Larry Craig and "Don't Tap, Don't Tell"

Michael Medved

9/5/2007 12:00:00 AM - Michael Medved

The ignominious fall of Senator Larry Craig casts new light on the importance of the nation’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning open homosexuals from military service.

If preventing public sex in airport men’s rooms is important enough to justify the deployment of undercover cops, isn’t it similarly significant to avoid, at all costs, sexual encounters in military latrines?

Imagine the impact on morale and unit cohesion if two guys from the same barracks engaged in toe-tapping hanky-panky (and perhaps much more) while occupying adjacent bathroom stalls in the military facilities?

Of course, advocates for gays in the military will insist that any such indulgence would involve a violation of the rules, with offenders facing stiff, severe consequences. But the impact of gay GI’s on bathroom atmospherics doesn’t just stem from the real chance of actual sex acts in the latrine, it involves whole sexualization of one of the most frequented and important conveniences on any base.

If openly gay males do nothing to compromise restroom integrity and security, why not invite female soldiers into men’s bathrooms, or open the door of women’s facilities to males? Surely, the same rules that would, theoretically, prevent gay men from hassling other men in the head would prevent hetero males from harassing women (or vice verse). Just as a gay male in the military would receive punishment for bathroom misbehavior, so to a straight guy could be busted for making improper overtures to women in the ladies room – but that wouldn’t make him any more welcome in a female facility.

The problem isn’t just the chance of molestation, it’s the radical change of mood and sensibility if you know you may be checked out as a sex object at a very private moment (of urination or defecation) when most normal people prefer to avoid any and all thoughts of physical intimacy. A bathroom becomes a vastly more uncomfortable and even menacing place if it’s used for sexual encounters, whether those connections involve gay or straight sexuality.

In a column in Sunday’s New York Times, Laura MacDonald insists that toilet sex never involves one-sided, unwanted attentions. According to the research she cites (based on “a groundbreaking dissertation” of a doctoral candidate at Washington University nearly 30 years ago) “a straight man would be left alone after that first tap or cough or look went unanswered. The initiator does not want to be beaten up or arrested or chased by teenagers, so he engages in safeguards to ensure that any physical advance will be reciprocated.”

Certainly in the case of Larry Craig, the arresting officer did nothing to discourage the Senator’s attentions until the very moment of the arrest and almost certainly invited his advances. The near unanimous revulsion regarding the incident (from Republican and Democrat, gay and straight alike) therefore has nothing to do with sexual assault or attempted rape, or any notion of the mild-mannered, bespectacled 62-year-old legislator somehow forcing himself on the burly, buff and much younger cop.

The disgust for the three term Senate toe-tapper arises instead from the very association of men’s rooms and amorous meet-ups, of toilet stalls and sex acts. We have a common and compelling interest in keeping such places free of erotic tension and that’s why we dispatch police officers to patrol public rest stations—even though they’re hardly needed to prevent outright assaults.

And if regular users of airport or public park facilities have a right to escape suggestive glances or inviting gestures that can poison an already fetid atmosphere, how much more so do young recruits (many of them eighteen or nineteen years old) the same right to avoid similar attentions (or even suspicions) from their fellow soldiers in the intimate quarters necessitated by military service? It’s no wonder that despite some fifteen years of relentless propaganda, most high ranking members of the armed services remain unconvinced that we should alter regulations to allow participation of open homosexuals.

The national shudder of discomfort and queasiness associated with any introduction of homosexual eroticism into public men’s rooms should make us more determined than ever to resist the injection of those lurid attitudes into the even more explosive situation of the U.S. military.