I wouldn’t want to be Rep. Anthony Weiner right now. Because everyone can see he’s conflicted about sex. But c’mon, aren’t you? Isn’t everyone?
As Somerset Maugham wrote almost a century ago, “There is hardly anyone whose sexual life, if it were broadcast, would not fill the world with surprise and horror.”
Would you want your mental sexual architecture exposed? Of course not.
And that’s the problem: Everyone in America is conflicted about sex. But only people with certain kinds of sexual conflict get caught.
Some people conflicted about sex never masturbate, never ask a woman what time it is just to stand next to her, never look at porn, never choose a table or subway seat based on who they get to look at, never fantasize when they walk past a dress shop, never read a romance novel, never think about what’s under those tight NFL pants, never look up old boyfriends on Facebook, never wear a plunging neckline, never own a vibrator, never smell their spouse’s underwear.
They never think of sex, feel little passion, and rarely do it.
Such people’s sexual conflicts are never exposed to public scrutiny, because they’re rarely acted out in ways we can easily see. But the internal crippling of sex phobias, the terror that one might not be 100% heterosexual, the rage against others’ sexual self-acceptance—these qualities in our public servants should concern us far more than the phone sex of Anthony Weiner, the love child of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the prostitutes of David Vitter or Elliot Spitzer.
The problem with all the moralistic, self-satisfied, judgmental crap being thrown at, on, and around Anthony Weiner is that it affirms the idea that sex gets us in trouble—and that if we stay away from it, we’re OK. It affirms the idea that people who are conflicted about sex and act it out (in Weiner’s case, playfully, consensually, and—let’s remember—without meeting or touching) are somehow less trustworthy and less emotionally stable than people whose sexual conflicts leave them with frozen hearts, frozen bodies, and a complete lack of a paper trail. The grief of a spouse emotionally abandoned by a sex-phobe is always considered more acceptable than the grief of a spouse who’s been cheated on—a naïve and mean-spirited reading of human emotion.
I agree that Weiner did dumb things. But if you want to say the guy’s poor judgment disqualifies him from public office, you have to put that in context. You also have to talk about the poor judgment of public servants who, in private, beg Jesus to kill their sex drive, or beg a therapist to kill their fantasies, or brainwash their kids to be virgins at marriage, or, like St. Augustine, are intensely obsessed with the fundamentally dangerous nature of female sexuality. Does Anthony Weiner’s sexuality make him less trustworthy than St. Augustine’s tormented sexuality made him? I don’t think so.
The media (including the pretend-liberal Huffington Post), self-righteous members of both political parties, and many Americans continue to express their intense sense of betrayal by Weiner: “We thought we knew him.”
By that, people mean they thought they could safely assume Weiner’s sexuality was vanilla. Now they feel somehow violated because it isn’t. Much of the American public—and all of the media—seem to feel it has a right to expect vanilla sexuality from politicians, regardless of ideology or the lack of impact on their political behavior.
When non-vanilla behavior is exposed in public servants, people sanctimoniously complain about its content—the hookers or the multiple partners or the porn or the (duh) lying. If we hypothetically put aside such morally tainted content—is there any non-vanilla sex life a politician can have that’s acceptable to the public?
For example, what if a politician privately sends hot emails to his own wife? Takes explicit pictures of their monogamous bedroom activities and keeps them private? Or, with her encouragement, sends them to the couple’s best friend? No one’s hurt, no one complains, it’s all private. Does the desire to do this, or the willingness to do it, mean a public servant can’t be trusted?
Why not? And why is this worse than electing someone who, it turns out, believes that their sexual fantasies are going to damn them to everlasting hell?
America’s sex scandals (not the behavior, the “scandals”) are dangerous because they’re always about an interest in non-authorized sex, and because the lesson we’re always told they teach is that “too much” interest in sex, or “too little control” over our sexual impulses, or “too unusual” sexual desires are dangerous. And that the other kind of sexuality—one loaded down with guilt, shame, terror, and frigidity—is merely inconvenient, rather than a menace to society.
Anthony Weiner may be a flawed husband, but he’s no menace. Those who want to strip every bit of eroticism out of our governing classes are. At the very least, they should be honest about their intention, and quit hiding behind the skirts of “he has bad judgment.”