages and pop culture celebration of homosexuality, it’s ridiculous that Americans should be left guessing as to whether a Supreme Court nominee has a special, personal interest in homosexuality.”

And here’s Sullivan [http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2010/05/so-is-she-gay.html]:

“[Whether Kagan is gay] is no more of an empirical question than whether she is Jewish. We know she is Jewish, and it is a fact simply and rightly put in the public square. If she were to hide her Jewishness, it would seem rightly odd, bizarre, anachronistic, even arguably self-critical or self-loathing.”

Sullivan adds that since gay-rights issues will likely come before the Court, “and since it would be bizarre to argue that a Justice’s sexual orientation will not in some way affect his or her judgment of the issue, it is only logical that this question should be clarified.”

Strange bedfellows, indeed.

Notwithstanding her short haircut, her penchant for cigars, her enjoyment of softball, and the fact that she’s requested her judicial robe in flannel (okay, I made that last one up), no one has found solid evidence that Kagan is a lesbian. This, despite relentless efforts from across the political spectrum to do so. If she is, it certainly isn’t the sort of “open secret” some have claimed.

So, should we just come out and ask her?

It’s tempting to give one of the two easy answers to this question, which are

(A) It’s nobody’s damn business, and certainly not relevant to her nomination,

or

(B) Sure—why not? It’s 2010, and not such a big deal anymore.

The right answer is more complicated.

On the one hand, every Justice, like any other citizen, is entitled to some zone of privacy. Of course their private experiences might affect how they rule. But we need to be careful about getting on that slippery slope, lest we turn confirmation hearings into witch hunts.

Moreover, in a questionnaire for her Solicitor General nomination, Kagan rejected the idea that there is a fundamental constitutional right to same-sex marriage—as have some openly gay constitutional scholars. So her being lesbian, even if true, wouldn’t guarantee any particular ruling on the specific gay-rights issues likely to come before the Court. Constitutional jurisprudence isn’t the same as personal policy preference.

On the other hand, her being a lesbian would give her a unique perspective on the Court, and could certainly influence the other justices in a positive way. As Justice Antonin Scalia once said of Justice Thurgood Marshall (the first African-American justice), “He wouldn’t have had to open his mouth to affect the nature of the conference and how seriously the conference would take matters of race.”

And Sullivan has a point when he suggests that treating a person’s (actual or possible) lesbianism like some dirty little secret is ultimately no more palatable than treating her Jewishness that way. Doing so smacks of complicity in the closet, which Sullivan rightly condemns as an awful relic.

Unfortunately, that awful relic—and the reasons for it—have hardly disappeared. And one need look no further than the ranting of folks like Peter LaBarbera to see why.

In defending The Question, Sullivan writes that “a revolution in attitudes has occurred” on gay issues. But Sullivan’s use of the present-perfect tense (“has occurred”) is misleading. That revolution IS OCCURRING, and it’s far from complete.

I’d love for lesbianism to be as much of a non-issue for Supreme Court nominees as Jewishness. The fracas over Kagan’s personal life makes it clear that we’re not there yet.

Meanwhile, if I were a Senator at her confirmation hearings, I’d say “There has been much speculation in the media about your personal life. Is that anything you wish to comment on?” Then I’d step back and let Kagan handle it as she sees fit.

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First published at 365gay.com on May 14, 2010

When I was a high school sophomore, one of my classmates had the misfortune of popping an erection in the communal shower after gym class. I doubt “Paul” was gay. Most likely, it was a typical teenage case of Mr. Happy having a mind of its own. But fellow students at our all-boys Catholic school teased him mercilessly, calling him a fag, and I joined in.

That’s right: I joined in.

Please understand: at the time I was NOT GAY. Sure, I had “gay feelings,” which I kept mostly to myself. I also lacked any straight feelings, and I had a decent enough grasp of logic to know that people with “gay feelings” but no “straight feelings” are gay. It was denial, pure and simple, and my teasing Paul was a way to deflect attention away from myself.

When people ask me how I can even for a split second feel sadness for hypocrites like Reverend George “I hired him to carry my luggage” Rekers, the anti-gay crusader who was recently caught hiring an escort from rentboy.com for a European vacation, I answer: Because I know what denial feels like.

True, I came clean about my sexuality at 19, whereas Rekers is still dissembling at 61. True, I participated in some schoolboy teasing—the potential damage of which ought not to be underestimated—whereas Rekers has made a career out of spreading lies about gays, writing books with titles like Growing Up Straight: What Families Should Know About Homosexuality, and offering highly paid testimony in Florida and Arkansas against gay adoption. There’s a huge difference.

But part of preventing future cases like these is first to understand them, and I can understand them best by drawing on my own experience. The human capacity for keeping separate sets of “mental books” is as familiar as it is remarkable.

Why is Rekers’ case important? Because it provides yet another stunning example of what it looks like when someone tries to fight his internal demons by scapegoating openly gay and lesbian people. Rekers has spent his life attacking in others what he can’t control in himself, harming countless LGBT innocents in the process. This is the danger of the closet.

Rekers insists that he is not gay, and at one level, he’s right. The term “gay” often refers to a mode of self-understanding and public identity, and Rekers just isn’t there. On this reading, anyone can be a homosexual, but it takes courage to be gay. Sadly, like the Reverend Ted “I’m heterosexual with issues” Haggard before him, Reverend Rekers may never get there.

So let Rekers have his “I’m not gay but my rentboy is” t-shirt. I’ll even believe him when he says that there was no sex, strictly speaking. According to the rentboy, “Lucien” (aka Geo, aka Jo-Vanni), in interviews with the Miami New Times and blogger Joe.My.God, their sessions consisted of daily nude massages where Lucien stroked Rekers “across his penis, thigh… and his anus over the butt cheeks,” causing Rekers to become “rock hard.” (At 61, Rekers doesn’t have the same excuse for erections as my high school classmate.)

This is precisely what one would expect from a “Not Gay” deeply closeted homosexual who has spent his career denouncing the “unacceptable health risks of [homosexual] behavior.” Rekers can maintain this charade only by drawing the boundaries of “homosexual behavior” about as narrowly as Bill Clinton drew those of “sexual relations”—which, as you’ll recall, the president did not have with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. The claims are true on one level—the strained, self-serving, and possibly delusional one.

It’s when I imagine these mental contortions that I feel the split second of sympathy for Rekers. As David Link writes at the Independent Gay Forum, “If the glaringly obvious conclusion is true—that Rekers is, in fact, a frustrated homosexual who won’t allow himself to actually have sex with another man—then he has created for himself exactly the hell he and his colleagues believe homosexuals are headed for or deserve.”

However, it’s one thing to create demons for yourself, and quite another to project them onto innocent bystanders whom you then attack as “deviant” in books, articles, and courtroom testimony. Frankly, there aren’t enough rentboys in Miami to carry that kind of karmic baggage.

Rekers still insists that he sought out the young man because he wanted to share the Gospel. I recommend starting with the “Truth shall set you free” part, followed by some lessons on penance.

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First published at 365gay.com on May 7, 2010

So, we have a new line to add to the file labeled “Seriously?!?”—alongside Reverend Ted Haggard’s “I bought the meth but didn’t use it,” ex-gay leader John Paulk’s “I had to use the bathroom and had no idea it was a gay bar,” Rep. Eric Massa’s “I’m just a salty old sailor,” and Senator Larry Craig’s “I have a wide stance.”

Now add Reverend George Rekers’ “I hired him to lift my luggage.”

As a co-founder (with James Dobson) of the conservative Family Research Council, a board member of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), and an author of numerous anti-gay works, Dr. Rekers is a major right-wing figure.

And so he did what any straight, family-oriented Baptist minister would do when looking for someone to carry his luggage on a ten-day European excursion. He went to rentboy.com and hired a prostitute.

I can’t make this stuff up.

The Miami New Times broke the story [http://www.miaminewtimes.com/2010-05-06/news/christian-right-leader-george-rekers-takes-vacation-with-rent-boy/1] this week, complete with details from 20-year-old blond Puerto Rican rentboy “Lucien’s” profile: his “smooth, sweet, tight ass,” his “perfectly built 8 inch cock (uncut)” and the fact that he’ll “do anything you say as long as you ask.” These are important attributes for travel assistants, no doubt.

A blogger at Unzipped.net [http://blog.unzipped.net/2010/05/meet-homophobe-george-rekers-rentboy-fuck-slut-lucien.html] quickly uncovered the rentboy’s profile, which identifies him as Boynextdoor/Geo and was purged of some of the earlier sexual content; the profile has since been removed from the site to protect the young man’s privacy.

(Incidentally, we SHOULD protect the young man’s privacy. 20-year-olds don’t typically go into prostitution because it’s the best among many excellent job opportunities.)

Lucien/Geo is the same age as a son that Rekers adopted four years ago, which might not be relevant were it not for Rekers’ vigorous opposition to adoption by gays. Rekers testified in favor of nasty homosexual adoption bans in both Arkansas and Florida. Indeed, on the blog page [http://professorgeorge.wordpress.com/2010/05/05/misleading-internet-reports-about-professor-george-rekers/] where he repeats his lame luggage excuse, there’s a link labeled “Should homosexuals be allowed to adopt children?” This leads to a page full of outright falsehoods, including:

“Large research studies consistently report that a majority of homosexually-behaving adults have a life-time incidence of one or more psychiatric disorders, while a majority of heterosexually-behaving adults do not suffer a psychiatric disorder…. So my professional conclusion that homosexually-behaving adults should not be allowed to adopt children is based on research and logic.”

And perhaps personal experience.

This is not funny. It is not even sad. It’s disgusting. And I’m tired of feeling sorry for these people.

As the Gay Moralist, I like to give all people the benefit of the doubt. It’s not a strategy so much as a matter of empathy. I was once a closeted homosexual conservative myself, and I came close to entering the Catholic priesthood. I often wonder whether, had my life gone slightly differently—different influences, different opportunities, different choices—I’d be missing truths that seem obvious to me now.

I even wonder whether I might have acted out sexually in inappropriate ways—hiring male prostitutes privately while railing against homosexuality publicly, or hitting on college seminary students (not children) in my priestly care. While I’m no longer a believer, the phrase “There but for the grace of God” still resonates with me.

I am not denying that we’re responsible for our choices and actions. I’m simply saying that there are often mitigating factors beyond observers’ ken. I don’t know Rekers personally, and I can only make an educated guess at what demons he wrestles with.

But I know from hard experience that the best way to tame demons is to start being honest with yourself and others. That, instead of using self-respecting gays as a proxy for whatever internal foes you’re fighting.

Unsurprisingly, not even Rekers’ religious-right buddies are buying his “lift my luggage” line, or his more recent claim (in a message to blogger Joe.My.God) that he spent time with the youth in order to share the Gospel: “Like John the Baptist and Jesus, I have a loving Christian ministry to homosexuals and prostitutes in which I share the Good News of Jesus Christ with them.” [http://joemygod.blogspot.com/2010/05/dr-george-rekers-patron-of-male.html]

Lift his luggage? Share the Good News? These lines make great double-entendres for late-night comedians (“Is that what the kids are calling it these days?”) but they don’t get Rekers a whit closer to addressing his real baggage.

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