Sixteen Candles: The Rep. Foley Scandal

Well, the main thing I was going to say about the Rep. Foley teenage boy dirty text message argle-bargle, Susie Bright has already said, and better than I would have. The upshot: Congress just abolished habeas corpus and legitimized torture, and the story got buried with the department store ads (the SF Chronicle put it on Page 3). But a gay teenage sex scandal in Congress — that’s the lead story everywhere, our top story tonight, front page above the fold, and probably will be for days. (Except for the Chron. The headline story in today’s Chron was the Michelin guide giving three stars to only one Bay Area restaurant in its new Bay Area guide. You kind of have to love the Chron sometimes. Foley did make Page 1 — just not above the fold.)

So here, instead, is the other thing I want to say about the Foley scandal.


I was sixteen when I first had sex. (According to how I defined it at the time, anyway.) I had it with an adult, a man in his thirties. More than once, in fact: the affair lasted roughly a month and a half.

And while I don’t think the guy covered himself with glory, I also don’t feel that I was molested. My memories of the experience aren’t stellar, but they fall into the “stupid decision/learning experience” category — not the “invasive violation/abuse of power” category. I think the guy was a schmuck, but I don’t think he was a predator, and I don’t think he was a pedophile.

Before you flip out and hit the comment button, let me be very clear — I’m not trying to defend Foley. There’s a lot of stuff Foley did that the guy I’m talking about didn’t do. As far as I know, the guy I fucked didn’t make a habit of going for teenagers on a regular basis. He wasn’t aggressive or forward about pursuing teenagers, including me. He wasn’t taking advantage of political power and status to pursue teenagers — he didn’t really have any to speak of. And, of course, he didn’t head up a Congressional caucus on protecting teenagers from people like him. Foley is a Grade A asshole, and I’m watching his fall with shameless, gleeful Schadenfreude. As Molly Ivins once said, Mama may have raised a mean child, but she didn’t raise no hypocrites.

And let me be very clear as well — I support the idea of age of consent laws. They’re never going to be perfect — no matter where you draw it, there are always going to be people under the line who are ready for sex, and people over the line who aren’t — but I get that that’s what laws are like. I do think age of consent laws need to be tinkered with (I personally support a three-tiered system, in which under a certain age you’re off-limits, between certain ages it’s only okay with people close to your age, and over a certain age you’re fair game), but I think the basic idea is sound.

My point is this. When we talk about the Foley scandal, I think we need to be extremely careful about we’re getting irate about. I don’t want to reflexively join in the hysterical chorus about pedophilia and molestation and “won’t somebody please think of the children?” There’s a big difference between having a thing for 16-year-olds and having a thing for, say, 12-year-olds. Having a thing for 16-year-olds makes you a chicken-hawk — but it doesn’t make you a pedophile. (If it did, everyone who watched the Britney Spears naughty-schoolgirl video with lust in their heart is a pedophile.) In particular, lots of gay men had their first sexual experience as teenagers, with older men — and lots of those teenagers had warm, positive feelings about the experience, and continue to have those good feelings into adulthood. A good case could be made that adults having sex with 16-year-olds should be against the law, and a good case could certainly be made that it’s creepy and fucked-up — but it doesn’t make you an evil despoiler of innocent children.

No, what makes Foley evil is the hypocrisy. What makes Foley evil is that he made political hash out of Scary Disgusting Sexual Predators On The Internet Who Are Trying To Seduce Your Children… while he was using the Internet to try to seduce teenage boys.

And what makes his Republican compatriots evil — more evil than Foley, I would argue — is that they apparently knew about the Foley thing and covered it up… while they’ve been busy frothing at the mouth about those awful liberals who supposedly want to protect criminals and terrorists.

By, you know, granting them habeas corpus and stuff.

Sixteen Candles: The Rep. Foley Scandal

7 thoughts on “Sixteen Candles: The Rep. Foley Scandal

  1. 1

    Excellent article. I’ve been meaning to post something like this for some time.
    So many people writing and reporting and blogging about this scandal obviously don’t know the truth about ephebophilia (which is what Foley *REALLY* is: and pedophilia and how it really works in the brain. I don’t know if the part about him being molested is true, and it certainly doesn’t excuse his behavior, but it would explain it a lot more.
    Also, we forget that less than 300 years ago, the young men of those ages would have either been married already or about to be married (and therefore having sex). Our sexual bodies (most of the time) have matured at that age and we’re ready, physically, for sex. Also, I think that if we’ve been having adult relations at that age for hundreds, if not thousands of years, a mere 100 years (or less) of that being “inappropriate” and illegal isn’t going to remove the desire for young adults from our psyches… *especially* when youth is so sexually glorified in our culture. It’s like “you’re supposed to find the youngest adults possible sexy, and ONLY that sexy, but heaven forbid if you ever so much as express that desire for someone younger than the state-mandated line of 18.”
    There are laws and they are there for a reason, and I don’t cross them and I certainly don’t encourage others to, but I can understand a little more when something like this happens. It’s still not right, but it’s more understandable.

  2. 3

    Couple of things. First off, the laws about age of consent are somewhat multi-tiered — in California, anyway, and I’m sure other states are similar. It’s mostly the penalties, and the question of whether the act is a felony or misdemeanor, that vary according to the age of the participants, not the underlying question of whether it was illegal at all — but the number of different rules and combinations and exceptions and exceptions to the exceptions are enough to charm the heart of the biggest multi-tiering fan. If you have the stomach for it, the main statute is Penal Code section 261.5, and you can attempt to plow through it here:
    The other thing is, I think the point you raised about the power differential between a member of Congress and a Congressional page is maybe a little more crucial than you’re making it. This goes way beyond, say, a boss coming on to his secretary; this is more like the CEO of a multi-national corporation coming on to a mailroom clerk. Ok, maybe that’s overstated, but I think that when you’re talking about someone in this much of a position of power, it’s not at all unreasonable to start from the assumption that the power is being abused. These two guys — or, rather, Foley and the God knows how many teenagers he did this stuff with — were not even vaguely on an equal footing, if I understand the Congressional page program at all. It has nothing to do with their ages, it’s that one of them was a Congressman and the other one was someone in a position that’s all about doing things for Congressmen.
    (And yes, I do realize that the same logic applies to Clinton and Lewinsky, and frankly I think that was pretty sleazy too.)
    Now, on the other hand, the one thing that makes me wonder about that is the “cast fetish” business. Call me naive, but does anyone, ever, really have a cast fetish? That, to me, came off as the kid having a bit of fun at Foley’s expense, and that makes me question my own assumptions about Foley abusing his power. But still, that was just one guy, and apparently Foley did this with lots of them.
    Here’s my question, though: where in God’s name did all these IM logs come from? As far as I know, AOL doesn’t log this stuff automatically, and I can’t imagine Foley himself was logging it, so that leaves me figuring that the kids must have made the deliberate choice to turn on logging. Why would they do that? Again, maybe I’m naive; maybe it’s routine for younger guys who are getting steamy IM’s from older guys to log them, but it sure doesn’t seem like something I’D do, so I find myself wondering why they did.

  3. 4

    Most of what I would say has been said by others already.
    >>Congress just abolished habeas corpus and >>legitimized torture, and the story got buried >>with the department store ads (the SF >>Chronicle put it on Page 3).
    >>But a gay teenage sex scandal in Congress — >>that’s the lead story everywhere, our top story >>tonight, front page above the fold, and >>probably will be for days.
    The hypocrisy I am stunned by is not Foley’s or Hastert’s, but the public’s. They decry “pedophilia” (I heard someone from Foley’s district on NPR say that when she “heard it was with a 16-year-old it made [her] sick”) but then they lap up all the details.
    [The idea of 16-year-olds with sex lives makes her sick?]
    Another thing that bothers me is the vote on the legislation you mentioned. According to the SF Chronicle:
    >>The House measure was approved, 232-191, >>with 18 Democrats supporting it. Thirteen >>Republicans opposed the bill.
    Yeah, they’re conscientious lawmakers, each one on both sides of the aisle carefully reading the bill and voting his or her conscience. 18 on one side, 13 on the other, crossed the aisle. Only that many out of the entire House.
    Jon Berger:
    >>The other thing is, I think the point you raised >>about the power differential between a >>member of Congress and a Congressional >>page is maybe a little more crucial than you’re >>making it.
    This is in fact the only issue worth making an issue. I don’t care if the guy is underage or not. He’s essentially an employee. You don’t act that way at all.
    But interestingly, the entire scandal is morphing into a more interesting question now: Did Hastert know about it, and not act on it? And it’s conservatives as much as liberals who seem incensed by the Republican party putting power ahead of principle in that matter.
    D. B. Howard

  4. 5

    Jon, you make a good point. I think the abuse of power issue is more important than I’d originally made it out to be. I do think it’s a little complicated — power is an aphrodisiac, and sexual relationships between people with more power and those with less are sometimes about the lesser-powered person having the hots for the powerful one. (Monica Lewinsky, for instance, was a grown woman who initiated the affair, and while I think Clinton acted like a sleazoid, I don’t put him in the same camp as Foley.) But yes, when you’re talking about people who are essentially unpaid staffers AND underaged, that crosses a pretty big “abuse of power” line.
    And if anything, this emphasizes my main point — namely, that people are screaming “pedophilia” so loudly that it’s drowning out what it seems to me are the actual issues in the case.
    As to the IMs being saved — that brings up yet another nail in Foley’s coffin. He was a creep for abusing his power and hitting on teenagers; he was a hypocrite for centering his political career on people who use the Internet to prowl for underage poontang.
    But he was also a first-class idiot for sending sexual emails and IMs to teenaged boys who had to do nothing more than hit “Save” to guarantee themselves either primo blackmail material or a six-figure book deal. Just exactly how stupid do you have to be to think you’d never get caught at that?
    (BTW, I somehow missed the reference to the cast fetish in all this. But yes, that is a real thing. There are people with a fetish for women [and presumably men, although I haven’t seen photos of that] in casts and bandages and hospital beds. I don’t know what exactly it’s about, but I assume it has to do with helplessness, a variant of the bondage fetish.)

  5. 6

    Not to trivialize any of this, but two events of this week informed a conclusion to which I have come:
    Event One: Foley’s Follies.
    Event Two: One of my 13-year-old girl counselees dating a 16-year-old boy.
    My Conclusion: 16-year-old boys have a problem. 16-year-old girls think they are putzes.
    Okay, not all of them. But in my own 16-year-old girl life I remember only one guy my own age who was appealing as a potential sex partner.
    Who does that leave for 16-year-old boys? The 13-year-old-girls and adult men who actually find them attractive. The former are off limits to them, and they are off-limits to the latter. Small wonder they have to amuse themselves logging their chat sessions with congressmen.
    And yes, those boys knew exactly what they were doing when they logged the IMs and kept them. In fact, when you read over them, you can see that the boys were probably baiting him to see how far he would go.

  6. 7

    Good post on an important topic. It seems like the idea that attraction to teenagers is “pedophilia” was wrong-headed to begin with and has spun completely out of control in recent years. Now I see increasingly people charging that porn featuring actresses who are 18-20 is fueling “pedophilia”. Just nuts.
    I’ve been on the wrong side of the age of consent a few times in my life both as the younger partner and the older one. When I was 14, I lost my virginity to a woman of 25, and I don’t feel I was a victim. When I was in my 20s and with teenage girls, it seemed like a normal boyfriend/girlfriend relationship to me, but obviously, I can’t for the girls themselves.
    I don’t think a good case can be made for an 18 AOC – most people, or at least around half, have sex before they’re 18. Many teenage girls actively seek out partners in their 20’s and teenage girls dating guys who were 5-10 years older than them was pretty routine, and in the liberal area I grew up in (Marin County) was generally tolerated by parents, who could have made the older guys life hell.
    Most European countries have AOCs in the 14 to 16 range, and I think that’s a much more sane, rational approach. Getting that reform through in America, of course, is a much harder sell. (Actually, most states have a formal AOC that’s under 18, but the difference is covered by broadly worded “contributing to the delinquency” laws.)
    The idea of a graduated AOC is a good reform, and certainly better than the system we have now that says if two underage partners have sex, they’re both rapists. Ideally, though, I’m not even sure if that’s necessary for anybody over 16. For one, usually graduated AOC only allow for partners within 5 years of age, and as I said, I’ve seen too many good relationships involving teenagers with a 5 to 10-year older partner.
    Also, if you’re 16 and can have sex with a 20 year-old, why does it automatically become exploitative with a 30 or 40 year-old? The usual response is that the latter is “power difference”, but I don’t see a huge power increase between 20 and 30 or 40, myself. OK, typically you have less money when your 20, but other than that. There’s also the argument that a 16 year-old and a 40 year-old is “gross”, but that’s hardly an argument for illegality.
    Anyway, the process is pretty self-selective – teen girls rarely are attracted to men over 30 to begin with, and women over 30 rarely want to hit teen boys. (Being heterocentric here, I don’t know what the attitudes toward age disparity are among gay men and lesbians (except that gay men and straight men have similar “chicken hawk” tendencies), so I can’t address it.)

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