Monday, September 28, 2009

Keeping the Young Folks Apart

In his New York Times Magazine column called "The Ethicist," Randy Cohen recently tackled a modern dilemma.

A mother wrote in to say that her daughter, in her late 20s, has a same-sex partner, a fact known to most of the large Catholic family. But the writer's in-laws, the lesbian's grandparents, don't know, and the rule at their summer home is that nonmarried younger folk may not share a bedroom with their opposite-sex partners.

Trouble on the Jersey shore. Or Cape Cod. Or the Maine coast.

The mother reported that her daughter and her daughter's partner often stay in a small room for two at the summer home, and the grandparents think of the girls, who live together, as good friends.

Well of course. Bosom buddies.

The writer's younger daughter is consternated that she and her boyfriend have to stay in separate rooms. With a family reunion looming, the mother asked whether she should have a chat with her in-laws about her older daughter.

Talk about the sandwich generation. This mother is getting squeezed by the old and new mores like a bike running over a PB&J.

The Ethicist responded that it's her daughter's decision whether to come out. He did allow for an emergency that might force the mother to tell, namely "a complicated science-fiction scenario in which thwarting an alien invasion demanded the intervention of some sort of heroic interstellar lesbian."

If her daughter "were reluctant to step up, well, then perhaps you could announce, 'She is gay enough to battle the slime creatures and save the planet.'"

But not until then.

Ethicist Cohen further said the grandparents make the law in their own home, and the daughter should mind the rule or stay elsewhere. "Your daughter should not exploit their obliviousness to cadge a free room."

The problem I see is that if she stays elsewhere she's essentially coming out. How else to tell her grandparents she's not staying with them anymore? The sheets are too scratchy?

She might not be ready to risk losing her grandparents over the truth. She might continue to lie about herself. But if her grandparents are the sort to reject her over her nature, that says little for them. Lying, rejecting--whose ethics are lesser? Now I remember why I didn't take philosophy.

On the bright side, Cohen, in telling the lesbian to vamoose, is also saying her relationship is on a par with the heterosexual relationships. Both orientations must adhere to the same rule. Both can groan about it equally.

This rule that nonmarrieds must sleep in different rooms is far from unusual. My parents enforced it for years. The obvious reason for it is to prevent unmarried opposite-sex couples from having sex. Or at least, to prevent them from having it within earshot.

In preventing couples from having sex before marriage, parents and grandparents uphold traditional morality, and prevent pregnancy. They've done their bit.

As positive as it is to have gay couples treated equally--in this case put in lockdown just like the straights—it's simultaneously more than a wee bit silly.

If you're looking to prevent a lesbian couple from having sex before marriage, you're going to be an acting warden for a long time, as long as it takes for gay marriage to be legal. Meanwhile the couple will be growing old and dropping a fortune at Motel 6.

Upholding traditional morality? Until recently gay relationships were considered the pinnacle of immorality. Housing a lesbian couple in separate rooms to prevent pregnancy? Unless the gals tote a turkey baster around, you need not worry.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Inside Whose Mind?

You remember Mark Foley. How could you forget him? It was just three years ago that the Republican Congressman from Florida resigned over the salacious instant messages he'd sent male teenagers who were former Congressional pages. The dude was disturbed.

Now he's been given a radio show. If it flies, this will be a resurrection the likes of which hasn't been seen since Jesus. Foley, in addition to being a wreck himself, managed to offend or embarrass everyone from gays to Republicans to gay Republicans.

His new political talk radio show is called "Inside the Mind of Mark Foley."

I swear on a stack of pancakes I thought that was a joke.

Who would want to get into his mind? Not long ago it was the site of competing blustery storms smashing against each other. He didn't need a therapist, he needed The Weather Channel.

For starters, Foley was a gay man in a lifelong closet. Even as his homosexuality was a badly kept secret, the Congressman stayed resolutely mum about it. While campaigning for a U.S. Senate seat in 2003, Foley was increasingly outed in the media. He responded by calling a press conference where he said his orientation wasn't important; he also denounced the rumors as "revolting and unforgivable."

Revolting to be called gay? I guess if you've spent your life guarding the truth like Fort Knox.

Foley grew up Catholic, was a Republican in a conservative state, and may've been just old enough to miss out on gay freedom. I can strain myself and cut him some slack there. But not for the obvious fact that he stayed closeted for political gain. And maybe he couldn't bear to give up the Palm Beach parties and fundraisers.

Now to the e-mails and IMs that got him in trouble and were another ugly weather system in his head. It unfolded that the Congressman had been a bad cyberspace boy for years.

In one exchange a teen told him he was wearing shorts, and Foley responded he'd "love to slip them off" and "grab the one-eyed snake." When Foley directed him to "take it out," the high school student left the computer because "my mom is yelling." Had she known what was happening, she would've downright bellowed.

In 2003, while the House was voting on a war appropriations bill, Foley stepped away and had Internet sex with an 18-year-old former page. I wonder how that affected his vote?

After the scandal broke, people debated whether the disgraced Congressman was a pedophile, an ephebophile (sexually attracted to older adolescents and teenagers), or a "-phile" to be named later. I remember an expert's contention that Foley wanted to get caught, another gust in his head. So was the fact that he chaired the House caucus on missing and exploited children, and fought for tough laws against those who use the Internet to exploit children sexually.

Is this really a mind anyone wants to get into? The winds blowing in there were strong enough to flatten Florida.

After he resigned, we immediately learned of two more forces billowing inside Foley. He bee lined it to a rehab center for alcoholism treatment, and his attorney announced that a priest had molested Foley when he was a teenager.

But hey, three years have passed. Maybe the ill winds are now just anemic puffs.

It was Foley who approached WSVU in North Palm Beach with the idea for the show. The former Congressman is working for free, and there's even talk of syndicating "Inside the Mind of Mark Foley."

I take it back. Some people should go into his mind: psychiatrists and documentary filmmakers. For the rest of us, the place should be off limits as a hurricane zone.