The other day, Andrew wrote that it was lucky for Fred Thompson that “regular GOP voters turn out to be relatively tolerant when it comes to sexual minorities and private sex lives,” since he’s “had a colorful and wide-ranging sex life, as I’m sure we will soon find out.” Ace of Spades wonders whether I’ll “take co-blogger Andrew Sullivan to task for his bottom-feeding gossip-columnist smear of a non-gay man as gay?” referencing an earlier post in which I’d taken him and Glenn Reynolds to task for observing, with regard to Glenn Greenwald, that “Consenting biweekly to having one’s duodenum battered with the manic hydraulic fury of a tricked-out V-12 jackhammer manned by an epileptic Con-Ed worker with an ancestral oath of vengeance against asphalt would, I think, tend to butch one up, at least as regards one’s pain threshold.”
Several points in response. One is that making gross and obviously derogatory statements about a gay man’s sex life is pretty clearly a different sort of thing than simply observing that a gay man is, in fact, gay. Next, Andrew didn’t say Thompson was gay. The defenders of Thompson’s heterosexuality point to his well-documented series of flings with several attractive women, often substantially younger than Thompson, as evidence of his robust desire to have sex with women. This, of course, is what Andrew was talking about — Thompson’s not very “focus on the family” sex life as a straight man.
A good companion piece to this dispute is The Washington City Paper‘s article on Last Night’s Shots, a DC social club for young conservative assholes. It’s notable that the young men reported on in the article clearly don’t see pursuit of a colorful and wide-ranging heterosexual sex life as in any way in conflict with their conservatism. One gets the sense, however, that this is a no gays welcome sort of club. Which I think tells us something about the enduring appeal of homophobia as a conservative trope; most elements of traditional sexual ethics have the unfortunate side-effect of asking people to refrain from doing things that would be fun. The claim that avoiding gay sex is serious ethical obligation is, by contrast, enormously appealing to the large majority of people who have no intention of having any gay sex anyway. Thus, evidence of Thompson’s colorful sex life becomes a rebuttal to rumors of a colorful sex life, because the only form of male sexuality that can be conceived of as possibly in opposition to social conservative dictates is gay male sexuality.