I rarely post diaries these days for a number of reasons, but I've reached a breaking point with the so-called "scandal" about Anthony Weiner and his various activities over the past week or so.
Having met the man and worked briefly on one of his campaigns, may I just say - Anthony Weiner's penis is attached to an amazing human being who does very important and positive things in the world. He is a smart, articulate, effective force for good who has a nearly unique talent for honing in on core arguments and delivering a knockout blow to those who seek to destroy the things we've all worked so hard to create.
I want to go out there and say - I have his back, and he has my vote in any future election for the House or for the city of New York. Read on for a brief meditation on the nature of online human interaction, and a call for a truly liberal response to what has happened here.
A Word About Online Interaction As It Pertains to Human Sexuality
One of the most central, yet under-discussed, aspects of human existence is the fact that we are all sexual beings. Sex is, for most of us, something that consumes a great deal of our brain power. This is not unnatural - in fact, it is one reason why our species has flourished on this rare, blue and green speck of life floating in a distant arm of an unremarkable galaxy. Sex is why we are all here, and sex is a basic human function. When we're not actually having it, it's probably waiting in the wings to remind us that we probably should have it sometime soon.
As a gay man, I live in a community that has embraced sexuality with more maturity and groundedness than most other communities in the history of our species. So often, our civilization has evolved a series of rituals designed to pretend that sex is something separate from all those other puzzle pieces that together construct who we are in this world. Gay male society has evolved a different set of rituals - rituals that embrace sexuality as a part of the human experience, and celebrate it and take joy in all its best permutations.
That exalted - and, dare I say, quite positive - state of affairs has yet to fully prevail in the mainstream American consciousness, yet the online world has created opportunities for sex to crash through the carefully-constructed facades that define what we consider "civilized" society. For the gay male, this is not much of an issue. We were always more in touch with that primal urge, and we knew that while our penises required a certain amount of our attention, the resulting peccadilloes did not define our larger role in the world. Sex is a dance, sometimes executed with one partner for many years, and sometimes spinning from partner to partner in a beautiful series of shared joys. And sometimes, that dance stops making sense, entering a fantasy world in which we find ourselves eschewing expectations and indulging fancies that others might consider inappropriate. The online world makes such indiscretions easier to commit, and that can be both a beautiful thing and an embarrassment.
For Congressman Weiner, the ease of indulging the fantasy realm - of entertaining the idea of the waltz between partners - has proved to be an embarrassment. Nonetheless, there is nothing particularly shocking or unusual about it. He is a fit, attractive man. He has that same primal drive that has driven our species to success. Despite his online activities, he seems to have avoided breaching that most sachrosanct of our carefully-constructed rituals and institutions - he never cheated on his wife by having sexual relations with any of these people. He indulged in the sort of thing that millions of gay men (and probably straight men, lesbians, straight women, and bisexuals) indulge in every day: he flirted, sometimes in a direct (even photographic) way.
As a society, we need to grow to accept that flirtation, erotic possibility, and sex are good things. As a gay man, I'm part of an undersociety that already gets this. The number of people who have seen photographs of my penis and my abdominal muscles would make me blush if I were less enlightened. But, as a sexually enlightened person, I understand that this is just the natural extension of human sexuality in the modern world. We flirt. We share in new, more intimate ways, across long distances. And it's not something to be ashamed of. It is part and parcel of who we are and how we got here in the first place. As a gay person, sex obviously doesn't yield offspring - but that urge is a blessing and a beautiful thing, and if that sometimes leads to indiscretions that bump up against our carefully-constructed rituals and expectations... well, perhaps we should view that as an opportunity to evolve, rather than to blush or rush to judgment.
What Do I Think a Liberal Response Should Be?
I think that the appropriate liberal response to such things as the Anthony Weiner "scandal" - or those of Larry Craig, David Vitter, Bill Clinton, Jim McGreevey, or all the rest - is a shrug: "So they're human - big deal." When someone is hypocritical, we should decry that hypocrisy (and that hypocrisy is my only criticism when it comes to the Republican sex "scandals"). But otherwise, I think it is incumbent upon us to speak truth in a world that doesn't really care so much about truth as it does about creating a sensation.
Anthony Weiner should not resign. He should apologize to his wife (which he's done); he should apologize for lying (which he's done); and he should keep up the good work that has made such a positive impact in the world. We should understand that in these human bodies, we tend to get horny, and when we do we sometimes aren't discreet. And sometimes when we aren't discreet, we can make a mistake. Sometimes those mistakes become a pattern. And that's not a great moral failing - it's just simple human life.
I am an Anthony Weiner fan, and I don't feel betrayed or let down... he remains a powerful voice for good. He happens to be human - as we all are. The fact that he has an unruly sex drive does not diminish those other parts of who he is and what he has done for us and for this country.
As a country - and as liberals - I hope that in time everyone can be more like gay men: accepting of sex, indulgent of indiscretion, and aware that the previous two traits are at once integral to who we are and completely unrelated to the other things we seek to accomplish during this brief sojourn we call life.
1:57 AM PT: Woo! Recommended... thank you. :^)
UPDATED: On the Subject of Lying About Sexual Indiscretions
I thought I'd address the comments below that express dismay/derision for the fact that he lied about this matter.
First of all, I'd like to reassert that his sex life is none of our business - it's his business, his wife's business, and the business of the women with whom he corresponded. That said, while I hold a rather progressive view of sex and sexuality (as many of his New York constituents do, as well), I can understand a public official lying about such matters. Was it ill-advised? Sure. But was it shocking? No. In a country that still has a mile-wide prudish streak, it makes perfect sense for a public figure to lie about something embarrassing related to sex. I wish he hadn't, but I understand and I've made enough of my own mistakes to know that I can see the impulse at work here and sympathize with it. As long as prudism and Puritanism are still major influences on our national discourse (and they are), public figures will be confronted with the task of maintaining the illusion that they are somehow transcendent of their basic human urges; and sometimes they will lie to maintain that illusion.
To that end - I also sympathized with Larry Craig and the poor dear's "wide stance" defense. How embarrassing, to be in that situation. If you were married, conflicted about your sexuality, and making what you and many others consider stupid mistakes related to your erotic impulses, wouldn't you lie about it, were you caught? A difference here is that Craig was hypocritical, running as a "family values" Republican and with a strikingly anti-gay voting record. As I noted in a comment below, hypocrisy is the thing that I can't abide - but these types of human "failings," pertaining to extremely personal matters that are none of our business in the first place, should not be the sort of thing that gets our knickers all bunched up like this.
Rep. Weiner's dishonesty was a bad idea - it complicated his life, it kept this story in the spotlight, and it compounded his embarrassment and the media's focus on it. But it was not a criminal offense, nor an unforgivable one.
I'm somewhat heartened by the fact that he's such a lousy liar. He's so good at telling the truth about the things that matter, he earned a great deal of trust. If he were adept at lying about the things that don't matter, I'd perhaps lose some of that trust. As it is, I'm mildly disappointed in him, but not in a judgmental way - I get it.
Had the man lied about, say, weapons of mass destruction, or the contents of a bill before him, I would be outraged - because that's my business. When a politician lies about the conduct of his or her affairs in office, that's when it concerns us and that's when we are justified in launching into a screaming-banshee, "get the bum outta there" frenzy. But the frantic, panting, oh-so-shocked response to this matter is nonsense.
Weiner is a good guy who made a mistake. He lied about that mistake. That lie was a mistake. He made the mistake of being human while in the glare of the media spotlight. But when it comes to the stuff that matters, he's a powerful voice for good and he uses that voice strongly to make your life and my life better. He deserves some credit for that, some forbearance, and the opportunity to put this behind him and keep trying to make our lives better.
A commenter below quoted John 8:7: "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." I think this is a good place to end the conversation about these issues. If Weiner's mistakes don't violate the law or the rules of his institution, then we're simply engaged in hand-wringing (or stone-casting) over someone's human fallibility in his private life. I have no more patience for that, and neither should you.