Volume 76, Number 21 | October 11 - 17, 2006

Takling Point

How Foley was tripped up by his Achilles penis

By Reverend Donna Schaper

Former Congressman Mark Foley joins a growing group of men who seem to be really good at getting into trouble because they want a certain kind of sex. It is what Erica Jong in “Fear of Flying” called unzippered sex, the kind without relationship. Foley adds a few dimensions to his desire. As a closeted gay man, he voted against the rights of gays over and over. As a powerful, older man, he seemed to like to play with innocent boys employed by him. And, finally, as one whose party added deceit to deceit, he has managed to show us once again just how much can be lost by an organ that imitates Achilles. If he has thrown the fall elections to the Democrats, no doubt he will soon muse long and “hard” on how much each e-mail, or experience, was worth to him or the country he may or may not love.

He joins the company of Bill Clinton and Gary Hart, Teddy Kennedy of Chappaquiddick fame, in expensive unzippering. Locally, in August, Martin Barreto was murdered on 12th St., joining a large number of people whose desire endangered them.

What has always amazed me about these expensive unzipperings is that each man involved can usually have just about any sex he wants with just about anyone. All are attractive, desirable, interesting. What bothered me about Monica was that I know way too many women my and Clinton’s age who would gladly have taken her place.

Why do people want “dirty” when they can have “clean,” want peerless when they can have peer, want anonymity when they can have relationship? I know some of the answers: fear of intimacy, advertising, sexual disgust deep in the American culture, etc. But I don’t know that any one of these theories really gets to the heart of the matter.

The heart may come as early as the “talk,” that famous parent-child moment when we lay out what we hope we have modeled in sexual terms.

If parents are having exciting sex, children may think that relational sex is good. If they are not, kids know and go outside for something better. The heart of the matter is whether our kitchens are sexy at home — what used to be called the eroticization of everyday life.

I will never forget my firstborn asking to have the talk. He was 12. He had an earnestness in that year that was frightening all the way around. It was the same year that he, the short one, asked, “Can you be both popular and smart?” He asked that question, expecting an answer, and all I could do was mumble, “Of course, darling.” He didn’t believe my mumble for a second. Actions do speak louder than words.

With the same sincerity, he wanted to have the talk. I was so glad he was smart enough to understand big words. I knew he knew the mechanics of sex. The kids always made fun of how many years in a row they had sex education in school. I also knew that he was really asking about how to do it “right.” I said, mutuality, relationship and permission fully granted to both partners to both “do it” and not “do it.” He said, O.K., I got it. In his adolescent handwriting, he then wrote all three of my criteria on the wall next to his bed. I don’t know that he had any immediate chances to take his notes with him. I do know that he accepted as “good” what I had said. While I will not brag about my husband touching my butt in the kitchen in front of him, suffice it to say that such touch is good for a child to see, early and often. Having a real relationship helps too.

If single and/or kitchenless, sexual relationship can be delightfully displayed, in the touch of a hand at a benefit or the held hands going down the street. Many park benches are filled with people who look downright Italian, so eagerly and lengthily are they enjoying each other. Erotic experiences displayed and seen in everyday life go a long way to keeping sex hidden on the e-mail, the phone or in the bathroom.

What am I saying? I am saying that I am sick of sex being dirty, of homosexuals “being obsessed with sex,” as Paul Weyrich managed to say on N.P.R. to his great discredit. I am sick of good men being murdered because their desire is so great. I am sick of Republican and “punishmentalist” hypocrisy on sex. When I say the word “relationship,” I am NOT saying Yachtung, have a relationship. I am saying that relationships between peers can be fun and sexy.

If I am sick with the dangers of unzippered sex, I am well with hopes for mutuality, relationship and permission-giving sex. I don’t want anymore people killed, one way or another, because they don’t see a way to get what they want safely. That includes Mark Foley, whose political fallout pleased me but whose inner life makes me sad. He is a man who must have been miserable and now is much more miserable, all because of an Achilles penis. I wish for him light and coming into the light. I hope he can have good sex some day soon.

Schaper is senior minister at Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square S.

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