Sunday, September 02, 2007

Senator Larry Craig and the "breastplate of righteousness"

Christopher Hitchens on Senator Larry Craig and the "breastplate of righteousness":
…. Along with a string of votes to establish "don't ask, don't tell" and to prohibit homosexual marriage, Craig leaves as his political legacy the telling phrase "wide stance", which may or may not join "big tent" and "broad church" as an attempt to make the Republican Party seem more "inclusive" than it really is.

But there's actually a chance—a 38 percent chance, to be more precise—that the senator can cop a plea on the charge of hypocrisy. In his study of men who frequent public restrooms in search of sex, Laud Humphreys discovered that 54 percent were married and living with their wives, 38 percent did not consider themselves homosexual or bisexual, and only 14 per cent identified themselves as openly gay. Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Personal Places, a doctoral thesis which was published in 1970, detailed exactly the pattern—of foot-tapping in code, hand-gestures and other tactics—which has lately been garishly publicized at the Minneapolis-St Paul airport men's room. The word "tearoom" seems to have become archaic, but in all other respects the fidelity to tradition is impressive.

The men interviewed by Humphreys wanted what many men want: a sexual encounter that was quick and easy and didn't involve any wining and dining. Some of the heterosexuals among them had also evolved a tactic for dealing with the cognitive dissonance that was involved. They compensated for their conduct by adopting extreme conservative postures in public. Humphreys, a former Episcopalian priest, came up with the phrase "breastplate of righteousness" to describe this mixture of repression and denial. So it is quite thinkable that when Sen. Craig claims not to be gay, he is telling what he honestly believes to be the truth.

… without overthinking it or attempting too much by way of amateur psychiatry, I think it's safe to assume that many tearoom-traders have a need, which they only imperfectly understand, to get caught. And this may be truest of all of those who are armored with "the breastplate of righteousness." Next time you hear some particularly moralizing speech, set your watch. You won't have to wait long before the man who made it is found, crouched awkwardly yet ecstatically while the cistern drips and the roar of the flush maddens him like wine.
You can read the entire piece here.


Anonymous said...

I'm just curious, what do you feel you're adding to his essay? Why have you posted it on your blog like this?

Anonymous said...

I don't know why he did it, but I think it's great that he did. The more media outlets it is available on, the wider the potential distribution of the information. I would not have seen the article on Slate if I had not come upon it here, via Reddit.

Scott Gerard Prinster said...

In his study of men who frequent public restrooms in search of sex, ...38 percent did not consider themselves homosexual or bisexual...

Would that be like not considering oneself subject to gravity? I appreciate that the closet may be thought of as "situational" like prison, and that behavior in this case may not be the last word on someone's identity, but I'm not entirely satisfied with the idea that these guys don't think it says anything about them to be cruising bathrooms for sex.