"I am not gay," Larry Craig insisted during his police interview July 11, after being arrested at Minneapolis International Airport. Craig, a conservative Senator from Idaho, was accused of lewd conduct--namely, soliciting sex in a men's room at the airport--and plead guilty to the lesser charge of disorderly conduct. How did a high profile public official caught in such an embarrassing position?
Sgt. Dave Karsnia was working as a plainclothes officer at the airport on June 11 investigating civilian complaints regarding sexual activity in one of the men's public restrooms. Karsnia entered the bathroom at noon that day and took a seat in a stall. Craig entered the bathroom a few minutes later. The police report then states that Craig looked through the crack of the stall at the officer, entered the stall next to the officer, placed his roller bag in front of the door, and tapped his foot, a soliciting signal. Then, Craig's foot touched the officer's and Craig swiped his hand along the stall divider. At that point the officer showed his identification. Craig got out of his stall and was arrested.
Craig disputes virtually every aspect of the police report, saying that his foot accidentally touched the officer's because he employs a wide stance while in the men's room so his slacks would not slide to the floor. As for running his hand under the stall divider, Craig said he was reaching for a piece of stray toilet paper. Craig is accusing the officer of entrapment.
I can sympathize with a man wanting to keep his expensive, Senate-level pants off a public bathroom floor, an area usually alarmingly filthy, but this is also why most men don't go reaching down for pieces of dropped toilet paper. So, I understand one part of Craig's excuse but not the other. Then, there's the freaky stall leering behavior. Craig was probably was indeed soliciting, but it's not much of a stretch to see how some of his actions could be misconstrued if one were motivated to catch a solicitor.
For example, Craig put his roller bag against the inside of the stall door, because, as Officer Karsnia suggested, "individuals engaging in lewd conduct use their bags to block the view from the front of their stall." But really, where's the bag supposed to go? Behind the toilet? Off to the side? That's what he was arrested for? Improper roller bag placement and foot tapping? I find that to be more troubling than any other part of the story. Is his behavior odd? Yes. Is it disturbing? Yes. Is it a threat to airport security? Probably not. I can think of more than a few things I'd rather have police officers doing in an airport than sitting in stalls watching where men put their roller bags.
But what makes the story even more compelling is that Craig has a long history of legislating against gay rights, while for years stories have floated around about his less than straight sexual orientation. Even his use of men's rooms to solicit is nothing new. And then he goes and gets himself arrested...in a men's room! Assuming the reports are false, and he is indeed straight, then he is certainly guilty of some strange bathroom etiquette and horrible timing. But if he is gay, which seems obvious, then his life is a sad example of someone who has to live a lie and sneak into bathrooms to round up some satisfaction. Honestly, I could care less about his preference, what matters is his wife and family and whether or not he is deceiving them, himself, and his constituents.
So is the issue the soliciting? This is clearly not the problem because men do it everywhere, all the time. This behavior is enthusiastically represented by Republican Senator David Vitter who, because he is not gay, can take greater chances when scrounging for sex. Namely, by contacting the D.C. Madam herself. And, because Vitter is not gay, no one in the Republican party is asking for his resignation when his phone number turns up in odd places, like on the Madam's list. Craig's problem is inappropriate only because he may be gay, and, like other gay men, forced solicit it in such seedy places. Their procedure well known, they can be targeted and easily arrested. Are they plotting to blow up a plane? Are they selling drugs? No, they're trying to hook up.
Since the story broke, Larry Craig's support has virtually evaporated. Mitt Romney, whose campaign Craig once assisted, called his behavior "disgusting." Pressure is mounting for the Senator to step down. Those on the left are having a field day over the self-loathing Republican Senator who might be gay. But the saddest thing to me is a man whose life is collapsing, buried under a pile of self-deception. What if, like Ted Haggard, he is gay? Then, his entire life is a fabrication built on the lies he tells to himself and others. Then, his anti-gay votes in the Senate are to be viewed not only as hypocrisy but as a sad and severe case of self-hate. And, if Senator Craig is not gay, surely there are thousands in this country who do live under that duplicity because of worn out social constraints. Regardless, the version we have invented is, no doubt, the way many actually do live, and sometimes they are arrested for tapping their feet in men's rooms. I hope someday we can look back with astonishment that we ever even cared about someone's sexual orientation. But, for now, it is all that matters.