Sen. Larry Craig's recent sexual restroom exploits have given the American community an unexpected but valuable teachable moment that should be embraced and further understood.
Instead of running from the tabloid fodder, late night talk show jokes, and Sunday morning sermons that will undoubtedly come from this incident; the LGBT community should instead embrace Sen. Craig's gay sex solicitation incident as an opportunity to talk candidly and knowledgeably about the fluidity of sexuality and its effects upon gay identity and gay sexual orientation.
There are four vital lessons that can be learned from Sen. Craig's situation, each of which flies in the face of conventional wisdom and understanding of sexuality.
Understanding Gay Sexual Behavior
First, we must learn how to distinguish the differences between sexual behavior, sexual identity and sexual orientation. Sen. Craig has vehemently denied that he is a gay man and I personally believe him.
Since Sen. Craig clearly attempted to engage in gay sexual behavior but publicly denies a gay sexual identity does this mean that he is in sexual denial or perhaps deeply closeted? Not necessarily. Often men who engage in the underground culture of public restroom, rest stop, tea room sex do so as an act of sexual titillation, sexual release, and an immediate sexual gratification.
They are fueled by the sexual thrill of getting caught, doing something that is taboo and the potential danger of seeking out homoerotic encounters with men who otherwise would strictly identify as heterosexual.
So in every sense and definition of the word, the sex that these men have is truly, utterly and exclusively recreational. It is void of emotional value, love, respect, intimacy or an expectation of a romantic relationship to come. For them having male-to-male sex is truly a sport, a hobby, a distraction and a pastime or rebellion against convention with no emotional attachment or desire for more.
To further understand how a straight man could engage in gay sex and still genuinely not identity as gay in terms of his sexual identity or sexual orientation, we must remember that it is physically possible for any person to have sex with either gender regardless of their individual level of emotional attachment.
A so called 100% gay man may still be capable of having sexual relations with a woman. So does this automatically make him straight or bisexual? Not necessarily. Just because he is capable of having sex with a woman doesn't mean he wants to have a relationship with one, hence our clear understanding of sexual orientation must come into play.
Understanding Gay Sexual Orientation
What we feel emotionally is what defines our sexual orientation not our sexual activity. I personally am a gay man. I only desire to be in a relationship with another man. However, in the past I have had sex with women specifically my former wife. For a time while we were together she was my exclusive sexual partner. I am still physically capable of being attracted to women.
But my emotional desire is to partner with another man, not a woman. Hence my true sexual orientation is gay, not straight or bisexual.
I potentially could have as much illicit heterosexual sex as I want with women but at the end of the day, I will always return back to the loving arms of another man. It's just how I am wired. I romantically love and romantically desire to be with another man.
Well for Sen. Craig, I believe that he romantically loves and romantically desires to be with a woman and although he may recreationally have sex with other men, his true loving desire is for women and not for men.
Society must come to terms with the fact that not everyone who has gay sex is necessarily gay. Although it may be a difficult concept for some to comprehend; gay sexual behavior does not equate to gay sexual orientation.
Understanding Gay Identity
We live in a society that is determined to categorize and force people into a box, assigning them with a ratings value of good or bad based upon their race, class, culture and sexual identification.
Today for an individual to self-identity as gay, they seemingly must take on an image created by the media that is based upon societal stereotypes. For men, we must be either feminine or super gym macho bunnies. We must be either florists or hairdressers or super witty, smart, affluent and overly-successful. But all too often, the gay identity most exclusively seen and portrayed is that of white men and their lives (i.e. Will and Grace, Queer as Folk).
In fact members of the Black community have for years rejected the term "gay" and instead have embraced the term same-gender-loving (SGL) for the exact same reasons. The term gay to them means white, privileged and without regards to people of color, their issues or their situations.
So to embrace a gay identity we must also accept an entirely media driven, prescribed and induced armor to wear and to show the world that this is who we are and that this is what we feel.
Sen. Larry Craig rejects this identify, because simply this is not who he is.
He is a conservative, married man who has very little in common with America's gay identity. In fact he is perfectly valid in stating that he is not a gay man.
The Down Low Not Just for Black Men
Isn't it amazing how when white people do and say things that it is reported differently in the media in comparison to blacks who do the exact same thing? Further, the law and its punishment are also applied differently to black people. In fact people of color in general often receive harsher prison sentencing for committing similar or even lesser crimes than their white counterparts.
Male-to-male sex scandals are also treated differently where black people are concerned. Black men have been systematically portrayed in a much more negative and darker media light than their white male counter parts.
A few years ago, JL King who is black, burst onto the scene with his book "On The Down Low" which exposed straight black men's sexual exploits with other men. His book and the furor it created earned him a seat on Oprah's couch.
Not too long afterwards, writer Terry McMillian and her newly-out-as gay husband Jonathan Plummer, both of whom are black, openly discussed their marriage and Plummer's revelation of his sexuality on Oprah's couch as well.
Then former New Jersey Governor, Jim McGreevy also plopped himself on Oprah's couch of confession along with his newly released book which spoke of his sexual confusion, marital infidelity and emerging gay sexuality.
But there was a stark difference of how JL King and Jonathan Plummer were portrayed in comparison to the privileged white former Governor. In the Oprah interview along with many interviews that followed in newspaper articles and online, both King and Plummer were crucified as being sexual predators, users of black women and even accused of potentially exposing black women to the HIV/AIDS.
But Gov. McGreevy was treated with soft plushy rainbow gloves, where he was rarely publicly challenged and was even embraced by white gay organizations, presented with book deals, speaking engagements, and with even a potential foray back into politics.
What Gov. McGreevy and Sen. Larry Craig both prove is that the down low isn't just a black thing, but instead it is a male thing. It is a form of sexual repression that should not be scolded and rebuked when black men do it then heralded and forgiven when an attractive white man does it as was the case with McGreevy.
Now that Sen. Larry Craig has also been revealed to be on the "down low" how will the gay press, the mainstream press and the black press treat him? Will the entire incident be forgotten in six months? Will Sen. Craig keep his seat in the Senate? Or will he go back to being his old hypocritical ways and continue to vote against LGBT legislation such as the Hate Crimes Bill and ENDA?
If any value should come from Sen. Craig's restroom incident it should teach us to seek a deeper understanding of the fluidity of sexuality, give less condemnation of sexual repression gone wild, and then openly admit that all men black, white, Latino, and Asian have the propensity of engaging in illicit gay sexual behavior.
Further, let's take the precious time to understand and to embrace the differences between gay sexual behavior, gay sexual identity and gay sexual orientation and make the Sen. Larry Craig restroom incident a teachable moment for the entire LGBT community and society as a whole.
H. Alexander Robinson
National Black Justice Coalition