Foley’s folly is his fault alone

Brian Thornton

Credit: Steve Schirra

They might not admit it, but the moment gay men read the headline, “Man caught in sex scandal with teen,” their first thought is, “Please, please let the victim be a girl.”

It’s not that we truly hope that a female has been molested. It’s just that whenever a man is caught in a sexual situation with an underage boy, we cringe at the thought of having to explain yet again that there’s no link between pedophilia and homosexuality. Studies show, in fact, that straight men are more likely than gay men to molest children.

Still, there’s a perverse relief that comes from knowing that when the crime committed was between opposite genders, homosexuality won’t even be an issue.

Of course, when the headline proclaims, “Politician caught in sex scandal with teen,” gay Democrats everywhere think, “Please, please let the perpetrator be a Republican,” followed by, “Please, please let the victim be a girl.”

In the case of now-former Rep. Mark Foley, we gay Democrats asked, “Republican? Yes! Girl? Damn.”

Foley resigned last week after media outlets revealed he engaged in sexually explicit e-mail and instant message exchanges with teenage boys.

By the weekend, gay bloggers began labeling Foley as a pedophile. It’s easier for some in the community to think of him that way.

But let’s be clear: From what we know, Foley is no pedophile. Yes, he may have broken the law – the age of consent in Florida is 18, and federal law bans sexually explicit communication between adults and minors. Foley should be prosecuted if he committed a crime.

But pedophiles, by definition, prey on small children – they sexualize kids before they hit puberty, causing terrible damage. Foley, however, was targeting teenage boys, who likely had a good understanding of sex. Foley’s not a pedophile.

He’s a pervy old man. And pervy old men come in all shades, straight and gay.

We don’t understand pedophiles. We don’t know how their sickness develops, and we have no confidence in our ability to fix them.

But I can tell you how Mark Foley became a pervy old man: Gay men who stay in the closet have little chance of becoming mentally healthy adults. Look at George Michael, who cruised public restrooms for sex. Or former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey, who admitted to a dangerous affair with a coworker. The random man who messaged me over MySpace, looking for an anonymous quickie to escape his “Brokeback-style” marriage.

This is 2006 – in this day, hiding in the closet is pure cowardice. There is simply no excuse anymore for gay men – and Tuesday his spokesman confirmed Foley is gay – to be lying about their sexuality.

Here’s what happens when you come out of the closet: You find gay friends, who help you process all you’re going through. You don’t become trapped in an unsatisfying marriage that hurts both you and your wife. You don’t wind up so sexually frustrated that you have sex in parks or try to seduce underage boys because they seem easy targets.

Next Wednesday, gay and lesbian organizations around the country will host their annual Coming Out Day. It’s a great day for closeted queers to stop living in fear and denial and finally start living their lives.

If you’re still in the closet, take next Wednesday as a golden opportunity. Grow a pair, and come out already.

Brian Thornton is a journalism graduate student and Forum editor of the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].