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Wednesday, 12 September 2007 00:00

For gays, desperation too often a way of life

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A few years ago, I received a letter from a reader that I have never forgotten. Upset over the suicide of a former student — who I knew had long agonized over dealing with his homosexuality due to various painful journal entries he had written on his struggles — I had written a fairly angry column denouncing homophobia and challenging the widely held belief that one’s sexual orientation is a “choice.” About a week later, a letter arrived from a gentleman in his 60s, who basically laid out the long, sad story of his own lifelong struggle with being gay.

In short, like many people do, he lived in denial of his feelings and urges, believing they were symptomatic of a disease, or moral rot, and when no amount of praying, concentration on living a straight life, or plain old repression could make them go away, he finally gave in, at the age of 63, and came to terms with who he was. He said he would rather live the last few years of his life with some measure of integrity in spite of the scorn and ridicule he knew he would face, in spite of the embarrassment to his family, than to go on living a total lie, never accepting himself, never admitting the truth.

I have no idea how many people must be living this same lie in order to find acceptance in their families, their churches, and their communities, but I am afraid it is a number much bigger than anyone would imagine. What drives a United States senator to seek sex in a public restroom? What drives a group of men to meet each other in the restroom of a recreation park for anonymous sexual encounters?

There is no defense for this kind of behavior, no justification whatsoever. On Saturday, my wife and I took the kids to the park, and I had to go to the restroom. Inside, there was a kid, about 10 years old, and when I entered, he immediately became nervous, never taking his eyes off me until he could get out of there. That made me sad, and angry, that our children have to feel afraid when they have to go to a restroom, especially on their own “turf.”

It is, however, too convenient to dismiss all of this as deviant behavior and nothing more, just as it is too convenient to excuse the actions of these men as an inevitable consequence of a homophobic, judgmental society, and let it go at that. The truth is more complicated than that, as it usually is.

Does anyone else find it interesting, for example, that Sen. Larry Craig, who was recently charged for lewd conduct in a Minneapolis airport restroom, initially seemed more preoccupied with denying that he is gay than denying the specific charges against him? There is apparently more shame in being gay than in seeking anonymous sex in a public restroom, unless you have a different interpretation of his public statements since the arrest.

Certainly, as a “family values” Republican, there is a pretty substantial hypocrisy factor to consider in Craig’s denials. If he is not gay, then what is he doing in a public men’s restroom allegedly soliciting sex? If he is gay, then why is he living a straight life and voting consistently against the so-called “homosexual agenda,” an agenda that as far as I can tell consists of seeking equal treatment under the law for gays and lesbians. Speaking of hypocrisy, isn’t it hypocritical to complain about the perceived promiscuity of gay people, while at the same time complaining about their desire to become married?

I have no idea whether Larry Craig is gay or not, or whether those men arrested in Waynesville last week were living double lives, because they were too ashamed or afraid to deal with what was going on inside them. Might it be possible that if the shame a person feels inside reaches a certain point of saturation, that no action seems too desperate, too ... shameful?

I don’t know. I do believe that shame — and desperation — have something to do with it, though. And until we deal with that as a society, an untold number of people will continue, as Thoreau put it, to lead lives of “quiet desperation.”

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Waynesville. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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