Is the closet to blame for the Foley scandal?

Andrew Sullivan seems to think so. In a post about former Congressman Foley, titled the Closet, Sullivan waxes on about “what the closet does to people.” He says, “the hypocrisies it fosters, the pathologies it breeds – is brutal.”

He continues: “What I do know is that the closet corrupts. The lies it requires and the compartmentalization it demands can lead people to places they never truly wanted to go, and for which they have to take ultimate responsibility. From what I’ve read, Foley is another example of this destructive and self-destructive pattern for which the only cure is courage and honesty.”

So are we to understand Foley’s behavior is causally related to being a closeted gay man? As I understand Sullivan’s argument, the cure for Foley’s pursuit of teenage boys is honesty about his homosexuality. Not that I favor dishonesty, but I am not buying Sullivan’s argument.

I say this, in part, because straights who interfere with underage youth are rarely closeted straights — are they? Debra Lafave was not closeted and still did a very bad thing.

Sullivan also writes: “In some ways, I think it was my pride that forced me to be honest with myself and others; and a deep sense that obviously this was how God made me, and it behooved me to deal with it forthrightly. ” Here he argue that self-esteem is the key – be proud of what you are and then you won’t do such things. On the other hand, I would argue that it is not self-esteem that prevents “hypocrisies” and “pathologies,” but self-control – no matter what your sexual attractions are like. Quoting self-esteem researcher, Roy Baumeister (from Myers, Social Psychology, 2005, p. 64), I agree that: “…self-control is worth 10 times as much as self-esteem.”

UPDATE: Former Rep. Foley now says he was sexually molested between ages 13-15 and that he is gay. The plot thickens…

27 thoughts on “Is the closet to blame for the Foley scandal?”

  1. Tim,

    The reason I mentioned you was because I sensed you knew this topic very well and hoped that you would chime in precisely, as you have. Thanks for you comments. They help us all.

    David Blakeslee

  2. David,

    I think you are making a mistake when you say “Tim knows the research on married men who abuse children…is the pressure of their closeted life the thing that drives them to abuse?”

    This assumes that married men who abuse children must be SSA and in the closet. This is not accurate.

    Most men who abuse children have no interest whatsoever in adult men. Most abusers are family members or friends and select their victims based on availability. And we all know that boys are watched less closely than girls around grown men and are much more available.

    But even for those who focus solely on boys, if they have interest in adults at all (those who are not fixated on children) it is in most cases women.

    I think it is a mistake to confuse pedophile abuse (which does not seem have any correlation with SSA) and poor judgement and inappropriate behavior (such as flirting with legal 16 to 18 year old boys). Neither is desirable behavior, but they are not the same thing and should not be conflated.

  3. It is interesting how events are unfolding in this story. It is, primarily now, a political story. It could have been a story of social and moral consequence…but I don’t think many of those conclusions can be drawn now.

    1. The timing of the disclosure seems clearly for political impact.

    2. The fact (I think) that a blog was manufactured to create the disclosure and a few hours later picked up by KOS suggests a strongly manipulated news release.

    3. The fact that the media repeatedly conflates e-mails with text messages (the NYT did again this morning). The text messages are explicit and potentially criminal (but probably not); the e-mails are void of sexual content.

    4. For a gay man who appears to have a sexual compulsion, Foley found a way to “play by the rules” in this situation.

    5. Revelations today indicate his victim was around the age of 18 when the text messages occur.

    Others may wish to argue this list or add to it, I just post it for consideration.

    I would like to add that the FOLEY issue is a good opportunity to discuss the issue of the Closet. Tim knows the research on married men who abuse children…is the pressure of their closeted life the thing that drives them to abuse?

    Perhaps an internal versus external locus of control discussion is helpful. Poor internal locus of control persons may add external locus of control values and identities to help control them. Poorly integrated values (such as heterosexuality, monogomy, etc) are the most likely to break down during periods of distress. Valuing heterosexuality (either in Foley’s comments in the past, or by being a man with SSA who decides to live heteroseuxally) while not acknowledging strong SSA to support systems around you places you in isolation when stressors increase.

    I am not sure I have written accurately but what I am trying to say is it is not “the closet” so much as a combination of internal conflict, isolation and poor coping skills.

    Coming out Gay is not the simple solution. Coming out Real to those who know you best and doing the difficult work of processing sensations through values and values through sensations allows for integration. I do much better as a person under stress when I have worked through the variety of issues related to that stress. I am much more impulsive and reactive when I have not.

    I may chose an external locus of control model to help me with what I have not integrated yet; but it is more likely to fail me.

    Just some thoughts.

    David Blakeslee

  4. To think that being molested caused it is silly. I was molested as a child and I never became Republican.

  5. XGW tolerated Marty for quite a while, some years back, before we decided that he was just a professional Internet troll, throwing flames around rather than contributing to a social or political dialogue. We asked Marty to leave, and as I recall, he was courteous enough to comply.

    I don’t have a problem with other blogs choosing to allow Marty to comment. He represents an egotistical extreme that doesn’t care what his supposed enemies really believe or do. That extreme personality type is central to the culture wars. By serving that role, Marty provides an opportunity for other commenters (conservatives in particular) to distance themselves from his sort of extreme.

  6. I’ll admit that i was a bit suprised myself that Dr. Throckmorton let my comment pass through moderation. 🙂

    After the scandal with predatory catholic preists (80% of whom were homosexual predators), I’ve often wondered how many of their teenage “victims” never bothered to come forward, because they didn’t consider themselves “abused”, and they went on to become happy young gay men, and members of Dignity and the Rainbow Sash.

    How easily Foley could have chosen that same route…

  7. “However, the effect size of this difference was very small: .7% for women and 1.2% for men. Thus, only a tiny fraction of what differentiates gay and straight groups was related to sexual abuse status.”

    Someone tell Melissa Fryrear


    Those who view orientation as maliable (especially during childhood formative years) may view molestation as something that could confuse sexual development and possible impact eventual orientation identity.

    I think the argument is not illogical for early childhood molestation. I doubt it is true, but I have little to support my doubts other than guesswork.

    But when discussing molestation of male adolescents, I find it a far more likely scenario that same-sex attracted boys are more available to male predators than boys who are not same-sex attracted (need I remind anyone that adolescent boys have sexual interests and sexual attractions?).

    In Foley’s case, it seems that he’s making the two statments separately: 1) he was molested as an adolescent, and 2) he’s gay.


    To answer your question, in DC 16 is legal. However, it seems that the internet predator laws (which Foley was heavily involve with writing) protect kids under 18.

    But no one seems clear whether any actual crime occurred.

    Yeah, it’s icky for a 52 year old man to be making passes at 16 year olds of either sex but it may not necessarily be illegal. We just don’t know yet.

    But that really isn’t the point. Foley betrayed the trust of his position.


    yeah it is work monitoring comments. Fortunately we have pretty responsible participants and we have quite a few of us doing it at XGW. And we’ve been lucky. That’s why we can allow comments to be posted without prior vetting. As best I know, Warren is doing it alone. Before you go that direction, think of the time committment.

  8. Not to get this thread onto a different subject, but I feel that I knew Warren well enough that I “got” the reason he let Marty’s comment in. Based on past examples (and without naming names), he’s allowed some pretty sharp comments on all sides and allowed others to refute them.

    It’s a tough call sometimes. It’s why I haven’t yet decided whether to allow comments on my web site. I see how beneficial they can be when moderated, as is done here and XGW, but it seems to be an awful lot of work.

  9. Many pro-gay readers have made scathing comments about me, Exodus, etc. and I have let them on.

    I can’t remember anyone on the other side saying something quite like what Marty said, but maybe that’s my memory being bad.

    I acknowledge I make mistakes but sometimes I allow comments in order for them to be refuted.

    But if you had to make the decision to allow it on, shouldn’t you have said something then?

    That said, you’re still waaaaayyy better than the NARTH blog.

  10. Did the fact that he was molested MAKE him gay? NO. The fact that many gay men may have been molested as children proves NOTHING. So have many women and they don’t all “turn out lesbian”.

    The fact that many gay men had troubled relationships with their Dads also proves NOTHING. So did many straight men.

    I had coffee for breakfast this morning and it rained on the way to work. Did the coffee “cause” the rain? Of course not.

    People who think that homosexuality MUST be wrong are always looking for something to “cause it”. No one ever asks: What causes people to be straight? And the TRUTH is, no one knows the answer to THAT question either.

    What so many people seem to miss is the fact that two things may occur in some sort of relationship to each other have nothing at all to do with causing each other. It’s a common falacy of reasoning that we should try to avoid.

  11. Boo – You’ve been around this blog awhile, I am surprised to read your comment. Many pro-gay readers have made scathing comments about me, Exodus, etc. and I have let them on. It is a balancing act to decide what comments to allow and what ones not to allow. I acknowledge I make mistakes but sometimes I allow comments in order for them to be refuted. In this case, I am pleased that other readers nailed the comments to the wall. I certainly disagree with this: This guy is a poster child for keeping gays out of positions of leadership.

  12. I have to wonder, if someone from the pro-gay side had made a defamatory comment similar to Marty’s but from the opposite side of the spectrum, would Dr. Throckmorton have let it on? After I read it I had to double check that I hadn’t accidentally wandered into the NARTH blog.

  13. There is no evidence and indeed strong denials that Foley has sexual interest in children. A more descriptive term for interest in teens is hebephilia. This appears to be more accurate, given the emails and reports that have surfaced. However, as others have commented here, the issue of the hour doesn’t appear to be the direction of his sexual urges but rather his inability to control them. We know so little about the man’s life and what other secrets might be revealed that playing armchair psychologist is likely to lead to false identifications.

  14. In many states the age of sexual consent is 16 or lower. Is Foley really a paedophile or even a sexual abuser? I’m not saying that I approve of his actions. He was right to resign. But is he a sex offender?

  15. Re: sexual abuse and homosexual identity, Laumann et al (1994) found about a 3x difference of abuse of homosexuals more than heterosexuals. However, the effect size of this difference was very small: .7% for women and 1.2% for men. Thus, only a tiny fraction of what differentiates gay and straight groups was related to sexual abuse status. Studies focusing on sexual abuse alone have found similar differences but also small effect sizes. For most people being sexually abused is a disruptive event and probably confuses sexual development. However, looking a group differences, it doesn’t appear to have the impact many people think it does.

  16. I’m concerned about the updated info about Foley, that he claims to have been molested when he was 13-15.

    I know that there is a mountain of evidence that says when men were abused as young boys, there is a greater chance of them becoming molesters themselves. But does that evidence extend to post-pubescenct molestation?

  17. Actually Marty, you should get a few facts straight.

    Mike Rogers has been trying to Out Congressman Foley for years. Also, the Advocate essentially outed him when they outed Jim Kolbe almost ten years ago. The only difference is that Kolbe acknowledged he was gay and got re-elected 4-5 times since then. (He’s retiring this year.). Foley, on the other hand, denied it.

    The gay press was very interested in outing him. It was the mainstream press which didn’t appear much intereseted.

    Also, on this very day, we learn about a man who killed four Amish girls. It turns out he wanted to molest them before killing him. He also molested little girls aged 3-5 years old when he was about twelve. Surely you don’t think that had anything to do with his heterosexuality, do you?

    No, it wasn’t the closet — not entirely, although I agree fully with what Timothy said about the positive influence of being out of the closet, and I agree with Sullivan about the corrosive effects of being in the closet.

    I speak as one who has experienced both sides of that closet door, having come out very late in life after years of struggle. And no, I didn’t IM kids, troll parks, or anything else when I was in the closet. But I do know that the life I led in the closet was not one that permitted me to experience many of the great things in life that truly matter. And I can understand — without condoning — how others can descend to some pretty shameful behavior. When one believes he deserves nothing but shame, he often lives up to those expectations.

    I cannot even begin tell you how much a difference it makes being out today.

  18. In the past two weeks, we have seen two incidents in which heterosexual men raped and killed girls at their schools.

    In recent years, several heterosexual female teachers have been put on trial for having sexual relations with their male teen-aged students.

    Were the female teachers or the two male rapist/hostage-taker/killers “closeted”? Not that I can see.

    Foley’s IMs with 16- to 18-year-old males is comparable to, though far less severe than, actually having sex with those pages or raping and killing them.

    I don’t see a closet connection, and if folks like Andrew Sullivan are going to make that argument, then they had better call for (and fund) some objective clinical studies to support their theory.

    As for Marty’s smear, it simply reveals his double standard in which heterosexual sex abuse, rape and murder are AOK, otherwise he would have called for a ban on heterosexual female teachers and a ban on allowing heterosexual men within gunshot range of any school.

  19. Do you think the fact he was sexually abused by a male during a formative time in his youth has something to do with sexuality??? Seems like a lot of homosexuals were abused – are there any studies on this?

  20. Yesterday on her talk show, Dr. Laura said something to the effect it was “ironic” that the Democrats, who usually defend adult/child sexual behavior, are now “all up in arms about it”.

    And I presume she had some examples of Democrats defending adult/child sexual behavior?

    This guy fits every horrible stereotype the gay community keeps trying to deny. Molested by clergy made him gay, being gay made him a predatory pedophile…

    You mean… someone would grasp at stereotypes their constituents are eager to believe in order to deflect responsibility from themselves? Shocking. I suppose the recent Amish school shooter, who claimed to have molested little girls growing up, is a poster child for keeping heterosexuals away from schoolchildren.

  21. The thing is….this guy did things that are abhorrently viewed by hetero or homo oriented folks. He violated basic human dignitity (which we ALL value) by conducting inappropriate communications with minors. Who cares what stripe it was/is? It’s just a screwed up situation, right? None of us, straight or gay believe that our children should become victims to that sort of ilk. right?

    I HATE the blame game. I am in the middle of a yucky divorce…and I still hate the blame game. Things just ARE as they ARE…and we need to deal with them faithfully and with integrity. Assigning blame doesn’t further the cause of justice, because, with all the systems we have in place, true justice very often gets “screwed” in the process.

    Thanks for letting me ramble,

  22. This guy fits every horrible stereotype the gay community keeps trying to deny. Molested by clergy made him gay, being gay made him a predatory pedophile…

    This guy is a poster child for keeping gays out of positions of leadership.

    Closet? Hardly — Foley’s sexuality has been an open secret for years. It seems the only people who wanted to keep it a secret were the pro-gay newsmedia.

    And now we see why.

  23. Maybe it’s the Democrat’s fault. Some conservative radio commentators sure make it sound that way. “It’s a plot to get discredit and get rid of all Republicans.” Yesterday on her talk show, Dr. Laura said something to the effect it was “ironic” that the Democrats, who usually defend adult/child sexual behavior, are now “all up in arms about it”.

  24. It’s not to “blame” — but in my own experience being “closeted” only reinforced the compulsive, shame-based, self-destructive behavior that I was fighting. Once I came out, I found balance. My personal motto became: “live honestly, love courageously”. It felt MUCH better. I matured. The risky behavior stopped. Looking back, being closeted felt like putting a healthy plant in the dark and expecting it to grow normally.

  25. I don’t buy into the idea that “The Closet” is solely to blame. Plently of closeted folk don’t get their jollies by IMing kids or sending flirty emails..

    However, I do agree that being “out” can eliminate some of that sort of stuff. When you are openly gay your social circle helps monitor your life. If you are open with those around you, gay and straight, then it’s harder to hide things that are not socially acceptable.

    When you are out, thinking things like “yeah, but he’s legal in DC” is quickly shot down by friends telling you “he’s too young for you” or “you’re abusing your authority” or even “stop it, honey, you’re acting like a nasty troll”.

    Further, if you’re out, you’re more likely to be in a relationship that can be fulfilling. So you don’t end up bored, lonely, and horny chatting with strangers online. If you have a significant other, you won’t want to hurt him that way. And if you are single, your friends are introducing you to prospective mates.

    So while I don’t think “the closet” causes behavior like that in which Foley engaged, it does leave you without some of the counter-influences when you get tempted to forget that you’re a middle-aged congressman flirting with teenagers.

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